UTSAInsider Corner Back's Coach Jeff Popovich

With young and talented players, UTSA looks to improve their corner back play in 2015. Our conversation with CB’s Coach Jeff Popovich.

Interview with UTSA CB’s Coach Jeff Popovich How have practices gone for the corners?
“It’s been good. The guys are showing up and working hard. They’ve had a great attitude and haven’t complained about anything. Usually you get to the end of camp, they get to start to complaining. But we’ve just had a really good attitude.”

How would you evaluate the CBs in Friday’s scrimmage?
“Overall, we were pretty decent. Effort was great. They really didn’t try us deep too much. I think we gave up maybe one deep ball from the corner position. They didn’t throw at us much. It was one of those games where everything they threw was more inside. I thought my guys came up and made some good tackles. Some of the young guys made some really good tackles. It’s good to see them continue to grow up.”

Are you surprised by the anyone at this point, maybe some of the younger players?
“I wouldn’t say that anyone surprised me as much as just seeing a lot of those guys grow up and getting better. So it’s been good from that standpoint. I know what I have with Bennett (Okotcha), even with that, he’s gotten better this fall technique-wise. Trevor (Baker) got better. Stanley Dye is doing well. N’keal (Bailey) and Aneas (Henricks) are also really starting to step up. They’re all going to be guys that are going to be counted on so it’s been good for them. They really haven’t had much of a role. Sitting behind those seniors, they didn’t have the stress and urgency in preparing because deep down they knew they probably weren’t going to play in a game. They were afforded that. But now, there’s a sense of urgency to try and win a job. The freshmen have been exciting to watch too. Jacolbie (Butler) is coming from being a running back. He’s raw, so he doesn’t have any bad habits and doesn’t have to unlearn anything. He’s exactly what we thought he’d be and really, he’s come along further than I thought he would. Jacorie (Jones) continues to get better. He’s a really smart football player. He’s attentive, he always has his notebook and his taking notes. Deandre (Williams) has been an awesome addition to our room. He’s East-Texas John Tyler Football. You have Duke (Wheeler) and you had Triston (Wade), now we have Deandre. We’re fired up to have him here. We saw him make a bunch of tackles in the scrimmage. He’s a tough physical kid that has a positive attitude who is just fun to be around. We’re excited that he’s here. Who knows how all of this is going to shake out but we’re excited about where we’re at.”

How exciting is it to have such young talent?
“It’s very exciting. If those guys continue to grow, continue to develop, continue to work hard, and stay healthy, you feel like you can be good for a couple of years. You’re as good on defense as you are at corner. If you’re good outside, you can commit a lot of guys to playing run. We’re excited about those guys. We talk to them about getting incrementally better, a little bit everyday. You don’t need to be a great polished player tomorrow but we do want to be a little better tomorrow than we were today.”

Press coverage or playing off, which do you like?
“You have to have the ability to do both. You’ve got to be able to mix it up so the offense doesn’t know what they’re going to get. If you’re going to press, you have to have guys that can run, move and flip their hips. I like to mix it up. Obviously there are certain times when certain things work better. On third and three, we’re probably going to be pressed up and not give them the quick hitch or something similar. There are situations that dictate when you’d rather be press or off. I think you have to be able to do both. I think we have the ability to do both with our guys.”

Are the corners more physical this year?
“I think so. We made a concerted effort in the offseason. Coming out of the spring and getting into camp, we wanted to more physical with receivers. We want to get our hands on receivers and affect the timing and routes. It’s been really good. We’ve come along way. Bennett has done a good job improving there and that’s brought everyone else along. So yes, I think we are playing more physical and I’m excited about that.”

Can the corners improve defense vs deep passes? “We’ve always had the ability to play well. A lot of situations go into that. From a corner standpoint, we just need to play fundamentally sound. And then as coaches, we have to make sure we put our guys in positions to be successful. We can’t put them in situations and ask them to do things that aren’t fair to them. We’ve got to play Cayleb Jones in Arizona, the guy looks like American Pharoah, we’ve got to be smart how we cover that guy. He’s a big dude, we can’t let him toss us around. We’ve got to be smart on whether we press or play off. We as coaches have to make those decisions. So I think we’ll continue to get better at covering the deep ball. Overall, I feel like we’ve gotten better every year. Tulane, two years ago, threw I think 16 deep balls on us, we didn’t give up one. Conversely at Oklahoma State last year, we gave up a few deep balls that hurt us and cost us. I’ve got a prideful group. Guys know what’s at stake. I feel good about it at this point.”

What do you remember about the Arizona game last year that could help this season? “What I remember was how fast Cayleb Jones was running down the sideline the first play of the game, oh my gosh. And then just watching them throughout the year. Having grown up in Tucson, I’ve always followed Arizona. So I did follow them all year. What do I remember? They’re a tough team. They had a lot of comebacks last year. They’ve been through a lot of adversity. They have a lot of experience and talent. Anu (Solomon) is an unbelievable quarterback. He was a freshman last year. Since we last played him, he’s played 12 more games, he’s had a whole spring and a summer. The guy is only going to be better. What can help us? I think we’ve got to be fundamentally sound. We have to be fundamentally sound and not give up shots. We can’t give up a big one the first play of the game. We’ve got to make them earn it and just play sound football.”

So Arizona is a homecoming for you?
“I grew up there, I went to high school there. I made sure to watch every Arizona game from the time I was 2 until I left high school for college. It was fun to be out there two years ago. I’m looking forward to going back. It’s an interesting feeling. I think Rich Rod has done an absolutely phenomenal job. He’s taken that program miles. From a former citizen of Tucson standpoint, I’m always hoping the U of A does well. They’ve done it the right way. They’ve done it with class. They’ve recruited not only great athletes but great people as well. As a former citizen, it’s fun to see them have success and so it the right way. I’m excited for them, I hope they lose one game this year, the first one of the season (against UTSA). Outside of that, I want them to win the rest.”

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