“From an overall perspective, 15 days, I think we really had a nice spring offensively. We got a lot of questions answered, I think. Had a chance to do some experimenting, although we didn’t use any of it today, but we did some things and turned another page in our offensive approach. I think people we knew could play pretty much proved they could play, and we found a few guys along the way that I think are going to be contributors. We still have a ways to go. It’s still a typical spring game. The amount of times I’ve come out of a spring game and been happy I can count on two fingers in all the 26 years I’ve been coaching. That’s just kind of the way it is. But we got something done, and that’s what’s most important, is getting a chance in front of our fans to do some deals, do some things and I think we got something done, and that really was the goal for today.”
Can you talk about Ricky Barnum’s progress. Did he meet your expectations?
“Yeah Ricky’s come a long way for a position that he really hasn’t played very much. But I mentioned to you guys before, I think from a profile perspective, Ricky fits that position better than he probably does any other position. He’s a smart kid that plays with good leverage, knows how to use people around him. Now that he understands the calls and how to put everybody on the same page, that really makes a big difference at that position, because you’re not forced to block people one-on-one constantly. That’s the thing about playing center, is there’s a lot of that going on. He’s done a nice job. I’m really happy with Ricky.”
We didn’t see a whole lot from the receivers today. Who are some of the guys that can really step up and compete for playing time with Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon?
“Well I think Jerald Robinson is one guy you’re going to see more and more of. He got banged up a little bit I think somewhere, I don’t know, but nothing serious. But I think he’s a guy you’re going to see step to the forefront because he’s been very prominent in our practices. Jeremy Jackson and Drew Dileo have also been very very active in our passing game. So I think those people and then if some of the freshmen come in and show up and aren’t awed by their surroundings, they may be able to contribute. I think we’re good at the position. We’d like to be deeper, but I think we’re pretty good.”
You gave most of the snaps to Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy today …
“Yeah, that’s what we were trying to develop. We decided before we came in that we were only going to play Denard just a little tiny bit. We wanted to see these other kids.”
Thoughts on their springs overall?
“Yeah I think Devin in particular has had an outstanding spring. He’s really done some very nice things and has developed in the position more and more. Needs more time in situations like this where there’s a lot of people watching and the pressure’s on and all that, but he has really done a nice job. And Russ -- I said it last week and the week before -- Russ has been steady and solid and guys get open he hits them. He makes very few mistakes. He’s just one of those kinds of guys. He too is very athletic and can get himself out of some messes. He’s a solid guy. We have three quarterbacks who I think … I’m not sure when their major contributions are going to come -- two of them, anyway -- but I think there will be a point in time when they’ll make a major contribution. I’m happy with the position.”
Rawls had some nice runs. Can he potentially be the more physical back you’re looking for?
“Yeah. He’s a different kind of runner than Fitz and a differnet kind of runner than Vince and Justice Hayes too, in that he’s a battering ram type of guy. He goes in there and when Thomas hits you you’re going to feel him. He makes no concessions to the defense. He’s got a little bit of stop and go ability, but I would not say that’s his game. His game is running through people and making it very difficult to tackle, and following forward. He’s done that all spring. You only saw a little bit of it today. In the 14 days previous, we’ve seen quite a bit of it. He’s another guy that, you have to understand our appraoch was not to entertain today. Our approach was to find out more about our football team. He’s one of the guys we wanted to find out [about], and he was going to be featured. The players that we needed to know about were the guys we let play more, him being at the top of that list.”
What did Burzynski do to push his way into a starting spot than guys who have been there longer?
“Well he worked his butt off. He’s still not in the starting position but he’s competing for one certainly. He’s worked his butt off and he’s very coachable. He’s worked hard for Coach Wellman. He’s very attentive. He takes everything to heart. It’s very important to Joe that he improve, and a guy like that is going to improve if that’s your appraoch. When you’re a walk-on and you’re battling to get in that depth, you’ll never get in that depth until you get someone’s attention. He just did a good job. We’re not really deep at offensive line. He’s had opportunities, and he’s taken advantage of them.”
When did he get your attention?
“We saw some last year. More this spring, you know. Early on he became a factor and decided that he was going to step up and compete for the postiion, but I would say the first three or four days of spring football.”
What was he showing you?
“Good, explosive get-off, number one. Good hand placement. Good hat placement on his drive and zone blocks. Pretty solid pass protector. Had a good feel for playing games, working with the guy next to him. When you’re not the most gifted guy, you have to have something else that llows you to play. Joe’s not a bad athlete, but he’s probably not as athletic as some of the other guys. That means you have to study the game and play with awareness. And I think that’s what he’s done as much as anything to put himself in the position that he’s in.”
Did he show any of these signs last season?
“Yeah, some. Some. Because the depth was different, it wasn’t as critical that we have him step up. Well the depth’s not quite what it was, now there’s an opportunity there. We tell the players every time there is [and opportunity] to seize the moment. He’s seizing the moment.”
We heard more about Chris Bryant at the end of last season than this spring. What does he need to do to get better and get back on track to play?
“Just keep going the way he’s going. He’s been set back from being banged up a little bit, too. Nothing major. Chris Bryant’s going to be a good player. The one thing you have to understand about an offensive linemen: in my opinion, I think offensive line is the most developmental position on the entire football team. There are very very few that can step up on day one and be right with it. Now every so often you get a tailback. I know when I was at UCLA, I had DeShaun Foster. The day he stepped on campus he was the best tailback we had and we had to find a way to play him. But you don’t find many linemen like that. Usually they have to go through some growing pains, get a little stronger, get a little more aware, and do some of the things I’m talking about with Joe. Chris Bryant’s going to be a good player. He just needs a little more of that development.”
Denard said he only threw off his back foot one or two times this spring. Was that the major improvement he made? Are there other areas he’s improved?
“That was the biggest one. There are two things. And you didn’t see much of Denard today, but if you could have you would have appreciated this a little bit more -- and I want to see it [keep] going before I go on about it too much. I’d like to see some carryover, but the two things that have gone away in Denard’s game is falling off throws or throwing off your back foot as you say, and number two is indiscriminate decision making. He had very very few interceptions this spring. Very few. He had cut his interceptions from last spring to this spring four times. Four times [fewer] interceptions. And that’s not unusual now for a guy that didn’t understand the offense. I said that last year our passing game was a drastic disparity from what they had done in years past, and there’s going to be some growing pains. We have to take the step into the fall because it’s all irrelevant if you don’t, but our passing game is enhanced immeasurably.”