"On the Spot" with Coach D.J. Durkin

We Shanghai-ed Stanford's exhausted, but always game Special Team Coordinator and Defensive Ends coach D.J. Durkin at the end of Wednesday's practice, requiring him to call upon the last-gasp reserve of his oft-abused vocal chord, peppering him with questions about the '09 Card's special teams units. Read on for the latest takes from the man who puts the "special" into Stanford's special teams!

"On the Spot" with Coach D.J. Durkin

While everyone was racing to beat the heat, Stanford's Special Team Coordinator and Defensive Ends coach D.J. Durkin was kind enough to stand still, shield his eyes, and further strain his already well-exercised vocal chords for The Bootleg's "Emeritus" after Wednesday's crisp and productive Practice #3.

On-Field Post-Practice Interview on August 12, 2009

The Bootleg: We are here with Coach D.J. Durkin and his voice is hurtin', but that is not at all unusual for this guy! Ok, so let's start with this - these practices begin with 15 minutes devoted to special teams, why is it that you go to them right off the bat?

D.J. Durkin: That's just Coach Harbaugh's decision to show the team how important it is to what we do. We want to make sure these guys know that we are startin' practice with it and that is how critical it is.  We have got to be "great" on special teams to have a "great" season. 

TB: The last five minutes are spent on field goals.

DJD: Yeah, again that goes back to Coach Harbaugh and his beliefs - and for me as the Special Team Coordinator, I love that! But that is Coach's decision and that kind of strong backing, which he gives us, is great.

TB: Do you view special teams as a reward for "hard workers" or do you want to put the "best athletes" out there, or is it a balance of the two? 

DJD: A blended balance of the two, but definitely more geared toward the "hard-workers". You have got a be a guy who gives great effort and plays hard. We build the whole unit based on that and the great thing about these guys is that it's usually not a problem. So now we get a mixture of the guys who are the most "athletic", but they are working hard as well and that is exactly what we are trying to put out there.

TB: What special teams groups would you say need the most work between now and September 5?

DJD: Well, you know what, they all need a lot of work, but #1 to me is "punt". The punt team is the most important.

TB: Coverage or return?

DJD: Coverage. That's where you win the battle for position in a football game. If you have a good punt team, you cover well, you gain field position  - that's how you win games!

TB: Early thoughts on who your "gunners" are going to be?

DJD: (Smiling) Uh.... let's say competition will be strong. Open competition!

TB: How do you feel about using starters on special teams? You are comfortable with that? Is Coach Harbaugh comfortable with that?

DJD: Absolutely, all of those guys are at our disposal and not only that. I keep close track of how many snaps a guy is playing in a game. If he is a starter and playing every snap of defense for us, for instance, I am not going to ask him to be on more than say one phase. We want guys fresh and as I told the guys in our meeting the other day, the more players we involve, the better off we are. 

TB: Specific goals for 2009? Does kick coverage have to be under 18 yards? You must post those things on a white board somewhere...

DJD: We do, we have statistical goals for each thing, but we come up with a formula for how we win the battle - our goal is to win it every game - the battle of special teams. It is a mixture of stats and formulas. We come up with it and that's our deal. [Coach Harbaugh suddenly pops his head in and jokingly tells Coach Durkin not to tell me too much, saying "Don't get enamored with your own voice and tell him everything you know!]

TB: What does special teams want to be known for? Is there a label we can give it? We have "resilience" and "relentlessness" from Coach Harbaugh for the team as a whole...

DJD: We just want to be known for having guys that play with "great effort". That's our deal. We want to play with outstanding effort, excellent technique and that's what we build on.

TB: On punt returns, are there good candidates emerging there or is it still "open competition"? 

DJD: There is "open competition", but there are some terrific candidates there. Richard Sherman is working hard at it. Doug Baldwin was our guy last year, he is working hard at it and improving a lot. Michael Thomas. We've got a freshman like Tyler Gaffney, who is doing a great job on that.

TB: Is Usua Amanam going to be in a position to compete for that role, once he is on the field?

DJD: Absolutely, I can't wait to see him!

TB: We have seemed, in the recent past, to have put a premium on "ball security", just "not fumbling". Are we looking now for a little more playmaking in '09?

DJD: Sure, we will continue to put a premium on ball security, that is always number one, but yes, we would "like" to get a better threat back there where we have a chance to take it the distance.

TB: A quick word on the defensive ends group - you lost Pannel Egboh, but have Erik Lorig and Tom Keiser back. Not a lot of depth after that - we do have versatile Tom McAndrew and some promising young guys. How is (redshirt freshman) Chase Thomas coming along? He's got some more size now - are we going to be able, as they say, to bring it from the edge? 

DJD: Yes, Chase will be a guy that really contributes this year. No doubt about it - he is coming along very well. Pass-rushing-wise, he is one of our top guys. Now, he does need to be brought along to be an every-down player, but I expect at the end of camp, that he will be a force.

TB: Freshman Trent Murphy looks like a bit of a beast, it looks like there are some new bodies you could go to in a pinch.

DJD: Probably the toughest spot to play as a freshman is on the offensive or defensive line. We are just going to keep coaching them, keep throwing them into the fire and see how they do.


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