“What’s up. Did you count the bubble screens again?”
MGoRetort: You had two fakes.
“Oh those were actually laser screens.”
MGoABubbleScreenByAnyOtherName: Oh, laser screens.
“They’re different. A little different.”
Your daughter started school last week. How was that?
“It’s awesome. The teacher wants to take her home. [My daughter] is so cool, she’s great. She thinks she’s pretty cool, too. She talks a lot. She talks like four times more than my son. So she’s good at talking because she practices so much more, you know. And then I get home, she’s usually in bed, but if she’s up, she’s got so many things to tell me.”
So she takes after you.
“Yeah. A little bit. I’m going to start giving her like a word a day. ‘Condescending.’ ‘Exasperate.’ Stuff like that, you know. She’ll floor her kindergarten teacher if she throws that one in, if I can get her to say it in context. Pretty cool. What are you guys laughing about? There’s nothing wrong with that. My dad did that. My dad used to all the time give me a word a day.”
You never use those words in your press conferences.
“Oh no. Never. No. Sometimes I do. Okay.”
Did anything exasperate you Saturday?
“Uh, no, not really. Not too much. Not too much. It was -- other than not getting the ball to Fitz. We wanted to get Fitz off a little more. Obviously that didn’t work out real good, but we knew going into the game that they were going to have trouble with Denard because the speed factor in the secondary. We wanted to get our athletes out in space. He’s as athletic as anybody we have. That was an emphasis in this game, and we kind of accomplished that, so the next day what we have to do is we have to get our tailback more involved, working our tails off to devise a plan to do just that.”
What was happening when Fitz did get the ball?
“Very few good opportunities to run if you look back through. And a couple times we missed a couple reads where he should have gotten the ball and didn’t. One of them the quarterback took off for a 79-yard touchdown, so it’s hard to say that he was wrong. But Fitz might have been able to run that one, too. Denard will tell you that. And on that one, he checked a bubble. He kind of a got spoofed on a bubble, and he kind of pulled a defense with it, and by that time he had pulled the ball out and ran right where Fitz would have run.”
MGoQuestion: You featured Devin Funchess a little bit. You seemed hesitant about using the freshman receivers earlier because you said they were still struggling with paralysis by analysis. What about Devin Funchess was different?
“Well our tight end position is not very deep. Our wide receiver position, believe it or not, is a little deeper than we had anticipated particularly with Devin Gardner doing what he’s done. And he is a highly skilled kid, yet he is a not a complete tight end yet. He’ll be the first one to tell you that. He’s got a lot to learn about the blocking phase of it. And just the nuances of the passing game, he’s really highly skilled. He can go get the ball, runs very well for a tight end, and when he gets a little bigger and stronger, I think he can be a complete player, but he’s still not there yet.”
Devin Gardner’s progress from week one to week two?
“Yeah. It was pretty big. As I said last week, it was baptism by fire the first week because of the defense. This week he got a little more room to maneuver and do kind of what he does. He did a nice job. He got a little tired, that was the only thing, but after that, when he was fresh he did a nice job.”
What has to be better in the offensive line in the coming weeks?
“Just working in concert, if that makes any sense. Same five guys. We went through -- and you remember this -- we went through this a little bit last year. Very similar. I got a little déjà vu of getting our guys all working and knowing the calls, working together. But as they do it more, Elliott gets them all on the right page, guys start stepping together and coming off together, you’ll see. It’ll progressively get better and better. But we’ve got a lot more changes there, losing the best center in the country and then losing Mark Huyge, who was a very underrated player. Mark was a very solid football player. Smart kid, and kind of doing the shuffle with moving Mike [Schofield] inside. There are some growing pains that go with that. But I think the more the same five work together, the better you’re going to see them play, and they did some really nice things in this game to spring Denard. We didn’t spring Fitz much, but we sprung Denard. We gave him room to run, so now we just have to take the next step with our tailbacks. Fitz and everyone else too.”
Because offensive line chemistry is so important, are you less likely to play a freshman even if someone is underperforming?
“Yeah. Well, not necessarily. If someone is underperforming on a consistent basis, no. But you gotta give those kids some time to grow, too, unless they’re just getting their butts kicked every play, and we’re not doing that. But I’m not saying you never make a change. You could, and it could be a freshman to replace him, but before you do that you want to make darn sure it’s the right move, because then you’re starting all over again with another guy now. We made some progress from game one to game two. It didn’t result in our tailback running very well, but it did result in our quarterback running well. So we’ll see what happens. We have another week to get better.”
Is there anything about 3-4 defenses that is giving your offensive line problems?
“Not really. It is a little different, I’ll say that in that regard, but not really. Our targeting, and when I say targeting I mean knowing who to block -- our targeting has been pretty good. It was good in the first game actually. And that can be an issue. If you’re turning guys loose in there because you don’t know who to block, then the tailback never gets a chance, but our targeting has been pretty good. We only had a couple assignment errors, but there hasn’t been anything where you say, ‘Oh my goodness.’ The biggest thing, I think, guys, that you have to understand is that there were only 56 snaps offensively in a game, and that’s two games like that. We averaged 65 or 66 a year ago. You’re losing 10 snaps. That’s another snap somebody could catch a pass, a couple three or four snaps and we can run the ball, can throw a pass, whatever -- you have 10-11 snaps that we’ve lost for two games. And some of that was good because some of it was the result of big plays. I’m certainly not going to tell the quarterback to get to the 20-yard line and take a knee so we can run more plays, but by the same token, the residual effect of that is you don’t get as many plays. But that’s what has cost the tailback more carries and the receivers probably a few more catches.”
Fitz missed the opener and then only got eight yards. How is he handling the slump?
“I think he’s fine. He’s fine. We just have to get him into rhythm. He’ll be all right. He was like this a lot last year. As soon as we get him in a rhythm, he’ll be Fitz again. He’s been practicing. There’s nothing wrong with him, we just need to give him better opportunities. More snaps, you know. More rhythm on offense, not just big plays. All those things.”
How much does it help Denard to have bigger targets to throw to?
“That’s always nice. That’s always nice to have receivers with range. Jeremy did a really nice job on a couple third downs, just working the holes in the defense, kind of playing basketball in there, catching a pass, moving the chains. And then Funchess, who can get a ball in a lot of different spots, you know, doesn’t have to be thrown right at him. As long as it’s in his wingspan, he’s got a good chance to catch it. I think most quarterbacks love it. And Devin Gardner’s the same way.”
Would you consider putting Roundtree in the slot?
“No. No. Not really. For our offense, our purposes, he’s where he should be.”
A lot of people worried about losing Junior Hemingway, but now you have two big jump ball threats …
“Yeah, and we had to supplement what Junior did in some way, shape, or form, because Junior made so many big plays for us. Devin Garder, you’ll see, that catch he made in the end zone, a smaller guy may not have caught that ball. So it helps. It helps and it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, they love those nice, big targets where they don’t have to throw it perfect every time, they still have a chance to make a play.”
You threw on eight of 10 third downs to your bigger receivers. Was that a conscious effort to do that?
“It’s just how we structured the third down package. We attacked certain parts of the third down package with certain players, and it changes game to game. But there was no conscious effort to do that. Just find out what the coverage is, try to get your quarterback protected, work the crevasses of the coverage the best you can. That’s just how it worked out.”
Going back to Funchess, a lot of the other players said they weren’t surprised at all he had that kind of game on Saturday given what they saw in fall camp. Was that one of the things you noticed about him, too?
“Yeah. With the biggest thing when you’re putting together an offensive schematic is you have to identify weapons. Who are your weapons and how can you most effectively use them week to week based on how you’re being defended? Funchess, although he’s like any freshman, he didn’t know the offense very well at the beginning, but he started catching onto it a little bit more, and we just found more ways to get him more and more involved as he understood better. Because he’s a good learner, no struggles that way, and in this game we saw some opportunities to feature him and we took advantage of it. There may be games where he doesn’t catch as many passes and there’s going to games where he catches more passes. But your weapons have to hurt the defense or they have to pull people off other people who can hurt the defense, if that makes any sense. If they’re covering Devin Funchess, then maybe somebody else is open. That’s kind of the point. That’s really why we did what we did.”
Is it fair to say he’s going to get more snaps moving forward?
“Yeah, I mean from game to game it could change. He’s not going to be in there all the time. Here’s the deal -- particularly young players, the more productive you are, the more we try to get you involved. Sometimes that opportunity presents itself the next week, just like it did the week before. Sometimes the opportunity doesn’t. Sometimes you’re trying to give the ball to the guy, and because they’re more conscious of him because he’s been catching passes, you give the ball to somebody else. But the more productive guys are, the more we’ll let them play, as long as they prove they can. But his position doesn’t require just receiving. You have to remember that. It’s a multi-faceted position. It is the ultimate hybrid on the offense the way tight ends play. He’s got to be able to do it all to be in there all the time.”
How is his blocking?
“He’s very willing. He’s a tough enough kid, and he’s doing better and better all the time. Dan Ferrigno’s got to just work with him on some of the technique and stuff. I think in time he could be a really good player, but he’s not arrived. That is for sure.”
Is Denard offering more to you in terms of feedback?
“Oh yeah, yeah. And I want it, too, because it helps. You’ll be surprised some of the things he offers me, and they wouldn’t be what you would think, and I’m not going to mention it, but they would not be what you think. But yeah, he’s been great about that. Because he has a pretty good idea. The one thing about Denard that is amazing is if something goes wrong in front of him, he can identify it quickly. He can tell you, he’ll get on the phone and tell you right away, he goes, ‘Blah blah blah missed his block right in front of me, I just couldn’t see the throw. The safety jumped in front, that’s why I backed out and did this.’ It’s amazing how accurate it is. You look back at it on the tape, and it’s almost verbatim what he said. That’s what instintinctive football players do. Sometimes you coach guys and something will happen, they’ll have no idea why it happened. But he’s really not like that at all. And the thing about him this year more than last year is he can identify his own mistakes quickly. As soon as he comes off the field before I’m even ready to yell at him, he goes, ‘Coach, I screwed it up. It was there, I saw it, I threw it bad, or the guy jumped on it and I didn’t see him.’ But he’ll tell you a lot of times even before you tell him. I never assume it because your job is to coach him. I don’t care what he says, I’m still going to say it, but his ability to troubleshoot his own problems is so much different than it was a year ago.”
Is that quality inherent to a lot of players?
“No. In instinctive players it is.”
How many instinctive players have you coached over the years?
“Oh a bunch. A whole bunch of instinctive players. That’s what you want. You want guys to have a feel for the game, you know, that goes beyond just their skill level. The kids call them, uh, ‘Ballers,’ you know? The guy’s a baller. You can say he may not do this, but the guy balls. And I don’t know what that means -- to me that’s an instinctive guy, okay.”
MGoQuestion: At first glance it doesn’t seem like Denard is doing a whole lot of checks and audibles. Is he doing it in actuality, though?
“A little bit, yeah, some. The thing about that is certain games that’s more than other games. You’ve got to understand this, is our check system, audible system is certain games, it’s huge. In other games, it just depends on the defense and trying to get yourself in the best play. Certain games you’re saying, ‘We don’t need 10, 15 audibles. We’ve got what we want basically by the plan.’ And a lot of what we do is built in so he doesn’t have to do a lot of that. But you’ll see as he goes. There’ll be several occasions where he changes plays. It just hasn’t come up now. ”
In a perfect world, do you redshirt all these freshman offensive linemen?
“I don’t know. Maybe? I don’t know. Their parents ask me that question. I never commit to it because you never know. You never know because in a perfect world, you may need one of them -- I can’t say.”
Are you trying to get Norfleet involved in the offense?
“I have absolutely no answer to that question.”