Obviously your first game is this week. Just your overall thoughts- the offensive line is always a topic and you guys have a lot of good competition at running back. Just your overall thoughts on what you’re expecting Saturday.
“Well, I think we’ve progressed. We talked about coming out of the spring and as we started fall camp it needed to be practice #16 for us and it was and we’ve gotten better each and every practice. Now, you’re not going to see it all of the time. We’re not where we need to be as a whole unit. We get it right in spurts. The biggest thing right now is to find consistency in performance across the board but like you said, the one thing we have been able to do is create competition across the board and we are getting better.”
Is there a spot where you see a lot of competition at? Or you said you guys have it in spurts, where are you guys lacking and where are you guys doing well?
“Well, I think across positions you can see it at every position and we find that we can do things very, very well when we do them well and we go in stretches where we play together and we play well together and then we’ll have either a unit or an individual break down and that’s the part about playing football and playing at a very, very high level. You’ve got to have consistency and everybody doing the right thing on every play.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but people are a little apprehensive of the offensive line and I wonder if your feeling from when you first got here until now, if that has changed and how much it’s changed because I assume you were somewhat apprehensive as well.
“Well, I’ve said it many times but there seems to be a focus on a unit on every team, a strength here or a weakness there. A lot of that’s perception, too. You talk about a quarterback position, for example. If a quarterback’s not being protected a lot of times it doesn’t look like he’s playing very well when at the end of the day it doesn’t really fall on the quarterback. When you look at an offensive line group there’s a lot of things that play into it. A lot of it has to do with the backs and the running game, making sure they hit the right hole, it has to do with the quarterback getting us into the right play so that we can get good angles for blocking schemes, it has to do with receivers winning at the line of scrimmage in press coverage so that the quarterback can get the ball out in time so that we’re not holding the ball so there’s a lot of factors that play into each and every group and that’s why it is a team game. Every unit we have takes pride in how they play and we all demand that each unit does their job and I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
We saw that Derrick Green is at the top of the running back depth chart. What did he do in the last week or two to put himself there and separate himself?
“I think it’s been the overall body of work through camp and everything we try to do. We tell the players there’s going to be evidence-based decisions by what you put on film and what you do on a day-to-day basis and Derrick continually progressed and he continues to progress. Like I said before, as an offense and even at that position we’re nowhere near where we need to be or where we want to be but as far as when you look at the process of getting better each and every day and how you approach the day and he’s just continued to get better each and every day. We’ve talked a lot about his weight as he came into camp and that’s been one of the biggest things. He looks like a different back.”
What are your thoughts about the wide receivers? It seems like that’s a position group of strength, a lot of depth there. Is there any particular guy that stood out to you or just your thoughts on the receivers?
“Well, obviously [Devin] Funch[ess], his production speaks for itself. Very, very talented player. Like we talked about, you want to create depth and competition at every position and we feel like we have a good talent base there. A lot of different guys that can do different things and the goal will be ultimately to keep guys fresh and put guys in the right position where they can make plays.”
[After THE JUMP: more on the running backs, Devin Gardner’s growth, and all aboard the Mason Cole hype train]
With Derrick [Green], the idea that he was in the competition, do you feel that he’s emerged from camp feeling like the #1 back as opposed to just being named it if that makes sense?
“I think when you talk about being the starter there’s a mindset and an approach that has to occur when you talk about being a starter and Derrick obviously- as any young player there’s a bigger learning curve and the maturation process that goes on for young players on a day-to-day basis and the way you watch them evolve, that’s one of the great things about coaching is watching that and watching players come in and learn and grow and achieve.I think Derrick is starting to learn what it takes to be a really, really good player. He still has a long way to go and that group itself, there’s great competition so it forces those guys each and every day. We’re going to play multiple guys but Derrick at this point in time has established himself as the guy who deserves to start this game.”
How do you foresee the distribution of carries in the early games among those three?
“Well, we’ll play a couple guys and a lot of it will be on the flow of the game, the feel of the game and like I said before each guy does different things better than others so there may be specific plays that we use specific players on but Derrick’s going to start the game.”
You have a freshman starting at left tackle. At what point did you think he was capable of handling something like this?
“Well, he’s a special kid. When you look at what we’ve asked of him from day one and really with no expectation. We put him on left tackle in spring and watched as he grew day-to-day, and you always wonder, ‘Is it going to be too much?’ I think mental makeup is the biggest thing that separates Mason. Right now, he’s so mature beyond his years. He’s steady as a rock and what he’s achieved really I don’t think is a surprise to anybody within our building.”
My second question is about Shane [Morris]. If there’s an opportunity, do you have a thought process going into these non-conference games about getting Shane in there and getting some game experience?
“Shane’s had a really good camp. A really good camp. Really improved. He’s at a point in this stage of his career where he’s got the big picture of things and now it’s refining and really, like we talked about with a lot of young players, when you do it and you do it right and you have success it’s now taking your level of performance and finding consistency in your performance to do it all the time. Very excited about where he’s at and we’ll just have to see how things go.”
How have you seen Devin Gardner change and grow since you started working with him in January or February or whenever it was? How have you seen that process go?
“Well, I think Devin’s done a really good job from a leadership standpoint with our team and anytime you have a young team it’s important that the veteran players embrace the younger players and Devin’s been around a lot of football. His approach with our younger guys has been tremendous. When you talk about playing the position he’s really grown from the mental side of things within our system and the things that we’re asking him to do and his daily approach about trying to do things right within the system. Like we said before, his natural athletic ability is- it speaks for itself but his ability to work within the system, really excited about that.”
In terms of just seeing what you have with Devin [Gardner], as an offensive coordinator does that excite you to have that kind of player at your disposal? Do you think a lot and spend a lot of time thinking about what you’re going to do, what you can do?
“Well, we spend a lot of time thinking about a lot of things. Like I said before, we’re nowhere near where we want to be. We’ve got to get better each and every day and our guys, the one thing I can say about camp [is] they’ve worked extremely hard and we have gotten better each and every day and like I said, it doesn’t show and that’s the thing with a young team you’ve got to continue to preach. It may not show on every play but it’s about how you approach it and how you go about success and failure and how you continue to improve on a day-to-day basis. Just like everybody on our offense, I still feel like we’ve got a lot of growth and it’s going to be important through the season that we grow each and every week.”
There’s a perception publicly that the defense will have to carry the offense for a while. Do you get that sense that the offense needs to be supported a little bit?
“We’re going to go play the game to the best of our ability and I don’t ever want to say that we want another unit on the football team to carry us. That would be something we wouldn’t have a lot of pride in our room if we said that. We expect to play and play well.”