Back on the Mic

Back by popular demand – more unpublished player interviews from August 2009.

On August 21, IrishEyes featured a collection of training camp interviews that hadn't been included in the previous weeks' updates or player features.

Un-used quotes, notes and anecdotes continued to pile up, and I think they should be shared with Irish Nation prior to our Nevada Week Kick-off.

Our first look examines four sophomores assured quality playing time this season.

Sophomore Running Back Jonas Gray

On his improvement from year one to year two

"After a year in the offense you learn all the patterns and things that help you understand which play is which (and why they're called in that situation). The key is realizing we have different ways of running the same plays (reads and adjustments) and just getting used to that alone helps you pick up the offense easier. "

When asked about his running style compared to other ‘backs

"I like to compare my style to Adrian Peterson. Power and speed too. I even started wearing the elbow pads because he wears them."

Note: Not a bad runner for Gray to aspire

On his chances of re-joining the Irish kick return team

"I'm pretty comfortable on all the special teams. There's nothing set in stone – we're all being used in different spots even (among) the same groups of guys (starters and backups) so they're looking to see who can perform the best."

Note: Special Teams Coach Brian Polian later supported Gray's comments with this pre-depth chart offering (unsolicited in terms of Gray):

"Another guy who's had a really good camp is Jonas Gray. He's done a nice job and he fits in a lot of places (including coverage).

"He's a big, physical back that can run and has game experience so he's had a nice camp too."

Gray on freshmen halfbacks Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick:

"They're doing a lot better than I did (compared to Gray's training camp of 2008). They're picking it up a lot easier.

"But the thing that they have that I didn't – Armando (Allen) and Robert (Hughes) were both sophomores (when Gray was a frosh last season). Now they're both juniors and I also know the offense, so they (Wood/Riddick) have a bunch of people helping them, and you have two ‘backs going through the same (adjustment) so they can help each other out."

Irish running backs coach Tony Alford echoed Gray's sentiments regarding leadership at the running back position:

"No question, no question about it. They (Allen and Hughes) really have helped those guys. As has Jonas. "And now James Aldridge is a senior – all those guys have done a really good job of supporting the younger players, and trying to get them to see things from an older player's perspective. They've done a really good job – the leadership in my room – I'm really proud of the way those guys have handled the freshmen coming in.

"A lot of people would say ‘well the freshman is coming in to take my job,'" Alford continued. "Well, they're part of this football team, and that just tells you about the type of kid that's here – it's different at Notre Dame. "Those older guys are all about team and how do we collectively get better. That's how winners ago. There'll be a time that Jonas, Cierre, and Theo will have to help the young guys as they were helped, too."

Gray regarding the importance of his playing time last season

"(Earning a freshman role on special teams) was definitely important – just (getting used to) the atmosphere; being out there was exciting. I was able to see how certain things and the hidden (yardage) and how certain plays can change the outcome of the game.

When asked if a redshirt freshman season would have been more valuable

"I just wanted to get out there and help the team any way I could (last year). It helped me get better."

When asked specifically about Riddick and Wood as football players

"The thing about Theo is his quickness. He's a really quick 'back. We talk about who's quicker, me or him. I think it's me. He's still wet behind the ears (kidding). He doesn't know how quick he needs to be (presumably not kidding)."

Note: IrishEyes mentioned this to Riddick's roommate and best friend on the team, Cierre Wood. Wood, who minced roughly zero words in his single interview session with the media had this response:

"Jonas is lying…we have to race, everybody's saying how quick they are. We have to find out and race."

Something tells me the media won't have the opportunity to witness this proposed race.

Gray continued with a scouting report on Wood

"The thing I like about Cierre is, he has a lot of patience running through the holes. People view it as him running slow through the holes but he's patiently waiting for things to develop and he finds a seam and accelerates through it. He's good."

Sophomore SAM Linebacker Darius Fleming

Regarding his adjustment to strongside linebacker after playing defensive end as a freshman

"It was different (at first). I was in a three-point stance all the time (as a DE) and now getting up into a two-point stance, but I took the proper steps in learning everything and it started to come along a little more each day. The coverage part (of SLB) was definitely something to get used to and adjust to but as time has gone on I've gotten much better."

On my assertion that his best moments as a pass rusher have come via inside moves and stunts

"Coach Tenuta tells me exactly what I need to do – though you still have to read (the blocking scheme) – but when I know I'm going inside I know it's an opportunity (for a sack/pressure). I get a little excited."

Regarding his role on special teams last season

"I enjoy special teams just as much as defense. That's a great starting point for (a freshman) and that part of the game can decide it (the outcome).

Note: When I asked Coach Polian about Fleming's possible limitations on special teams this season (as an every down defensive player), he responded:

"Somebody like Darius, who now has an expanded role on defense…we're not going to cut off our nose to spite our face. We're going to pick our spots with where he can help."

Fleming on Freshman LB Manti Te'o

"He's exciting to play next to. He's taking the proper steps, learning the plays.

"When someone comes in you always want to wait until they get here because a lot of kids do a lot of (big) things in high school, but college is a totally different level of football.

"Some people don't understand that and they can't adjust, but he's done a really good job of adjusting – he's done really well.

If Te'o had a particularly impressive camp moment

The first day in pads. He jumped out there and he wasn't afraid; he was running around making plays on the first day, so that really let me know this kid – he can play.

Fleming regarding his reportedly stellar training camp performance

"I feel like I've done a lot to learn this position. I feel good about myself that I learned it and now I'm picking up on things, the adjustments at SAM and back at Nickel (pass rushing role for Fleming) – I've made mistakes but overall I've adjusted.

"I feel like this is the position I'm supposed to be in (strongside linebacker). I'm really comfortable and it reminds me of (playing DE) end but I'm just up in my stance now.

"The things it allows me to do is use my athletic ability and drop back into coverage; to rush inside and outside and it allows me to be all over the field not just in one spot (DE).

"The hardest part was learning the coverages. As camp went on I learned my responsibilities – how to drop when to drop.

"I consider myself a hybrid linebacker. I'm really glad the coaches allow me to play both and I'm exciting to see how the season goes."

Sophomore Defensive Tackle Hafis Williams

Regarding his development as both a three-technique (DT) and nose tackle

"Coach Hart wants me to play both so I'm flip-flopping right now and he's preparing me to play both to the best of my ability.

"At three-technique I have to be faster – I have to move off the guard so fast (get off the ball). At nose I have to be very strong and draw the double team basically every time," Williams said when comparing the responsibilities of the two interior defensive line positions.

"That's one thing you have to cope with (the double-team block) to reestablish the line of scrimmage."

On his two coaches – DL Coach Randy Hart and Graduate Assistant and former Irish and NFL great Bryant Young

"Just having Coach Young here – he teaches us new things every day in practice. It's even better than (watching other players') films. Having him right here every day in our face helps.

"Coach Hart calls us hungry dogs because we're all running around trying to make plays. He's the most well-conditioned coach I've ever seen – we're starting to catch onto his personality and now we're starting to get that quickness (like Coach Hart) about us in practice."

On what prepared him to make his debut in the trenches this season

"At the end of last year I had learned to play the position (DT) – I got better – I learned through experience from working against the ones (first string offensive line) and that prepared me to help the team against Nevada. Going against the first team makes you much better. It really helps."

How would Williams attack himself?

"I'd be ready to move and be fast and powerful, because that's my mindset (every play)."

SAM/Nickel/Special Teamer Steve Filer

On recent assertions that he's better close to the line of scrimmage

"I'm a pretty nice sized guy so it's not like I can't hang with the ends and the tackles.

"(Defensive) End I feel is easier to learn because at a lot of linebacker positions you have to learn what everyone is doing just because you have different gap responsibilities and coverage responsibilities. At DE, all you have to know is (that position's responsibility)."

Regarding his best attributes at DE

"My quickness and speed off the edge and my power. Just moving forward (rather than playing in space) I think I can be an asset off the edge because of my power. But its about trying to do whatever I can to get on the field and just play as much as possible."

When I asked what made him a standout special teams contributor

"Speed and ‘want to.' Speed and determination. All you have to do is want to do it. And if you put yourself out there and let yourself loose you can do anything. A perfect example is Mike Anello – he was a walk-on – but just came in and had speed and ‘want to' and you can see all the things he's done and how he's been able to help the team.

"He doesn't want to get blocked."

Regarding his younger brother's purported skills on the basketball court

"He still can't beat me though. He's still not there yet."

Quarterback Coach Ron Powlus on Dayne Crist

Regarding the Depth Chart

"There's not much going on with our depth chart. We're standing pat at quarterback and feel pretty good about it. They've (Evan Sharpley and Dayne Crist) both embraced their roles; grown in their roles."

On Sharpley

"Evan's doing a nice job tutoring and working with Dayne. As Dayne develops he gets more consistent and better and better. The (situation) is going well."

Regarding Crist's progress from the end of last season

"Playbook knowledge; managing the operation; getting more consistent – the typical things you would expect for somebody that has a little experience. The more (reps) he gets the better he gets.

"But he needs to keep (improving) his consistency, and when you don't get as many plays in a row – he's not getting as much as Jimmy – it's a challenge to do that. That's what he has to work on.

"But he's gotten much better at managing the whole situation and figuring out what he's doing."

On Crist's Phyiscal Skills

"There's no doubt Dayne can make any throw. He has the mental and physical tools (to play) without a doubt. You gain consistency with a bunch of (reps) and you can get things rolling and feel comfortable so he's working through that and getting better.

"But part of Dayne's role is that he has to be ready at a moment's notice – without a lot of reps. He's grasping that and he's improving."


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