Are you and the players really anxious for this first game?"Sure, you've had training camp, and then it's game week; then the next phase, you want to see what progress you've made. So you're always anxious to get to that first game and it is even more so when you've watched a bunch of people play last weekend, and you're sitting there watching it and it makes you more anxious."
After spending spring and fall with this line, it has to be exciting to see the fruit of your efforts, right?"Yeah, we have to go out and see where we are. You can see them practice all you want, and then games are different. So the next phase is to go out there and play a game and see where you are and try to improve upon that on a weekly basis. It's kind of like the first test; you go out and see where you are."
Is it hard to keep them from peaking before the season starts and are they energized at this point?"I think they are. As a coach, you're anxious to get to that first game. They're anxious to see some strange faces and some strange numbers and a different color of jersey instead of hitting your own guys all the time. That's the point where we are, but we still have a couple more days of preparation that we need to utilize and take advantage of."
How important was it for Dan Wenger to get a couple starts at center last year?"I think that's critical. I've always believed game experience is the most important thing that you can have. For a center, who you want to direct the calls and make calls and adjust calls and be able to go out there and actually do it and now has done it a couple of times, I think that is a real big positive."
Is a center almost a leader by default?"Well, I think you have to be a smart guy first of all. We had that here with Sully (John Sullivan). I think football nowadays has changed so much. You see so many blitzes and so many different looks on a weekly basis. You have to really be able to decipher different things and how you are going to adjust that week and yet do it instantly. You have to know it so well so that you can do it second nature as opposed to get up there and try to analyze what to do. You just have to react to it. I think that is the pressure that the center has in college football today."
How much has it helped playing against a defense that has let it be known it likes to blitz a lot?"I think that was good for us. I thought it was good work and hopefully good for our defense and helps them play well. I know it was good for us to see it because you don't want to see it on Saturday unless you have seen it a bunch. We have seen a lot of different looks, and we gave our guys a lot of different looks and blitzes. We asked them to know how to learn to live in that environment. And that is the way college football has evolved and, if you are going to be in that environment on Saturdays, you had better be in it on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as well."
Do you think you will have to have played someone before you can judge how well the line has progressed in picking up blitzes?"Sure, absolutely, it's all about what you do on Saturdays. You go out there and practice and, if you make mistakes, you try to learn from it. But in games, there is no do-over. You run that play again in practice, do it over and get it right. You don't get to do that on Saturdays. It's all about what you do on Saturdays."
Do you think you will really have any answers before Sunday morning or late on Saturday night?"I'm not sure ‘answers' is the correct word. What you do is, you go out there and prepare as well as you can. For the first game, you have a lot more time to prepare so you give them a lot more in terms of – if they do this; this is how we'll react to it. You give them a lot more than maybe game three when you see how a team has played two times and has kind of settled in. You have a lot longer to prepare for so you expect the kids to be able to handle more things."
Do you think you saw so many blitzes last year because you were playing from behind a lot of the time?"Obviously, the situation is going to dictate what you are seeing. The game of football is really a bunch of different situations; whether it is third-down situations, or red zone or goal line, or if you are behind. The mentality of the defense changes as the situations change. You try to educate your players and teach them how those things do change; how the mentality of the defense changes. All those things are things your kids have to understand to go out there and execute against them. Everything in football is a certain situation."
A lot of the players have stated that they want to prove themselves. Have you sensed that?"First of all, any time guys believe that, it's a good thing because a big part of the game is a mental frame of mind that you are in and the team is in. I take that as a good sign and really the bottom line; it's a test. Just like when you go to algebra class the first day, you're not ready to take a test. We've had a good, long camp; now it's game week and now it's time to go and take that first test. We'll go out there and play hard and see where we are."
You've been doing this for a long time, training camp after training camp, are there specific things you can't have an answer for until you get to Saturday?"You never know how a defense is going to come and play you. You know how you are going to try and play them but you don't know how they are going to play us. They could show something that we haven't even seen on tape that they have done. So even though you try to prepare for the first game and give them so much throughout fall camp because you have so much time, you still have to emphasize certain things - the known - what we do know they do play, so that's where you play the percentages and put a lot of emphasis in that preparation on the known. You still have to spend a little bit of time here and there on things they may not have done. Because what you want fall camp to do is, hopefully, carry you through the fall. You can reflect back and say, ‘Remember, we did this in camp and this is how we handled it.' Again, you give them a lot of different things. You don't spend your whole camp working on your first opponent. You work kind of for the whole year."
As you watched the tape of last week's game, did it kind of run through your head, this is not what I'm going to see when they play us?"Yeah, for a lot of reasons, they played against an option football team, and that's not us. So you're not going to play an option team the same as you play a team that's not an option team. So again, that creates a lot of unknowns, but all you can do is go back in the fall and prepare for a little bit of everything. You teach kids concepts instead of teaching plays and how we are going to block this front. You teach them concepts so when they go out there and there is change and you have some veteran guys, like we do now, you expect them to understand the big picture, understand the concepts to be able to be applied to those things."
Talking to Rob last week, he said the issue of concepts might be the biggest difference from where you guys were a year ago. Do you agree with this?"I think there's a lot of that now and the kids understand more. When you talk to them, in my vernacular, I'm not talking Italian to them (laughing) where, there were times last year, I felt I was talking Italian to them because of their inexperience. But now they have lived it and experienced it and now you can see they visualize it. When you are talking to them in football terminology, you can see a guy is confused or you can see that he gets it. He's actually picturing what you are saying. That's why it's always been important in my mind to have veteran players."