Dorrell Pre-Spring Conference

New Head Coach Karl Dorrell answered questions Monday in a pre-spring practice press conference. He talked about off-season program, the staff's preparation, and much of the personnel status of the squad...

Here are exerpts from Monday's press conference.


Opening Remarks:


"I'm excited about this week. Obviously been here three months now and done everything but coach some football. That's the most important thing in this profession, what you do on the field. So we're excited about starting up on Wednesday. We're going to run our players this afternoon after this conference. The thing that you worry about is that you take a week off for spring break and all the things you do beforehand, you're hoping that everyone tried to still staying in shape over spring break. We'll see that in just a couple of hours with the conditioning test we're going to do. I know the players are excited. Coaches are obviously very excited and I purposedly have not watched much football from this team from last year because of my evaluation process in my mind. So I'm excited about getting a chance to watch this team and seeing what the make-up of this team is."


There have been reports that the off-season training was rigorous. Can you explain what that entailed?


"I don't think it was different than any other major programs. We had some six a.m. training, where the staff was involved in some conditioning drills.  And mostly it was run by our strength coach, but our football staff was involved with them. We're trying to improve our conditioning and football-related agility drills. I thought our players responded great. For some of them, yes, it was a little bit of a shock treatment, but I think that what was needed for us to get started and set the tone on what we're trying to embark on here in our football program. After a week of the shock treatment, they got used to the tempo of how we were doing things and the format, they actually became fond of it. They were starting to have fun and understand the scope of what we were trying to get done, which was build team unity and morale, and also to work on our football-related skills. Overall it went pretty well."


With an emphasis on conditioning, did you see that as something that wasn't up to snuff last year?


‘I don't think it was indicative of anything that happened a year ago. It was more I think the way we're going to practice in our future. I hope the tempo we set in our practice on Wednesday is, we're going to do everything full speed. When you're running a rep in practice, it's a full-speed rep. And that's at every position. I think that was mostly why we were trying to set that tempo in the off-season. Just to understand, any rep you can do on the field, you're going as fast and has hard as you can go. That's just the type of mentality that I've grown accustomed to in the last place I worked and I'm hoping to bring and instill that type of mentality here."


What are your top priorities for spring practice?


"For me, it's a couple of things. Develop our systems. Defense, offense and special teams. To get that introduced and come out of spring ball with a fairly good knowledge base of our systems. And to create some depth behind our positions. Create a depth chart as to who we think are players that can be strong contributors in the fall, key players in terms of being our playmakers, too. I purposely did not watch any of last year's tape. My coaches have. They kind of needed an idea of what to being with, when evaluating by position. For myself I wanted to do it from a team standpoint. The things I'm looking for in spring ball is what is our team made of? That's what I'm really curious about. What are some of the buttons I can push to get them to go? And what are some of the buttons that are ineffective. From my standpoint, I'm trying to figure out the makeup of this team."


What are some of the key positions that will get much of your attention this spring?


"Well, the key one is our quarterback. I'm sure you guys are concerned with that, as are we. When you're running the offense that we're going to run it's going to take a great deal of work to run this offense. We're hoping we're establishing a pretty good foundation this spring, and they're able to take a hold of it, learn from it and then build it as we work through after spring, into summer and into fall camp. But that position is going to be very intriguing with young players. None of them with any extensive playing time. I didn't want to watch them throw one ball during the off-season, because I wanted to watch them on the field under practice conditions. See how they react under pressure, without any pre-conceived thoughts. That's the one position that will be crucial for us to get a start with."


How have the quarterbacks done in grasping the offense on paper?


"The quarterbacks coach would know. He's told me bits and pieces here and there, but then again, I don't want to listen right now because I want to make my own evaluation. And he does too. Because even though he's hearing things he hasn't been able to watch them. Obviously his evaluation of that position will be key, too. It's an exciting time. All three of those guys – Olson, Moore and Sciarra – all feel that they have the chance to be the guy. And I want them to have that opportunity, to show us that they can handle that. Usually with three guys like that, given an opportunity to play, we'll see how it shakes out and how they can handle the pressure. Bottom line, can they handle the pressure."


How about Brian Callahan, the walkon? Will he be running the scout team?


"He'll get some reps in there, too. But we're not going to have a scout team this spring. We're going to work against the defense. Scout team is more of what you would do when you prepare in the fall. So everybody ‘s going to get their opportunity to show what they can do this spring."


Will you name a starting quarterback after spring practice?


"I don't anticipate that. I think because of the new system, it's going to take more than a spring to make that determination. I'm hoping that decision will be made in the fall."


With so much depth and talent at running back, and little experience at quarterback, might the offense emphasize the running game?


"That might be a game plan idea. I think for us we have to install both our run and pass, without really a thought in mind of how we're going to bring our quarterbacks along, at least at this stage. We have to put in our systems as quickly as we can, at a tempo in which they can grasp it. And I think on equal terms with the run and pass game. As spring unfolds and I get a better feel what our strengths are that will kind of determine what direction we go to lean on first."


Is it safe to say that everyone has a shot at every position?


"I think returning starters have some sort of an edge. I'm thinking really from a quarterbacks standpoint, with the situation that occured a year ago. You don't see that happen very often in college football, where you lose enough quarterbacks that your redshirt quarterback ends up playing. They were throw into a difficult situation. And both of them played admirably. Actually I think all three of them played well at different times in the season. All of them are coming in knowing that they'll get a chance to run this team and they're excited about that opportunity."


Do you anticipate any problems in possibly naming different players as starters than the players from last season?


"I think the bottom line is these kids want to win. They want a certain level of respectability back, just like the same expectations I've been talking about with them for the last three months. They want to play our best players. Kids aren't idiots. They want to play their best players and win games. If you're fair in that regard, and they know that you're fair in that regard, they can deal with that. It's when you have the political issue that might come up, that I'm not very good with, that causes problems. I'm mean-what-you-say, say-what-mean type of coach. You're going to have to prove your ability on the field."


You've said you wanted to replicate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. Do you think you have that kind of defensive speed?


"We may not at this time as a whole, but I think we do. Do we have Simeon Rice? No. But we have two excellent players in the Ball twins, that are good, hard, physical players. There are certain type of issues that that NFL teams has that we don't have. But I think we have good linebackers, a couple of good, young linebackers, and a senior in Brandon Chillar who is a leader for us. Then our secondary is a young, talented secondary. I think they'll have a chance to flourish. Overall, I think we have pretty good team speed on defense. There are certain players that you wish had a little more, but I think we can run that style of defense."


Without having done a lot of evaluation, as you said, does that mean there is a potential for a good number of position changes also?


"There may be. I think we're going to be receptive to that. And I think our players will be, too. We talked about that very issue. We want to put our players into the best positions that they can be productive.  They're receptive to doing that, too. Part of the change is understanding that there might be a change in position.  I think they want to play the best players. That's the thing I've heard from our players. ‘Let's just play our best players and go.' So we're on the same page from a football staff and a players standpoint."


Some of the position changes that are evident on the new depth chart, does that come from your coaches evaluations?


"It's come from all of us, actually. I've talked with each player individually about certain issues in the program, what positions you think you play best, all those different things.  There was feedback from both sides, where a kid said, ‘I really play corner better than safety,' or vice versa. I think we're willing to put the player in the best position he thinks he can be productive. I think that's a starting point, as long as the coaching staff and player agree to that. Then we'll see how it works out as spring unfolds."


What indication have you gotten from the players about what they want to see accomplished this spring?


"They want to build on team chemistry. I think they felt there were some fragments there that didn't hold them all together.  Even though it was starting to come together a year ago. The last staff did a nice job of presenting and building on that with last year's team. But I think that's an underlining issue for them. They really want this team to be close and have a good chemistry so they can rely upon each other."


What can you do to enhance that?


"My job is to build trust. For me to be an approachable coach where they feel they can come to be for any issue, whether it's football or life. That's how I built this staff. I built this staff with people who understand relationships, and understand that it's just not the football aspect that is important to these kids. They want to be able to relate to the coaches that are coaching them. I don't think those are going to be issues anymore, judging from the last three months. Our staff has done a nice job of getting to know the players and obviously it's an ongoing process, but I think we'll be a close-knit family.  That's why I took this job is to build the family aspect back into the program."


Have you talked to Jarrad Page at all about not playing baseball?


"That was a decision he really came to. I know there was an agreement with the former staff and the baseball staff of him playing baseball. I think Jarrad had an injury to his throwing shoulder that prevented him from throwing the ball.  I think that's the reason he's thought if I can't throw and play baseball, I want to spend my time learning the system on defense and participate in football as much as I can.  Obviously we were excited about that decision."


Has there been any consideration of switching Matt Ware back to safety?


"I think Matt wants to try corner. I think that's what he wants to do. I've encouraged that, too. Because I think he runs well enough to play corner. In our style of defense, I think, with his size he'd fit well at corner. He's flexible either way. But I think he wants to put his feet in the ground at corner and he's excited about it."


What's the status of Jason Harrison, Alex Potasi, Kirby Joseph and Ryan Smith?


"Jason will probably not be available. He's had a couple of knee surgeries. I really don't know the long-term prognosis about when he'll be able to practice again. I know it's going to be a while. He had a really bad knee injury and that will take probably close to a year to get over. So I can't tell you a timeline on him.


"Alex Potasi will do some limited drill work this spring. He's still not able to do any full-speed running. But I think he can learn from a lineman standpoint our system and do some individual drill work without much contact. So, we're hoping to get that type of progress with him.


"Kirby Joseph just had a knee surgery. He's off crutches now. He's not going to get any work in spring.  He'll probably be limited by the time the season starts. I would say he would be full-speed by mid-season, at the earliest.


"Ryan Smith we're hoping to get running this spring. I would say from our conditioning drills he was only maybe 50% or 60%. So he will not be full speed this spring. So hopefully he can get in there, get some individual work, and get familiar with our system."


Is there any truth to the rumor that Wendell Mathis could be moved to wideout?


"He'll be playing running back this spring. What you said is news to me. I think we have only three or four running backs this spring, which is not a lot of depth. Like the quarterback position, that position can go down quickly. He'll get I'm sure a good amount of reps at running back this spring."


You haven't seen any film of last year?


"On purpose."


Is Shane Lehmann going to play into your plans much?


"We're hoping Shane has a great spring. We need him. He had a pec injury about a month ago, and he's recovered from that, not fully. But we're hoping that it doesn't slow him down this spring. We need his development. His experience would help us. And if he does play well, and does a nice job this spring we'd be able to move a player like Vieira back out to tackle.  I think right now our depth at our tackle is not as good. We'll see how it develops in the spring."


Did you get the idea not to watch any tape from somewhere else?


"Well, the offense that was run here in the past...we don't run any part of it. So, I didn't want to get locked in on that, for one. It's hard for me to watch an offense without trying to figure out what the offense is doing and I didn't want to do that. Because I'm putting in place my own system here. Secondly, I didn't feel I needed to watch film to assess talent compared to watching them work out. That's what we did in the 6 a.m. workouts. We did a lot of football-related movements. I can tell who our better athletes by watching agility drills, explosion and speed and all of those things. That's kind of how I wanted to build my knowledge base with my team.  It's like the offense here were the wishbone offense, and you watched all 12 games of the wishbone offense, but you're running a different system. You're not really getting a fair evaluation. I can do better by watching how they move in person on the field."


Any incoming freshmen you might project could make an impact next year?


"That's hard to say, too. You recruit with that in mind.  But it's not a science. Sometimes you'd recruit a kid that you think might be ready to play, and you count him already in our depth chart and then he gets here in campus, measures up what he's going against, and that blossom you were bargaining on didn't happen, and he tended to fold back. So those are those things that make it hard to make a strong assessment. You hope that one or two of those guys would be a surprise for us.  But we're not counting on any of them to come in and make an impact for us."


Have you gotten a chance to know players off the field?


"I have a little bit. It's still a process I'm going through. I think they're good guys that really, bottom line to them, want be a close football team. They really do. That's a great thing for me, to get that kind of feeling from them. They've done everything I've asked, and that's a great thing. They're willing to do everything it takes to bring this program where it should be. Those are all great traits that they have. I've told them that we're all on a honeymoon right now because it's a new staff and a new energy, and everyone is excited. I challenged them in the morning workouts – where we're going to be running your tail into the ground. Are you still going to feel like you're on the honeymoon?  Then we're going to work your tail off in spring ball. Are you still going to feel you're on a honeymoon? All the way up through the season. I've been putting that in their minds. If you ever feel that you have a change of heart about football, and the UCLA way of playing football, if it changes along that course when you don't have the same feeling, you might be into it for the wrong reasons.  So far, they're still on the honeymoon right now. They all have something to prove and that's exciting for us as a staff."


What's the status of Patrick Pierre-Louis, who hurt his shoulder and sat out the year last season?


"He's scheduled for full-go in the spring. He's had some minor issues with it in the off-season program. I think those are minor issues. He just has to strengthen that area. But I don't see him limited in showing us what he can do."


Can you talk about the competition for the middle linebacker spot?


"The middle linebacker spot is open right now. We have a couple of kids in mind that are competing for that job. Whether it's Link or London, I call them the double Ls, those are the two that are competing for that spot. The other linebacker that we're moving there is Tim Warfield. He hasn't played that position so we haven't given him a chance, and we have to evaluate him this spring. I think those three are prototypical middle linebackers, guys we think can fulfill the role in terms of inside tackle, tackle-to-tackle area. London's coming off minor shoulder surgery in January. It was minor, though. He's supposed to be full-go this spring. I don't think that should hold him back. Probably not. It was just exploratory surgery. Dennis Link is a senior, has the experience, and you're hoping he's ready to take over the challenge of that position. With Warfield being moved there, we're intrigued by what he's done in the off-season. He's had a great off-season so far. Between those three, it should be pretty good competition."


How is Rod Leisle's health?


"His foot is fine. He had a little minor surgery on his wrist.  He missed the latter two weeks of winter conditioning because he needed to get that screw set in his wrist. But we're anticipating that he's going to be Rodney this spring."


What was the type of schedule for the off-season conditioning?


"We did it three days a week, and they were out there for an hour. You're only allowed eight hours in the off-season to do conditioning. And that was part of their conditioning program. We started the week after signing day. Since our staff was late coming together, with people moving, we ended up starting our winter conditioning a lot later than a normal staff would if they were already in place.  We would normally start winter conditioning the last week in January."

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