Coach Brown and Coach Tenuta both recently stated that Tenuta has been sort of a mentor to Coach Brown. Did you expect this to happen when you brought him in?"I thought it would be a very good mesh. When you have a personality like Corwin, which is just fun to be around and infectious to be around, I think it is always good when you have a veteran sounding board. Sometimes you are bouncing ideas back and forth and sometimes you are telling them, ‘This is what I want to do.' And other times you are saying, ‘What would you do in this situation? What have you done in this situation?' I think after doing our due diligence, I just felt the two of them would be able to feed off each other. Let's not disregard Jappy Oliver in this mix because it is really the three of them. Too many times we talk about Corwin because he is the defensive coordinator and Jon because of his reputation as a defensive coordinator but actually you could put Jappy Oliver right in that mix. I think the three of them have had to mesh together; not just the two of them."
Do you have a similar mentorship with Mike Haywood then?"That's the role I'm playing right now. This morning we had a half-hour conversation, just the two of us, about play-calling, talking about the new 40-25 second clock that is going to come into play - that's what the NFL is, 40-25 play clock - because for me, I have more familiarity than anybody because I had to live under those rules. Really, it's not that tough as long as you are willing to make the calls quickly and not wait to put the ball in play to make your play call because when they put the ball in play, it might not be at 25 seconds, it might be at 20 seconds. Because if the 40-second clock is running, they don't wait till they set it to start the 25-second clock They put the ball down and that 40-second clock has been running the whole time so you can't get into that slow, methodical pace of play-calling. You've got to be ready to go. We must have talked just about that for a half-hour today."
You've been happy with your role with the new offensive operation. How has this manifested itself?"Well, when you make the decision to do this and you've never done it before, so the first thing you have to do is to make sure you are actually giving the guys an opportunity to do it; that you're not just being superficial in what you're doing. Because I have pulled away and been more able to interject and mentor than sit there and we're doing this, we're doing this, and we're doing this, things have run fairly smoothly on the offensive side of the ball. That's why I'm content; I'm never happy. I am content because you never know when you're making this drastic of a change if the ebb and flow is going to proceed fairly well. I have been content how this is taking place this spring."
Could you give us an example how this has gone well?"I'll give you an example: We had a situation period the other day where I took an eight-minute period and I had the whole team and I'm giving them different situations, okay. I'm saying, coming off your own goal line, second and one call, and I gave three different examples as a play call. Not going into what they are, I gave three different examples of different plays that you can call on second and one. I said now depending upon the play-caller, they can call this, or they can call this, or they can call this. I went and gave the reason why and a couple days later we had a scrimmage and we were second and one, three different times, and he used all three examples. So it showed that not only did you say it, but he was listening to you and as those situations presented themselves, all of a sudden those three different examples that you gave, showed up a couple days later when you were actually scrimmaging. I think that's a pretty good example."
How do you feel about the offensive line right now?"I feel a heckuva a lot better than I did any time last year that I can tell you. I think as you look right down the line, they have settled in nicely at their positions. They are bigger, they are stronger, and they are more confident. They are not looking around waiting for something to happen. They are looking for somebody to hit and I think more than any other quality they have become much more cohesive. Because instead of just five guys out there just doing their jobs, now you have five guys who are pulling for each other. I think any offensive line that even has a chance; it's all about the group. Several of you guys requested to talk to the offensive line today and it was like four guys requested here and one guy requested here, but when Brian talks to you guys, he is going to give you all six guys together. Because right now, there are like six guys in group A and then it goes to group B after that and I think they don't want to be separated; they don't want to be looked at in a different situation. They want to be thought of as part of the group and when you have that, I think you have the makings of something good."
How is this different from last fall?"What you really had was, you had Sully (John Sullivan) and then you had everybody else listening to Sully. Now Sully is gone and their security blanket is gone so what happens is when that security blanket goes, it forces everyone to pick up the pace. Now instead of one guy having to make every call with everything you do; now everyone has accepted more responsibility. With that, we share both the credit and the blame when things go well and things don't go so well."
How is Jimmy Clausen progressing? Is he right where you want him at this time?"It's never right where you want it, but if you asked me if he has made considerable progress, he has made significant progress, significant. He would never be content saying that's all he could go because we have a long way to go and I don't think there is anybody on this team who would disagree with that point."
Is this mentally?"Everything - mentally, leadership, physically, every category the arrow has been pointing up; every one."
Are you going to select captains today?"No, what I am going to do, we're going to address this Friday in our meetings. I'll let them know on Saturday because, you know, if I tell one player on Friday, you guys will know it before I announce it (laughing). So we're going to make sure that doesn't happen by me letting them know on Saturday."
Why are you waiting?"Because I still have a special teams' practice today and I'd like one of the captains to be a special teams' captain. I don't think we can pick a special teams' captain before we have the whole special teams' practice - A. And then B, on Friday, the first thing we are going to do before we break into offense and defense is watch that special teams' practice. I think on offense and defense, they could go ahead and make their votes now, but I still think on special teams they still need to have the opportunity of the second half of today's practice which is all special teams. We have a bunch of individual stuff, then we have a break, and then it's all special teams. I want to make sure we have had that practice and watched the tapes before we make that call."
So, do you want to tell them all at the same time or will you tell the offense and defense earlier?"No, we want to do it at one time. My intent is, but I don't know if it will play out this way so don't hold me to this, is to have one on offense, one on defense, and one on special teams; that's my intent. Now, if two guys end up being tied on offense or if two guys end up being tied on defense, I'm not going to cut one; but that's what the intent is right now."
Have you defined the running back situation yet or don't you want to define it at this time?"I think the latter rather than the former is really the truth. It's been such a great competition which has made each one so much better because they know someone is breathing down their neck every time they are out there, and it has been a very, very healthy thing. I don't think we have to worry about it at this point right now. We can put any of those three guys out there and think that we can put somebody out there that we can win with."
Can you talk about the Harrison Smith situation?"I'm glad you asked; I'm glad you asked. Let me give you two football things here because I wouldn't have brought it up, but because you were so insightful, I figured I would follow up on that (laughing). You guys have seen Harrison Smith line up as a safety; you've seen him line up down in the linebacker position. We have two base defensive calls – personnel groupings. One is called base with four backers; one is called regular with three safeties. We run the exact same calls though because we don't want to confuse the rest of the players. So if we want to get the most athletic guys out there and you're not worrying about size as much as you are speed, then we put regular out there. So that means he has to be cross-trained, even though he's a safety. He has to be trained playing in the deep secondary and playing closer to the line of scrimmage. We have the same thing true eventually in nickel; not that we have gotten to it yet, but we have a big nickel and we have a little nickel. Little nickel is when you play with corners and speed guys inside and you're playing more for the pass. With the big nickel, when teams try to expose you on early downs by putting three wide receivers in but they really want to run the ball so you want to play a nickel defense but you want to put in more physical guys so you can stop the run as well as defend the pass. So really what you have been seeing is a combination of us going back and forth between base and regular; with base us having four backers in there and regular with us having three safeties in there, but in both defenses we play the exact same stuff."
Talking about the offensive line and the off season, how did they grow mentally?"Well, I think first of all, it all starts with the fact that this is a prideful group that is embarrassed by how we played last year. If you're not embarrassed, you're not going to get any better. First of all you have to identify if you are part of the problem. Then you have to decide what you are going to do to go about fixing it. I would have to say, it started with them and Reuben (Mendoza). It started long before we got on the practice field. The attitude was one of accountability, and it wasn't me putting it on them, it was them putting it on them. They have heard it from everybody unless they are oblivious to the free world how many times can everybody tell you the offensive line, the offensive line, the offensive line. This is a very prideful group and it actually started in December when they started working out. I think that's when it all started; I don't think it waited until when spring ball started."
Did the coaches push this or did they start working out on their own?"Well, I count Reuben as a coach. I think the difference is, not that they haven't been dedicated, but they have been dedicated individuals. When you're younger, you're more of an individual. You're not really as much as a part of the group. I think they have become much more unified as a group."
Has Sam Young sort of picked up for Sully?"I think they all have taken ownership. I don't think Sam Young can be differentiated from the rest of those guys. Has he shown leadership? Absolutely. But I'm not separating any of them. I'm not taking Sam and separating him from the rest of them because they would think that that would be unfair. They want to be viewed as a unit. They'll have representation when the time comes but I think right now they want to be viewed as a unit, not a bunch of individuals."
Why is that important? It would seem that you'd want to go out there and do your own job and take care of your responsibilities."Not at that position. Remember now, the offensive line coach is coaching five guys at one time. You have from tackle to tackle and although you can vision everything, you need guys covering for each other. There are going to be times when you're either going to be physically whipped or mentally whipped or emotionally; there's all those things together. When they pick each other up and do it day-after-day-after-day, when guys know that you have their back, it makes the arrow much more pointed up for success."
How has Jimmy Clausen handled the increased reps?"We've given him what he can handle. We're not going to be sitting with him in the middle of practice with an ice bag on, but trust me five seconds after practice is over, he's in the trainer's room wrapping up the elbow and the shoulder which is what all good quarterbacks do after a good workday. We have put in periods of practice where he won't throw one pass. We'll go through a whole period where we won't throw one pass. Between the coaching staff and Jimmy, we've been able to manage getting through the spring with him getting a heavy dose. Now, the flip side of that, because you brought the negative point of that one, the flip side of that, is look how much more ready you are because of all the reps you've taken. I think the positive residual effect greatly outweighs any negative that could have happened from him taking more reps."
What are you trying to instill in him this spring?"Let's go back to this question over here a couple of minutes ago. I think he needs to get better in a lot of different places. First of all, he's a better leader; second of all, he's better mentally; third of all, he's better physically. He's more mature. What else is there? And there's plenty of room to grown. We have made huge, quantum leaps, but there is plenty of room to grown."
How long does it take to learn the offense, two years, three years?"He's gone from 100-level classes to 300-level classes. He might have gone through the twos but if you tell me he's at a 400-level class or graduate school yet, he's not there yet but I would say if you can make that quantum leap from the 100s to the 300s, bypassing the twos, you can get my analogy here, I think you can understand how much progress we think he has made mentally."
How much progress have you seen so far from special teams and how much of Coach Beamer's information has been implemented?"The second part of the question, there are things that we got from Coach Beamer that we have implemented from day one. There are a couple schematic things that we will wait and put in in the summertime because they will actually take time to do. You really don't have that much time in the limited spring ball. There are things that we implemented the next time we went out there. That being said, I think probably the greatest thing that has happened is that when we sit in this room and go through all the things that we are doing on special teams and Coach Polian is sitting right there and I am sitting right here and he's making points and I'm making points, there is definitely a heightened sense of urgency with the players as you would expect to be the case. You would expect that to be the case and then on the field, when things don't go too well, instead of having to put all the responsibility on one coach to be hammering the team, I think when the head coach is sitting there saying, ‘Didn't we just have this conversation an hour ago when we were sitting in the meeting room?' I think it carries a lot more weight."
Do you think that sense of urgency comes from last year they sort of took it for granted because you had Zibby (Tom Zbikowski) back there?"No, I think it's because the head coach is running the meeting. I think we're looking too much into it. Let's face it, when the boss is there, there's a heightened sense of urgency. Just as the same thing in your job, I would imagine. I think if you are in a meeting and all of a sudden your boss is there, it's just not the same as when you are hanging out with the fellows (laughing). It's a little different and that's what I'm supposed to be there for."
How would you compare the end of Brady Quinn's first spring to where Jimmy is right now?"That's really a tough one. Let me answer it like this, it's better to say at the start of his junior year, I would expect him to be way ahead of where Brady was his junior year. That's probably a better way of saying it. Brady, in his defense, had been playing for two years already. So a lot of things he'd gone through for a couple of years. He was ready to get to that 400-level and get into graduate school. He was ready for that."
You mentioned the running backs you can win with. Are there other guys you can put in this category?"We talk about the quarterback position and the lack of people out there; how about the tight end position? Mike Ragone is probably the tiredest guy in camp because he has gotten as many reps as you can physically handle. Luke Schmidt banged up his head a week ago so he really hasn't been going because we're erring on the side of safety on that one. So it's been Mike and a couple of walk-ons over there at the tight-end position. He's gotten all those reps on offense and special teams. There's no one going to be happier on Sunday morning when this is over than Mike Ragone. Not that he doesn't enjoy the reps because it has given him a chance to separate from the pack, but he knows that in the not-too-distant future, the cavalry is coming and he wants to make sure he stays at the head of the pack."
It is often mentioned that leadership is by example but what are some other things that are needed to be a good leader?"What you need to do is have the players take over the team. If you are ever going to be a championship-level team, you need the players to take over the team. I'm not talking about the inmates running the prison, now. But you need positive leadership to take over the team; that's what you need. So the coach's main job then should be coaching Xs and Os and not about coaching leadership. But you know what, you can't fake leadership; you either have it or you don't have it. Leadership can be in different veins. It can be good leadership or it can be bad leadership. A guy like John Carlson, let's go back. John Carlson was not a leader here a couple years ago. He was just a good, hard-nosed kid who was a good football player. Then as he rose in the position to take over, Brady was gone and a guy had to step up and kind of be looked up to. He had that in him and it just came out of him. That's what we're looking for; we're looking for more John Carlsons. When their time came to step up; they stepped up."
Was there more than one John Carlson needed last year?"I think there were leaders but we just didn't do a good enough job anywhere across the board, from me right on down as I have often stated before."
At the beginning of spring ball, you talked about confidence and swagger and these kinds of things, how will you measure this spring?"I think the jury is still out on that question. I would say right now, the arrow is pointing up. But what you have to see is when August 7th and August 8th roll around, how much carry-over there is. Because if it stays level and continues to grow from there, then you've got something special. If you start to see a leveling out and a drop in performance, then you have wasted a lot of time and you are starting over again. So let's hope between June 15th when they come back for the second session of summer school and August 7th when they report, let's hope they continually make leaps and bounds so that they are actually better then than they are now walking out of the door Saturday."
What will be your focus for May and June regarding recruiting and alumni visits?"That's my favorite; I'm doing it (laughing). You get your one-phone-call that you can make between yesterday and towards the end of May. So I make all those one-phone-calls so the coaches don't have to make those phone calls. I'll continue with the phone calls and two days a week I'm going to be out on the road for alumni things. I'm actually going to have an appointment with every player, and if you realize it, there's not really much time between now and the end of the semester. But I'm going to have an appointment with every single guy and I'm going to tell them where I see them stand at this time based on the end of the spring. This way you watch the spring game and have the coaches evaluate it; you sit there and bring in so-and-so and you say, ‘This is where you are,' because when these guys leave for the summertime, I want them to know what their status is and why. I probably have never done that with the whole team before. I have done that with select individuals, but I'm going to do it with every single guy. Because I'm not on the road recruiting, I'm going to be able to fit that into the schedule."
When you first came in regarding the cornerback position, you said you couldn't play much nickel or dime coverage. Can you play more now?"We could put four corners on the field right now and I think I would feel very confident. If somebody would put four wides out there and we wanted to match it with corners, I wouldn't blink an eye."
With the spring game coming up, is the coaching pretty well done? Is that game sort of the icing on the cake?"Well, it depends on whether you want to eat hot dogs or whether you want to eat steaks. That's a loaded question. If I was on the coaching staff and I knew I was on the winning side and I was going to eat steak and shrimp and all that other stuff that I want, I think I would be trying like heck to win. Okay, on the other side, if you want to eat hot dogs and beans, that's okay. I think they are actually spending today and tomorrow game-planning (laughing) so they can try to win. Food always works with this staff and this team. That's one thing I can tell you, food is always a carrot that you can hang out there and still go for."
Is Reuben automatically on the winning side?"No, he's on the losing side (laughing). It depends upon the amount of food we have. Let's leave it at that."
How much difference do you think it makes to the players playing in front of a crowd on Saturday?"Let's talk about the kicking situation. I created a kicking situation in practice on Monday and we had a tough practice because it was the last day it was going to be offense and defense only. It was a long, tough practice and at the end of practice we were supposed to work on kickoff return. So the whole rest of the team was going to be cover guys. The whole team was going to run down, rapid fire, kick after kick. So we're finished with this long, 72-play period, so I called Brandon Walker up and made him kick a 42-yard field goal and the deal was, if he made the kick we wouldn't run. If he missed the field goal, we run. He made the kick, and if I showed you the film, you would think we just won the national championship. Brandon was a very popular guy after practice on Monday. The same is true in the spring game. You're out on the field and all of a sudden fans are there. Now you're kicking a field goal and there are people around. It's always different when people are watching than if you're just there in practice."
Duval Kamara today and the first thing Duval will say is how he has worked out with Grimes and Grimes and Grimes, and everything you will hear from everyone is Grimes. Because in the whole off-season, I thought there were a handful of guys who separated themselves from the pack in conditioning in off-season. And he is one of them and it has carried over into spring ball."
Is the depth chart that we received in the early spring pretty much intact?"It does but Barry Gallup is moving to halfback, Steve Paskorz is moving to fullback, Duval will probably start at X. When he was going to miss half of practice on Mondays and Wednesdays, it's halfway through practice and all of a sudden he comes jogging out there and now he's going to take 15 minutes to go ahead and get loose. By the time he gets to the team period, he's around to take those reps, but on those couple of days, there's a lot of stuff he is missing in practice which you can't really throw him in there for. I knew that going in because sometimes scheduling here, there are tweaks you have to do. I have a couple guys in the regular season, I don't like doing it, but there are certain majors where I have to cut a little bit of latitude as far as not getting here on time at 2:30. A couple guys in engineering and graphic design that have a class that is mandatory, you cannot not take it, but it doesn't get over until 2:45, I can do one of two things, tell them they can't take it or tell them they can take it. So when there's no alternative and that is the only time they can take the class, that's the angle I'm always going to take."