Coach, what do you hope to accomplish and learn about your team this week and next week?"There are a couple things. First of all with freshman orientation starting Friday evening, it gives the rest of the team a little chance to heal up bumps and bruises because it has been a very physical camp. They are not going to practice Saturday, and they are going to practice Sunday night. They really get 48 hours and change before they have to do anything physical again. It gives them a chance to heal up some, but after Sunday night, it will be just San Diego State for the next two weeks. Monday will be a little bit unorthodox because it is the day before school starts and we are trying to get on to a normal schedule. Especially the young guys, who have never gone through the routine, can go through the first week as though it was a practice week, as though we were playing the game that coming Saturday. Then the next time around, there will be a lot more familiarity. And the last part of that answer, Erik, because we are going to practice for San Diego State for two weeks, it allows you to really start getting your legs back the second week. Because it is the second time around after you have already done it the first week. So that's kind of the game plan."
Can you talk in general about the freshman class and their impact this year? Last year there were about eight freshmen who started at one time or another."I don't see eight players starting, but I could see eight players getting into the two-deep. They may not be starting, but there are a lot of guys that are playing themselves into contention to be on the field."
How healthy is the team right now?"We are actually in pretty good shape, knock on wood. We get some spasms and tightness in the hands and a couple of you guys noticed that (Dan) Wenger wasn't here yesterday. He was just sick and in the infirmary, but he is back out there today. He wasn't hurt. We've had a couple of heads from concussions and they have started to clear up. We haven't had one of those here in a little while. Like I said, knock on wood, but at this point right now, I'm pretty happy from where we are."
Are the concussions a result from the more physical practices?"That comes with the territory. That's the trade-off. Right now the concussions have cleared up. I don't think there is anybody on the injury list right now that has a concussion. We are more like tightness, tight and sore."
With school starting, do you have to anticipate a drop-off in focus and attention for awhile?"Well, that's why you are kind of glad that the first week isn't a game week because it kind of gives them a trial run. It isn't so much for the older kids and now the freshmen who are now sophomores; they're kind of older kids. I've said it a thousand times; the biggest transition that takes place is the first couple weeks of your freshman year. For these football players, think about it, they come in here on June 15th for summer school on June 17th. They just finished high school. They come in here June 15th and go till August 1st taking classes and working out with Ruben and not having any coaching. Then they come back August 7th and from 6:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night, nothing but football. So come this weekend, it is the first time that they will be close to being normal and they're going to find that the 20-hour workweek in football combined with 15 hours plus of classes; that schedule is pretty grueling."
Not playing the first week, do you consider this like a bye week and how do you feel about it?"The trade-off is you can have a bye in the middle of the season or another bye during your season that kind of breaks up the flow there too. So wherever you have them, it's unnatural. Football players are used to playing every week. Once they start playing, they get into a routine. It's a seven-day week and they are used to doing the same thing. So whenever you have the bye, it's unnatural for them. The pros are, you obviously have a chance to get healthy and work on fundamentals and techniques, but the cons are, you get out of the flow. I offered one school the opportunity to move the game earlier but, of course, it was all pro-Notre Dame advantages (laughing), needless to say, so we will leave it at that. I'm perfectly content playing when we are playing. I'm content with the bye being where it is. We have planned our recruiting schedule and everything around it. However the schedule lays out, you just have to adapt to it."
What has enabled Michael Floyd to be ahead of a couple of the other guys?"We just go by what we see out there. All three of these freshman receivers are very good football players; all three of them are. They're all practicing with legitimate reps; all three of them are. It's just that Michael, right now on the depth chart, is ahead of the other two, that's all. It's not that the other two are playing bad; it's just that he is playing really, really well. He's pretty good."
Does the amount of installation and the sophistication of it all fall on Jimmy's shoulders and how much he can handle?"It starts with the quarterback. The first thing you can't do is put in anything more than the quarterback can handle. That's the first thing. If he can't handle it, you have to cut it back which basically is what we did. You cut it back and as he learns more, you can add more. Now, of course, there are 10 other people out there and it's how much they can grasp collectively as a unit. Like last year, (John) Sullivan used to make all the Mike calls. Quarterbacks never made them. When Brady (Quinn) was here, Brady made all the Mike calls. Now it's back to Jimmy making all the Mike calls because he is ready to do that. Last year, you know, he wasn't ready to do that. So it all comes with the territory of the growing process. But it all starts with the quarterback and what he can handle."
Do you have to scale things back if the offensive line can't handle all the stuff?"We've already done that. We're growing from there. The more you can handle, the more you can do. But we're a little bit bigger this year on seeing if we can do fewer things better."
Why is that?"Because we are starting from base - fundamentals and technically - making sure we've got things right before you start throwing. But I have to feel that our base has been elevated substantially from where it was."
You've always been involved with the offense, but in your new role this year, how are you involved with the defense?"Well, I actually get a chance, when I'm watching that end of the field, to get a chance to say things to different people on different subjects. What I try to do so I don't step on toes during practice because you have to have respect for all your coaches and making sure you don't overstep your bounds, what I'll do a lot of times is talk to the defense in the way that, ‘This is what an offense is going to do against you fellows. If you do that, this is what they're going to do. So if you want to take this chance, this is what is going to end up happening.' I'll give you an example. They can get a false sense of security right now in blitzing because we're not cutting. So when somebody just wants to put his head down and just bull-rush every single time, I'll stop and say, ‘You know what he's going to do in that situation right now? He's not going to be looking at those numbers right there; he's going to be looking at those knees right there. That's what he's going for.' So at least they can grasp and understand what's going to happen in that situation."
What do you like about the way Floyd runs his routes?"He can run all the routes. He's pretty polished for a freshman. He's got plenty of toughness."
What are your thoughts on the growth of the spread offense?"I think the spread is in vogue right now. Over history things come in like the Bear defense, the 34 defense, the 4-3 defense, the run-and-shoot; now it's the spread and calling plays at the line of scrimmage; check with me where they just stand there and the coach is there and they look over to the coach and the coach says run the play or flip it to the other side. What is going to end up happening, like it always does, the defenses will eventually catch up with the offenses and then the offenses will go to something else. It's a copy-cat game and whatever is working, people are going to try doing."
What makes it so difficult?"Making defensive players play in space. People talk about basketball on grass; they're making them play in space. It used to be; you would go into the recruiting process and get those big, big defensive linemen or big, big linebackers. Guess what, they had better be able to run because this game has turned into a much faster game. Because when you play in space, you have to cover the whole field. We've been working in this direction for the last three years about recruiting personnel to be able to match up against people playing in space because you're going to see it more and more until defenses show they are capable of stopping it. You're going to see it more and more."
Last year's freshman class seemed to have a special bond. How would you rate the bonding of this year's freshmen?"I have never seen, in my four years here, a class as close. You're going to come in tomorrow and see that all the offensive freshmen have shaved their heads. I mean, who does that (laughing)? They are really a tight-knit group and they are a good bunch of kids and I really like them."
Do you know anybody responsible for the haircuts?"It was all offensive guys so the defensive guys decided they didn't want to go that route (laughing). I think they are a tight group of kids as they started falling in recruiting; started calling and texting each other. There has been a great bonding relationship that has taken place."
Do you think last year's struggles helped with the bonding?"I think that kind of defined their character because they even got here, and we talked about this on signing day, you knew you had a really special group because they were getting hammered every day. They were getting hammered everywhere they went - by their peers, their schools, and grocery stores, and certainly by every other college in America - so that's one of the reasons why you know they are special."
Would you talk about the development of the defensive line so far in camp?"The one thing I have liked is they look like they are playing fast, and it looks like the defensive staff is starting to develop depth that we can trust in. And that was one of my biggest questions because we have so many guys you are interjecting into this mix right here. Everybody knows about Ian (Williams). But Ian, this is his second year playing (laughing), basically, he started the last few games of the year and was a part-time player who now has become a mainstay. Everybody knows about Ian, and everybody knows about (Pat) Kuntz, and Justin Brown has been here for awhile. Everyone knows a little bit about those guys but the fact that the other guys, the Morrice Richardsons of the world, the Paddy Mullens of the world, and throw in some of the freshmen on top of it, we're starting to develop some depth. The way the game is played, and we were just talking about that over here with the spread, you better be able to play more than one group because, as fast-break as it is, you'd better be able to get a few guys in there."
Is it difficult coaching the sons of guys that you know and are close to?"I don't talk to them any different than the rest of the guys, I can tell you that. Pro or con, I make sure that, not only do I not favor them, but I also don't pick on them either because it's important to treat them just like everybody else; which is exactly what I do. The bigger issue, which is kind of humorous, is to make sure I don't talk to them to break the compliance issue. Because these are guys I have known for 30 years. We talk about pre-existing relationships; there's always that fine line and to what makes common sense and what doesn't."