I was up at Tech to shoot the Mailbag and stopped by The Jones for the post practice media availability. I really enjoyed visiting with the fellas as part of the gathered media. We spoke with OC Eric Morris, LB coach Zac Spavital, RB Demarcus Felton, WR Derrick Willies and LT Travis Bruffy and here is what they had to say:
- Said the defense "got after us pretty good on Tuesday" and added after a sloppy start to practice Thursday they challenged the team which he said really responded for the first time and they had as good of team period as they have had this spring. He said it was a very physical practice.
- Morris said he thinks freshmen OL Jack Anderson, Dawson Deaton and Will Farrar all have a chance to be really good, but need to grow up in a hurry.
- Other OL who have stood out to Morris early in spring are tackles Travis Bruffy and Terence Steele. "Bruffy has done an exceptional job. You don't talk about him much in film and for an offensive lineman that's a good thing. He will continue to get better and better. He has the best body type of any tackle we've had around here, including Le'Raven."
- On the flip side Morris said they need help on the interior of the offensive line, that they need to be more physical. He pointed out blue chip early enrollee Jack Anderson has been getting a lot of reps with the 1's at right guard and they're shuffling a lot of guys on the other side, including junior college transfer Jacob Hines, with Paul Stawarz at center.
- Morris said Star Wars' move to center was "kind of a fluke deal", that they had an injury at center and they asked if anybody could snap. Star Wars raised his hand and impressed everybody with what a good snapper he was and they went from there. He added Star Wars is a smart guy and knows all the calls so it has gone well.
- Tony Morales is still battling for a job and has worked with the 1's, 2's and 3's this spring. "Tony has a lot to prove and he knows that. He's working hard right now."
- Morris said both young QBs McLane Carter and Xavier Martin have done well so far this spring and added Thursday was "by far McLane's best day."
- On the competition at receiver: "Right now I think Keke and Dylan have caught the most balls. They look really explosive and have done a lot of good things. Tony Brown just got back into the rotation. He's looked really good the last two days. I'm really excited about his big body at Y, I mean he's a big 200-pound guy that can block those linebackers for us. I was really pleased with what he did today.
- Morris talked about what a big jump Derrick Willies has made from last season coming from junior college and said he's found the one-year adjustment period for junior college transfers to be very accurate. "He's getting a ton of reps and looked salty."
- Morris said Giles and Batson are splitting reps 50/50 at H. It sounds like Batson is getting the first rep then Giles and so on with the 1's. Morris added he pleased with the way Giles has responded to the competition and has shown some toughness this spring.
- Stockton, Ward and Felton are getting equal reps with 1's and 2's to give everybody a fair shot to prove who the main guy is and added "Obviously, It wasn't good enough last year".
- Morris said Stockton had two touchdown runs Thursday and his speed is visible again, that he's gone back more to where he was two years ago in the open field and added he's been a lot of fun to watch.
- Spavital said Hinton and Stringer are getting most of the reps with the 1's they they are getting first shot due to experience
- Jamile Johnson and Christian Taylor have made huge strides from the first practice to Thursday according to Spavital
- Spavital especially likes Taylor's ability to cover as a LB in open spaces and says he's ahead of Johnson at this point in his development: "He can actually go out and do some things in space on the wideouts which is pretty impressive. I'm really excited about what he's doing."
- Catching up to the speed of the game and amount of effort necessary to compete at the Power 5 level has not been a problem for Tony Jones Spav said: "He will run to the football, he knows how to tackle the football, he knows where it's at."
- Spavital said one improvement he's noticed with the defense this spring compared to the past two is the maturity level and work ethic. "It's not self-centered, it's a team deal and there's a lot of guys out there pushing each other."
- Spavital expects the defense to be more physical in Midland on Saturday than in past years because that is what they have shown in practice so far.
- When asked about what part of the whole defense has impressed him so far in spring Spavital said he likes what he sees from the "young d-line," especially Eli Howard and Kolin Hill, who he called the leaders at those defensive end spots, but added defensive tackles Mych Thomas, Broderick Washington and Joe Wallace are starting to pick it up and grow.
- I asked Spavital what Jordyn Brooks is doing while he is unable to practice due to injury: "Right now it's rehab. He's starting to get in his conditioning. He won't be able to get his (doctor's) release to run for a couple more weeks now, but able to do stair-climber and things like that. He's a big kid, I think he's about 245 pounds right now so what we're trying to do is get in a little conditioning, just kind of bridge the gap for the summer. The thing is he's also able to go out, we do a virtual reality walk-through, where he's able to see the pulls with the line. It's non-contact so he's able to get some reps there and get some visual stuff that's new to all the defense. That's exciting to see. He's actually getting a lot of mental work and he's having to spend overtime on the rehab, but he's actually to a point where he feels really good, is excited and itching to get back."
- I asked Felton about his health: "I'm feeling good. Treatment is the key this season and just taking care of my body. I'm just making sure everything is healthy for the upcoming season."
- Felton said despite there being an open competition between him, Ward and Stockton, they are still helping each other out. "It's all competition and love in the room"
- Felton on getting injured and losing his job to Ward last season: "When one man go down another is up. Just because you come back (from injury) doesn't really mean you have your spot waiting on you. You gotta earn everything and that's our motto here. We're not given anything, we're earning everything we get."
- I asked Willies about his health after suffering several injuries last season: "Yeah, I've been focusing a lot on staying healthy after last year. I've really been focusing on it this year, keeping my body right.
- Willies also went into detail about a ruptured appendix which sent him to a Illinois hospital on Christmas Eve. He is fully recovered, but said it was very painful and doctors said he could have died if he hadn't checked himself in. He spent Christmas and a few days after in the hospital recovering.
- I asked about how it's been working with QB Nic Shimonek, his buddy, this spring: "Yeah, me and Nic have been together since freshman year at Iowa so we already have kind of a connection. I'm always staying on him about 'hey I want the ball' but nah, we're good."
- I countered that Shimonek is a self-described fiery guy who will get in people's face and asked if he ever gets in Willies' face. "No, because me and Nic, we think alike. We're already on the same page a lot of the time so we don't have to confront each other too much. Nic will definitely get after you if you're not doing what he wants."
- I asked Willies to describe Shimonek as a quarterback: "He's a leader. He's always going to give it his best effort. He knows what he needs to do and he's going to give it his all every day."
- I asked Willies what he did for spring break: "I stayed here and worked." I countered with "How many people stayed and worked with you? "I always work by myself. I don't know who else was here, but I always do what I need to do."
- Bruffy said he loves playing left tackle and has enjoyed going against the defensive line, which he described as "very hungry".
- I asked Bruffy how different it's been for him physically to not play baseball this spring for the first time ever: "I'm actually holding a lot more weight. I'm actually getting to develop in the weight room. I'm seeing the most gains ever. I have never seen my body change like that, so rapidly. It was awesome. The whole team has completely bought into coach (Rusty) Whitt's program and I think I can speak on behalf of all of us we got so much bigger, so much stronger this whole spring. I'm glad I didn't play baseball because I'd be a skinny little rod."
- Bruffy said he's 6-6, 302, but that he feels he can still move around and be as athletic as he was before at 265.
- The sophomore lineman said he loves new OL coach Brandon Jones, specifically his coaching style and philosophy.
- I asked Bruffy what Jones' philosophy is: "Every man do their job and if we have five people on the same page we're going to succeed."
- Bruffy said he went from playing RB in middle school to MLB and TE as a sophomore in high school to playing offensive line as a junior and senior. He added he grew rapidly between his sophomore and junior years.
- I asked Bruffy how much the experience of playing tight end as an extra blocker in short yardage situations has given him confidence this spring: "Absolutely. Just stepping on that field against the most elite athletes in the world, getting used to that speed, how fast they move, how big they are, I mean even for the few reps I was in, just getting that experience to step on that field and then to get to step on The Jones stadium and look around. When they were chanting raider power in the Texas game... these are some of the memories just from my freshman season I;ll have for the rest of my life. I cherish those and they are very close to my heart."
- I asked Morris about the potential recruiting impact of having the spring game at The Star in Frisco: "Yeah, it's huge. It's a four and a half hour drive from Dallas to here and it's 20 minutes from anywhere in Dallas to Frisco. It's a great opportunity for families to be able to take them up the road and play in a cool atmosphere and to get to witness some live ball. It's great for us to get on the road and show our brand and hopefully there will be a lot of recruits there."
- Tucson (AZ) Mountain View 2018 DT Kai Golden was in attendance at Thursday's practice. I interviewed him after his visit and needless to say he loved his time on campus. "The visit went great. I was thoroughly impressed with the layout of the facilities and the programs they offer for the freshmen." Look for the full interview on Friday.