COACH ASH: Welcome. Appreciate you guys coming to the spring game. Good ending to 2017 spring practice. Very pleased with what we did today. Number one priority was to come out of the spring game healthy. We made a decision to go thud tempo and it was all about player safety and making sure that we got through it clean and healthy and we were able to do that. So check that objective.
But I thought we had a good spring practice. Good off-season. We definitely are ahead of where we were a year ago at this time. We do have some holes at certain spots because of injuries throughout the course of last season and the off-season, a couple in the spring. We'll get some guys back that will definitely make our football team look different in August.
But really like the brotherhood that our football team has right now and the work ethic that they have displayed here this off-season and through the course of spring, and can't wait to get into summer workouts.
So the guys need a little bit of a break. They will get that here at the end of the semester but can't wait to get them back and get them going for summer workouts and get back into it here this fall. But our guys are competing, and they are going to need to because some of the newcomers that are coming in are going to be hungry and are going to want to compete; it's both high school guys and some of the transfers that we've had or that will be coming in. It's going to be a competitive fall and can't wait to see it unfold as we get ready for our first game.
With that, I'll just go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Where do you feel your quarterback position is right now with Gio, and we haven't asked you since signing day about Johnathan Lewis and how you feel he can come in here?
COACH ASH: Well, it's an open position. Gio is the No. 1 guy all through spring and then when Zach got hurt, Troy Anthony was out there. But Gio is coming out of spring, the No. 1 quarterback. I mean, we've only got two of them right now. But Johnathan Lewis will be here in the fall, and definitely will be here to compete; and between those two guys, and we'll see what else happens at the quarterback position. But definitely, those two guys will be here, and they will be in complete, open competition to see who ends up winning the job by the time we play.
Q. Going back to what you said in the opening statement, that you were definitely ahead of where we were this time last year, can you go into specifics where you think this team is better off than where it was last spring?
COACH ASH: Start off the chemistry, the brotherhood of the football team. I really like the chemistry of our team.
Yeah, last year, when we had off-season workouts, it was all about survival, and this year, guys were attacking it. They just knew what to expect. And they were more productive in work outs. Practices were cleaner, more efficient. We got more done at practice because they understood the offense and the defense more and the special teams.
We definitely are ahead of schedule with our special teams right now. And I'm talking about special teams; I'm not talking about kicker and punter, but our coverage units. We put a lot of work in this off-season trying to improve our coverage units and we're definitely way ahead in that area than we were a year ago.
Defensively we have a lot of players that came back from last year that have either started or played significant snaps. We're definitely way ahead of where we were a year ago defensively.
Offensively, it's hard to tell. I think our two offensive tackles are definitely ahead of where we were last year at that position. Running back, I feel good about it. We did keep -- Rob got a quad contusion late in spring, so we limited him a little bit today. But with Rob and Josh Hicks and Trey Sneed, they all have productive springs. Gus Edwards will be here in the fall to add to the mix, as well as the other guys that we signed.
So I think there's going to be tremendous competition at that spot as we head into training camp. Wide receiver and tight end are really the two spots that are the unknowns right now that we've got to continue to develop. But all the other areas, I feel like we're definitely ahead.
Q. About halfway through camp, you talked about guys that had really improved their stock, had done a good job. You mentioned guys like Kemoko, Deonte Roberts. Curious now that camp is done, if there's any other guys that really caught your eye or impressed you or improved their stock?
COACH ASH: The same guys. Those guys were the ones that were the most consistent and showed flashes and play-making ability.
Obviously Kemoko did not do a whole lot here in the last few practices of spring and that was by design. Really was dynamic in the first part of spring and just, you know, he had some bumps and bruises and just was not going to chance him getting hurt because he's a different level for us, and we need to keep him healthy and keep him going.
Deonte Roberts, again, I mentioned he was probably one of the most improved players on the football team here this spring and I would still say that today. Very excited about him and the improvement that he's shown this off-season and through the course of bring.
But all the other guys I mentioned that day, it's the same guys.
Q. Going back to the quarterback position. With the depth there, is Damon Mitchell a guy you might teach some stuff to, just in case some guys should go down in the season in an emergency situation?
COACH ASH: You know, we might teach a whole bunch of guys a thing or two at the quarterback position just in case.
But Damon is a guy that has played the position before, so if we needed to in an emergency, he could learn some stuff and slide in back there. We constantly are talking about potential options at the quarterback position if disaster were to strike and we got hit with injuries.
Q. Does that include Janarion?
COACH ASH: It includes a long list of them. Janarion's played a little quarterback last year, too. We're exploring a lot of options and just going through the checklist of contingency plans if disaster were to trying.
Q. How do you feel about the offensive line in general and right guard, I guess that was the one unknown. Venesky started today. How do you feel about right guard in particular, offensive line in general?
COACH ASH: I think in general the offensive line has improved other than the right guard position. That's still an unknown right now. Marcus Applefield will be back in the mix here this summer and fall and will be in the mix to compete for playing time and a starting position.
But I feel really good right now about four of the five spots out there today, the right guard position struggled and we've got to find a solution and get it better. And again, once we get Marcus Applefield back in the hold, that will definitely help.
Q. You said a lot about Rob martin this spring. Josh Hicks was kind of a guy, I guess with Goodwin and Martin, he kind of fell behind last year in terms of carries. What about his spring camp, because we saw a lot of Josh Hicks today where do you see his role this year?
COACH ASH: I don't know about his role in the fall, yet. It's still to be determined because there's going to be some good competition at the running back position for playing time in training camp, but Josh has done a really nice job this off-season and had a very productive spring practice. Really pleased with the progress he made.
Some of his weaknesses last year, he was not strong in pass protection. He's improved his pass protection. Still needs to but he definitely has improved in that area. That kept him out of the lineup a little bit and especially in critical situations and he's worked hard to improve that. Coach Erb has done a lot of work with the running backs trying to improve the pass protection and Josh has benefitted from that.
But Josh has become a lot more consistent. He's real areally done a nice job of protecting the football. Last year in practice and in games, you know, was worried about his ball security. He's done a great job of that this spring.
Q. You said in camp that the defense is ahead of the offense. Do you feel like that gap has been closed now that you've ended spring? And how did you feel about the operation as far as getting the calls in, how did everything go with that?
COACH ASH: There's still a gap that exists between our offense and defense right now, and we knew that was going to be the case. We don't have the full arsenal of receivers at our disposal to really even provide much of a threat on the outside here this spring.
But again, we had so many players, I think there were 12 players that have started at least a game or two games that are back, that's back on our defense. The experience is there that we didn't necessarily have on the offensive side of the ball. So we're ahead.
And like I mentioned, some of the guys that needed to make drastic improvements like Deonte Roberts did that, Kemoko Turay when he was out there this spring, I mean, he was phenomenal; and last year he didn't really do much for us except play some roles in critical third-down situations but other than that, that was it. If we can continue to develop some of those guys on defense and create some depth, I'm really happy about where we are at defensively.
And I'm a defensive coach, man, you look at our plan to win, we have to play great defense. And I thought this spring, we made some drastic improvements on defense. My biggest concern defensively is our depth. We have to develop depth, whether it's guys on our roster right now or some of the incoming guys that will be put in the mix in the summer and fall. That's my biggest concern defensively. But pleased with our defensive line.
Linebacker, when we get Tyreek Williams back in the fold, he was out for spring, I'll feel better about our linebackers. And I like our secondary right now, especially our two corners, from a couple years ago from what you guys watched to where they are at today, they are the strength of our football team. And we've got to keep that going. But the biggest concern is our depth.
Q. If I remember correctly, you sound more optimistic at this point than the end of season. If you're talking about what this team might look going into the fall, do you feel over that you will this will be a much better football team come the season?
COACH ASH: It's still too early to tell because there's too many unknowns, especially offensively. And even in the kicking game, we've got a punter coming in, we've got a couple kickers coming in that will probably do a competition there. We have to get better at the special teams and at the kicking position.
So how is that going to look by the end of August, I couldn't tell you yet. But I do like the fact that we have some guys that will be added to the roster that will create competition. And that's really at the core of our program right now is we have to be able to get enough guys to compete and they will be fighting for playing time and starting positions and things like that.
But we have to get our full arsenal of wide receivers together and develop our pass game so we can feel good about that. But what it will look like at the end of August, I'm not even going to sit here and try to make predictions, because I don't know. The quarterback situation, like we mentioned, is still unknown and unsettled.
But the biggest thing that I do like, again, is that there are reinforcements coming that will create competition, and it's going to make everybody better.
Q. You mentioned the kicking position. Haggerty, do you take anything out of him kicking three field goals?
COACH ASH: Absolutely. I mean, very pleased with what he did. You know, he started the spring as the backup kicker and that quickly flipped after a few days. He's done a nice job this whole spring, he really has.
He made some huge kicks out there today at the end. Contemplating whether we were going to go for it at the end or let him kick, and I said, this is a perfect opportunity to see what he can do with people in the stands, and he put it between the uprights. Honestly last year, that was a problem. We would not have been able to do it. Might have been punting in that situation last year. But he nailed it, and really happy for him and the spring that he's had.
Q. What was it like -- how much did Coach Kill, how much offense was he able to get into this spring and what was it like working with him this spring?
COACH ASH: We got quite a bit of the offense in this spring. Today, I don't know, maybe ten percent of it we ran. We were very vanilla on both sides of the ball. The one defense ran one call the whole day. The two defense ran one call the whole day. That was by design.
And then offensively, maybe about ten to 15 percent of the offense that we had been practicing this spring, we actually did today.
But you did have -- the second part of your question, I apologize, just working with Coach Kill. It's been a pleasure. It's been a lot of fun to be honest with you, to be able to work with somebody on staff that's sat in the head coach's chair and been through, you know, this job, so to speak. It's fun to be able to have a guy to go talk to and lean on and just get his perspective on things: You know, hey, what would you do here; what did you do here; so I did it this way; or hey, I never did it this way, this is awesome, I wish I would have known that. It's good to have that type of voice and sounding board on staff.
Q. This isn't about today's game obviously but last time we'll talk to you for awhile. Satellite camps, will you do one this year? Anything similar to what you did last year with Ohio State, Temple?
COACH ASH: We don't do anything big like that. We will travel around and go do some camps away from our campus. The new rule is the ten camps that we can go to, and will we use all ten, I don't know yet. But we'll use probably for sure eight and if we find good situations to fill in nine and ten, we will. But for sure, we will use eight of our ten opportunities.
Q. Similar question, because we won't see you for awhile. You addressed it on the radio yesterday, but again, what is the mindset going forward with the NCAA case still going on, how have you just dealt with that from just an emotional standpoint, or just -- how has it affected the program at all?
I addressed it on a radio interview yesterday. Honestly, only thing that we're concerned about are the things that we can control. It hasn't affected anybody in the program one bit. It was something that's been ongoing. It's something that Pat Hobbs and compliance and the rest of the university have been dealing with. I've been kept in the loop but I'm not a part of a lot of those discussions and those decisions.
I'm only focused on what we can control right now and how we do business today and do itand moving forward. But it has not been discussed with the staff, the players. Really right now, it is not our focus and our concern. We can't do anything about it.
Thank you, guys. Take care.