BRO: First question, what do you know now that you didn't know before spring started?
JT: You're not sure what the kids are going to be like, and we really feel good about our football team, about our defense. Our depth, we think we have some good depth. We think we're going to be able to play a lot of people and really with little drop off if any. That's probably the two things, just, we really feel like we've got good kids and we've got really good depth. Those are two things you don't know coming in.
BRO: Depth? That's not something UCLA has been accustomed to …
JT: Obviously injuries have played a part in that I think. We came through spring really healthy – nobody had significant injuries at all. Hopefully we'll roll through camp and go into Houston with that same situation we had coming out of spring.
BRO: You have in the back of your mind what you want to do with your defense and, like you said, you didn't know about the players, their athleticism, their strength, their aptitude …
JT: I don't like to make things complicated because confusion caused problems and I think our guys, you know, we really tried to stress having a purpose with what you're doing, playing with an urgent mindset all the time and tying that in with having a high motor in everything you do and I think we made a lot of strides from Day 1 to Day 15 on that and that probably, more than anything, is huge. It's huge, because if you can get them doing that and you can get them good fundamentally as far as meeting and defeating blocks, tackling and the most important thing being able to communicate with each other all the time, I mean, you've got a chance to be good. You really do.
BRO: It might sound a little strange in regard to a football player, but when you're talking about having the urgent mindset and doing everything with a purpose … that's something that a lot of the players are still learning at this point. That's kind of a mystery to me …
JT: I think if you take a look at the human race, there are people who are 45 years old and go to work every day and don't have that purpose. That, you know, have a job. People have different mindsets. People approach things differently. I mean, you work with guys who have a different approach than you do. It's no different. I think it's something you've got to teach and you've got to emphasize daily, all the time, all day, because it's human nature to, you know, sometimes things are going good and I'm not feeling it today. I think you have to condition yourself to play at that level every day.
BRO: Not pointing any fingers or anything, but there had to be some significant steps forward with some guys through the course of the spring in that regard.
JT: For what we do individually, I never or very rarely have conversations come up with, ‘How you did it before?' I think there's conversation and you try to take the good and eliminate what you didn't feel was not so good. But it's always been limited conversation with me. I've never really been concerned about the way they did it before. I mean, this is the way we're going to do it. If we go down, we're going down this way.
I'm a big believer in what goes around comes around and mojo, man, and I'll tell you, if you get to where you think you can point a finger, that's where you get yourself in a big mess. You've got to do what you've got to do. You believe what you believe. And you teach it with a purpose and urgency and a motor. Just like I want those kids to perform, that's the way I'm going to teach them and we go from there. You make sure they understand what communication is and how important it is and how important fundamentals are. You're constantly pointing out why this is important in all these little situations that we encounter every minute of every day in practice.
BRO: It sounds like your energy and Clark (Lea) and Inoke (Breckterfield) and Tim (Hundley), your energy has been pulling rather than pushing …
JT: It's kind of like this, I think you don't have a choice – not that I'm giving you a choice – because if you really love what you do, you're going to jump in. My purpose and my mission and my intent is for the good of all. I wish our politicians felt that way, but they don't. And I think when you have that type of demeanor, if people around you have the same type of demeanor it's all going to come together.
BRO: The reason I bring this up, you go to a PRP, and guys are staying after. They're working bags and working on getting off the line, working on their agility. That's something that just didn't happen …
JT: During the spring, I tried to do a certain amount of coaching on video, to say, ‘OK, when we do our PRP's this is what this look like, when we do our PRP's this is what that looks like.' The feedback I got from the players was that these were by far way ahead of anywhere they have been whether it was with Karl Dorrell or whether it was Rick Neuheisel. These are by far the most organized, the best run, just the most productive … and I got that feedback from pretty much everyone I talked to. So you got to see that then? You're in agreement with that?
BRO: I did.
JT: That makes me feel good. I wasn't questioning them, but you know guys. They also know me and I'm extremely honest. I'm brutally honest. So they know if they're not honest with me that somehow, I'm going to find out (laughing). It just happens. It's the mojo thing.
But I'm glad to hear that. That's how you win championships. And, you know, when I said the first thing was I didn't know what our kids were going to be like, I think that's an indication why I feel what I feel, just me personally. Just for that reason alone, that they bought in, they knew how important PRP's were to me, and they carried it through.
It's just like anything else in life I think you have to tell them. It's like when you go through a meeting and you're on somebody's rear end and you're like, ‘Look, OK, I've got coach on my shirt and on my forehead so that's why I'm doing this.' No, OK, I'm doing this because of the lessons that I or we have learned previously that put in this situation that we wanted to make sure you don't get in this situation.
If you're going to do PRP's, this is why you're doing it, because if you can approach it and condition yourself to do it this way and at this level, then when you come into camp you're going to be that much better because of the level that you performed at for 10 weeks before you came to camp versus if you do it at this level it's going to take you three weeks to get to that level in camp. Now you're coming into camp, so just think of the level you're going to be at three weeks from now because you came in at a whole different demeanor and just think going into Houston how much farther along you're going to be as a player and as a team because of the way you approached this.
I mean, I did a lot of that and I think that's why … you've got to break it down for the guys – we're not doing this just to do it, because that's what coaches do. That ain't the deal. It's no different with the motor. You just have to continue to coach it.
BRO: Well, I could tell you some horror stories if you want …
JT: It was mind-boggling to me because, when I was able to visit with these guys toward the end of spring especially and told them what we were going to do and how we were going to do it, you know, said, ‘You guys know what I mean …' and they just gave me that look. I'm like, OK, well, if you don't know what I mean, now you do know what I mean. I knew they didn't approach it like that before.
But they want to win. They're at a place that has a very solid football foundation, football tradition. Is it Alabama, Texas? No. The basketball team is. Yeah, but that's OK, because they've had some great teams come out of here. In the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, UCLA was always top 10, top 20 teams, on a consistent basis. There are only maybe 20 programs in the country like that. So, we haven't lost our tradition, we just have lost our luster and I think these guys really want to get this back. I think that's important to them and I think that's why they're approaching things like they are now.
BRO: And they have more of a clue how to do it now …
JT: They've listened and they've bought in. They really have.
BRO: OK, let's talk about some position groups, some players …
JT: Well, let's start with the d-line You've got Datone Jones. You've got Cassius Marsh. OK. You've got (Justin) Edison. You've got Damien Holmes, who probably had the most impressive motor out of anybody in the spring. You've got (Iuta) Tepa. You've got Nate Chandler. You've got Donovan Carter. You've got (Owamagbe Odighizuwa). You've got a young kid in Wesley Flowers who doesn't know what's going on right now but is learning every day because it's important to him.
You've got Seali'I (Epenesa) – you know it's important to him because he was going to the o-line. And he's lost almost 30 pounds, because he wants to play defense. That was his test and you know what, he's shown us, he's proved to us that he wants to play defense. Nothing against offense, but that's what he came to play and he was going to be moved.
All those guys I named right there – that's nine guys, 10 guys – I think are presently good football players or have the potential to be. When I say good, a good football player to me is a guy that could possibly be an all-conference player. Datone has that ability. Cassius has that ability. Donovan Carter, boy, he really had a hell of a spring. We're not even talking about Keenan Graham. I don't know anything about Keenan Graham. At least with (Patrick) Larimore I got to see him run around a little bit even though he was hurt. Keenan was in a motor scooter.
We're really pleased with that depth and I feel like – this is a Brian Kelly deal and I think there's a lot to it – we don't really have 2s we have the next man in. Because, to me, the next man in is every bit as important as the guy that is starting and to me the guy starting could be the next man in because if the next man in is worthy that guy starting, he's always going 100 miles an hour because he wants to be a starter. We have a lot of next man in guys.
And at linebacker, you've got the same scenario. (Patrick) Larimore, OK, I'm excited to see him. Isaiah Bowens got better every day – had never played the position. (Sean) Westgate got better, got better this spring, and he's played a lot. Eric Kendricks – huge upside, huge upside. Glenn Love played his butt off and really did a nice job in spring. (Jordan) Zumwalt played two positions, you know what I mean? He's a guy that can possibly play all three, with his athleticism. You've got six guys right there that hopefully, as Bowens gains experience and gets better every day … you know, you've got six guys that all can play. You're not seeing a significant drop off in any of those six. That's a great problem to have.
(Ryan) Hofmeister is athletic, but he's a little way away. (Jared) Koster has been injured. Aaron Wallace is a true freshman. But you have six guys there that I like.
Secondary, safety, you've got Tony Dye, you've got Dietrich Riley, you've got Tevin McDonald, you've got Alex (Mascarenas). Corner is our issue – we don't have depth. We have (Andrew) Abbott, who is probably going to be our swing guy right now with Sheldon (Price) and (Aaron) Hester. And Abbott did some good things this spring. He played a lot of nickel, as did Tevin. Corner is our only position where you say, ‘Wow, we don't have four guys.' You know? Anthony (Jefferson) going down, that might have been our fourth guy right there.
What's nice is defensively, and we don't have too many freshmen in this signing class, you're not looking at anyone and saying, ‘Man, we really need him to come in and help us' or you're hoping, ‘Is he really as good as they say he is?' Because you don't feel it's a necessity. That's a great problem to have.
BRO: (Dalton) Hilliard, too …
JT: Oh, yeah. See, I haven't seen Dalton. He was out. He's been in the PRP's. He's going to be a pleasant surprise. See what I'm saying? We've got all these guys …
BRO: With Larimore not being on the field in the spring, how much was he able to pick up on in terms of what he is going to have to do with his calls and fits and things?
JT: Well, we'll see what type of learner is he. If he's a guy that needs reps. We all need reps, but he got no reps, so you have to hope he was able to take it all in without the reps. We'll find out. I think he's the type of kid, he's very zoned in every meeting, never missed a meeting, was present everywhere and for everything, just like he was playing, so I would say I'm going to be cautiously optimistic that he's going to be able to hit the thing pretty much running. Just rust from a football standpoint. But mentally, not much different than those that played every rep or got a bunch of reps. But we'll see.
BRO: McDonald is another guy I wanted to ask about. Running nickel, is he in that corner mix now?
JT: He could, he possibly could. We just have to see how it all sorts out.
BRO: You kind if need another body there …
JT: He would be the first guy that we go to probably, because his hips, he probably is closest. And he would be a boundary corner. He'd be a guy that we stick into the boundary, because we could still fire zone him, we could still roll him up, he could backpedal, flip his hips and play a deep third. He's a smart kid. He knows if you're a 9.8 or 10.8 100 meters you know, that, OK, I might have to get out of my backpedal a little quicker. He's that type of kid. Now some kids, they don't get that. He's a smart kid. He has got a lot of savvy to him.
We're just going to have to sort it out. We'll probably know a lot after that first scrimmage, just like any other time. Once you get through that first scrimmage you've been through basically a whole week of contact and you'll have a good idea what your team is like and how depth is sorting out and what guy's are next man in and what guys are true 2s. You don't want true 2s, you want the next man in.
BRO: And, Seali'I, the big threat was going to the o-line, huh?
JT: I mean, he knew it. He was 330 pounds. Our system and package is not set up for guys that are just going to play from tackle to tackle. It's not set up like that. We're not a 3-4 2-gap team. You know? We want everybody attacking. We want everybody aggressive. We want everybody rolling. And the structure of our defense is not a 2-gap, and if you're 330 pounds you're a 2-gap guy because you're not running somebody down or you're not going to be getting a lot of penetration because you're not getting off the ball real fast at 330 pounds. Now if he were 6-foot-4 or 6-5, it'd be a different deal.
BRO: Dietrich, I know he was dealing with a hamstring over the summer. Is he good to go?
JT: Yeah, I think he's going to be fine. It's not going to be an issue. We're done with that intense running now, you know, and I think player's mindsets change once they put the pads on as far as they've got to get in shape, they've got to get in shape. Once they get the pads on and they start running around, they'll tell you, ‘I've got to be in better shape' if they're not.
But that conditioning thing and that pushing in the summer that they do it kind of switches to, now I'm being a football player. So, I don't think there will be a problem with that. Hopefully not – for him – because there are all kinds of guys back there that want to play.
BRO: Zumwalt played Mike and Sam in the spring …
JT: Yeah, you know what, when he learns to bend his knees better, because he doesn't bend real well at the knees … he's athletic and he can bend. He's got good hip flexion. He's got good hips for a guy that big, he really does. But he's just in a bad habit. He was able to stand up in high school and look over people and run through people and, you know, just play. Well, you can't do that now. He got better as spring went on … I mean, he's still really good. But if he learns to play with good football position …
I tell you what, I told Clark (Lea) the other day, he's probably the only guy we've got that can play all three at a high level and he's not a natural-looking Will, but he runs well enough that he can play there and he's athletic enough that he can play there.
It's no hurry. We've got plenty of time to get it all sorted out. The main goal is we want to win our division and give ourselves a chance at a championship game, no matter who it's against. That's going to be a long process and there is plenty of time for guys like him to just keep getting better and hopefully they'll get it and when they get it can be really dynamic.
BRO: But with Larimore back, he starts at Sam?
JT: Right now we'll start him off at Sam. But he played Mike in the spring, played a little bit of Sam, but he played a lot of Mike because Larimore was out. We can just plug him back in there, I think. I think he's going to be three months older, went through the PRPs. I think he'll be able to play Sam and Mike still if we have to do it. I don't think there will be an issue with it.
He's got a lot of upside. Eric Kendricks has got a lot of upside. Both those kids can be really good … I mean really good. We're excited. We really feel like we've got 22 football players, you know what I mean? There's a difference between two deep and having 22 that can play. I mean, I think we have 22 that can play. I really do. And that's minimum. That's just the number we use because 11 times 2 is 22.