It's another season, another set of challenges for you …
‘'I'm an optimist, man. I always believe every year we're going to have a better defense than we had the previous year, and I know we lose Brian Price, but I'm looking for Datone Jones to have a breakout year. You know, he started all last year and played good. He was a good solid player, but this year I think he has a chance to be a dominant player. At least, that's what I'm hoping.''
You do have some interesting pieces to work with, and ‘interesting' doesn't mean undersized and under-strength like it used to …
‘'Yeah. David Carter, you know, is a fifth-year senior. He's always had the ability to make plays. He has the prototypical size for a tackle, and I think if he can go through the whole season and not get injured, he can be a mid-round draft choice and if he pays well, he can be a top three round draft choice.
‘'Justin Edison is a fourth-year junior. He's had an excellent offseason and has really gotten stronger in all of the different lifts. The thing he has going for him is, he's really smart. So as far as being able to come in and give us what Jerzy (Siewierski) gave us last year, I think he'll be able to do it. He has the intangibles in terms of being a smart player and he's worked on his strength.
‘'Then, at the open end you've got Damien Holmes and Keenan Graham vying for the starting position there, and Nate Chandler. You know, Nate Chandler came out in the spring and was the best pass rusher and we're going to try to find a way to get him on the field one way or another, either at the tackle position or at the end position. There, you've got some guys who have some ability.''
So, Chandler you can see at the open end?
‘'Yeah. I think he's a guy who we're going to have to figure out how to get on the field and let him do what he does. He's explosive, he's strong. You know, you see a guy who's that big, he's 6-foot-5 and weighs 300 pounds, and he runs a 4.6 40? That's outstanding.''
Is that going to be based to some degree on the need inside?
‘'It's all based on the need inside, because we don't really have a lot of experienced depth. After David Carter, you know, Edison played sparingly last year and that's it. We have to see how the young guys do. I'm going to be looking at Cassius Marsh, Seali'i Epenesa … Donovan Carter, see how he's going to do. He was an inside linebacker and put on some weight. Wesley Flowers, the guy we got from Fresno, I think might be another year or so off, because he only weights 260, but he could end up outside as an end. I'm anxious to see how our young guys are going to do and they're going to have to play. One or a couple of those guys are really going to have to show us what they can do inside.''
With Edison, he's finally grown into it. He's stronger, he's leaner. He looks the part …
‘'He's really worked hard, and you just look at his history, you know, he was basically a basketball player in high school and was a late-bloomer in football so to speak. But he's come here and he's done everything he's been asked to do and he's worked hard. I've been very pleased with how he's responded to what I had to tell him, you know, hey, we're counting on you and we want to see if you can hold it down and he's been working his butt off.''
But now that he's physically where he needs to be, getting to this point, we're you thinking, once we get the pounds on him he's going to be really good because he does this so well or that so well, or he has the mentality that you need?
‘'What he does well is that he's smart. He understands. And being smart in football can take you a long ways because you can recognize things and put yourself in position to make plays. He does a real good job of that and he's a good leader and with all the young guys that were brought in, you're going to need someone like that to provide leadership.''
He has the pieces now, then?
‘'Originally, I thought he was a player that we could break even with, meaning he was going to hold his own. He may not dominate but at least he can break even for us. But, you know, he may be able to dominate at times because of what he's done in the offseason. That's a plus.''
The two freshman tackles, like you said, you need at least one of those guys to play and the focus has always been on Marsh. But Epenesa …
‘'Epenesa has the weight. We have an eight-man rotation, so we need four tackles, and right now going in, you know, Edison, Carter and Chandler have established themselves as people who can play. We need at least one of those two guys to play for us. But then, you get injuries. You can't say, OK, we've got four, because if you get two injuries then you're back trying to get other guys to play. Last year was, I think, my first year in a couple of years where I didn't get anyone hurt. We were fortunate last year. One year I had Brigham (Harwell) go down in game 2 and Tom Blake go down at the end in game 2. I would really prefer that we find two guys, whether it be Donovan Carter, Cassius Marsh or Seali'I Epenesa. And who knows, Wesley Flowers, right now I look at his body weight and I know he weighs 260, but he may come here and just be able to handle it.''
Flowers has got some athleticism …
‘'Yeah, he's really flexible. In fact, he kind of reminds me of Marcus Stroud. Marcus was about 6-6 and was real flexible. I know when Flowers wasn't on a lot of people's radar, but when he came here to our camp and I got a chance to work with him and saw how he took instruction, I was really impressed with him. And then I watched him practice and his attitude is good, he's flexible. I think he's going to be a steal. I really do.''
Could you see him playing end, while he's growing into that 290, 300-pound guy?
‘'You have to look at it like this, both David Carter and Edison were ends coming in. And, look at them now, they're inside. I do see him being 290, 300 pounds in the next couple of years and being a good guy inside. In the NFL, the more you can do, guys play inside and out and those are the ones who are really valuable. If you can play any of the four positions in 4-3 defensive front, you make yourself valuable. He just needs to get stronger and add on some good weight.''
With Marsh and Epenesa, do you need to find out right away which guy is ahead of the other guy?
‘'As you go through the course of training camp, they'll reveal themselves and I'll be able to find out which one is ready. I just want both of those guys to have success. I'm saying I'm not putting any pressure on them, I know we need them, I just want them to come out and just progress, listen to what I'm teaching, work hard and let the chips fall where they may.''
Marsh seems like he's physically stronger, but Epenesa has the weight and he moves pretty well …
‘'Epenesa, I think, is a little stronger in some lifts, at least in the bench. And Epenesa outweighs him by about 20 pounds, but it's all about leverage. Both of them are big enough. They may not be physically strong enough to physically dominate college guys, but I do think they'll be able to play a role. Maybe play 25 to 30 percent of the snaps. That's basically how the rotation went last year – the starters played about 70 percent, the backups played about 30 percent. I do believe they'll be able to give that to us.
‘'Since I've been here, no freshman has been able to come into the Pac-10 and really dominate. I looked at the first game Brian Price played. He started against Washington State and basically got his behind beat, and part of it was he was still adhering to his high school techniques and he had missed all of training camp. He had been back only maybe two weeks. He was back maybe two weeks, with no training camp and no previous experience, and was asked to start.
‘'But by the end of the season, when we played BYU, he was making some dominant plays. So, I know Cassius is a very football savvy guy. He has great feet. He weights 290. Who is to say he can't come in and be ready to play? Strength-wise, he's not going to be where a lot of these college guys are. But, like I said, at the very least hopefully he and Epenesa will be able to come in and hold down 25 to 30 plays.''
Owamagbe (Odighizuwa) where do you see him?
‘'We have a little more depth at end. I've talked about Datone being a guy I think is going tobe able to dominate. Keenan had a nice camp. Iuta Tepa, another guy who is going to be a sophomore, is still trying to figure it out, but he does have some ability. And Owa. I don't know who is going to win that battle at the open end, whether it's going to be Keenan or Damien Holmes. The thing that Keenan brings to the table is he's real athletic and he goes full speed. I can see the wheels turning sometimes when we're out at practice, but the mistakes that he's making, he's making at full speed. You like it that way when you're coaching young guys. Some young guys, when they're still trying to figure it out, they plays as if they're trying to feel their way in the dark. Not really sure. Keenan is the opposite of that. He goes full speed, even if it's the wrong way. I think he's a player who is going to have a good season.''
With the lack of experience there between Keenan and Damien, I would think Owa would get a pretty long look in camp …
‘'Yeah. He's going to get a shot. I mean, if he's ready to play … again, we're looking for four guys that can provide depth. And then you can't forget about (Reggie) Stokes, who is another guy who is smart, who has been injured, a fifth-year guy. He's been a part-time starter since he's been here.''
Is Stokes going to be able to go from the start?
‘'Yeah. We may limit how many times he practices a day, maybe just one. But he's a guy who has started and, again, he's a smart football player.''
Owa had a little bit of a groin, also …
‘'Yeah, he did. But hopefully that's behind him and he can come in and be ready to go. I know the other players have been impressed with him, with the way he works and his work ethic, trying to figure out what it is we're doing and that kind of stuff. It wouldn't surprise me.''
What kind of progress has Donovan Carter made?
‘'Moving to a new position, I thought he did OK. He improved in just about all the different lifts. He weighs 280 pounds. Think about him, what's the difference between him and a guy like Brian Price? I mean, they're the same size. The big difference is Brian Price is just so powerful, and a guy like Donovan Carter, you know, why can't you try to be the same way as Brian Price? You're the same size. You've got basically three years to get there. If what he did this offseason is any indication of what his effort is going to be, he could be a guy … maybe the next Brian Price.
‘'He has the same quickness. He just doesn't have the power right now. He doesn't have the same power in the lower body, but he does have the quickness.''
Is it possible to develop that power?
‘'That's why Brian is playing on Sunday's. A lot of that power is innate. I go back and watching film and guys they just don't move him. It's like his lower body is 300 pounds, that's how rooted he is. You aren't moving him. But, I think if Donovan spends the time in the weight room, he can get to be like that. Again, he has the same quickness and the same size.''
With Derrick Bryant and the shoulder, how much work do you think he can get this year?
‘'I don't know, maybe the last month or two he can get out there and get some practice. But what I told him, is just shoot to come in next spring and be ready to go.''