On the evolution of the special teams and if he agrees special teams is the hallmark of a developing team “I think so. I think we put a lot of emphasis on it and I think one of the things you see is, it happened to us a lot, we had a lot of guys get dinged up early. We’re starting to get some of those guys back but that has a huge domino effect in the kicking game. When you’re saying ‘okay, we’ve got one guy at this spot. We can’t afford to get him hurt on a kickoff or a kick return or a punt,’ but he’s a really good player in those phases, that can have a huge impact on you. We were fortunate to be really healthy coming into the season, kind of have all the bullets in our gun and we’re ready to roll and then as the season progresses that happens to everybody. The one thing I’m really pleased with is our objective is to build depth throughout our program and nowhere more so than in the kicking game. So I think you’re seeing a lot of young guys step up in play significant roles in those phases and they’ve really grown and improved over the past couple weeks. I think we’re kind of starting to hit our stride there and I think you can expect things some good things down the stretch and we’ve done a nice job covering kicks. Against some pretty explosive guys we let one get out against Oregon, but everyone has let one out against Oregon it seems like this year. We’ve done a nice job covering punts and taking advantage of opportunities in the return game when we have them.”
On how close Chico McClatcher is to busting a kick return for a touchdown “The good news is we’re not getting a lot of kickoff return opportunities so that means we’re playing really good defense. I think even in the first opportunity in the game when they sky kick, that lets you know they know he’s pretty dynamic too. I think we were really one block away against Stanford from getting a touchdown on one. We had a couple early in the year where we were one block away from getting a touchdown. We’ve had some explosive returns and we have a good return average and we’ve done I think a really good job because of Cal’s unwillingness to kick to us and last week against Arizona, they were unwilling to kick to us. We’re still creating good field position for our offense and that’s our objective.”
On how many different wrinkles you can throw into a special teams game plan when the players who play special teams also have to handle offensive and defensive game plans “I think you have to be really smart. A lot of it depends on the style that we’re playing. For example, if you’re playing a pro-style punt team one week it’s obviously schematically different than when you’re playing a shield punt team. Those are things that have to adjust week in and week out. On those units it’s more of a matchup game; it’s more like basketball than it is football. It’s all about creating a matchup because everything is a one-on-one in those situations. It may be the same scheme with a different guy executing because the matchup is more favorable, but he still has to learn something new. So I think we have to be smart about keeping it as much the same as we can, especially in our return phases, week in and week out without creating matchup problems for ourselves. But certainly there are weeks where an oponent may give you something on film that you need to exploit. You have to say ‘okay, they’re not doing this. We need to do this to take advantage of that.’ That’s really what we try to do; use a lot of the same verbiage, a lot of the same techniques, and maybe just move the pieces around a little bit.”
On how impressed he has been with guys like Greg Gaines and Vita Vea on the inside “It’s kind of our standard. We want to play a lot of guys. I think it has really played into our advantage that we chose to play so many guys early in the season. Even though maybe a guy like EQ (Elijah Qualls) or Tani (Tupou) might be getting a significant amount of more reps, those other guys getting the game experience is what we needed. So now you’re seeing a guy like Vita (Vea), who probably wasn’t ready to play 35-40 snaps a game for us week two; now we feel like he’s capable of doing that. It’s just the progression of those guys. We expect them to get better and improve as the years go on and we feel like they’ve done that. I’m extremely proud of that group. You think about the production we lost a year ago, if somebody told you week nine that we were one of the best defenses in the PAC-12 and a big part of that is because they can’t run the ball tackle-to-tackle on us, I think everybody would have been ‘alright, we’re good with that.’ I’m proud of those guys. We know we have a huge challenge this week. These guys are a physical, big, mature offensive line. It’s going to be a big challenge for us up front. We’re excited to do that and we’ll go roll out whoever it is we’re playing this week and see what they’ve got.
On if Elijah Qualls has been able to work this week in practice “He’s moving around pretty good today. He’s better today than he was yesterday. He was better yesterday than he was Sunday. The good news is that is going to be a long term or anything like that. He’s just going to work through and see how he’s doing and I think he has a chance to go.”
On how the younger guys have developed “Benning Potoae is going to be a really good football player. Ricky McCoy is going to be the next in line at the body type similar to Greg Gaines and Elijah (Qualls) and be a very good nose for us. He’s powerful, he’s thick, and he’s got some explosiveness to him. You talk about Jason Scrempos, he’s a really long-levered guy who never lifted weights, was a three-sport athlete all the way through high school, had never lifted weights until he got here. You can see his body changing already. His redshirt year is going to be awesome for him. I’m excited to see what that guy can do once he starts to put some weight on. He’s a good natural pass rusher. He’s kind of got a little bit of an awkward style, but he really drives the o-lineman crazy. He’s a fun guy to watch. We’ve had a couple of walk-ons that have been awesome. Jared Pulu from Federal Way and John Clark from Marysville Getchell, those guys have been really impressive too.”
On if Jared Pulu is a BUCK or an end “We started him out at BUCK and now he’s playing with the interior guys.”
On if he plans to grow Jared Pulu a little “Yeah, he’s going to have no problem putting weight on. He came in here about 230. I think he’s almost 250 now and he’s got a huge frame.”