Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough talked to us after practice this week.
You had a lot of questions going into this spring with personnel. Some guys seemed to take to new roles, new positions. How did it look to you?
‘'It was good. We got a lot of new guys, obviously. Everybody knows that. We feel that they performed and we got some good competition that will go into the next off-season, which is this summer, and competition always makes you better, makes you work harder.''
As a group, it seems like you had them flying around pretty good …
‘'Yeah, we feel like we have an athletic team and we try to stress that as coaches, I have a great coaching staff in terms of fly to the ball, get to the ball and if somebody makes a mistake you'll be there to clean it up. They've bought in, so that's a good thing.''
Who surprised you this spring?
‘'Well, the new guys on defense were Nate Chandler, who was impressive, and Glenn Love, moving down to linebacker who did well. He's still got to learn to be a linebacker, but he did well. Jared Koster came in, this is his first spring, so he's got a learning process to go through. Patrick Larimore and Steve Sloan both look like they've improved over the winter in terms of athletic ability and speed and everything, so now they've got to make another jump. Justin Edison is playing real well, real well with technique. The two young ends, Iuta Tepa and Keenan Graham, they performed and we feel like they can play. Corners, Sheldon Price is back, Aaron Hester is back, Courtney Viney and Andrew Abbott are back, so those are guys we knew about. Obviously, the safeties we know about.
‘'Just the guys we really needed to research were Chandler playing the d-line and Love playing linebacker, and then Christian Ramirez, until they took him back, was playing good.''
When you say Love needs to learn to be a linebacker, specifically what are you referring to?
‘'Everything happens faster at the line. You've just got to get used to it. Safety, you can kind of come down and see it. At linebacker, they're on you. He's just got to learn the reads – first spring, you know, you understand. It's always a big jump. For Koster, too, it will be a big jump from spring to fall, it should be a big jump in terms of they've seeing it, they know it, they understand it. They can think about it, they can watch film and know it. That will be the big thing.''
So summer, getting that reinforcement for those guys …
‘'Yeah. We can't meet with them, but they can go in and watch film on their own and hopefully they will be doing that.''
Did anything that happened this spring change the way you look at some of the incoming freshmen? Where they will play, how they will be used?
‘'Well, Nate Chandler gives us an extra body that we didn't think we had going into recruiting. Obviously, it was after recruiting that he moved over. So, we still think we have d-tackles that can come in and are going to contribute. We've got defensive ends we think can contribute. Derrick Bryant had surgery, so he is a guy who probably isn't going to be able to contribute. He had shoulder surgery, so that will set him back for a little bit. But Owa (Owamagbe Odighizuwa), you know, and you've got Cassius Marsh and Sealii Epenesa and Wesley Flowers. You've got guys we feel can play, and we're in contact with them all the time and making sure they're getting stronger, because that's the biggest difference for a d-lineman coming in, strength. You're not used to going up against guys that are so big and strong. That's the difference. The other guys, you know, Dietrich Riley is a big-time guy … all those guys when they come in, first and foremost, you've got to see if the y can pick up the system in that short of time. Can they learn it? Because you can't have, especially in your back end, if you have mistakes it's a touchdown. If they can learn it, they definitely have the athletic ability. But that's something you have to see when it happens.''
Bryant's shoulder, is that something he'll still be dealing with in the fall?
‘'I'm not sure. I think it's a thing where he comes in this summer he's just going to be able to start lifting when he goes to fall. I'm not positive on that. My understanding is it's probably going to be a redshirt year for him.''
The competition with Sloan and Larimore, where is that right now?
‘'Both of them played very well this spring. Obviously Sloan has played, and he's really worked on his athleticism. He's more athletic. Larimore, we didn't know about. We knew he was an athlete, and he stepped it up even more this past winter. It's going to be a heck of a competition this fall for those two. It's going to be a grind-it-out battle.
Do you take that all of the way through camp?
‘'No, I think with those two and how they're playing, if I had to say now, I think it goes through fall. I think you take it through fall. The good thing is, if one of them gets nicked up, the other one … they're kind of comparable. The next guy steps up and we're ready to roll. It's not like last year, two years ago, where we had to move Reggie Carter. He was the Mike and we had to move him outside, remember when Kyle Bosworth got hurt? We had to move him out. So, we feel we're pretty good deep at the position in terms of an injury. The next guy just steps up and plays. And then in the fall, we have the freshmen coming in, because we have some good linebacker freshmen. What can they do? Can they learn the system, that will be the whole key.''
You're going to get Damien Holmes back from tight end, right? That's just a one day deal?
‘'Yeah. Coach just wanted, if they happen to have an emergency situation next year at tight end, he said that he just wanted to have him one day. For the spring game, he's d-end. He just wanted to see, if something were to happen emergency-wise, what could they do.''