"Heiko, what's up? How's it going?"
MGo: Not bad. How are you?
"Good ... I'm supposed to give a shout out to Devin Gardner. Don't ask me what that's about. So I did it, okay?"
"Well this is pretty easy."
How comfortable has Devin Gardner looked in practice?
"Pretty comfortable, yeah. Like I said last time, he's pretty confident in nature. He's been in the system now for a while. Understands what we want. For the quarterback, if he thinks like the coaches, which I think he's doing more and more of, it really gives him a chance."
Have you seen specific elements that he improved on over the summer?
"Oh yeah. Yes. Just understanding route structure, decision-making. All that comes when you play more, obviously, but there's a big difference in terms of just knowing where to go with the ball, timing of the cuts, how we work ... we work a lot on improv stuff because he's athletic, but we would do this with any quarterback. We work a lot on when we break contain or push the pocket, when something doesn't happen by structure and he has to make something happen. So we work more and more on that kind of stuff. We work on the receivers and where they're supposed to be and all that stuff. He's getting a really good understanding of that, too."
Have you been able to sense an improvement in his decision-making?
"You can assess that in camp, and I think that's gotten better. Significantly better. The thing that -- I said this with Denard -- they're really kind of two different quarterbacks. But when you're athletic and you can create, the decision becomes a little dicey at times. When do I make a play, when do I cut my losses? That's really the only time Devin runs into problems. When the structure's clean, he's usually pretty darn good, but when you're trying to make a play and there's not a play there, sometimes for an aggressive kid that's tough, but we're learning that as we go."
Are there certain steps that you're teaching him to go through when the structure breaks down?
"Absolutely. Him and everybody else, yeah. We have set rules that make the improv structural, if that makes any sense. So it doesn't become helter-skelter, which can easily happen if players are not instructed on what to do. So every pass pattern that we have, we'll work on it when it's structurally perfect and when there's some form of breakdown, whether there's a push with the run-up, if there's a push with the break, all that stuff. I don't know if you know what I'm talking about, but when the quarterback has to do something that doesn't fit the structure of the play, everybody has to know what to do when that happens, because it's going to happen every third play. I've talked to you guys before about the third pass play. Great quarterbacks can create on the third pass play when there's a breakdown of protection, route's covered, or something like that."
Like that throw to Drew Dileo last year vs. Minnesota?
"There's a third play. Yeah. There's a third play. And that was a spin, I think. I think he was pushed right and spun back. It looks helter-skelter, but believe it or not all that's coached. Now I don't coach the great athleticism -- he was born with that -- but there has to be some structure with those types of plays."
And he's been making strides in handling those situations?
"I think so. That'll be a more game-specific thing than it has been because they're not tackling him right now, but yeah, I think he has. That is the one thing that always concerns a coach about a quarterback that does such a nice job of creating."
Do you consider this offense to be still in transition, or do you think you have most of the elements you need already?
"Well we have it all in, but it's transition. It's not refined, yet. We were fortunate, but the best thing with us was the bowl game, because we got more practices to install. During the season it was a cram course. We changed late in the season to a more pro style offense, and every week was a new experience. But in the bowl game we had a chance to go 15, 16 practices whatever it was, and work on it. And 15 practices through spring ball. But it is in transition. It won't be much longer, but it will still be in transition."
How much longer will it take?
"I can't honestly say. I hope not very long. I think we're making headway now. I really do, but when you're running different plays that you've been running for two years, regardless of the words there's some transitional growing pains that go with that. When you couple with the fact that there are some new players in there that can compound the problem a little bit, that's no excuse. At one point you have to get it down. We have to find our niche and find our guys and do what we do."
MGoQuestion: What kind of clarity have you gotten about the offensive line so far?
"What kind of -- ?"
"Clarity. How clear is it in terms of who's going to be in there?"
"That probably would have been a better way to ask the question."
"Write that down, okay? Angelique would have asked it like that with all her experience. No I'm just kidding.
"It's getting clearer, but it's still not clear. We want to make it as competitive as long as we can. As long as the bodies in there are competing, and it looks like everybody's formidable, we want to make it competitive. But like I told you guys before, there will be a point, and it won't be much longer now, but we'll call off the jam and we'll establish our five guys and away we'll go."
MGoIAmGoingSomewhereWithThisISwear: How would you assess the depth and versatility of your linemen?
"Well there's a lot of clarity --"
"I think the depth is better than it's been. The versatility, I think, is better than it's been. The experience is not. But to be honest with you, at the end of the day, I'd rather have good athletes and be able to coach them, you know? Because at the end of the day they have to be able to block the people across the line. [You can't just have] a bunch of smart guys that can't block the guy. So it's our job to get them going."
Is center perhaps the worst spot on the offensive line to have questions about?
"Yeah, that gets a little dicey because it's really weird the way it turned out a year ago. We had planned on Ricky Barnum playing center, but because we were so much a gun team and we weren't getting the consistency in snaps -- but Ricky was still one of our best five, so we just put him at guard and Elliott was the better snapper. That hurt us a little bit, but that's the way it is. You want to give the guy you think can do it as much time to do it. This year we don't really have those issues as much. It's just a more competitive situation."
Do you ever have the tackles make line calls?
"No. No. The tackle makes some line calls, now. They do make some. But they're not the centerpiece, you know what I'm saying? The center can see the whole picture and is usually on the same page with the quarterback because they're basically the same spot. You'd like to have a headsy guy playing center, which we have. We have some smart kids in there. But I think they have to put everyone on the same page. You can't count on the tackles or the guards. The guards can kind of help them at times if [the center] is inexperienced, but really he's got to manage that."
With experience being so important, does it mean that whoever wins the job will get a lot more snaps than they normally would?
"It just makes it all the more important. That's the only way I can answer that question."
Saturday's scrimmage will offer more clarity ...
"Is that like the word of the day?"
Yeah, I think so.
"Thank you, Heiko."
... Are you seeing separation at running back yet?
"Not yet. Not yet. But we're getting closer, okay? We're getting closer. And I want to say this: there hasn't been a guy back there that hasn't done something pretty good up to this point. Of all of them. There hasn't been a guy. Saturday is big, in answer to your question. We're going to find out or at least try and find out."
Have you seen somebody who's been consistent?
"That would stand out? Not yet. Because if they did, we'd push them to the top of the chart."
Are the early games going to be more like 2011 where you had a running back by committee?
"Maybe. That could happen. That could happen. I would never say never, but you know how I feel about that. I have always liked the feature back. If you have two good players that can gain yards, it does take a little pressure off both of them. The pounding's a little less. A lot of teams are going more to that. So we're not totally against it. I just don't want to turn it into the Lido Shuffle where one guy's in there one time, and then ... unless it's a situational deal. I have no problem with that. we used Vince Smith in that capacity a year ago, and he was invaluable in that role. In terms of the first and second-down back, it would be nice to find a guy that can pound."
Anyone standing out in that third-down back role?
"We have about three guys that are competing for that. But nobody, nobody we would pencil in right now."
Who are they?
"Guys like Justice Hayes, Drake Johnson, Fitz. Fitz is doing a great job in pass protection. But he understands it because he's been here. All those guys could be in that role."
With an inexperienced offensive line in three spots, are you limited in your play calling?
"Yeah. When you get to game plan? Yeah. Now we're just doing everything to find out. But yes, at one point in time, you have to kind of trim your menu a little bit and make sure what you're doing there they can do. We're constantly thinking about that. We haven't really done it yet. We have kind of a preliminary thought because we watched our first opponent a lot. But we're not exactly sure who's going to be in there for the first opponent. Right now we're kind of a potpourri of offense with a theme. We're not helter-skelter, but once we get to a point where we decide, hey, these are the guys and we shave it down, we'll decide what we can and can't do with what's in there."
MGoFollowupToPreviousQuestions: How far away do you think you are from doing some of the more fancy line stuff, like pulling tackles or going unbalanced?
"Pulling tackles and going unbalanced is not that fancy, okay? We could do that stuff. But we have to see what's going to be at the core of our offense. Once you run the core of our offense and you play with confidence, it's amazing the stuff you can do. I mean, you can be creative as heck, but you start trying to get too creative before those kids understand how to block an off-tackle play, you end up with a mess, basically. One thing about this position in coordinating an offense, there's a delicate balance in your economy of offense. It's huge. You've got to decide, okay, if we're going to run 65, 70 plays in a game -- because that's about what we run because we're not a major up-tempo team -- how many powers are you going to run? How many of this play are you going to run? How many of that play are you going to run? That's going to dictate how you practice, you know what I mean? So you have to make sure that you're not practicing too much stuff you're not going to do. The fancy stuff, or what I call 'secondary running plays,' stuff like that? They're viable options once you can run the core of your offense, but we have not really reached that point yet. And when is that going to happen? But hopefully soon."
With more of a pro-style offense, is practice different than it's been the last two years?
"I think it is, yeah. I think it is."
"We have a snap count. We come downhill. We're not in shotgun as much. I just believe and always have believed that there's a physicality that goes with pro-style offense that doesn't go with other offenses, whether it be spread or wishbone or shotgun or run-and-shoot or whatever's come down the pipe in the past few years. Again, a lot of it is how you coach it. You can be a pro-style team that throws every snap. There's not a lot of physicality to that, but we don't have that philosophy."
Do you think it helps your defense?
"You bet I do. Absolutely. Yeah. I think it helps everybody. I think it helps the special teams. I do. When you recruit tight ends, big wide receivers, fullbacks, those guys -- you look at the NFL, those are all the special teams players. It helps them, too. I think it has carry-over effect to every phase of your game from a physical perspective and just a demeanor perspective if you're preaching playing physical football, which we do here."
Are you seeing Shane Morris quickly absorbing the offense?
"He's doing a nice job. You know, there's times when he looks at me like I have 10 heads and I look back the same way, but no, he's really doing a nice job because he's been here a while, he worked with some of the guys in the summer, and he's really throwing the ball well. It's just a matter of becoming acclimated to what we do. He shows tremendous promise."
Are you confident in his ability to close out a game yet?
"Too early to say. Too early to say. But that's another one. It won't be long before he can. We'll establish who the No. 2 quarterback is and go from there. But he certainly has the ability to do it. We just don't know yet. I wouldn't commit to that yet."
Hypothetically, if Shane wins the No. 2 job, does that change the way you treat Devin because there's still a redshirt potential?
"Not really. No. I wouldn't change anything."
With backup quarterback and interior line, how long is too long in terms of keeping that competition going without picking someone?
"Well you better have them ready by the time you start going to scout teams so that you can practice with the guys you're going to play with."
How much freedom will Devin have on the line of scrimmage?
"More than he's had, because he has a better understanding. He's not going to call the game, but if there's some calls that are not conducive to what I call potentially successful scenarios, he has situations where he can get us out of plays or check to other plays which may be an option outside the package. He has more freedom now than he's ever had. As he grows more, he'll get even more."
What did Devin's willingness to move to receiver do for his standing among his teammates?
"I think it showed a little unselfishness. He wanted to play. You can see he's so talented. Anybody in that situation wants to play. I said it from the time I came here -- I don't like alternating quarterbacks. I don't do it. I've never done it. A lot of guys have, and they do well with it, but we don't really have that philosophy, so what do you do? You have a dynamic playmaker who's your starting quarterback, another guy who can only do so much, and he wants to play. It was logical; we were short on receiver. We didn't have as many as we liked, so he went out and played wide receiver, and I think it sent a nice message to the team about doing what he has to do to help us win games."
Do you have enough playmakers at running back and receiver?
"I think so. I think so. Again, when they get under the lights and things -- I think we do. I think we do. Based on what I've seen in practice, I think we've got some guys that can do some good stuff."
You said you'd never coached someone like Denard. Have you ever coached someone like Devin?
"Similar guys, yeah. There have been similar guys. He is more athletic with the passing dimension than probably anybody I've coached. But similar guys."
MGoQuestion: A couple years ago your offense was described as a jump-ball offense --
"Who described it that way?"
MGoHedge: ... Uh, the media ... ... ... okay, I did.
"You described it as a --"
MGoClarification: But only secondarily to other people who first described it as such. ANYWAY, that's beside the point. You said you changed your philosophy on throwing the ball --
"You're digging this hole, Heiko. [Cackles]"
MGoDigging: -- and placing it where only the receiver could get it vs. just throwing it up and trusting your receiver to out-jump the defensive back. Where do you stand on that now?
"Oh, it's no different now. When we're one on one, we want our receivers to touch the ball. That's key. That's never changed here or any other place I've ever coached. Now based on who the receiver was or who the quarterback was, it happened more often, but that doesn't have anything to do with being here or any place else."
Is Devin better at that than Denard?
"No? I don't think so. I don't think he's any better. I don't think he's any worse. We coach him the same way. Get it up, put it where only the good guy can get it. But Devin's got to play a little more, and then I can draw conclusions on that. Denard wasn't bad at it, you know?"
Can Toussaint do everything he could do before, and does anything about his recovery surprise you?
"Well, I guess, no? Not really. He can do everything he did before. It doesn't look like he was ever injured to me. I think anybody who's watched him would say the same thing. He doesn't look -- there's no residual effects of his injury that I can see now. Who knows? Maybe something will change, but up to this point, nothing."
Whoever wins the job opposite Gallon as the No. 2 receiver, what do you need from that guy?
"The same stuff that we get from Gallon, only in a bigger version probably. Gallon plays like a big guy anyway. But we'd like, you know, the speed factor obviously. Range. The ability to get the jump balls, you know? Because we're a jump ball offense, obviously ... Had to take that shot, I'm sorry. You asked for it.
"But those kinds of things. Seriously, we do need guys to go get those balls when they're not thrown perfectly."
Are Jehu and Amara guys who can do that?
"I think so. Both of them have good speed and they're big guys, so they've demonstrated great range in practice."
[Mattison will be posted tomorrow.]