A LOT IS BEING SAID ABOUT YOUR FRONT SEVEN. A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK IT'S GOING TO BE YOUR BEST EVER HERE.
BRENT VENABLES: Well, we feel the front seven is our strength of our defense. Whether or not it's the best ever, I don't know about that. We lost two very, very good defensive ends in Dan Cody and Jonathan Jackson, probably two of the smartest players who ever played for us.
But, you know, we like the talent that we have to work with, obviously Dusty gives us the strength in that front four that we need and we're hoping that by the first game or so he's back to full strength. We're encouraged by where he is right now. And we're assuming that other guys that have played in the past, guys like Carl Pendleton or Remi Ayodele are improved players (with) another year of experience.
We feel good about some guys who maybe aren't household names. Guys like Calvin Thibodeaux , coming off his knee injury, he was playing as good as he's played at any other time prior to his injury and has really rehabbed strongly. C.J. Ah-You is another player that's big and strong and explosive, just needs to play and learn our system. John Williams probably had the best summer of all of our defensive ends - again not a household name but a guy we feel very good about, very strong, athletic kid, plays hard and we're countin' on him.
We feel like we've got the depth, but who is where at this point will be determined during fall camp and as well on the inside, a lot of that will be determined on how well Dusty is.
I like our linebackers, the four of them. They're strong, they're explosive, they're athletic. They all have a fairly good understanding of the defense. A guy like Zach Latimer hasn't played, has been in our program now three years, has been a defensive end and a linebacker, but we feel like he's got the range and mindset for it. He just needs to have an opportunity to play and gain experience.
I like our two outside guys. I feel like they're as athletic , explosive and have the playmaking ability as good as anybody in the conference in Rufus Alexander and Clint Ingram. And then Demario Pleasant is the wild card. He can play all three positions.
As you look at the front seven in particular, there's going to have to be some young guys that contribute. Guys that we feel like will have an opportunity to do that, Demarcus Granger inside, maybe a Brian Simmons inside as well, and at linebacker, all three of the freshmen linebackers are going to have an opportunity to contribute if day one is any indicator. That's definitely going to happen and then they'll push for playing time right away.
I'll let Bobby Jack talk about the secondary, but the way we finished in the spring, those four guys, is the way we started out yesterday.
BOBBY JACK WRIGHT: In all honesty, a lot has been said, written, spoken, whatever, about the fact that we've got so many holes to fill back there with losing three starters last year and the guys coming out. But I feel good about that nucleus coming back. We've got three really good corners. And any time any one team can have three good corners, I think you're at a real bonus.
I'm talking about Marcus Walker, who's coming back off of shoulder surgery, he's ready to go, he's full speed. Jumped in there yesterday and hasn't missed a beat. Then Eric Bassey and Chijioke. If those three were somewhere else, we'd be glad to have them. Naturally, two of them are going to be starters. You'd love to have four. Most places I've been during the 33 years that I've been coaching, you don't have four that are really possible starters. All three of those guys are potential starters.
The safety position, as Brent said, we're pretty much where we were in the spring. We finished up with Lewis (Baker) and Jason Carter fightin' at the strong safety, and at free safety, Darrien Williams and Tony Cade. I feel good about those guys, where they are right now. They jumped in yesterday ready to go, hadn't missed a beat since spring. Not a lot of game time experience. OK, that happens. You graduate players and people go on and new guys come in. So those guys have been in our system, they understand the defense, they understand our program, they know how to compete, they know how to play at the level we want them to play at. I'm not worried about that. I feel good about those guys.
The incoming guys, if y'all were there yesterday, that freshman group, those four or five guys that walked in here yesterday, they're about as talented as anybody – maybe the most talented group of secondary – that we've brought in since we've been here. Those guys are going to get thrown in and if you were at practice yesterday, you saw that they took reps immediately. Really talented group. Reggie Smith, Nick Harris, Keenan Clayton, Brian Jackson and Allen Patrick. Those are five really talented guys that have great ability.
First thing you would think is, well, they're incoming guys, the learning curve is gonna get ‘em. They've been here all summer, they've done a tremendous job working with the older guys, they jumped right in yesterday, did not miss a call, jumped right in, knew the calls, knew the adjustments, knew the rotation and I'm gonna tell you, they are big, strong, good looking guys that can run, so really feel good about those incoming guys. We're gonna be fine.
HOW MANY OF THOSE FIVE DO YOU COUNT ON PLAYING?
BJ WRIGHT: We don't plan on redshirting any of them. I think they're all gonna play.
HOW MUCH OF A FACTOR IS ALAN PATRICK'S ABSENCE THIS SUMMER?
BJ WRIGHT: He's probably the one of the five that's a little bit behind the learning curve, if you will, because he hasn't been able to be here, so he hasn't gotten the reps with those older guys. And those older guys did a great job with coaching these young guys during the summer, because, as you know, we can't work with them, we can't be there, so the older guys have to pretty much teach them, and they did a great job. He's a smart guy, he's a junior college guy, been around, he understands football, he understands secondary play, extremely talented. So he's got a little bit of learning to catch up on, but he will. It won't take him long.
The great thing is, the first five days, we're only allowed to practice once a day, so we'll get a lot of meeting time with them and he'll get caught up.
DOES CLINT INGRAM'S IMPROVED ABILITY IN PASS COVERAGE GIVE YOU EVEN MORE OPTIONS IN YOUR ALIGNMENT?
BRENT VENABLES: Having him on the field is a strength. He's got more explosion, every bit as much range of anybody else that's going to be in that spot. You know, last year, at times, his inexperience probably hurt him in that particular spot in certain situations. Maybe it wasn't as good as you would want it to be with the consistency that you would like him to have. Right now, that's not a concern at all, based on where he was in the spring, the kind of summer he had and where he's picked up in yesterday's practice. We would expect to see him on the field a great deal. He's one of our best playmakers. I mean, he's just got a live, active body and he's all over the field making plays.
PHILOSOPHICALLY, WILL YOU MAKE ANY CHANGES IN THE SECONDARY?
BRENT VENABLES: Every year you look at what was good and what was bad and what you need to work on to get better and how to help your players just be as good as they can be out there on the field. Probably simplifying some things.
We experimented with a few things last year, trying to get our best players on the field was what we tried to accomplish with playing left and right side corners, interchangeable safeties as opposed to field and boundary corner and a true free and a true strong. An analogy would be to have Clint Ingram in any particular game play the SAM, MIKE and the WILL.
It's difficult and there's a lot to learn. You can be pretty average at a lot of things. At times we were, probably because of that. There's a learning curve in that regard and with a lot of new guys, again Eric Bassey being a first-year full-time guy at corner, Chijioke being a first year guy in our program last year, Brodney Pool being a first-year full-time starter for us. For that matter, Donte Nicholson being a first-year free safety. He was a nickel guy, the SAM linebacker his first year. That being said I think that, at times, we weren't as consistent as we needed to be or as aggressive as we needed to be.
So the thing that we've been able to do is simplify things to a point where again you still have enough options to be able to confuse and disguise and still be able to run your defense with the same effectiveness that we have. I think a lot of our guys will be a little bit more aggressive and get really good at a few things instead, again, being average at a lot of things.
BJ WRIGHT: I would have to say that I think Brent's right just from the spring up ‘til now, the guys being able to become a little more consistent, a little more aggressive in their play with what we're doing through the simplification. Not to the extent where we're going to limit ourselves by any means. I think Brent alluded to that.
I mean, we're going to be multiple just like we've always been. We're gonna give people a variety of things to look at , a variety of things to have to defend. But our guys are feeling a little more comfortable with what they're doing. They're a little more settled in their positions. They're learning that position every day, the reps over and over and over, that just mounts up. Once you gain confidence, you're able to turn it loose and become a little bit more aggressive.
The biggest thing, and again these guys, to me, you've still got to give them their due. The guys that are back, the three corners that I was talking about, those guys played at a very high level last year. They were part of a team that won 12 straight football games at a very high level. So they understand how to line up and play with championships and they understand how to compete and they know to what extent they've gotta compete, what level our expectations are.
The main thing that maybe Brent alluded to is that in some ball games, maybe we weren't quite as consistent as we needed to be back there. And I would just simply say, and we've talked about it as a staff, I've talked about it as a group to them, is to look at the big plays. In the games that we played poorly in the secondary or the game that we did not win, maybe we gave up too many big plays. The thing we're really stressing here in fall camp is to eliminate the big plays.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TRANSITION AND PROGRESS OF D.J. WOLFE? COACH STOOPS SAID HE WAS GOING TO BE A STRONG FACTOR THIS YEAR.
BJ WRIGHT: I think he has a great opportunity to be a strong factor. I think he's showing his presence right now. He did in the spring, he made quick strides in the spring. There's a few more guys out there this fall and we'll see how well he can hold it off or how well he can jump up. He showed the transition from going over to secondary and playing corner, he showed that he's got some true natural talent, he's got a feel for that position, he makes plays out there that you would think, ‘Well, this guy hasn't been there long enough to make those plays'. But he's got some natural instincts about him, he's a tough kid, he's smart, he's aggressive, he wants to play and he wants to do good. He has a lot of pride in what he does. So, he's very, very coachable, when you tell him to do something, you tell him how you want it done, he'll knock himself out to do it the way you ask him to do it. So I feel real good about the transition.
WHAT ABOUT LEWIS BAKER? COACH HAS TALKED FOR A LONG TIME ABOUT HIM BEING A GUY WITH A LOT OF TALENT, IT WAS JUST A MATTER OF FINDING THE RIGHT PLACE FOR HIM.
BJ WRIGHT: I know Brent would echo this. We love Lewis Baker. You can't help but love Lewis Baker. Work ethic, attitude, team guy, team player, do anything and everything that he can possibly do for the football team. As you mentioned him to strong safety in the spring. Struggled a little bit with the learning curve there because he never had been there He moved from linebacker. And Brent would tell you he loved him at linebacker, he just, body type doesn't necessarily fit, but he's fast enough to play in our secondary.
I'll say this, going from the spring, transitioning from the fall yesterday, he was very impressive to me. In the spring he struggled, every day he'd struggle with mental errors, the learning part. Yesterday, and again, that's one practice, and granted, we didn't throw the whole gamut at ‘em, but Brent will tell you he threw a lot at them, and Lewis was really solid, got all the calls, made all the checks, so I really felt good about him from that standpoint. Talent wise, he's got a chance to help us, no question about it.
Venables, Wright talk defense
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