Brian Smith seems to have matured and works hard. Can you comment on this?"Well, the one big advantage is that, when I have a problem, I can just call Dad because they have already been there done that. It really helps from my standpoint with him because he has been bred, and he knows the whole mentality of the place and he has a lot of pride walking in the door. So on top of his athleticism, he has already had the spirit and pride for the place which I think only makes him want to be successful that much more."
Did the thoughts about recruiting Brian change when Corwin Brown came on-board and with the change to 3-4 defense? Was his size a factor?"He wasn't 6'3" 245. He was significantly smaller than that and he was bouncing back between an inside linebacker and an outside linebacker and you really couldn't get a grasp at which he would be best at. But then when you said you were going to play more of that type on the field, then his versatility became a huge asset rather than initially a tough one to figure out what are you going to do with him. And that's where we were when we first started the process. We said what are we going to do with him because one year he's playing inside and one year he's playing outside? You really couldn't put your finger on what we were going to do. Look what's happened with him just from spring till now. He's played both outside and inside so that question beforehand has become a great asset for us."
What is the advantage to moving him inside?"I said the first day that the guy that's in the position to make the most plays is actually that position. So, as we went through the spring, the guy that was making the majority of the plays on a daily basis was him. Going back to the recruiting process, because we had viewed him as both an inside and an outside player, we knew that we wouldn't be putting him in an unnatural position because we'd already seen him play in there and play at a high level."
Mo Richardson seems to be ahead of Justin Brown on the depth chart. Did Mo win this job in the spring?"I just think than Mo played better than him in the spring. It isn't like Justin isn't competing for the position. I think we are going to try our best to get into a greater example of a two-deep situation than we've been in since we've been here. Those guys are getting pressed by the young guys behind them now too because they're coming on fast and it isn't just Ethan (Johnson) because Kapron Lewis-Moore is over there too. I look at him and I see the prospect of this kid at 260 or whatever he is right now. I don't know how big he is going to be when it is all said and done, but it looks like he is going to be a big muchacho as well as Ethan. So right now coming off the spring, Mo performed better coming out of the spring, and that's why he is where he is."
Is it safe to say that it is Brian Smith's spot to lose?"Everyone's job is up, but I'm saying, unlike some years previous, I think there are some guys slotted into a spot and they're going to have to get beat out and I would say he's one of them."
Can you talk about Raeshon McNeil and how he has matured on the field and adjusted to the college situation?Actually, Raeshon has quietly been one of those guys that has been waiting in the wings for an opportunity to get on the field more. If you go all the way back to high school and the All-American game, here's a guy who has always had a lot of spunk and coverage ability. His time has been more spotty, but obviously now he has a great opportunity for all that upside and ease his way into them instead of throwing him into the fire. I mean now he has been well groomed and he has been doing a nice job on and off the field; doing a nice job in school. In fact Brian (Hardin) and I were talking about him this morning because I saw he was one of the people on the (interview) list and I was telling him he really has a big personality. But when you talk to him, and if you don't know him real well, you wouldn't know he has a big personality because he comes across so quiet and reserved. There's the other side of the fence, and I think to have that spunk that he has, it's the type of attitude you need to have to be a successful corner because there are good plays and bad plays and you have to be able to deal with both of them."
Harrison Smith appears to be on a couple position depth charts. Could you talk about this?"Well, put it like this, if something were to happen to (David) Bruton or Kyle McCarthy, there's a good chance he would be the starting safety. But while he's not a starting safety, because we are very happy with the play of those two guys, he would be a contender. I'm not saying he would be ahead of Ray (Herring) and Sergio (Brown) and Jashaad (Gaines) but he would be a contender to be a starting safety. But with that being said, he has put himself in a position with our personnel packages where we just feel we want to get him on the field."
Are his positions on the depth charts situational?"In lieu of all the spread offenses that people play now, everyone has to have a counter to the spread offenses. What you can't do is just come out and play with a bunch of big linebackers against all these teams that are spreading the field all the time. So it's a three-safety package. It's kind of a counter to not having to change personnel every time a team comes out there and spreads you out. So what you are trying to do, Tim, is match up athleticism with athleticism."
Can you talk about the competition between Gary Gray and Raeshon McNeil for playing time?"I would say you can count on both of those guys being on the field a whole bunch."
When it comes to special teams and cover guys and so forth, do you have a similar philosophy that you've had where you wanted to get the fastest guys and starters on the field? How are you looking at that?"Well, we talked about that last night and we had this conversation. I cited David Bruton who sits right in front of me, right here. I said now, look at it, I could play David Bruton on all four coverage teams. I could play him on punt team; punt return; kickoff; kickoff return and he would be one of our best guys. But he's going to play every snap of every game on defense. So ideally what you would want is to play one or two units – as an example, as a gunner on the punt team. You prefer him to be a gunner on the punt team because he might be the best guy in the country at doing it. But you'd like to take him off those other teams if you could get someone else relatively close. I really talked to two groups of guys today. One was the older guys who aren't really front-line players on offense or defense and the other one was the younger guys who are just trying to make it; just trying to get on the field. I said ideally you would want somebody out of one of those two groups to come along and take some reps as special teams away from a guy like David Bruton."
Coach Polian said he is excited about special teams because of some of the young athletes. Are some of them pressing the starters for time?"As long as they can play winning football for you. Like we always do, we put a lot of emphasis on special teams. But with me being in there along with Brian for everything that we are doing, obviously, it's putting a lot more pressure on everyone to perform to get it right. Those guys know that they aren't going to walk in the door and be a front-line player on offense or defense and it gives them the best opportunity to compete. And for coaches, it's a good situation for us because it gives you more options on special teams."
Do (Gary) Gray and (Raeshon) McNeil have a similar style of play?"Well the big difference is Raeshon has a significant level of experience over Gary. They both have very good athleticism. They both have very good cover skills. But the one thing is, when Gary is running on the show team, recovering from his shoulder and can't hit anybody, okay, so all you're seeing is cover. And also when you're on the show team, if somebody runs by you, it's not like 80,000 people are in the stands. Like, oh well, you gave up a touchdown. Well, there's no ‘oh wells' anymore. When somebody goes by you now, it counts. So the difference is, Raeshon has had to do it for real and Gary hasn't yet. So that's the first thing Gary is going to have to do to transition to get into that mix, getting used to playing where it counts."
We know some things about the starting defensive linemen, but what about the second group and has anybody stood out?"Without talking about the Justin/Mo combination over there, I think there are a number of candidates who have shown flashes; like Emeka (Nwankwo) has shown flashes, okay. Paddy Mullen has shown flashes, okay. After that, we've brought in these five freshmen, here now. By bringing in all of these guys right here, the reinforcements have arrived. Now you've got (Brandon) Newman and Hafis (Williams) and you've got Ethan (Johnson) and you've got Kapron Lewis-Moore and that doesn't even count (Darius) Fleming being over there with Kerry Neal and John Ryan and Kallen Wade. So we have a lot more candidates. What's happening, I think with defensive linemen, just like offensive linemen, until you can really start hitting, you can't really tell. Today is the first day we can put shoulder pads on which will significantly up the tempo for those guys - shoulder pads and knee braces - and then two days from now, in fact on media day, is the first day that we can actually now get a very, very good feel for whether or not this progress that we see in shorts correlates to having full pads on."
Can you talk about the progress of Kerry Neal?"Kerry has a very, very high motor and he's in a very competitive position right now. There's a lot of depth at the position, and I think that he had a very good spring and that carried over into camp and there's a lot of competition. So I think the competition at the position has been a very good thing."
He has practiced with the defensive line and with the linebackers. Could you talk about that?"Well, that position – the Will position – for us is very often, but not always, but very often, has their hand on the ground. So the reason why they're practicing with the D line is because it is actually a combination of Jappy and I and my defensive GA Patrick Graham, over there as well, okay, with that ‘tweener position - that Will position - where you have your hand on the ground or hand off the ground. I think, when you have your hand on the ground, you have to practice certain techniques that are different than when you have your hand off the ground."
Can you talk about the big picture of the defense with the addition of Jon Tenuta and will you be blitzing more this year?"I think we intend to bring a whole bunch of pressure. That would be a fair statement."
Is that something you always wanted to do or is that a change of philosophy?"Oh, I think Corwin and I have always been around programs that have blitzed depending upon who you've had. When you bring pressure, you have to believe that the defensive secondary can hold up because that's who you're exploiting - that's who you are exposing, should I say. Okay, so they go hand-in-hand. There's a lot of time you don't bring pressure but the flip-side of that is that if you don't get any heat on the quarterback, if you don't bring pressure, you are actually putting pressure on your secondary that way as well. So that's the Catch-22 that you play. I think Corwin and I have been involved with teams that by game have blitzed a whole bunch and by games have not blitzed very much. I think Jon just brings another piece to that puzzle with a high level of expertise."