Ryan Abraham: How do you feel the secondary is doing now two thirds into the season?
Keith Heyward: “I think we’re doing better. Obviously we got two [interceptions] in the last game, we’ve been getting our hands on balls, and there haven’t been very many explosive plays. We held Cal to two explosive passes and that’s pretty good. Playing Utah we said that we were going to stop the run and force them into passing situations, and we came up with some plays there. Obviously Cameron Smith had a great game, but the guys are getting better and I think that right now they’re playing together, a lot more focused, and the detail is there. They’re executing at a high level right now.”
RA: The defensive backs seem to be in the right position often, but there are still pass interference penalties happening fairly often. How do you coach that, trying to reduce the number of penalties?
KH: “I want them to be in great position every time, so I’m not coaching that any different. I’ll see sometimes that we get a little bit too much with our hands but I like the aggression. Like when [Jonathan] Lockett played last game, I’d rather him play aggressive like that. I wouldn’t want the flag, but if there’s going to be one rather than the guy catching the ball and having that big explosive play, I’d rather have the flag, but obviously I don’t want it. I’ll just keep coaching the way that I am. In this conference, I played in a long time ago, we’re just known for that, it’s just how the refs call PI. If you look at the SEC and all that stuff, guys are getting away with, well I don’t to say it, but guys are getting away with murder. That’s just how they play and sometimes you’ve got to just let the kids play, so I don’t get on my guys if it’s just PI. Chris Hawkins was doing fine, he just didn’t need to panic. Even back to Notre Dame, we were in good position, [I said] to Kevon [Seymour] ‘Just don’t panic.’ I’m not going to coach them any different. They did a good job and I want them to be that close in coverage.”
RA: Any changes for you now that Clay Helton is the head coach?
KH: “The only thing is I’ll just talk to the guys [and say], ‘You guys have got to play for each other and I’m here to develop you and make you the best player on the field and the best person off the field.’ That’s the only thing, and I’ve been doing that throughout the whole time, so really honestly my job hasn’t changed. I’m here to develop these guys and make sure that they’re being disciplined with their technique and executing the calls. I can’t say that there’s anything different now with an interim head coach, because if I was doing something different before and I’m doing something different now then that’s a problem. I just think that the guys are capable of winning, they’re seeing it, they’re bouncing back, and now we know that we’re just like ‘Hey you’ve got to be focused, it’s in you.’ The only thing that’s changed is their execution on the field during the game.”
RA: John Plattenburgh was the starter but last week he did not get a single snap on defense, playing only on special teams.
KH: “He struggled a little bit. When you struggle and you don’t have great practices you kind of work your way backwards on the depth chart, but special teams, everyone has to continue to contribute on special teams. He’s getting a lot of reps this week, so he’s doing better and he had a great practice yesterday. Every day is a challenge for us to just get better and to improve. I play the guys who prepare and do things right that week, because I only believe what I see on film for that week and that games preparation.”
RA: How much of an advantage is it to have more depth in the secondary where you have the luxury to sit a starter if you have to?
KH: “Well you know I’ll say this. I’ve had a number of guys as of late, on their own, coming in [early]. I told them [that] I’m here at 5:30, and we start special teams meetings at 7, [yet] I’ve had a number of guys come in and there in my office sitting with me at 6:30 watching film with me. A guy like Leon [McQuay] is getting better in that way because he’s spending the time with me to watch extra plays, but yeah we’ve got some depth. It’s still not where I’d like it to be, but we do have some bodies where we’re able to move around. If you get into a pinch and you can’t rotate, guys just have to play. They want to be on the field and we’ve just got to be smart with snaps so guys aren’t getting too tired.”
RA: What is your assessment of the cornerback position?
KH: “With Iman [Marshall], Kevon [Seymour], Isaiah [Langley], Adoree’ [Jackson], and [Jonathan] Lockett, they’re just competing. I told them, ‘You've got to be self-motivated. If I’ve got to come out here and motivate you, even though I will, I have to do it every day then something’s wrong.’ In football we practice way too much, it’s not like basketball, we spend more time on the practice field and preparing for a game than we actually do playing games. So you have to come out here and you have to be angry. You have to come out there like you want to beat the guy across from you, and that’s the thing that Iman brings and all the guys, even Kevon, they’re all competitive. I’m proud of the way they’ve been playing as of late because like you said even though there have been a couple PIs and they’ve given up a couple of explosive [plays], they’re right there. Even dating back to the Stanford game when “Biggie” was right there on the deep ball. It’s just something small that you can change in the technique. They’re doing everything I’m asking them to do.”
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Ryan Abraham has been the publisher of USCFootball.com since 1996. You can follow him on Twitter at @InsideTroy or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.