‘'Hey, everybody. Happy spring. Spring has sprung, and as always it's an exciting time. When you look forward to kind of building your team, you start with the basics, like the weight room and the speed development and all of that, then you get to test all that out on the field here as spring ball begins, and then you take all the information you gather from those two things and put on paper at least what you think your team is going to look like in the fall and then you start to carve that into shape as you begin for the season. So, this is a huge piece of the puzzle and one that we're very excited about.
‘'And, now three springs into our term here, you know, expectations are higher, not only externally but internally, and so spring is even more important than maybe before.
‘'It's not just a learn-who-you-are-and-what-you-have, it's about really testing things out and finding out exactly who is going to be capable of being a stalwart for you in the fall. So, very, very excited. The intensity needs to go up, as compared to springs before, and I'm going to talk about that today at 4 o'clock at my team meeting. But, very eager, very much looking forward to it and hopeful that we'll see great progress as we unfold during these 15 practices.''
What are you going to be looking the most at? Is there any one position or …
‘'You know, that was asked earlier and … no. I don't think there's any one position. One of the things I'm going to mention to the team is I don't want anybody to think about first string, second string. I want you to think about being a player on this football team, because we're going to try a lot of different combinations over the course of the spring. Maybe not so much, you know, in the offensive line. We'll try to get some continuity there, play with strengths. But everywhere else, we're going to put players in there and see who can rise to the occasions when given that kind of opportunity. I don't want quarterbacks to only go with certain receivers and so forth. I want to see which receivers can jump to the front and which quarterbacks and running backs and corners and linebackers can get in there with whoever is getting the first chance and show that they belong at that level.''
How open is the quarterback competition?
‘'Well, we have a starter in Kevin Prince and he deserves to be named that. He put down a very solid freshman season. But I don't want to water down Richard Brehaut's hopes of earning his spot in this lineup. There will be plenty enough reps for the quarterbacks for them to prove that they are the guy that is going to take us to the next step, which is being in that top division of Pac-10 programs.''
How far behind would you say Brehaut is and what would be have to do to win the job?
‘'Well, you know, Richard's biggest issue is really coming to an understanding of what we're trying to get done offensively. I think he was at a place where he memorized what was going on, but when things didn't go exactly as planned or there something else that caught his attention, there were too many little things that were being forgotten or displaced. I just think as he develops, he just needs to learn more and more how to play. I think he's certainly capable of playing.''
With three sophomore quarterbacks, do you worry about depth?
‘'Sure. I mean, we worry about depth not just at quarterback but all over the place. That's kind of a necessary by-product of spring ball because you don't have the incoming freshmen who are coming in to help with that issue in August. But I'm excited to watch the three quarterbacks play, especially Nick Crissman, to see if his shoulder surgery has taken hold, that he can throw the ball like he did in high school. And then I'm anxious to watch a couple of these walk-on kids, Clayton Tunney and Ted Landers, to see just exactly where they are and if they're legitimate guys at that position.''
Coach, talk about the experience on the ball club that you're happy about …
‘'Well, there's a number of guys that haven proven themselves and we're fortunate that they're back. On defense, you can point to Rahim Moore, who has got 13 interceptions in two seasons here. Akeem Ayers has made countless big plays. Those two guys are, you know, going to be at the forefront of what we get done defensively. David Carter has got to pick up where he left off. As an end, Datone Jones has got to do a big job in our front. I like that portion of the defense, but they're going to have to bring along some guys that have less experience so that we can play our very solid UCLA defense.
‘'On offense, you know, Prince and Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree have all made a lot of plays. Cory Harkey, even though he's just going into his second spring here, he's already had a lot of experience playing in the game and gives us what we think is a really fine tight end, and four-fifths of our offensive line is coming back. I think there is experience. But I still think that we're at a place in our development as a program that we just have to let the fur fly. This is not something where we're just going to tune things up and put it away and then being it out when it's time to play in August. We've got to let the fur fly and see who can exactly do what needs to be done, especially given our demanding September schedule.''
You talked about this being your third time around with spring. Now that you've done it here for a while, is there anything you're doing differently in terms of approach, structure?
‘'No, the approach and structure are the same. I think, and this is what I'm going to allude to here in just about 45 minutes (at the team meeting), is the intensity. And that's not to say that we weren't intense in the first two springs, I just think there was a lot of teaching going on, there was a lot of explanation and this spring we have to really...not that we won't teach and explain...but we have to really find time for legitimate playing. Who can play this game with the intensity that this conference demands? We've got to set as many stages as we can to find that out.''
What have you seen so far from Josh Smith?
‘'I think Josh is a very exciting player. I believe that he can make a lot of plays, both as a return man and as a receiver, and I am very excited to watch him have those opportunities. You know, when we decided that he was a guy that we wanted when he was transferring from Colorado, just like Joe Fauria, just like Kai Maiava, we wanted to make sure that they were the kind of guys that not only could come in and give us a playmaker or a starter, but they were also the kind if guys that would help build our program. I think Josh and Joe, who are going to get their chances this year, are very eager to do just that.''
Akeem Ayers played defensive end, also strong side linebacker last season. Will he be part of the experiment, maybe be considered at middle linebacker?
‘'You know, that remains to be seen. We want to give a lot of looks to opposing offenses. We want to make sure that they can't just run away from one particular player or scheme what we're doing by where players line up according to their offensive formation. I thought it was a good thing to do to give Akeem chances to put his hand on the ground and rush the passer last year. He was very productive in doing so, and we'll do more of that. But I can't tell you exactly where he'll come from, I just know that he'll be given a chance to get after the quarterback.''
You mentioned the experience, how about the depth of the kicking game, you're almost intact with all the specialists …
‘'That should be hugely comforting. But, as coaches will do, we find other things to worry about. I don't notice it as much as I wished I could because, you're right, we've got two of the finest kickers in the country, who have proven to be such last year. For both of them to be coming back, along with all of the machinery, meaning holder and snapper, those are all huge comforts as you can plan that your field positions needs in terms of those two guys will be very well met.''
Kai Maiava, can you talk about his status academically and if there are any other question marks … I heard runmors about Josh Smith …
‘'Josh had a great quarter academically, so there's no problems with Josh. I mean, he's still got some things to do this spring to make sure that he meets his academic demands for degree progress rules, but I think he can do it, he's proven that he can do it with the quarter that he had this last winter and I know that this close to the finish line he won't let down.
‘'Kai, I think, has learned a valuable lesson from missing the bowl game. I know it was hugely embarrassing to him and I know that he's made it a personal vow to never let that happen again, so I can only hope that will be the case. I think he had a good quarter this last winter as well, and so I see full steam ahead as far as our academic situation.''
Any injury concerns going into this?
‘'You know, the one guy that troubles me, I guess, is Tony Dye. Tony, you know, is still kind of suffering some effects from the toe and so we'll hope that he can be at full speed. The other guy I guess that I have a little concern with is Eddie Williams, who you know is coming off the foot injury and hopefully … he's been cleared to play but hopefully he can be at some measure of shape so that he can play and play effectively.''
What is the next step for Kevin Prince to take?
‘'Well, you know, I think accuracy would be a huge thing. There were a number of balls last year that he was unbelievably impressive on. There were a number of balls that, frankly, should have been completed. For him to really hone in on that will be … but that's a normal progression for a young quarterback. There's so much to think about, you get going so fast that the ball is gone before you get to, Oh, I didn't really set myself for that throw because he was trying to stay on schedule. Now that you have that in the back of your mind as to what you should do, it becomes more subconscious than conscious and the ball ends up behaving much better. I think he'll be a more accurate player this year.
‘'And then the other piece is to handle the leadership issue. We had a great corps of seniors leave last year – Logan Paulsen, Chance Moline, those guys were good guys in the locker room, good guys in the huddle that are gone now, so it will be up to whoever is the quarterback, whether it's Kevin or Richard, to do a great job of being that kind of a leader despite the fact that you're only a sophomore by terms of eligibility.''
Along with the quarterback, is there anybody in particular to step up in terms of the leadership?
‘'Well, you know, I think that's part of the job description so I think they know what they need to do, now let's just watch them do it.''
On the depth chart as injured guys, Darius Savage, Micah Kia and Reggie Stokes. Can you go through their status?
‘'None of those guys will participate in spring practice. Micah Kia will be out there in uniform and he'll go through our non-contact drills, because we fully expect him to be ready to go when we get back in August. Remember, he had suffered the ACL injury in August of last year, so it'll be a full year and we expect him to have the full recovery by then. But we won't risk anything in spring ball.
‘'Darius Savage (back) and Reggie Stokes (knee) are both in situations where we'll just wait and see where they are when August comes around.''
Neuheisel on Start of Spring Practice
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