"We'll start with the line positions. We have Nikola Dragovic, who didn't play as much last year. He came off a year of having an ACL reconstruction. He's fully recovered and has had a tremendous off-season. He looks great, and I'm anxious to see what he performs like on the field. He's a senior and has had some playing experience. He's going to be pushed some, because of Tom Blake, who has transferred in and wasn't eligible to play last year, but made a very positive impression on our program. He's a walk-on that could potentially earn a scholarship. Tom looks great and we're hoping he's the type of player we anticipate him to be, being in the mix there at the end position.
"And then the three redshirt freshmen: Jeff Miller, Reginald Stokes and Dylan Rush. You may see Dylan Rush play more tackle than defensive end. That's where he wants to play. He wants to play inside, so we're going to let him play inside. He says he can put the weight on. He's probably more like 260 right now, and he has some time between now and the season to put on some weight. So you might see him playing some defensive tackle for us, but Jeff and Reginald you'll see playing the end.
"Brigham Harwell, he's a shade under 300, more like 298. He looks great, trim. He looks very fit, like an experienced player. He'll be at the one starter at defensive tackle. Jess Ward is close to the 300-pound range, which isn't much different than what you see on the depth chart. He should be ready to go. David Carter, we recruited as an end, but he's getting big enough to play a tackle, so we're going to start him off playing inside, I think as a three-technique.
So, he's bigger than 259?
"I think he's grown a little bit from that."
Stokes' knee okay?
"His knee is fine. He had his surgery at the end of the year, and he's healthy and ready to go.
Kevin Brown looks great. He's 299 pounds, trim and looks good. Chase Moline, he had some back surgery, and they will not clear him for full contact this spring. You'll see him out there doing some drill work, but that's all you'll see from Chase. He's recovering well, running and doing things."
Is he lifting yet?
"And the other guy you won't see is Darius Savage. He's on the track team, throwing for the track team, so you won't see him.
"Jerzey Siewierski is up and ready to go, and he'll be competing with those three, actually those two guys, since Chase won't be out there. So Kevin Brown and Jerzy, and Jess Ward, David Carter, those are the young guys you'll see in there battling, and a little bit of Dylan Rush."
Is there any correlation to Savage being fourth on the depth chart and not being out for spring practice?
"No. Jerzy played some last year, that's why he's ahead. It's really based on how much experience they've had."
How will Brian Price impact that depth?
"He has a chance to impact it. It's really going to depend on his development, too. The line positions are different than the skill positions, when you make that transition from high school to college. He's plenty big of enough, for sure, and he's strong. It's how fast he can learn the defense, and get himself to play at the speed and the power, all the things that are necessary for him to make that transition. He's very capable. We're hoping he's capable of helping, but we know it's much, much harder for line positions to do that than skill positions.
"Then the other end is Bruce Davis, and he's still at the 240, 241, 242 mark. That's kind of his body. But he looks good, and he's stronger, and he had a very off-season. Kenneth Lombard had the PCL, so you know he's not going to be healthy this spring. He's not even cleared to run yet. But his progress is on schedule, according to the doctors. But he won't be able to participate in spring. Chinonso Anyanwu is 217, and is strong. Here's a kid, you look at him physically and he doesn't look very strong. But he's a strong kid. He can squat a lot of weight and bench a lot, so we'll see what he can do. We moved Korey Boswoth from outside linebacker to defensive end, and he's really excited about that. It gives him a chance to play the open side end. We do have two different types of ends. We have the tight side end, which is over the tight end, where Nikola is, and what you see is right end is usually the open-side end, where Bruce Davis plays, and that's the weakside."
Does Anyanwu have the ability to move to linebacker?
"At a lot of schools he could probably play linebacker, particularly in a 3-4. We're not a 3-4 defense. Our linebackers, we envision those guys to really be just a little bit bigger than strong safeties that can run. That's the difference.
"The linebacker positions, there are John Hale, who started a good portion of the season, and Aaron Whittington. Hale ended the year as the starter and Whittington, with his experience, and he started a bunch of games, too. So we feel really good about our Sam linebacker position. Fred Holmes is trying to get in the mix there, now that he's a senior. He's mostly been a special teams player for us. And Nicky Rodriguez, a walk-on, is the fourth guy there. A great kid.
"At Mike linebacker, there is Christian Taylor, a 12-game starter for us. Kyle Bosworth will back him up. We're really looking to see how Kyle develops this spring. We already know what Christian can do. It will be good to see what Kyle can get himself to handle this defense. That's the position which is the quarterback of the defense, and has to know the calls and adjustments. And that's the challenge we want to put on Kyle."
Christian's ankle is better?
"It's better. He still has some inflammation with it, not enough to keep him out. But we don't want any setbacks with him. I told him, if we get into week three and he's pretty sore, we'll keep monitoring that. He's probably 95% to 100%."
Will you cut back his work to get Kyle some more work?
"We need to get some depth there. That's one of the goals of spring, to get more depth there at the middle linebacker position, so we're not caught in a tough spot like we were a year ago. We have to get Kyle developed. The Sam position is pretty solid, with Hale and Whit, two experienced playes. The Will position, we need to get depth there, too. Reggie Carter played well for us as a redshirt freshman for us, but we still need one more guy that we feel very good about, and Shawn Otis is going to get that opportunity. We'll see what he can do."
Tobi Umodu moved from weak to Mike...
"He did that just to add the depth there at the middle linebacker position. We think Tobi is an inside-the-box player, more inside the box, not a Will linebacker, so that's why we made that move."
Does Josh Edwards have a chance?
"He has a chance. He's flashed during camp. Josh was a teammate at UC Davis with Blake. They both transferred last summer. He caught my eye on the scout team. He's a hard-working kid, and he's going to get a chance to showcase what he can do."
"Sloan will be a Sam, or could potentially be a Mike as well. So we see him in that roll. With Akeem being more of a Will.
"In the secondary, there's a lot of experience with this group. A lot of guys have played a lot of football. The four returning starters there started all 13 games.
"Trey Brown has had a very good off-season. With Michael Norris, it was unfortunate at the beginning of the season, because we didn't know how he'd be, but we were able to redshirt him, and he's going to give us some valuable experience at corner, as a junior. Matt Caldwell is a walk-on kid, a good kid and hard-working player, and he'll get some reps as the third left corner. With Michael Norris being bad, it's really going to add to this group. He's been a very good special teams player most of his career, and he was having a very good camp, if you guys remember, then he ended up injuring his knee on an interception return in one of our scrimmages, and that's the last he's played. It's good to have him back.
"The other corner is Rodney Van, a very solid player, and then Alterraun Verner pushing him, that's why it's going to be a very competitive position right there. You know what Alterraun Verner was able to do for us as a freshman, and that's going to keep the level of competition high at the corner position. With Michael Norris back, with his abilities, and the things he was doing before his injury, pushing Trey Brown, and then on the other side you have Verner pushing Van, I think it keeps it pretty competitive.
"Chris Meadows, I like this kid. I think he has some very good qualities. He transferred in last year. He has a lot of skill. I think he has excellent feet. He runs well. I'm really curious to see what he's going to do this spring."
You recruited him out of high school?
"The safeties, Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes, they started all 13 games. Chris had his first complete season for us and it was good, making second-team all-conference. He's had a very good off-season. He still plays with that little mini-cast on his wrist. It's just one of those things he's going to have for the rest of his life. It's that surgery, he doesn't have full motion on his wrist, and that's why he wears it as a protective device. But it didn't limit his ability to make plays for us. Bret Lockett is one of those guys, along with, we were talking about Kyle Bosworth, we're talking about Shawn Otis...Bret Lockett we need to develop and come through. We need him to gain a great deal of experience and growth this spring."
What's he missing specifically?
"He needs reps. He needs more full-speed reps where he's making decisions and adjustments."
"Yeah. He just has to go. He needs to develop, and you can only do that by playing full speed with some live reps. He has all the talent you want – the size, the speed, he's physical. He just needs to gain more experience.
"Christian Ramirez, you remember, was a back that came in last year that we moved to defense. He's a very fluid athlete, a good-looking kid. We're really curious to see what he's going to turn out to be as well. I feel good about that strong safety position. Matt Culver is a walk-on who is also a very good player, too. We have some good depth at strong safety.
The weak safety with Aaron Ware...Aaron Ware and Bret are both in a similar boat. They're both in that sophomore-junior range and they have to make a move now. They have to make an impression with our coaches that they're ready to take the next step, be solid back-ups. If we get injury with either Keyes or Horton, we're not going to skip a beat. So he's in a similar boat. He's got to come through."
Is it decision-making with Ware, too?
"It's playing, going and playing, playing the game fast, and be confident in your adjustments and go. It's all those things you gain when you play.
"Matt Slater had shoulder surgery. Remember he had shoulder surgery during the season. So he will not be in any full contact drills this spring. You'll see him in individual, doing back-pedaling, but he will not have any contact."
And that's a move for him, from corner...
"He played both last year. So we're going to keep him isolated at safety, and get him going there.
"Mike Angelo is a walk-on kid, too. We'd like to see what those type of guys can do. I think the one thing that has really helped our program has been the quality of our walk-ons. They have been very, very capable players. He has a chance to make an impact, whether it be on the depth chart or on special teams.
"Our specialists, to me that's a big issue. We had a pretty darn good kicker the last few years. And we have a good, young kicker. And that's always a big challenge for your first-year kicker to replace an All-American. Just like Aaron Perez had to do with Chris Kluwe. Kai Forbath knows he's going to have to come through for us. He knows that, and he's worked hard. He's doing all the things we're asking him to do. He's very talented, but it's one of those things. It's a trade, what they do. He has his kicking coach, and those things that happen. We're really looking to put him under some pressure this spring, just because he's going to have to get used to it. The goal this spring, you'll see us scrimmage a lot at field goal. Just full-speed rush, all that stuff. Because our snapper is new, too. Christian Yount is a kid we put on scholarship mid-year. He's very talented. Very, very talented. I'll say that again. But he's not been under any pressure. He's not taken on a rush. So they need to be battle-tested. So the goal for both Forbath and Yount is to get some battle testing going on."
Young gets it off pretty
"He does. But he's done it on air. So that's the challenge."
Weighing 225, do you want him bigger?
"He might get to 235, but he's a linebacker-looking kid, and he has pretty good shoulders on him. He'll get better."
If the biggest hole you have to fill is your placekicker you have to feel pretty good but, on the other hand, it's such a vital spot...
"You'd like to be automatic. You
almost had that feeling with Justin Medlock last year. There was that one bad
Were there times when Forbath
out-kicked Medlock in practice last year?
"Yeah, but again that was on air. It was just a snap and a holder. It's different when guys are jumping across your foot. But you're right. He's plenty talented. It's more (taps the side of his head) right there. That's what he's going to have to get used to.
"So, that's the depth chart.
"In a nutshell, this team, we have to make a move this year. I feel we have to make a move. We have a good deal of experience back. A lot of guys have played a lot of football. Now it's time to make a move. We understand that. Players and coaches understand that. It's about getting it done now. It's realizing and meeting our potential."
Low-end, what would "making a move" entail?
"We've been fighting for the last two years about being in contention at the top of this conference. This is something with our experience, coming back, we need to be right there. This is my biggest senior class that I've had. A lot of experience. It's about getting ourselves where we believe we can be, and should be. I don't know what that means in terms of wins and losses.
"It's funny you mention that
because going through a nine-game conference schedule, and we're the only
conference that does that, that's a tough schedule. When you look back after
you've done it and what you went through, you go ‘Wow.' For Stanford, they had some unfortunate
injuries that caused some problems for them. And
How much different is the terminology that Jay Norvell brought in?
"There's some differences. I wanted Jay to be comfortable. A lot of the changes we've made is actually the system I knew before I came here. If that makes sense."
So you've gone back?
"A little bit, yeah. Now don't go there, saying they're back to 110th in the country. Don't say that. In terms of the terminology, it is so more familiar for me. If you think about it, it's because of his NFL experience are similar to mine. That's why. We've changed some, probably a good percentage. Our players have done a great job, because conceptually those things haven't changed much. They might be called something different. So it's not like it's a totally new play and a totally new way of saying it. It might be a play we've run before but we call it a different terminology."
How familiar are the quarterbacks with this terminology?
"We'll see, baby. We'll see. They're excited. I'm telling you, they're excited about tomororow. We all are. That's another positive about starting this late, because we're chomping to get going."
When you started spring practice earlier the last two years, was that all because of the changes to Spaulding Field?
"Yeah, the field."
Is this the way you want it for now on?
"I would. Things happen in terms of...guys get NFL opportunities on my staff. That's part of the equation. Secondly, it gives us a chance that, after recruiting, you can get back to studying your game. What you did well, what you didn't do well, what you need to change. Let's go see these guys (other coaches) because they're doing this well. It allows you to do that. It allows your parents, after the beginning of the quarter, to get a little bit of rest before getting back after it again. It allowed us and our players to prepare so much better."
With a new offensive coordinator, what do you want to get out of spring practice offensively?
"His hardest job is that, by the end of spring, I expect to see progress from where we were. It may not start that way, because there is some newness, some new coaches and he's new. But by the end of spring, on April 27th, you want to feel, ‘You know, that was a good spring. We really made progress.' I think one of the most telling things that is a big issue that we need make sure we're solidified with...I know everyone thinks it's the quarterback, but we have two really good quarterbacks. That's not my biggest concern. It's more who are our top five linemen. That's a bigger concern for me. At center, regardless of who he is, he's new. You have one new guard. And then you have two tackles and we're trying to find what's their best spot, left or right. So you're trying to solidify that group. The running backs and receivers are the same. So it's really that group.
"Defensively, it's the depth. We have to develop those guys we talked about. ‘Hey, you have to come through now.' We have to come out of spring where the defensive staff says, ‘Hey, you know what? We're in great shape because this guy could step in and do a great job.' That's where it has to happen, particularly at the linebacker position and in the secondary, at the safety position. For the D-line, I'd like to see what those young guys can do, the guys we recruited. This is their first spring where they're going to get first time coaching. Let's see what you can do."
Will you take it easy on Harwell and Brown?
"No. Don't ever say ‘take it easy.'"
But they won't get as many reps...
"No, they need to. We're going to go. This goes back to what I said. We have to make a move. This isn't taking anything off this spring. Don't use that ‘easy' anything. We have to develop that depth and we have to get better at our football. We are better, at this point, in terms of Xs and Os, because this time has allowed us to do that. But now it's the execution, it's developing that depth, and it's making a push by the end of spring where you say, ‘You know what? That was progress.' And then we have another two months to get ourselves right for the season."
In finding your top five lineman, has new OL coach Bob Connelly brought any insight to that?
"Both of the new coaches, I purposely didn't want to taint their vision. ‘Okay, this is your guy.' You know what I mean? You got to make them work through the process, to formulate who they believe are the best guys. Now, just like Jay (Norvell) has done, Bob (Connelly) has watched all the tape, too, of all the returning guys, and also watched some of our practice tape, and watched some of the guys that are up and coming that haven't played. They're doing the best way of assessing who potentially could be that group. And the same thing at quarterback. I didn't want to put a lot of information in coach Norvell's mind about this guy does this, this guy does that. He needs to go out there and work them, get them fundamentally sound, get them making their reads, getting them staying on schedule, getting them commanding the offense, so he's able to make an assessment about where those two guys are. I didn't want to taint the process. It's going to be fun, though. It's going to really be fun."