"I can sing, but I'm sure you don't want to hear that."
Have there been things that have surprised you since the last time you spoke to us?
“Uh, let me think about that question. No major surprises. I think things have followed suit pretty well. We’ve had a couple kids perform pretty well, maybe better than they have been. Joe Burzynski would be one. Joe’s had a nice spring. He’s done a good job. Elliott Mealer. The two of them are competing for the job, so that’s good. Those two come to mind right away. I’m sure there are others who would be subtle surprises, but those two have done a good job battling each other for that spot.”
How has Brandon Moore looked?
“Brandon Moore is playing right now better than he’s played since he’s been here. He is. He’s still got a little ways to go, but when he is technically sound, takes the right steps and comes off the ball with a little bit of an attitude, he’s a pretty good player. Brandon’s got some talent, but his consistency of play is a little erratic. In terms of understanding what we do, I don’t think there’s any issues there. He’s a smart kid. Now that he understands it, the paralysis through analysis should be gone and pretty much is. He’s as aggressive as I’ve seen him and has demonstrated a certain degree of consistency that’s shown improvement.”
What about the guys behind him?
“Ricardo Miller and Mike Kwiatkowski. Ricardo’s more kind of an H-back or what we call the U position. All of those guys still practice playing on the line of scrimmage, but Ricardo’s a pretty athletic kid. Runs better than any of our tight ends. Still has a ways to go as a blocker. And then Mike Kwiatkowski, if I had another surprise, he would probably be the next one that I mention. Mike’s always been a very good receiver. His only issue has been his ability to play on the line of scrimmage because of the bigger guys, but he’s improved that. He’s a strong kid, he has good power, but he’s done a pretty nice job. Those three are probably in the fold as much as anyone.
If you had to start today, how comfortable would you be with what you have at that position?
“Well I think we’d be fine. Yeah I think we’d be okay. We still need to improve. I’m not comfortable at any position right now game-ready wise. We will use our personnel accordingly. If we feel like that position isn’t as strong as other positions, we’ll find a way to play other positions. If that position gets up to speed and up to snuff, then we’ll let them play a little more. It’s up to them. It’s really not up to us. It’s up to them. We will totally evaluate and assess every player on the team. Playing time will be dictated by their productivity and nothing else.
Who’s stepping up at wide receiver this spring?
“The same cast of characters, you know, save Jerald Robinson, who’s really proven some toughness because he’s been a little banged up, but he’s not bad. He’s done a very nice job. I’ve been happy with Jerald. Jeremy and Roy are doing a nice job. They know what to do. That’s what’s really nice about it. Not just that position -- every position. But they know what to do. We get very few missed assignments now whereas last spring it would be a carnival of missed assignments. And it always is, it’s not their fault -- new system, that’s going to happen. But we just don’t get it anymore from those players that have played significantly. Drew Dileo, again, is consistent, smart, tough. Jeremy Jackson -- Jeremy’s been healthy, and because he’s been healthy, his game has taken another step. It’s good to have him because he gives us some range at the position that we lost in junior. I think those are the guys that have been the most prominent.”
How has the learning curve for the offensive line been like?
“They’re in the same situation, I think, as the receivers or anybody else. They’ve got a much better feel for what to do. You know what’s a significant advantage, and it’s an advantage that you gain -- and that’s playing in a bowl game. When you play in a bowl game and particularly a bowl game that’s in January, you get extra practices and that helps everybody and not least of which is the offensive linemen, particularly the kids that aren’t playing much. You don’t want to beat up the kids that are. That bowl practice was invaluable to some of those young players.”
Is that why Mealer and Burzynski have had a chance to step up this spring?
“You bet. Yes. Absolutely. Darrell had a chance to work with those kids. The issues we had during the season are preparing X amount of players -- usually around 18 guys -- the rest of the team was the scout team. Well other than individual drills, you just don’t get a lot of practical application of the offense, whereas when you get into bowl practices, you’ve got enough time now to go back and look at those kids run your offense, not running an offense off cards. Those reps running our offense for those kids are very valuable. It’s almost like having a second spring football.”
Are you feeling like the chemistry is developing well?
“Yeah, it’s starting to come. A lot of that now, you have to understand, is dictated by the center’s ability to be confident in his position. Ricky is a work in progress still, but as Ricky becomes more and more comfortable in there, it has an infectious effect on the rest of the players. They all kind of take his lead a little bit. Like I told you before, he kind of quarterbacks the offensive line. If he’s on the same page with everybody else, that chemistry tends to take.”
How has Fitz looked?
“He’s been good. Really good. Really good. We’re trying to be careful with him, because he’s kind of proven himself. Not that we’re ever -- a guy’s always going to work. We’re not going to give him an easy way out, but by the same token when we go live and such, he’s going to carry the ball so he keeps well oiled, but we’re not going to run him into the ground and get him banged up, but he’s had an outstanding spring.”
What areas specifically?
“Run the football, his blocking has improved, his receiving -- every area has improved. He’s become more complete, and that was our goal coming in. He’s still not a finished product, no, and I don’t think any of them are, but he’s a kid where as a coach, you’re always looking for a group of kids who you have complete confidence in their ability to do what you want them to do in a game. And I tell them, ‘If we don’t, we’re not going to put you in a game.’ But he’s probably reached that point.”
How much better is he at blocking?
“His biggest issue, and I’ve said it before, was his vision a year ago, but that’s gone away. I see no signs of that being around anymore. It’s just running the ball and seeing the holes and knowing where your help's coming from, but that’s really it. He had to improve his protection -- no issues with toughness, just understanding how to position yourself so you can get good leverage to throw the block. He’s done that. We’re throwing him more balls than we have. He’s a prideful kid, and football’s important to him, so those types of kids tend to get better, especially if they have a lot of skill.”
What have you seen from Thomas Rawls this spring?
“Thomas is a different kind of back. He’s more of a power back. He brings a load now, because he’s a thick, strong, solid player with good speed. He’s going to generally fall forward when he hits you, and there’s going to be some impact when he hits you. Whoever’s trying to tackle him, particuarly in the open field, is going to feel him. But he’s got some of the same issues that Fitz had last spring, but they’re starting to go away I’ve noticed, too. He’s starting to see the line of scrimmage better and make better cuts and not run into bodies. Thomas, when he came in coming out of high school, and a lot of the guys do this -- the power backs just tend to want to run straight ahead and run over guys because they can’t tackle them, and the scat backs tend to want to juke everybody and never get up the field. Well the perfect back is somewhere in between. They understand when to use their power and understand when to use their stop and go ability, and Thomas is now gotten to a point where he’s not simply trying to run over everybody every time he gets the ball.”
Do you think it helped that he watched Fitz’s development last season?
“I don’t think it hurt him any. I think those are good mental reps, I call them, where you can steal repetition from a guy who may not have done it right, and then not have to bull it yourself. Have the coach critique it. There’s nothing like doing. I’m a big believer in body learning. Body learning means physically going through the trial and error part of it so that you can fix the mistake yourself. Mental reps are great. You have to take them, but the body learning is even more important. I talk in coaching about two things really that are important for players: one is body learning, and that’s reptition and such, and functional intelligence. Functional intelligence simply is the ability to transfer what you learn in the film room or on the chalkboard or in the locker rooms and practically apply it to the game. The progression, of course, is practice first. But it’s really irrelevant what your IQ is when you take a test when in fact when it comes time to execute the responsibility you’re not able to do it. Those two things, being able to body learn it and being intelligent enough to execute it when it’s time to execute it.”
How do you like Rawls’ functional intelligence?
“Good, because he understands better. He is still going through a few growing pains with our protection, but it’s not because he doesn’t know it. He just needs to body learn it a bit more.”
What’s your philosophy on the spring game? What do you hope to get out of it?
“Same thing as everything else -- evaluation, system, that’s usually what spring’s all about. See if we can find another playmaker. See if somebody jumps to the forefront when everybody’s watching. That’s when it’s really the most critical is when the lights go on. Sometimes guys in practice are better than they are when it really counts. Freddie J has a name for it -- State Street players or Main Street players. We’re going to find out who the Main Street players are. Or at least, we hope to.”
With Devin, how much have you experimented with his role?
“A little bit here and there. A little bit. Part of spring is experimentation, but it’s not really the emphasis. What we want to do as coaches is install our offense, refine our offense. Because we’re constantly evolving and trying to professionally enrich ourselves, we take little bits and pieces that we’ve learned in the offseason and try to apply them in spring football and test them a little bit, but that’s a small percentage of what we’re doing. That’s basically testing schemes. We’re much more interested in seeing to it that these kids are developed within our system and we can evaluate their skill level so when it comes time to play we can decide who deserves to.”
Do you feel like you’ve found a role for Devin?
“Yeah, I think so. I think right now it’s quarterback. I think he’s going to be the No. 2 quarterback and we’ll see how things go. Our approach to Devin hasn’t changed much. We’re going to find a way to get him on the field because he’s got skills that go over and above your average quarterback.
Is he far and above Bellomy as the No. 2 QB?
“No. No. No one is far and above anybody right now that I can think of. Russ Bellomy’s made a -- he has people’s attention. Russ is another kid that's really athletic, can throw the ball. Good functional intelligence. He’s a kid that needed more body learning, more reps, but he’s had a pretty good spring, too. He probably doesn’t get mentioned as much as he should, but he’s a good player.”
Have you had the opportunity to identify any spots where you might have to play freshmen?
“Yeah, well first of all, the guys coming in, we have no idea who’s going to help us. Neither does anybody in the entire country regardles of what you told them in recruiting. No one does, because sometimes guys come in and simply -- they’re just not as good or they’re not ready. Either one of the two. I have no idea what going to happen with that. We recruit every kid assuming they’re going to play for us, and we’ll just go from there. But this isn’t about that. This is about trying to get a team ready in 15 days and find out do they know your system and who has got the best chance to play at that point. Now when we get into the first weekend in fall, we start all over again. You install your system, evaluate what you have, and see who’s got the best chance to play at that point. You have a new batch of players.”
Could you see yourself doing some tailback by committee this fall?
“No. I see no reason for that. Not at this point. Fitz is clearly our tailback. If he isn’t, I’m not very smart. We’re going to spell him occasionally. He’s not going to be in there every play, but our last five or six games, you saw what our appraoch wanted to be, and that’s pretty much how it’s going to stay until it isn’t productive.”
MGoQuestion: Speaking of experimentation, it looked like there may have been a couple bubble screens in the highlight videos from spring practice. Are you --
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Next question.”