You guys were picked third in the division. Does that serve as motivation to your kids?
One way or the other I’m going to make it that way, so I appreciate y’all doing that for us. Coaches are always looking for things to motivate kids, to me that’s 90 percent of it is making sure your kids are ready to play, they’re energetic and passionate about what they do and they have a common goal. It’s a great motivating factor when people tell you that you can’t do something. ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not big enough, you’re not fast enough, you’re not fast enough, you don’t have enough depth.’ Whatever it is. Those are all good things for coaches to use and hopefully I’ll be smart enough to use it.
How is T.J. Thorpe coming along?
There’s another kid that I’ve heard great things about and I can’t wait to see T.J. on the field. If you think about it I haven’t’ seen him or Darius Lipford on the football field. T.J. has worked extremely hard this year, he’s excited. He was in my office on Sunday, just dropped by to tell me how excited he was, can’t wait to get out there. I’m fired up about him because the kid has a great attitude, he’s worked extremely hard to get himself ready to go. That guy, I’m really excited about seeing what he’s going to bring.
What’s his status?
They tell me at the beginning of camp we’ll probably limit him on just reps. Just so we make sure that everything is fine as we go. Then he’ll be turned loose all the way midway through camp.
What can we expect from Dominique Green?
Came in as a freshman at midterm and left spring ball as the starter. Some of that was by injuries and all the different things that were going on during spring. The kid is definitely going to help our football team this year, no doubt about it.
How much more of your playbook can you give Bryn this year – or did you give him everything last year?
It was my fault early in the year, we gave Bryn too much. I know Blake (Anderson) blames himself, but that’s my fault. I’m there watching from the outside to see what I think we need to be doing. When you went back and looked we were doing the same thing that we were doing with Austin Davis, who was a four-year starter for us at Southern Miss. It wasn’t fair to Bryn, when we cut it back midway through the season you saw what Bryn did. We put more things in in the same spring to see what he can handle. Bryn’s so comfortable now we can do more things. How much more do we need? As long as we’re moving the ball and scoring points and taking care of the football, we can do it the same way we did it last year.
What’s the status of Marquise Williams?
He’s been with us all summer, been working out, he’s back in school. His status is good. No problems with Marquise.
How strange was it to add a late signee – offensive lineman Will Dancy – in late May?
What a pleasant surprise. Talking to James Hurst, Russell Bodine and Landon Turner, you’re asking them questions about these new guys, how are they fitting in, how they are working, how does it feel? They have had great things to say about Will, even to the point where Will has stepped up and almost taken a leadership role in some of the things they were doing, which is really surprising for a kid that just gets there. That’s going to be a pleasant surprise for us. He immediately gives us depth inside.
Have you ever had a guy come in that late?
Not that I can think of, maybe I have. Nobody that really stands out.
Can you talk a little bit about depth?
That’s still hard to say. For me, we don’t have enough depth. If there’s one place I think we have some depth, that’s at running back. But as soon as I say that there’s an ankle here or a knee here and the next thing you don’t have any depth. That’s the one position that I feel like we have got some good, quality depth right now. I feel the same way at tight end a little bit, but again you’re one play away from not having any depth. I don’t feel comfortable really at any position to say that we have quality depth right now except the running back position. These young guys are going to have to come in and provide some depth or, in some cases, they’re going to have to play.
Any names of people we might not expect or know well yet?
Every one of those freshmen that I just named, I think have a chance to come in and help us right now. Greg Webb is a kid at the defensive tackle position, DaJaun Drennon from my understanding is doing some really good things. Those are young guys that have been on campus now for less than a month that are showing some promising things, so we’re going to see. But none of them have been through camp. Camp is brutal. Your emotional maturity is very critical in camp.
Talk about the guys who will be stepping in for Sly Williams.
Sylvester’s a first-round draft pick. That guy is so talented and was such a great leader for us up front. I don’t know if anybody has the talent Sylvester had at this point. Tim Jackson is doing a really good job of leading this summer; Underwood has had a really good summer from talking to our guys. They all understand that the things they learned from Sylvester are going to carry them through their senior year. That’s what’s fun about it, you have great players that graduate, they go on to new careers and somebody else gets to step up. Somebody else gets to be the guy. It’s going to be fun going into camp to find out who that is going to be.
Is Devonte Brown in that mix?
He sure is. It’s amazing how kids can change from year to another. They’re not full-grown men, they’re young men. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re strong but they’re still kids. Each year you see them mature and see them grow, you just never know when the light is going to come on for some of them. When one of them decides, ‘you know what I’ve got talent I’m going be great and I’m going be great every snap’ and the kids that do that do special things.
Nathan Staub and Dan Mastromatteo, where is that competition at right now at linebacker?
They’re both right there even. I wouldn’t give one an inch over the other. There’s going to be some great competition there. Both kids are very mature, they’re mature beyond their age. I don’t think they’re going to be worried about what’s going on out there. They’re definitely not going to be the leaders that Kevin Reddick was this next year, that’s just not possible. Kevin was a senior and was one of the best leaders I’ve been around in coaching. Those guys learned from Kevin being around him year round. Kevin was back this summer working out with the guys and talking to him. I think he feels good about where they are with their maturity. It’s going to be fun this fall to see how that pans out.
Are you concerned with the new targeting/ejection rules?
I’m definitely worried about it. You put it in an official’s hand. Does he see it; does he think he sees it? You’re talking about ‘bam-bam.’ You can all think about plays you’ve seen throughout the years… who’s a defenseless player, did they actually hit him above the shoulders, did they launch, did they lead with their shoulder? Obviously any blow that’s created with the crown of your helmet is illegal, we know you’re going to be ejected for that. But those ones that are bang-bang, a guy hits a guy, did he hit him above the shoulders, did he not? The official, if he thinks it happened, he’s got to make the call, so he’s going to make the call. When in doubt he’s going to throw the flag. If he’s in doubt that guy is going to be ejected. The great thing about it is, you’re going to be able to go back to replay and that kid may be able to come back into the game after replay. But you still got a 15-yard penalty, that’s not coming back. I worry about anytime kids have the opportunity to be ejected.
Is it going to change the way you approach tackling?
We’ve never taught tackling with the crown of your helmet so that’s not a problem. Think about this, if you’re a defenseless player do you want a guy going through your knees or through your shoulders?
I would prefer that as a wide receiver when I played, believe me. If you go through my shoulders and get my head then you do. But I don’t want you taking my knees out. What we’re doing, guys are going to tackle lower to stay away from that area. I worry about what that does to a player’s health and safety.
Is it hard of you as a coach to shift the tackling style of your veteran players or more difficult to teach your 18-years-olds to be that careful?
When you ask them to be careful, I think you have more injuries. I think you have to play the game one way. I think you’ve got to play the game hard and when you hit you have to go deliver a blow. And if you worry about how you’re hitting somebody, you’ve seen those defensive players that kind of pull back and then they end up getting hurt. You don’t want to take their aggressiveness away, but at the same time they’ve got to stay below the shoulders. We don’t want anyone hitting anyone in the head at any time.
But sometimes, it’s unavoidable. As a player is getting hit by someone else and another player is coming in, that player’s trajectory changes, the angle where is, it’s all happening (snaps) just like that. It’s unavoidable sometimes. This is the game of football, there are violent collisions. There are going to be injuries. But, right now, the sport is still safer than it’s ever been in the history of the sport.
Is the spread offense the old run-and-shoot?
There are many variations to what everybody calls the spread. The run-and-shoot they were going to throw it all the time. We’re nothing anywhere close to that, we believe in being balanced. We believe you can run the football from the spread, and that was obvious last year when we did a good job of it.
Where and when did you become a proponent of that offense?
1999. It was my first year as an offensive coordinator and it’s your first opportunity to make a name for yourself. And it’s the first time for me to see if my philosophy, what I believed offensively, would work in college football. I was going to Middle Tennessee State, they were a 1-AA program that was going 1-A. We were going to have 1-AA athletes playing 1-A athletes. It was either we’re going to need what we were doing at Air Force, which was run the option, or we’re going to spread it out, go no huddle, go up-tempo, change the tempo and see if that can be successful. That was the route I chose to go and we’ve had success with it ever since.
Is the ACC becoming a spread league?
I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. Everybody runs some form of it if you think about it. For me it all started back watching football when I’m young, you’re watching the two-minute drill and teams are going down the field left and right. Back then it was ‘if they wouldn’t play that prevent defense they wouldn’t be able to go up and down the field.’ No, it was spreading the defense out that created those vertical seams in the defense that made it tough on a defense. That’s where it all started for me.
With each new offensive innovation, the defense usually figures out how to adjust. Is there a way for defenses to adjust to the spread?
Yes, there is. It will evolve and defenses will catch up and then offenses will always try and stay one step ahead. One thing you’re seeing is more athletes on the field. You’re not playing in a phone booth anymore, where it’s run between the tackles, three yards, cloud of dust. If you have the biggest, most physical team you just keeping grinding and you win 14-12 or 17-14. You’re spreading the field 53 ¾ yards and so you’ve got 11 guys on defense, they have to spread also.
So when you spread them out there are seams in the defense. Now you put the ball in a playmaker’s hands, if he makes that one guy miss, it’s not three yards and a cloud of dust now, it’s 15, 20, 25. A big deal for defenses now is you have to be able to tackle in space. You have to be able to make those one-on-one tackles, because when you don’t that five-yard pass turns into a 15- or 20-yard pass. Offensively, for me, it was always create space so that you have more opportunities to create explosive plays.
With Gio gone, does that affect the way you attack with your offense?
No, it won’t because we’ve still got quality backs back there. It may affect how many times we throw the ball to the back with what we do. But somebody is going to emerge. All those guys can catch the ball. Now, who’s going to be the guy? Who’s going to be that next one for us?
(Check the site on Tuesday for Part III …)