Have you considered moving Ryan Switzer to kickoff returns?
I’ve thought about it and he wants it to happen. He’s already tweeted to me this summer, ‘Have you thought about this?’ As he’s tweeted to everybody else, I guess. We do pride ourselves on special teams. Everybody talks about punt return because we finished No. 1 in the country. But we were in the top five in punts this past year with Tommy Hibbard and the punt team. We were in the top 20 in the country in kickoff return. We weren’t in the top 20 on kickoff coverage, so we’ve got to get there.
As special teams as a whole, I’m proud of what we accomplished. I have thought about putting him back there. For me, it’s weighing the risk-reward. It’s a little bit different position in what you’re doing back there than punt return, but if I think he can help us win a championship by doing that, yeah, we’ll put him back there.
You mentioned Ryan tweeting everyone, he wrote the letter to Inside Carolina. What’s it like for you, you’re a person that wants the stands filled, to have a player echoing your words?
Oh, believe me, all the players feel that way. He’s just the first one that reached out with a letter. I haven’t read the letter yet; you guys have been around Switz a little bit so you know he’s passionate about the game of football. And he’s passionate about Carolina. I mean he loves the University of North Carolina. He wants everyone else to be as passionate as he is. So he’s encouraging and challenging the fans to be as passionate as he is about the game, is all he’s asking.
He’s pretty vocal with the fans. Is he as vocal on the team, or does he lead by example?
I think he does both. I think he leads by example, but he also isn’t afraid to challenge – again, he just wants everybody to put in the same amount of effort that he does.
What makes Ryan Switzer so special? What do you with him offensively if they don’t kick him the ball so he still has an impact?
He’s much different on the field than he is away from the field. On the field he is fearless. He’s got that little man syndrome, ‘I’ll just show you, watch.’ He’s going to prove it to everybody. He can be from point A to B, at full speed in a matter of two steps. But he can also stop on a dime and be going laterally and be at full speed in two steps, also. And then he’s got great vision on top of that.
I’m anticipating a lot of different things with what teams will try to do when we put him back there on punt return. We’re looking at a lot of different opportunities to put the ball in his hands and get the touches that we need to from the slot, from the running back, being able to move him quite a bit. I’ve had a player like that back at Southern Miss that we did a lot of things with, so we’ll do some very similar things with him.
Offensively, the progression for Ryan seemed to be a little bit slower than it was for punt return. What does he need to do to really get into the offense?
I think he’s doing that. You’ve got to remember, Ryan played running back, he was a running back in high school. He never caught the ball. Everything that he’s been learning in that slot has been brand new to him. He has the skills to do it and I think you’ll see him blossom this year in that position in the ways we’re going to get those touches to him.
Eric Ebron played such a big role on the offense last year. How much of that can you see Jack Tabb assuming?
Eric Ebron, y’all know him well. He’s a special player. He was the 10th pick in the draft out of however many people played college football. I don’t expect Jack Tabb to be Eric Ebron. I expect Jack Tabb to be Jack Tabb. Jack brings things to the table that Eric didn’t have and then Eric brought things that Jack didn’t have. We’ll mold what we do offensively with Jack to Jack’s strengths and we’ll hide the weaknesses that Jack has. Every player has strengths and weaknesses. And our job as a coach is to bring out the strengths and hide the weaknesses or get those weaknesses stronger. Jack will definitely play a role in our success this year.
What does he do better than Eric did?
He’s probably a little better when he’s attached as a blocker at the point of attack than Eric was at that time. He’s not going to run as fast as Eric, but he can run. He may not be quite as athletic as Eric was, but he’s plenty athletic to be successful.
Linebacker depth was an issue last year. How concerned are you about your linebacker corps?
Anytime we lose anybody, I’m always concerned about it. It puts that much more of a strain on the guys at that position. That means we’ve got to keep them healthy, we have to adjust the way we practice. That means I’ve got to do a good job of figuring out where that fine line is, how much hitting we actually do. So that we can keep those guys fresh and keep them ready. It’s all about getting the horses ready for the race on Saturday. But we still have to do enough work during the week so that they can be productive in the game. We have to do enough hitting so they can be productive, but at the same time we can’t do too much where they’re beat up and can’t get to Saturday.
Are there position situations you like this year?
I like the quarterback position. I like the running back positions, the wide receiver position, I like our corner position. We’re expanding those likes. We have talent at other positions, but the depth isn’t necessarily there or the experience isn’t there right now. That doesn’t mean we have guys at other positions that can’t play, that’s not what I’m saying. The depth is a concern. It’s a lot better than it’s been the last two years.
You said a couple years back you’d like to have four running backs. You’ve got four now. How are you going to arrange playing all those guys?
The guy that’s most productive will play. When we talk about -- and that’s every position on our team -- it’s not your birthright to get the ball or your birthright to step out on that field. It’s about producing. If you show that the offense or the defense or that special team is better when you’re on the field then you play. If you don’t then you stand over there by me.
Does Elijah Hood bring something different to the table?
No doubt. You watch him in spring ball; he’s like a bull in a china closet. He’s 225 pounds, he has great speed and he like to run into things. When he breaks through, he’s not necessarily looking to avoid contact. He’s looking for someone to run into. Our team, their team -- doesn’t matter to him. He just wants something to hit.
Will the new guidelines that came out about concussion studies impact how much hitting you do?
It will for teams, yeah. It’s not going to be impact us because we’re already well within those guidelines. We don’t hit twice a week as it is throughout the entire season. Our philosophy is we’re going to prepare for camp during the season. We’re going to do quite a bit of hitting during that point and then once we get into the season, it’s about getting our guys to Saturday as fresh as they can possibly be and understanding the game plan. Once we start in the season, we don’t do a lot of hitting. There will be a point where we don’t hit at all, eventually. I know that’s probably against what a lot of people think, they think you go out there and just smash mouth every day, but we don’t. You can’t do that nowadays, you’re just not going to make it. Tuesday is usually our day and we get to a point where we’re not in full pads on Tuesday. Once the season starts, very seldom are we taking people to the ground anymore.
How does that affect the tackling?
It’s tough. That’s that balancing act. Then all your fans say, ‘Well they’re not tackling well, they must not be practicing tackling.’ You have to find ways to do it without tackling your guys. That’s why the fundamentals that you teach in spring ball and that you work on in camp and throughout the season are so important to what you do.
What’s going to be a sign for you whether this winds up being a Coastal championship team or not?
I think, for us, it’s probably going to be how quickly the offensive line gels.
What stands out to you about Bobby Petrino’s teams in the college ranks?
From the outside watching, they’ve always been able to move the ball against anybody. They’ve been very balanced offensively; he’s run the ball extremely well and then with play-action passing has done a great job.
How is it having him and Louisville in the league now?
It’s great. It just adds another piece to this league to make us that much stronger. You start looking from top to bottom; this is obviously a very strong league and one of the elite leagues in the country right now.
Check back Monday for Part IV ...