“Thomas Rawls is fine.”
Why was he held out of practice this weekend?
“That’s injury information that’s not my area. Thomas Rawls is fine. That’s all that matters.”
How much are you emphasizing to the rest of the offense that they need to take the pressure off Denard so that the offense can succeed?
“Well, we don’t really put it that way. But that’s kind of the effect of how we approach it, is that when we came here, it became real apparent that he was the centerpiece of the offense, but we didn’t want 90 percent of the offense based on his production for obvious reasons because if you lose him you lose too much. We’ve been sending out the message since we got here is that we have to have other people involved, with our run game, our pass game, all that. I think we did a pretty good job of doing that. I hope like heck we can do the same thing this year. Yet at the end of the day, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that he is the centerpiece of the offense. When push comes to shove he’s going to play a big part in whether we win or lose.”
Hoke spoke highly of Elliott Mealer. How much of that was based on his progress and how much of it was based on guys on either side of him?
“Yes. That’s a both, really. I think it was really a combination of both. Elliott came to compete. That was the most exciting thing to me. Not that he hadn’t in the past, but I think he took the next step that way and then with that learned to work in concert with the other guys and got in there enough with the other guys to have that work, because that’s really a key component, too, because he has to play with those other guys enough to where they feel good about each other. You kind of answered the question a little bit in how you asked it. I think both of those things mixed together really put him in the position he’s in right now.”
How differently do you expect Alabama’s defense to look compared with last year?
“Oh I think the core schematic will be the same. They’ll just have a few nuances to accommodate, you know, a good athletic quarterback like we have. There’ll be some things that I’m sure they’ll do in that regard, but they’re not going to reinvent the wheel nor should they with the type of productivity they’ve had in the past.”
Has Denard been able to cut down on mistakes?
“Yeah. Yes. He really has, but again, I save judgment until we do it under fire because that’s really when you find out if your efforts -- you reap the benefits of your efforts. He’s made a conscious decision to improve every phase of his game, not the least of which in the passing game. Through the fall, he’s done what appears to be a very good job of that. The bullets will fly in a few days, and we’ll see just how much that carries over, because it is different.”
What can Justice Hayes provide in your offense?
“He’s a dynamic runner. He’s got very good lateral quickness. He’s got some receiving skills, and he’s learning our offense. He’s much further along at this time than obviously last year, with spring football and with fall camp. But he’s shown up and done some very nice things. A bigger version of Vince Smith may be somewhat accurate, but he does some things Vince doesn’t do; Vince does some things he doesn’t do. But they run, I guess, similar styles. Not the same, but similar.”
Is Alabama’s defense more complex than others?
“I don’t know that it’s more complex than others. It’s certainly sound, and they have all their bases covered. They have enough within their package to keep the quarterback off balance with the passing game, which is really NFL-esque. But with them I think the devil’s in the details. Sometimes it’s not always that they have some fancy blitz, although they have a few of those, too. Just how they play the scheme and knowing how to play their scheme and how they make their keys and what the reactions are to those keys, and all those things. They’re coached in a very -- what’s the word -- finite? Very -- I don’t know, that probably doesn’t work. It’s very very detail-oriented. That’s what makes the defense, the way it’s coached more than what they’re doing.”
How has the tight end production been in the last week or so?
“Good. Those kids have come around. None of them have played a heck of a lot in games. We’ve got a couple guys like that, but it’s been pretty good. The kids are starting to gain confidence with what to do on a fairly consistent basis so we’re not getting the errors, the assignment errors and such. And once you can play without paralysis thorugh analysis, you tend to play better. I just know that a reacting player is a lot better than an analytical player. In a sense that’s the way our tight ends were early on. We’re getting less of that. I’m looking forward to see what they can do when the lights go on.”
Kwiatkowski’s second on the depth chart. What have you seen from him that’s put him in that position?
“Well he’s a good receiver, number one, and he’s strong. He does some good things that way. He knows our offense pretty well. He’s a little bit like … Watson was a year ago. He does some of those things, and hopefully he will -- we’ll have spots where you’ll see him in a game, and I think he’ll hold up pretty good.”
What are your strongest memories of facing Alabama from when you were at Auburn?
“Uh, I don’t know. That’s a hard one to answer. That game was a lot like our Ohio game here. Just the build up and how much the fans were into it. It sounds a lot like our Ohio game, doesn’t it. But I don’t know. I don’t know. They were all fun to coach in. I was always glad when they were over, though, to be honest with you. They have a tremendous fan base and a great passion for football. It’s just like we do here. That’s what college football’s all about, these kinds of games where people are so into it. I can’t have one thing that just stands out. I wish I did, but I don’t.”
Is this sort of game one that maybe gets played to the defenses more where you’re trying to avoid big mistakes?
“It kind of depends on how the game goes. It could end up like that. Playing in these games before, it’s an SEC fist fight as I used to call them … I don’t think you can go into games thinking like that. You go into a game thinking we’re going to go out there and we’re going to let it rip. WE’re going to run our offense, we’re going to do what we do, and as the battle changes, you make your adjustments. But we’re lining up with the intent that we’re going to score some points and do what we have to do to win. If it’s not as many as we like, but it’s still one more than them, we’ll all be excited.”
Do you think your SEC pedigree helps you to prepare for this game?
“No. Not really. I think anything that’s happened from my own perspective in the past is irrelevant to this game.”
Are you excited this week? Are you fired up?
“Oh yeah. Hell yes. You bet. This is why we coach. This is what it’s all about. I think this is fun to play the best. You want to be the best? You have to play the best, and you have to play good when you play them. So yeah. Yeah.”
Ricardo Miller wasn’t on the depth chart at tight end or receiver. What’s his status?
“He’s still in the mix. He’s still a very athletic kid. He’s still in the mix.