Wilton Speight and Mike McCray
WIlton, obviously things didn’t start off the way they were supposed to with the interception. Was there anything in particular that Harbaugh said that made you snap into it or was it just instincts?
“Yeah, obviously wasn’t the start I was imagining, but I was kind of rolling to our sideline anyway and my momentum just kind of carried me right into Coach and he just grabbed me and hugged me and was kind of laughing and was like, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it next drive. Don’t sweat about that.’ And I was able to do that.”
How much did it help you to have the balance that you did in terms of a running game and some receivers and tight ends?
“Yeah, so anytime the quarterback has a run threat it helps them a lot, it helps the passing game a lot. To have that balance and then have guys like Jehu and Amara and Jake Butt, Moe Ways, Drake Harris--the list could go on and on, just weapons after weapons--makes my job a lot easier.”
Mike, we heard so much about Don Brown’s defense and blitzing. You personally had a great game and the defense overall did so well, especially in the first half. What was it like to get out there in a new scheme and show what you guys could do on the greatest stage?
“It felt really good. We talked about it all week just going out there and showing everybody what we’re about. We had a great defense last year and we want to be better than we were last year. I thought we made a good statement coming out.”
Wilton, can you take us through the process of you getting acclimated? You’re comfortable in the system but the gameday environment and taking it step by step and putting it together, what was that like?
“I knew the gameplan front and back, and once I saw my first completion to Jehu on that slant I felt completely settled in and kind of like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I was able to get comfortable and just fire some shots in the pocket.”
Was there a particular player that you felt like kind of boosted you?
“They were all really helpful. Jake Butt was in my ear a lot; De’Veon last night and this morning. But yeah, everyone was real cool.”
Coach said ‘We’ll get them back and everything will be okay’ and you started at the two-yard line. Talk about the momentum that you guys got on that drive and how you finished it off.
“Starting that deep, it’s just an opportunity to march down the whole field and that was what we were able to do. I was able to complete a few passes, the offensive line was able to hold all their blocks really well, and the running game was outstanding. To be able to march down the field 98 yards and fire a shot in to Grant [Perry] in the corner of the end zone was a good feeling.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
News bullets and other important items
- Jourdan Lewis, Ben Braden, and Mo Hurst were Harbaugh’s decision to hold out. Lewis and Hurst should be back next week. De’Veon Smith got bruised and should also be back next week.
- Taco Charlton has an ankle injury and Bryan Mone needed an MRI Saturday night.
- When all is said and done, 17-20 freshmen should see the field this year.
- Harbaugh wasn’t worried about the first-play interception because his measure of a QB is how they respond on the following drive.
- Harbaugh said they’re just scratching the surface of what Chris Evans can do. Expect to see him catching the ball out of the backfield and lining up as a receiver soon.
- There’s still a competition for the backup QB spot (and probably every spot, really) because of course there is.
- Harbaugh effusively praised the defense (he said they didn’t make a stance or alignment mistake through three quarters) and the secondary in particular.
[Getting the mics passed out is taking a minute]
“I can just give you my first answer. The first thing that strikes me is—it hit me about Thursday [or] Friday [that] our coaches had worked this group of players as hard as you possibly can, and our players worked themselves as hard as they possibly could, and it just hit me Thursday [or] Friday that it’s time to just let them go show what they can do. I thought we’d be good, and it was. I thought our team played really well.”
Wilton talked about how your reassurance after that first play—what it meant to him. You’ve been through that a lot of times, that kind of thing. Talk about your approach there.
“Well, really my approach was I wanted to see what he did on the next series. It’s very difficult for a quarterback to throw an interception on a series and then come back and lead a touchdown drive the following series. It’s something I’ve always been fascinated in watching quarterbacks, and the really good ones can do that. They don’t think about, ‘I’m not gonna make another bad mistake.’ I mean, that’s what some do, but good ones don’t. I was just excited for that opportunity, to see what he was going to do on the next drive.
“And then to see him start the next drive on the two-yard line. I mean, that’s as much adversity as you can have for a quarterback starting a series, starting a drive: having thrown an interception on the previous drive—and the very first throw of the game—and then to find yourself on the two-yard line. But he responded in tremendous fashion to lead a touchdown drive, make big third-down conversion throws, to make as good a corner throw to Grant Perry as can be made. It can’t be thrown any better. The slant he threw coming off the goal line cannot be thrown any better.
“Had total command and I think it speaks volumes and bodes really well for our team and bodes really well for his career as a quarterback to have done that, to have come back off an interception and then very next drive go on a 98-yard touchdown drive. Now he knows he can do it, and now we’ll expect him to do it. So, it was good for our team. Good for his career.”
Mike McCray’s overcome a lot and we saw him all over the field today. Talk about what that meant and how good he was out there today.
“I feel like our inside backers are very athletic and can run and get to the sideline and still play very physical inside the box, take on blockers, take on guards, take on backs. I think it’s a step up in terms of athleticism when you look at Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon and Devin Bush.
“There’s a lot of guys, a lot of guys that have personally overcome a lot that were out there and did well today. Michael Hirsch is another. Several. Several guys.”
[After THE JUMP: Imagine how excited Harbaugh was when Michael Jordan coincidently delivered one of his favorite messages to the team]
Your defensive line’s got some depth this season. Why is that depth going to be important for this team?
“I think depth’s really, really important with any defense nowadays with the way people like to run spread offenses and fast-paced offenses. A lot of them try to do that to try to negate a good defensive line. They try to tire them out, they try to get them running from sideline to sideline, and then they try to make them down to their level or average by being tired.
“Nowadays these D-linemen are bigger than they used to be and they’re carrying a lot of weight, so to have guys that rotate is really, really key for us. You saw that last year. We were a better defensive team when we had rotation, and when we got hit with some injuries it brought us down to not having the ability to rotate.”
Why do you see defensive linemen rotate and not offensive linemen?
“Well, offensive linemen don’t run to the football sideline to sideline. I mean, ours do. The good ones do, but there’s a lot of people that if you watch a defensive line, every play, whether it’s a pass all the way downfield or a sweep wide, you expect your defensive line to be running as hard and fast as they can to get there. Offensive guys are behind the ball sometimes so it doesn’t really matter to get down there that close.”
Have you found eight that have earned the right to be in that rotation at this point?
“Yeah, I think we have eight for sure, and there are more and more guys that are coming on. I would never rotate probably nine or 10 guys, but you always want the ability that if something does happen that another guy can come in and be one of those eight. That’s what we’re working for. Working for the ability to have a true rotation of guys.”
You really haven’t had a full, true eight guys here, have you?
“I think last year during the middle we were there. Then when Ryan got injured and Mario got injured, we bounced down under that.”
Who will you put out to start on Saturday?
“I really try to tell them that we have two starting lineups. You know, who goes out there for the very first play, we still have a couple days to decide that. Chris Wormley’s had a very, very good camp. Glasgow’s had a really good camp. Mone has really done well. Matt Godin’s doing very well. Taco. The whole group. I don’t want to single out one guy, because as we watch the film there’s an expectation, and to be in that first unit that takes the field very first of who’s in there the third or fourth play, they all have to do the same thing. I’ve been pleased with the effort and the work of all of them.”
[After THE JUMP: on communication during substitutions, working in Rashan Gary, and more Onwenu praise]
You were with Coach Baxter last year and now special teams is kind of your baby. Talk about what you’ve taken from Baxter and what you’ve brought in yourself to make it what you want it to be.
“They’re kind of Coach Partridge’s and I’s baby together, I guess. There were some things with Coach Baxter that were great and that we’ve carried over and other things that kind of we took from other places and things we’ve done in the past. As with anything, it’s always kind of a hodge-podge of different parts of your experience and you kind of piece together whatever you think is best for your specific team and players, so it’s a little bit of everyone.”
How deep is this group and how many guys will play?
“At what position? Tight end?”
Tight end, yeah.
“It’s really deep. I think there’s like 12 people or something. I couldn’t tell you how many are going to play. I think I would like for five or six [or] seven guys to play, but you never know exactly how a game’s going to go. There’s certainly a group of five or six guys that are all capable of contributing, and as you kind of go down the totem pole a little bit some of the younger guys have specific roles in packages that are a little smaller.
“You talk about getting guys in position to do things that they’re good at, so if they’re a younger guy it might be a speicfic four- or five-play set whereas Jake Butt has the whole playbook he excels at. We’ll just kind of see how the game goes, but I would say I’d like if we ended with five or six guys playing.”
Sean McKeon: you had him in the spring and all the way through fall camp. How have you seen him progress as a true freshman in that time?
“A huge amount. I mean, he’s a tremendously hard worker. It’s just the knack for—you tell him to do something or say, ‘Hey, I want you to work on this’ and he just does it and doesn’t overthink it. He just puts in the work. Very blue-collar in his approach. He’s improved a ton in really every way. Specifically as a route-runner [and] his ball skills.”
Jim talked about how happy he is with Kenny Allen. He did a good job for you last year. Where have you seen some improvement in all of those phases?
“He’s another guy—I mean, pretty much everything he’s improved on. We asked a lot of him to really shoulder the burden in all three phases, which not many guys do in the country. I think Hawaii’s guy was one of five guys in the country to do it last year, the Sanchez kid, who’s a very talented kid. Kenny’s excelled. He’s improved in every way. It’s exciting for him as a senior to be playing so well in every category.”
Would you be comfortable with him doing all three?
“We’d be more than comfortable with it because he’s physically more than capable of doing all three and he has the talent. I think ideally you’d like to take a little bit off of his plate, but it’s a long season and as other guys develop into certain roles I think that could happed. We’d be more than comfortable with him doing it if need be.”
There are so many athletic guys in this recruiting class that did all these good things in terms of returns and things in high school. Are you more apt to try and work them in there to not put a burden on Jabrill or Jourdan or Jehu?
“Yeah, there are a few guys that will have an opportunity.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
Last week when we talked to you, you said one of the things you were working on was getting your head around at the right time. From a technique perspective, when is the right time to get your head around?
“When you’ve got a receiver under control. When you understand that he’s not doing any other route except for a fade, and that’s just going off your instincts, too. Just knowing that, okay, I feel like it’s time to turn my head around. Just being in phase, being in the hip, and going up and being a playmaker.”
So part of that is just experience?
“Yeah, and watching film. Honestly, that helps a lot, just seeing if they like back-shoulders or if they just like the normal fade, stuff like that. So just going up there and understanding what formations those guys like to do that and when they like to do it.”
One question I have is about off coverage. I know you play press man most of the time, but from a fundamental perspective, in off coverage what’s the most important thing? When I was talking to Coach Zordich earlier in the year he said in press you look at the belt buckle, then--
“It’s still the eyes. Your eyes are the most important thing in football, and just to watch the waist because the waist doesn’t really move. It’s understanding where your end points are and your keys and stuff like that and just knowing what to do. Just watching him and then using your tools to succeed.”
Is the corner’s first step more important in press or in off?
“The first step? In press, honestly. When you talk about the first step, if you misplace your steps in press that’s the difference between a breakup and a catch. In off coverage, I believe that it can be the same thing, honestly, but it’s more critical in press.”
Hawaii has one receiver who’s 6’5 and some receivers who are 5’10. I know you can’t say who you’re going to be matched up on, but in general when you have some guys who are really tall and some who are shorter, does your technique change at all?
“It could. You could be a little bit overaggressive with the bigger guys because they have a lot more surface to put your hands on and then a lot of times they’ll be a little bit slower than the little guys. A smaller guy, you’ve just got to be patient and move your feet and stuff like that. Yeah, you have to gameplan and understand who you’re checking.”
With some of the younger guys on the roster, guys like David Long and Lavert Hill, what’s impressed you most about where they’ve come from the beginning of camp until now?
“The way they learn, honestly, and just how fast they learn and have picked up the playbook, and that’s really what it is. I think that’s helped both of them.”
What about other guys in the corner group like Stribling and Jeremy Clark?
“Just experience, honestly. Having those guys play last year a whole bunch of snaps that really helps them, and just getting a feel going out there and playing.”
“Senior captains for the 2016 season: offense, Jake Butt and defensively Chris Wormley. Thrilled with the leadership on our team right now. from the senior class and our younger classes. I think a lot of deserving candidates, but what a great honor for Jake Butt and Chris Wormley. I think they will represent our team very well.”
Game notes didn’t have a depth chart. Can you shed any light on the quarterback competition, at least?
“It’s been very good really from day one, the competition at the quarterback position. And the play at the quarterback position has been very good. I feel like it’s been improving as well, daily, weekly. All the quarterbacks are playing at a very high level.”
Just to follow up to that, do you know who your starting quarterback is right now? Do you expect to say before the game on Saturday?
“Yeah, I do—we know who our starting quarterback is, yes. And yeah, I’ll say who our starting quarterback is before Saturday. I didn’t say I was going to say it to you, who our starting quarterback is.”
What is it about Jake and Chris that you think will make them good captains?
“Well, they’re two of the hardest working guys. Two of the best players on the team. They both have a real great way of being good teammates. They don’t build themselves up and put others down around them. They both have that quality of building up other guys around them and making themselves smaller, and when you do that you make yourself very big indeed in the eyes of everybody, in the eyes of the whole world and the eyes of the people that are on your team.
“In so many ways: how they talk to the young players, how they coach the young players. I’ve caught Jake Butt in the act of helping the young tight ends on several occasions. Caught Chris Wormley giving advice and tips to the young defensive linemen, Rashan and Ron [Johnson], so that’s…I think that speaks volumes when I catch guys doing that.”
[Long pause as mic gets passed around. Just as someone’s about to ask a question, Harbaugh thinks of something else to add.]
“The good thing about our captain vote is it’s strictly voted by the players. All players that have been on the team for a year who really know the candidates for being captain. Coaches’ votes do not count and freshmen votes don’t count, so it’s the guys who’ve really been in the practices and the meetings and the trenches and the workouts year round that vote on the captains. That’s why it makes it such a great honor. That’s why it’s such a thing that means so much to all of us, to the team and to everybody involved. It’s your fellow teammates. It’s the players on your team, your peers, that are voting and making that assessment.”
When you have several worthy candidates for the quarterback position, what are the things that matter to you when you’re making that decision, when you’re trying to choose?
“Really all the guys haven’t played in the games in terms of game experience a whole lot. Each has game experience and has had game experience, but here game experience and…so, want to see the things that would really translate to the game in terms of moving the team, moving the offense, putting drives together, making first downs, converting third downs, getting the team into the end zone, avoiding the turnovers and the mistakes that hurt drives and keep points off the board.
“That’s been the major criteria. We’ve looked at everything, but that above all on the list is what we’ve been trying to evaluate in the practices. As I said, they’re all getting better and doing everything that we ask. Great understanding of the offense and what they need to do to be successful so been pleased.”
[After THE JUMP: the Kaepernick quote (including some important pauses), throwing gas on the Bredeson/freshmen hype fire, special teams info, and a little Hawaii scouting]