Cutcliffe media days press conference

The following is Coach David Cutcliffe's preseason football press conference from today. The sixth-year head coach, his staff and squad begin preparations for the 2004 season today with a 7 p.m. practice.

Opening Statement by Cutcliffe: The first thing I'm going to do is go ahead and address the off the field issues that we've just recently been through. It's been a difficult time for all of us involved with Ole Miss football. As I've said before, we've tried to take every situation independently of the other and work to the best that we could for the good of the program and for the good of the young men. I'm not going to expand on that today. Today is a new beginning. The players reported yesterday in good shape it looks like. We haven't tested them yet. We won't get our first work on the field until tonight. Everybody was here on time, eager and ready to get started. We've got a lot of things to look forward to. We've got a chance to have an exciting football team. We've got some work to do in August, I'll just be blunt about it. We're not where we need to be yet. What kind of condition this team is in is going to be extremely important as to how much work we get accomplished over the next month. We have the ingredients in a lot of areas to have an exciting football team. Our specialists can be special in the kicking game. A lot of close games are won in the kicking game. I think Jonathan Nichols and Cody Ridgeway are outstanding and a great pair. I'm excited about the ingredients we have on offense. Yes, we're going to break in a new quarterback. But I believe that quarterback is ready for this opportunity. We've got some playmakers around him and a big, experienced offensive line in front of him. So we have that to look forward to. Defensively we're replacing our front, and that's always a big challenge. It's probably one of the biggest areas of concern that I have, is how we're going to play up front on defense. To play in our league and to play well you have to be able to stop the run. We have to prove that we can do that and prove that early. We've got quite a few fifth-year seniors. A year ago our seniors took the challenge, and that same challenge is out there again this year. We have to have a mentally tough football team. We have to show not only can we handle adversity, because there is going to be adversity. We now have to show that we can handle success. We've had some success now. We have to prove we can handle that and stay hungry. I'm anxious to see how we respond to that. I'm looking for a team that hopefully is going to have outstanding leadership, great work ethic, being very exciting. Questions?

Q: Is this the toughest opener (Memphis on Sept. 4 in Oxford) you've faced since you've been here?

Cutcliffe: There's no doubt this is the toughest opener we've faced. A lot of people consider Memphis a top 25 team and rightfully so. They return a lot of starters on offense and a good nucleus on defense. They're well-coached and fast and talented. Our team will be challenged early, particularly with this kind of opener.

Q: How is the offense different with Spurlock under center?

Cutcliffe: We're going to move the football more with him. We'll move the pocket. The quarterback is certainly a threat to run the football, and he's going to be a part of that package, along with the other quarterbacks we have with the capabilities they have at that position. I think it's going to be fun and exciting. It's going to be exciting for our offensive staff as we head into a new era. That's why August is so important to us so that we can execute and execute well early.

Q: Talk about Spurlock's summer.

Cutcliffe: I think he's had a really good summer. Just in talking to him he feels really good. The work he got throwing the ball. The players responded to him. They went out there on their own and he said it went really well. He's tremendous in the weight room and in his conditioning. He's in the best shape of his life. You can imagine how hard he's worked to prepare himself for this opportunity. So I think he's ready to go based on the summer he's had.

Q: How much can you incorporate him into the running game without basically getting him killed?

Cutcliffe: That's a good question. Quarterbacks this day and time that run the football are certainly targets. We're going to use him. We have others that we can use that will allow us to play that type football. We wouldn't be able to go in that without backups that would allow us to go in that direction. We're still going to try to protect him. He's not going to run like a fullback. He needs to run like a quarterback. We need for him to avoid as many hits as possible.

Q: How much of a relief is it to get back to the business of football after a summer of some off the field problems?

Cutcliffe: It feels good. It felt good yesterday to get the players back on campus. Their excitement and enthusiasm is contagious. They're excited about the opportunity. It's time to focus on football, and it's going to be fun to get on the field this evening.

Q: How much is this year with your quarterbacks like the 1998 season when Peyton Manning departed and Tee Martin entered the picture?

Cutcliffe: Tee Martin and Michael Spurlock are similar athletes, so in some regards we are calling on some of the things that we did with that type of quarterback in our offense. Offensive football has changed. We'll have the quarterback even more involved than what we did in 1998.

Q: What's the health situation of your team as preseason practice begins?

Cutcliffe: A few concerns. McKinley Boykin had his knee scoped in the offseason and not quite ready to get started. He will be limited. Everybody else looks like they will be on go. We have a few guys sick, a few of the normal things we have to take day to day. Everybody will be out there practicing as close to full speed as they can.

Q: Talk about the status of Viciente DeLoach.

Cutcliffe: Viciente's better. His ankle continually has gotten better since he's been here. He had a serious injury in high school. That depends on Viciente as to how much he is involved. He certainly is going to get a lot of reps and opportunity for playing time.

Q: What about Eric Rice?

Cutcliffe: Eric Rice is healthy, thank goodness. His junior year was mixed with injury and disappointment, I'm sure for him personally. He seems to be 100 percent, good and strong and ready to roll.

Q: Talk about how important discipline is for a college football program.

Cutcliffe: Obviously you can't run a program without it. Without a semblance of discipline and structure and people know what the expectations are, you have no chance to be successful. So I would put it at the top of the list. They (players) have to be good listeners and they have to respond to you. That's part of coaching. That's always going to be a part of the program. Anybody who has ever coached the game will tell you that.

Q: Have you and the program had to approach this season differently after a 10-win season?

Cutcliffe: It started in our offseason program when we tried to have the toughest offseason program we've ever had around here. There's an old saying "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." We didn't want anybody to be comfortable. So we certainly went to work from a physical standpoint. It positively reinforces the work ethic that it takes to get where you want to be. It's something you have to be aware of and keep your finger on. That's certainly something we've watched closely.

Q: Talk more about Eric Rice.

Cutcliffe: Eric can really run. He can stretch the field. He's gotten bigger and stronger. He's more effective as a blocker. He's also a veteran player that allows us to do a lot of things at that position. We're hoping the tight end position can do more things for us, whether as a traditional tight end or off the ball in a wing situation. We're looking at a lot of things with our tight ends. Eric's experience allows you to do just about what you want to with him.

Q: Talk about coming off such a great season and with all the goings on around the program like the IPF and how all that has lifted the program now.

Cutcliffe: There have been a lot of good things that have happened to our program, and it all started with the Cotton Bowl win. That was the culmination of a good year. That carried over, I thought, well into our players' excitement and focus in the winter conditioning program. We increased the intensity of that program, and I don't think we'd have been able to do that had we not been on a little bit of a roll. They responded well to that. There are so many great things happening from the indoor complex to so many positive things that have occurred. It all has an impact on your programs. Expectations are important. Players need to have an expectation of winning. If your players and your fans don't expect you to win, then you have problems. Now the challenge is to respond to the expectations. That's the crossroads where we are right now. The expectations are continuing to be built. We're right at 47,000 season tickets sold, which is a record. We said we wanted to raise the bar, and now it's up to us to get that done on the field.

Q: Give us an update on the IPF?

Cutcliffe: It's kinda iffy because of so many things. I don't sit in on all those meetings. But at the last meeting I sat in on, we are trying to make a partial move at the end of August, right at the end of preseason work heading toward gameweek. If that target is still realistic, then that's what we'll try to do. I haven't talked to them in the last few days to see if that is still realistic. We'll use the facility in some capacity some way even during the early part of the season. We may not be able to make a full move in there depending on construction until on into the season. If we got into the season, then I would think we'd have to wait until an open date, which is not until after seven games. I don't know if that's a good answer but it's the best I can give you.

Q: Last year you could shuffle in a lot of people on defense because a lot of your backups had experience. This year it doesn't look like there is as much experience. Will you still be able to do that?

Cutcliffe: We're going to try to play a lot of people. We've talked to and challenged some young people to step up. What we have is a transition. We have a lot of guys up front who have played a lot of football. But they haven't been the starter. Now they have to take on the role of starter and increase their snaps. Then there's a group of guys who have to come in behind them and play effectively. I think they can. I think we can do that with Coach Petri's guys inside. I'm hoping we can do that at defensive end. I think we'll play a lot of people at linebacker. We have some ability to run there and some guys who have a chance to be playmakers. We'll see as the season goes. In the secondary you never play a lot of people. We have a great nucleus there and a nice blend with newcomers. Some people will spot play in the secondary as well.

Q: Eli's gone now. What is the face of the program now since he has been for several years?

Cutcliffe: I don't know if I can answer that. I hope the program itself has enough to stand on. That's the most important aspect of it. We have a lot of good football players and a lot of good people in the program. I certainly couldn't put that on one individual.

Q: Who are some of the likely candidates of depth at offensive line?

Cutcliffe: It starts with Tony Bonds of the non-starters. He's a guy that has to be able to play center and guard and hopefully play well. This is his fourth year in the system. James McCoy who is just getting back in the swing of things now. He will improve a great deal with day after day work. He's a physical football player with a lot of skills. There are others. Ryan Jones may impact it. I don't know. But I'm not going to cover every name and go all the way through the depth chart. I don't know who will step up at the tackle positions. I have some concerns there who will step up. Darryl Harris is back and has a lot of talent. He has a chance to help us solidify some depth there quickly. Marcus Cohen is young and talented but still has to prove that he is ready. Outside that, I am looking for some surprises.

Q: Would you be disappointed if Larry Kendrick wasn't a starter the first game?

Cutcliffe: Larry Kendrick has a chance to be a starter, and I know he's going to impact our team. He's a very versatile player that can play a lot of positions. He can play both sides of the ball. He'll certainly be a part of the kicking game. A lot depends on Larry and how quickly he adapts to the system.

Q: Talk about your receivers.

Cutcliffe: It starts with our seniors Bill Flowers and Kerry Johnson. Both are proven playmakers. Both are capable of making big plays at anytime. They're consistent players. Three juniors are Taye Biddle, Mike Espy, and Mario Hill, and we're going to play Mico McSwain (freshman) at wide receiver. A lot of people speculated defense there, but he's going to play wide receiver. Matt Pierce and some others will also be in the receiver mix. But the big five will have to play well. They've proven in the past they can make plays for us. I'm expecting them to have a great start this August.

Q: Any other thoughts on position changes now?

Cutcliffe: Not really. Not right now. Everybody is pretty much where they were in spring, and the newcomers are where we projected them. We may look at a couple of things in a week or so, but right now we're pretty solidified.

Q: Has Spurlock changed your offensive philosophy?

Cutcliffe: We won't change the philosophy. Our philosophy is to train the quarterback to put us in the best possible play he can put us in. We won't change that. Micheal's been in the same system that Eli's been in. When you're a first-year starter, you're not quite as comfortable with everything. But things will be similar because it's our philosophy to train our quarterback to put us in the best play he can possibly put us in. We'll teach him everything we know, and with everything they know, they ought to know more than the coach.

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