"We're extremely excited about this opening game here at Kenan Stadium. Our guys are just like everybody else out there. They're tired of hitting each other and ready to face an opponent. So hopefully Saturday afternoon we'll have a little better idea about the identity of the 2012 Tar Heels."
Tell me a little bit about one of your more heralded players in Jonathan Cooper. I wondered what your impressions of him have been so far? If he's as good as you thought he might be. I believe you said you didn't even look at film of last year, so how has he stood out to you?
"No, I didn't look at any film from the past and Jonathan was unable to participate with us during spring ball, so I really didn't get a feel for who Jonathan really was until fall camp. A tremendous leader, very, very intelligent young man, understands the game, is really going to be a good football player for us. He's got great feet, great agility, has a will to succeed. Just really works well with those other four guys up front."
I was hoping you could give an update on your receiver position. I know you had some depth questions and maybe a couple of injuries during camp. Who has looked good and how are you feeling about that group going into opener?
"I'm still concerned with the depth at the position. We've got quite a few guys that we really have no idea how they're going to perform until we get them out there. But I tell you, Mookie [Erik Highsmith]'s been very consistent on one side and Jhay Boyd on the other side. Some of the new guys that you'll see, you'll see Sean Tapley who I think is poised to have a nice year. You're going to see Mark McNeill, a kid who came from the lacrosse team. You're going to see Roy Smith, a kid that came from our track team. You're going to see a couple of freshmen -- Quinshad Davis and Kendrick Singleton. So you're going to see quite a few new faces. And some guys are pressed into time maybe before their time, but ready or not, here we go."
Looking at the defensive side of the ball, where are you in your evaluation of the defense as a whole? Who seem to be your leaders and standouts on that side?
"Where are we? I think we're where we need to be at this point in the season. Going into our first game, I think our guys have a very good feel for our base defense and what we're trying to accomplish. Then from week to week, we'll continue to game plan and add things and take things out according to what will benefit us in the game.
"The guys that I would say are the leaders, the guys that are standing out on that side of the ball, starting on the back end, Tre Boston has had a really good camp. I think Jabari [Price] has had a really good camp at the corner. [Kevin] Reddick in the middle, it's his team, it's his defense. He's the leader of that crew, that unit. Then you go up front and you have Sly [Williams] who has done a tremendous job for us this camp, and then Kareem Martin has had a big camp.
"I think those are the guys that have stood out in camp, and it's going to be interesting to see who rises up each and every week and plays at a high level."
You mentioned kids coming over from other sports. Is this something that they did on their own or did you go out and try to recruit kids from other sports? Have you ever had that situation before at Southern Miss or anywhere else?
"Yeah, I have had that situation. I'm very open to the situation also. If a kid feels like he can perform well in more than one sport, I'm all for it. If our guys think they can help another team on this campus, then I'm for it. But I didn't recruit either one of those young men. Had never met them before they walked in my office and said they wanted to play. So we gave them a shot, and both of them have proven during camp that they're going to help this football team. So I'm all for that."
I guess that is a nice surprise, huh?
"Yeah, it is. It's a much needed surprise."
Are there any other kids or any other positions that play other sports?
"That's a good question. I don't know that. I do not know the answer to that question."
I wanted to ask you about Giovani Bernard and how you handle him in preseason? A guy like that that is a proven back. You know he's going to take a beating all season. You don't want to beat him up preseason, but you have to get him ready and teach him a new system. Is that a fine line you have to walk in dealing with a player like that?
"Sounds like you just answered the question for me. Yeah, very much so. We have a lot of confidence in Gio, so we constantly talk about the number of touches that he has in practice, the number of touches that he's going to get in a game. You try to monitor and control it as much as you can, but I can tell you what, it's awfully hard to do with him. He wants to be out there on the field on every snap.
"If somebody doesn't have him or you don't have your eye on him, the next thing you know he's out there with the twos or out there with the threes. I mean, it's something that is a problem, but it's a nice problem to have that you've got a guy that is a heck of a football player that loves being out there on the football field. He doesn't care who he is competing against or competing with."
With the changes you guys are making in the offense this year, how does his role change? Obviously you're going to try to take advantage of what he can do.
"Yeah, that is what we're going to do. How many ways can we get the ball in his hands instead of just the typical turnaround and hand it to him. So that's something that we talk about as a staff with the offense all the time is what can we do with Gio to put us in a better situation to win. A lot of that is going to be creating as much open space for him and put him in some one on one, mismatch type situations.
"I'm excited about the skill level that he has, because he can do it all. He can run; he can block; he can catch the ball. He's tremendous out in open space. He's great in between the tackles. So it's going to be a lot of fun seeing all the things that we can do with Gio."