VandyMania: First, let me ask.how your back is doing. We've heard you're well on the road to recovery.
Coach Bobby Johnson: (Laugh) Oh yeah. Everything's fine. They did a great job. I tell you what, they [Vanderbilt Medical Center] have got it down. They get you in there and out, and have you feeling better in no time.
VM: Let's start with defense. The previous staff ran a 4-3 alignment at first, but they were almost forced to go to a 3-4 because they felt they couldn't recruit enough quality depth on the line-- which is tough for everybody to do. Have you definitely decided you're going back to the 4-3, and do you feel you can put together an SEC line from the players you've got there now?
BJ: Well, we start our whole package from the 4-3. Now, we'll be pretty flexible in how we do that. But we feel like we've got some good players here already that can fit in a 4-3 scheme. We just like the versatility of it, and the other things you can get into out of it. We'll have a 3-5-3 package too.
VM: On offense, I remember you talking about evaluating the talent you have on hand, and devising an offense that fits your personnel. So I guess my question is, what conclusions have you come to, if any?
BJ: (Laugh) Well, the bad thing is, it's hard to evaluate anything until you get into spring practice. We've seen our guys in running drills, and obviously that's been no football involved at all. It's just agility drills and weightlifting and things like that. We do feel that we want to run the football. Offensively, if you look at our strengths right now, one of our strengths is our offensive line-- maybe not depthwise, but it's one of our strengths. We feel like we have some good players there. We feel like we'll be able to block, and run the football. Then, looking at personnel, the other big thing is, we've got a bunch of receivers. We want to be flexible enough that we can throw the football, especially off of play action. But we're going to have a one-back, dropback series too. We want to use those guys in the best ways we can, but still have our offense installed, so that we can start recruiting towards our needs.
VM: You've got to have a lot of question marks at quarterback, where you've lost Greg Zolman, a four-year starter, and at running back, where you lost your two top guys. Could you go through some of the names we should keep an eye on this spring at those two positions?
BJ: At quarterback, I think we're blessed with two very good athletes. Benji Walker is big, Jay Cutler is big, and they're both very athletic. The thing about it though, is that they're both inexperienced. I think Benji's attempted seven passes in two seasons, and Jay is a redshirt freshman. We feel good about their abilities, it's just that they've never done it. We're just going to have to get out there. For most people spring practice is so limited. You can only have 15 opportunities, and you can only have contact in 12 of them. Only three days can be dedicated entirely to scrimmaging. So basically it's just a limited time that you have to get things done. You always say you want to get in as many reps as you can, but you have to install things, and it's pretty tough to get that done.
Now, offensive backs, that's also pretty tough. Norval McKenzie, I think, is the only guy who's played. We think Matthew Tant has got a lot of talent. Ian Gaines has shown some stuff in the offseason program. Ronald Hatcher has moved over [from wide receiver]. Mike Adam has moved over from linebacker to fullback, and has shown some very promising things in our offseason program. But those people are all new. We've just got to get those guys in there and teach them as quickly as we can and try to get as much installed as we can for our running game.
VM: Is it safe to say that fullback is going to be a bigger part of the offense than it has been in the past?
BJ: Yes. It's going to have to be. Right now we want to look at Matthew Tant at fullback, but we think he might could play some tailback too. So we've got a lot of question marks there, no doubt about it. We can't be stubborn and stupid about it and not take advantage of our receiving corps. But we want to be able to establish the run and do some things off of play action. That gives you a chance to make some big plays. If you're dropping back every play, you're just going to be getting their biggest blitzes, and their best athletes coming at you all the time.