What do you know about the offensive linemen before they are in pads? What are you looking for?
"Obviously, when you're not in pads, like we were the first two days based on NCAA regulations, you want to see from all the guys returning how much carryover there was from the last time you coached them, which was in the spring; not only just assignments, but footwork as an offensive lineman, footwork, technique, and understanding the big picture. Are they growing and just knowing their little assignment; growing as a player and learning the big picture; those kinds of things. Then hopefully you are going to see if they are in shape and how they conduct themselves on the practice field. Without pads, it's a little harder to do that, but yesterday we went in shoulder pads and that's the first day we had shoulder pads on. Obviously now we are trying to see how physical they can play; how much more physical they are; pad leverage; if they can play underneath people's pads. As an offensive lineman, it's still an old-fashioned game. Pad leverage, getting underneath defenders, playing physical; so you get a chance to start to see that. That usually shows up very well the first few days. You gotta kind of get back and knock the rust off and get back to playing lower and playing more physical."
You had said that when players like (Paul) Duncan and (Mike) Turkovich become juniors, the light comes on. How do you feel about them right now?
"I think they have gotten a lot better from fall to spring and from spring to where we are right now. What happens, there's a great deal of confidence because of doing it over and over again. And just the fact that you've done it and been in the system gives you mental confidence that you can go out there and execute and play better. And you see some confidence growing in those guys."
You have more bodies on the offensive line since anytime that you've been here. How does that change your job?
"It's really good because you can see you have more capable guys. A lot of those guys are in their first and second year and they are young, but you see the capability of these young guys and that's the challenge as a coach. How quickly can you teach them our schemes, our system, our techniques, our fundamentals; and that's the challenge. We have more capable bodies now than we've had since we have been here."
Is there an element of challenge for you keeping an eye on this many players?
"Obviously, the more guys you have to coach, the more it stretches you. I have a great young coach in Shane Waldron who I think is outstanding and has a bright, bright future ahead of him. He has been with us going on his third year. So just like players get more and more confidence in learning what they have to do, we have seen him as a young football coach where now I can say, ‘Okay, I'm going to take the tackles this period and work on some specific things,' and give him the centers and guards or I may take the inside guys and give him the tackles because I know he is really a capable coach right now. So that helps immensely."
Is Chris Stewart having to start over in some ways?
"It's almost starting over for him and rightfully so and expected to be that way, because in the fall if you have a freshman in fall camp and he doesn't get in the two-deep, he's down on the show teams and really not getting much work with you. And the first time he gets a lot of work with you as a position coach is spring; and that particular person was on defense. So that's where it is and you just know it and expect it. What you hope is that he's a little bit further ahead than a first guy walking in but yet he's not much further ahead."
What makes him a better fit for the offensive line compared to the defensive line?
"I've never coached defense so I don't know how he fits on defense. But, obviously, he's a big, big guy, a flexible guy; he's a very strong person. Some guys can see something and react to it; the offensive guys kind of have to have a plan what they are going to do before they do it. I see him fitting that better, personally, but I never coached defense so I don't know what people thought of him on defense."
Beyond growing confidence, what makes Paul Duncan a good fit at left tackle?
"He's a big, rangy, athletic kid. I think last year at one point in time, going into fall, he was light; probably in the 69-70 range. He's been able to get up. Our weight coaches have done a good job getting good size on him; he's around the 300-pound mark right now. He's bigger and stronger and we always knew he was athletic so the off-season workout, and, obviously, the commitment to doing that, has been better on his part and it just doesn't happen by accident. So, obviously, the switch has come on a little bit and the spotlight is on him and, obviously, that brings out hopefully more commitment in getting things accomplished that he needs to get accomplished."
How can you measure if a guy is going to respond to that spotlight since the left tackle position is so important?
"The only thing you can do is put him in as many high-intense situations that you can. One thing that Coach does in our practice schedule is give us a lot of one-on-one time in both the run game and pass game. When you go one-on-one pass protection every day that you can, that's as intense as it gets because the defense knows it's not going to be a screen; they know it's not going to be a draw; they're playing 3rd and 15 every time you snap the ball in that environment. That's a healthy situation because it's one-on-one so you don't have interior line things with freak accidents. So you try to put those guys in that situation as often as you can. We do it every day."
The first couple years, you seemed to spend a lot of time developing a certain attitude. Are you able to move beyond that a little bit now?
"No. Offensive line is a huge attitude. It's a huge toughness. Just when you start easing up or thinking you have enough there, you go backwards in a hurry. So that has to stay on our mind every single day. In fact, in every meeting at some point in time, I'll point out a play where a kid gave a great effort and toughness. And I'll point out a play where it wasn't that way. You wish you could do that, but it will bite you if you do."
Coach Weis said John Sullivan will be calling plays. Have you seen that in your career?
"I've never had a center call plays. Sully is a fourth year starter here; he's going to be a three-year starter in our system. He knows the offensive line play very well. He's a very smart kid, and it's good to have him in there with a bunch of younger guys. He can kind of give a settling to them knowing that they can rely on his ability to change things and change blocking schemes and things of that nature. So it's good that he's here with us; plus he's a pretty good player."
How important is the flexibility of Dan Wenger and what does he need to do to establish himself?
"One of the things I've always done in my career which is going on 28-29 years, is the more you can ask of your players mentally, the better they are going to be, even when they settle into one position. You've got to work as such a unit and really, the left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing. I have a lot of guys who here shortly are going to be working multiple positions. It gives you two things as a coach; it allows you when an injury occurs to put the next best player in; and I think that's important. If you just go by strictly positions, your tenth best player may be the second right tackle. Why would you want to put the tenth best player in if the sixth best player can play that position as well? So you get a chance to put the best player in that you have left after your top five, plus it really makes them grow and challenges them to learn the big picture instead of their little world."