Interview: Offensive Coordinator Ted Cain; Part I

Vanderbilt's Ted Cain is entering his fourth season as the Commodore's offensive strategist. Bill Trocchi sat down with Ted and asked the hard questions. Coach Cain gave candid and informative answers during this exclusive interview.

VandyMania: Were you confident Jay Cutler was coming back at the end of the season?

Ted Cain: No, we weren't confident. Certainly we were hoping he would from a program standpoint. Any time when a young man has some eligibility left and decides to leave, you bite your lip a little bit but you say, ‘Good luck'.

From what we understand, and from what a few scouts have told me is the forecast for him would have been a second-day draft pick, but if he has another good year, he'll probably be a first-day pick next year. At this point in time, it looks like a great decision for his future and hopefully for Vanderbilt, too.

I think there were a lot of good quarterbacks coming out this year. I think next year's group might not be as strong as this year's crowd, so that again enhances Jay's chance to get near the top of the list.

VM: Is he the best quarterback in the league?

TC: In my opinion, he is the best quarterback in the league. He is head and shoulders above, with all due respect to the other quarterbacks I've worked with in my 28 years, of all the quarterbacks I've ever worked with. The other quarterback in the league is (Chris) Leak at Florida. We lost (David) Greene at Georgia and (Jason) Campbell at Auburn. In my opinion, top to bottom, he is the best quarterback.

VM: With Cutler, Erik Davis, Marlon White and Dustin Dunning as your experienced playmakers, will it be more of a pass-first offense this season?

TC: We always want to have a good mix. The first year we were here, we ran the ball more. That is kind of what we were used to as a staff, and we have gradually gone to throwing the ball more. I think if you look at the real good teams in the SEC, they have a good running attack and a great complementary passing game to go along with that.

I really think here at Vanderbilt, you have to have that good mix. If they load up against the passing game and put extra DBs in there with crazy coverages that your wide receivers don't really know where they are, that's tough for everyone to decipher what you are getting out there. If you have a good mix of the run, it complements your passing game.

And if you have a good passing game, it helps out your running game. We'll continue to do that to keep teams off balance. At Vanderbilt, if we were strong enough to knock people off the ball down in and down out, that would be one way to go. If you have a bevy of wide receivers where you could go four- and five-wide all the time, that would be a way to go. But we're in the middle of the road right now. We'll need a good mix.

If you watch the game film closely against Tennessee, they were really worried about our option game, and that opened up a lot of good passing for us. I thought we did a good job throwing the ball in the Tennessee game. If you look at it closely, they were really worried about our running game, and that opened up the pass.

VM: With your running backs inexperienced, does that change Cutler's role in the running game?

TC: Even though our running backs are young, Cassen Jackson-Garrison and Jeff Jennings, they both got a lot of good work as true freshmen. Even though they are true sophomores, they were in the heat of battle and learned a lot last year. They can carry the load for us. I think we have a great tandem back there.

We feel those two running backs can help Jay in the backfield. Going back to the Tennessee game, they were rushing the ball pretty good, especially Jennings, and I think that takes some of the burden off of Jay.

VM: Talk about trying to replace Justin Geisenger. What did he mean to the line and who will fill his shoes?

TC: The left side, we have two holes, with Justin and Brian Kovolisky gone. They held that down for several years for us. They had a lot of great experience and savvy over there. They were both very strong. We won't replace that very easily from an experience standpoint.

Talent-wise, we feel good about some of the young players coming along, especially Chris Williams at left tackle. He has great great potential. He can be a great player. At left guard, we have a number of young men there. Merritt Kirchoffer. Josh Eames and Elliot Hood. And two men who are in their fifth year and had their best springs yet were Ryan King and Nigel Seaman. They both had very good springs. We have some good candidates.

VM: Talk about how you are going to use Steven Bright this year.

TC: Steven still continues to work at quarterback. He and Chris Nickson are very capable back-ups to Jay. Steven, with his strength, size, athletic ability, knowledge of the offense, we're looking at him at some other positions, like fullback and tight end, because we felt like he was one of our best athletes, and for him to spend 90 percent of his time signaling the plays in, that doesn't make sense. We need to get him on the field somewhere.

He is gradually working in some fullback, tight end stuff in our one-back set so we can use his skills. He's excited about helping the team. That is the kind of kid he is. He is doing a dual role right now.

VM: Does each spring practice become more productive for the staff here?

TC: Yes. I really felt like overall, this spring, we looked like our team speed is getting better, especially on the defensive side of the ball where they were moving and shaking. We looked so much quicker, and that is a good thing, because we can practice against that speed that we are going to see on Saturday.

Virtually everybody now has been in our system from the beginning. The Jay Cutler crowd was here when we got here, but their first spring was under our offense and defense. You hope you come in and everyone picks it up that first spring and off we go. But in our league, it is pretty tough. We are making a lot of progress.

VM: Was it tough for the players to not have Kwane Doster here in the spring, or was it therapeutic to get back on the field?

TC: I think it was good therapy to get on the field and get going and to continue to move forward. It was a great loss of a fine young man who was being very successful on the field and in the classroom at Vanderbilt.

It was good when the players came back and there was the service and we were able to take them down to Tampa to have some closure there. The next step is to get back on the field and continue to move forward. He's always in our thoughts.

VM: Were you surprised Bobby Johnson took this job after being at Furman for so long?

TC: No. He and I started out together as graduate assistants back in 1976-77. Even though we were apart when I was at NC State for 11 years, I worked my way back to Furman in 1999. Bobby had done a great job at Furman during his career as an assistant, a defensive coordinator, assistant head coach and head coach. He had been very successful there. He is a fierce competitor and is always looking for a challenge.

He saw Vanderbilt a lot like Furman, back in the mid-1970s – a very good academic school in a tough conference. That program has continued to grow and is still one of the top programs in Division 1-AA. I think he thought it was a similar challenge with similar student-athletes. We always enjoy working with those type of young men.

It was a challenge for him and a challenge for us. Most of us who were at Furman probably could have stayed at Furman and lived happily ever after. But it is a challenge and to do it at this level at a great school like Vanderbilt sparked us.

Bill Trocchi is the Interactive Editor for Athlon Sports. Top Stories