UTSA Insider: D-Line Coach Eric Roark

With as may new faces as any other position, Defensive Line Coach Eric Roark is charged with the challenge of rebuilding a unit. With several key returners, Coach Roark talks about fall practices and his d-line.

How have fall practices gone?
“We still have a long way to go, we still have a lot of progress to make. I like the effort that they are giving. I like the skill set, especially with the young guys. We lost a lot of good people, a lot of good players and a lot of experience. Going in, the only ones that have substantial experience would be Jason Neill, Brian Price, and Marcus Davenport. Beyond that, everybody else is just fighting for playing time. We can have about 10 guys, but I don’t know who they are but we need to find out pretty fast. For those three, it’s their show and everybody else is fighting to get in the show.”

Are you excited about some of the young players?
“We hit on every one of them, I can honestly say that. We have hit on every one of them. They do have a skill set. What they do this year remains to be seen. It’s going to be experience and maturity. A true freshman still has a learning curve regarding the fast pace, the tempo, the toughness, and speed. Of course they’re playing better players coming from high school. So to get them ready fast, might be detrimental because they have to grow through all of that. Sometimes it takes time but without a shadow of a doubt we have hit on every one of them. Whatever they have ahead of them the next 4 or 5 years, it will be outstanding in my projection.”

Justyn Eddins has been here a few years, what do you expect from him?
“This is his third year. That first year he redshirted, we didn’t need him. Last year, he had surgery on his pec (pectoral muscle). He has had three offsesasons, he has been in meetings and film, he has travelled, but he hasn’t played. Last year he was going to be my #2 guy, then all of a sudden he tore his pec and that’s how we accidentally discovered Marcus Davenport. We wanted to redshirt Marcus, we had every plan too. He was like 210-215lbs. We wanted to bring him in and redshirt him. Justyn has done everything well. Now we’ve got to throw him in the fire for the game experience. He knows what to do, he’s smart, he gives effort and is a good teammate. He’s a mature kid. He’s been through the school of hard knocks. He tore his pec in two-a-days last year. He was projected to be our #2 guy, he had did well in the previous spring. We like what he’s doing but we need to like what he’s doing in the games, that is the bottom line.”

Why did you change Baylen Baker and T.J. King’s positions?
“Baylen was a 3-4 end. When he came to camp, we projected growth. He came in in the summer and has grown. Another guy who has grown is TJ King. When we offered TJ King, he was about 6-2/220, all of a sudden he’s 6-4/265. He can be very multidimensional. He can be an end, he can be on the interior. It may be later on when he gets to be a junior or senior that he may be one thing and it’s probably going to be more inside than anything. He has uncles that are 6-7 and 6-8. A lot of kids, when they’re 18 and 19, hit a growth spurt and he hit that last year.”

What are the teaching points to the new players at the DE and DT?
“The way the spread offenses are, it’s like an option deal, they’re reading the ends. They can hand it off, the quarterback can keep it, the quarterback can throw it off of that zone read. So a defensive end needs to be able to play the quarterback, play the runningback, and play the pass. It’s a different skillset. It’s almost like a linebacker skillset from an athleticism perspective. The learning part of it is if you make you little mistake, an error in judgment, the other team’s band is going to be playing. On the interior, they are going to have four or five blocks to defend against the run, then they have three or four blocks they will need to go against in the pass so there are about seven different concepts they need to get down. Then there are the moves and the blitzes and all of that too. If it was a traditional two-back offense, the deal with the defensive ends would be point of attack. Now, they have to go against the spread. That’s where the learning curve is in combination with the skill set.”

Are you surprised former UTSA players Ashaad Mabry and Triston Wade are doing well in the NFL preseason?
“When we first started, we were recruiting people that never heard of UTSA. Those were two kids we recruited when we hadn’t played. To go in and recruit somebody when we hadn’t even played and they make an NFL camp, it’s really freaky to us. We never anticipated it. We’re surprised about it. The kids now, what they have seen with Ashaad and Triston, is the development of fundamentals. That is an example they have set. Now that someone has a skill set to be a potential draft choice, they see that example and are now doing that.”

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