- Injury updates on Chris Evans and Karan Higdon
- Tru Wilson coming into his own
- Christian Turner's progress
- Ben Mason wants to bludgeon people
[After THE JUMP: The running backs are pretty, pretty good]
[After THE JUMP: The running backs are pretty, pretty good]
[Ed. A- Thank you once again to 247’s Isaiah Hole for getting me video so I can still transcribe even when doctors’ appointments keep me from being there]
“Alright, what’s up?”
Four practices in. How would you characterize the start of spring practice?
“Lot of energy. Improving on the execution from where we started to where we’re trying to get to. Every practice has been better, but I think the guys are really taking to it well and really competing with the defense at a high level.”
What have you seen from Karan [Higdon] and Chris [Evans] specifically?
“Doing a great job. Just exactly what you’d expect from them. They’re taking all the parts of their game that needed detail or polish and they’re doing that. Every day it’s one less mistake and really turning in a great spring thus far.”
Could you elaborate on some of those parts of their game?
“The rare double question. Protection-wise, they’re both improving. Route detail in terms of the top routes, details that typically running backs don’t get to just because they don’t have the time. Those guys are exceptional athletes and as we work them in empty packages and coming out of the backfield, they can handle a lot of detail in their technique like a receiver would, so continuing to hone those skills has been nice to see.”
You mentioned that they’ve gotten better at pass protection. How have they evolved since you took over the position in pass protection?
“They’re both super tough. Just getting them to play with the technique that we’re looking for and it’s really, from right now to like if you compared it to last spring it’s significantly better, and even these four practices have been incrementally better.”
[After THE JUMP: the punctilious pursuit of pass protection perfect, Ben Mason two-way murderball comin’, and an offense as a living organism]
Did Ty [Isaac] earn a start with his play Saturday?
A couple of the running backs said this week that you take a really interactive approach to coaching: a lot of dialogue, a lot of back and forth, the Socratic method, if you will. How does that help you as a first-year coach? How does that help your players?
“Well, it sounds like you asked them how it would help already. For me, they’re an extension of me on the field so it’s invaluable to hear what they’re seeing and what they feel and then try and use that to make corrections or adjustments over the course of a practice or the course of a game. So, good information from veteran guys that you can trust is really, really crucial.”
Can you think of a particular moment where there was a dialogue like that or you were like, Oh, a light bulb went on?
“Yeah, there’s parts of the game where a few series in [it’s] ‘Hey, what do you see? What do you feel about this run?’ ‘Oh yeah, I think that’ and then we can bring that and then talk about hey, maybe let’s call this because that’s what the guys are seeing out there. Sometimes they’ll feel certain things on the field that you can’t really discern from the sideline quite as well or sometimes hey, you think you have a thought and they say, ‘Yeah, that sounds really good.’ Just that back and forth, open lines of communication is always a good thing.”
[After THE JUMP: a good deal of RB coaching philosophy]
How’s your position group look?
“Doing good. Everyone looks good. Competing, getting better. A lot of the guys just had such strong springs and summers it’s elevated the guys at the top of the depth chart, the guys at the bottom of the depth chart, the younger guys are starting to come along, so everyone’s making everyone better just through competition, like it is at all positions.”
Ty Isaac’s slimmed down and is looking better. Talk about him a little bit.
“Yeah, he’s just doing everything right. Running the ball well, been great in protection, reliable hands, taking care of the ball. He’s a little bit trimmer so he’s moving a little bit more swiftly so really excited about him.”
We’ve heard a lot about, and Chris Evans specifically mentioned, the big back-small back aspect. He said Tyrone [Wheatley] kind of looked at it through the lens of a big back whereas you are more geared toward a small running back. Can you detail that a little bit and explain it?
“I don’t know if I can explain the difference or anything because I don’t know that I would agree that I see things like a small back or anything. I just try to look at each guy and what they bring to the table, what their skill set is, and you have to understand that they’re all different.
“Whether or not that’s different than before I really couldn’t tell you, but we do have a good group of guys that they all bring a little something different to the table so just when you’re calling plays and substituting, that’s something that you keep in mind.”
Chris said last week that a year ago he would run the ball or release and now he has to actually block people also. How have you seen that aspect of his game developing?
“He’s gotten so much more comfortable just trusting his eyes and reading defenses and knowing his responsibility and on top of that knowing what the offensive line is doing, what the quarterback’s thinking just in terms of where the protection is going and where the weaknesses are. So he’s shown a ton of growth in that regard and just very, very trustworthy to have him there in all kinds of different protections.”
[After THE JUMP: A little on where each back has improved. Also Ben Mason, because always ask a Harbaugh about fullbacks]
Karan [Higdon] mentioned you had him watch a lot of NFL tape. Were there any teams you spent time with this offseason or any coaches you worked under?
“I’m close with the Baltimore Ravens’ running backs coach Thomas Hammock but no coach in particular, no team in particular. More so plays, finding NFL examples of plays that we run and just looking through different scenarios, different things that our guys could end up seeing. Just trying to get a lot of experience, mental reps, in terms of watching the pros.”
What’s been the biggest adjustment for you in terms of going with another position?
“That’s a tough question. I mean, it’s all different so I don’t know if there’s a ‘biggest’ adjustment, but new guys and everything but they’ve been great to work with. They’re all working really hard and it’s a really, really good group. Nothing stands out as being any bigger adjustment than anything else.”
How much do you lean on what you saw out of these guys last year or did you come in [with a] clean slate?
“Yeah, none. None at all. It’s a clean slate. I mean, I knew what those guys were because you see them play and everything, but it’s a new season and a relatively new offense in terms of all the things that we’ll do. So, it’s kind of a fresh start for everybody.”
You came in having never coached this position before. Did you play running back at all?
“No. I’m sure you could guess that just by looking at me. I carried the ball a few times growing up. I scored on one, just for what it’s worth.”
[After THE JUMP: development in RB protections, the evolving offense, and what to watch in the spring game]
Talk about where your group is right now and how pleased you are with their progress.
“Really pleased with where we’re at. Simple thing that we talk about as a group is just getting better every week, and I think the last three or four weeks we’ve been better and looking to continue that moving forward.”
What does it mean to have somebody at the top of the all-time tight ends list in terms of receptions. I know Jake was excited about it.
“Yeah, really excited. The whole group was really thrilled for him, which says a lot about who he is as a teammate in the room and just in general on the team. Guys being happy for his success says a lot about who he is. And understanding the work he puts in, how he approaches every day. It’s not really surprising. It’s just what you expect of a guy who puts that much into it.”
Jabrill got so many opportunities on punt return early in the year and seemed like there was one or two every game he was a step away from breaking. Is there something in the last couple weeks that’s different in the way they’ve been blocking you guys or adjusted to something?
“Uh, well, shoot, I think against Maryland they only punted a couple of times, which is unusual for a game like that. Then both times there was excellent hang time on the ball and great location on the punt, so credit to them. That’s how it goes sometimes. There’s things you can do to neutralize a great returner. It’s really all in the punter’s hands. And then not having as many opportunities is the other part of it. I think those things kind of go in cycles and hopefully we’ll see a few more opportunities down the stretch.”
Jim talked a lot about Kekoa’s blocking, then he did, too, last night. How much do you work with the wide receivers on blocking? Is that you or is that Jedd?
“None for me. I can’t take any credit for those guys. Jedd and Drew [Terrell] and Ryan Nehlen and the other guys, they do a nice job working with them. Really seen a lot of progress from those guys.”
[After THE JUMP: Kenny Allen’s kicker swagger, running the program like an NFL team, and differences in utilizing tall vs. short TEs]
Thoughts on how your group’s played so far through four games?
“They’ve played well. They for the most part have done what they’ve been asked to do. More importantly than the games, I think, they’ve shown four weeks of improvement each in their own individual way in terms of what they needed to work on. I think we’re really in position to be playing our best football as a group getting into Big Ten play and then, as you’d like to, in October and November, so I’m excited about that.”
What was the point where you saw Devin Asiasi emerge? He’s obviously right there as one of your top guys so far.
“Uh, last January when I watched his junior high school tape, probably.”
What is it about him, is it that he’s physical?
“He’s a guy who plays fast, he’s physical, he’s capable of playing very nasty. He weighs somewhere around 270 pounds and still moves very well, so it’s a rare physical combination. Then he has a good football awareness about him and he learns well. Once I got a sense of the fact that he’d be able to pick things up fast enough to contribute it was kind of a no-brainer that he’d be part of the group.”
Speaking of playing nasty, it seemed like Tyrone [Wheatley Jr.] had that kind of week last week blocking. Is he becoming that kind of a mauler out there at that position?
“Yeah, certainly He’s definitely improving. Every week has been better than the previous, and looking for that to continue.”
Devin said that you had a big role in his recruitment and getting him here. I know for him it was a lot of last minute stuff and getting hot late in his recruitment. Can you touch a little on what it was like to build that relationship with him?
“Shoot, it was just kind of steady. He’s the kind of guy who could have gone wherever he wanted to go and it was just kind of always being there and building that relationship over a long period of time. I think he might have been the first guy I offered when I got the job here last January or February or whatever it was. Always loved him and it was just a long time, and luckily it paid off at the end.”
[After THE JUMP: pick your punt-return poison]
You were with Coach Baxter last year and now special teams is kind of your baby. Talk about what you’ve taken from Baxter and what you’ve brought in yourself to make it what you want it to be.
“They’re kind of Coach Partridge’s and I’s baby together, I guess. There were some things with Coach Baxter that were great and that we’ve carried over and other things that kind of we took from other places and things we’ve done in the past. As with anything, it’s always kind of a hodge-podge of different parts of your experience and you kind of piece together whatever you think is best for your specific team and players, so it’s a little bit of everyone.”
How deep is this group and how many guys will play?
“At what position? Tight end?”
Tight end, yeah.
“It’s really deep. I think there’s like 12 people or something. I couldn’t tell you how many are going to play. I think I would like for five or six [or] seven guys to play, but you never know exactly how a game’s going to go. There’s certainly a group of five or six guys that are all capable of contributing, and as you kind of go down the totem pole a little bit some of the younger guys have specific roles in packages that are a little smaller.
“You talk about getting guys in position to do things that they’re good at, so if they’re a younger guy it might be a speicfic four- or five-play set whereas Jake Butt has the whole playbook he excels at. We’ll just kind of see how the game goes, but I would say I’d like if we ended with five or six guys playing.”
Sean McKeon: you had him in the spring and all the way through fall camp. How have you seen him progress as a true freshman in that time?
“A huge amount. I mean, he’s a tremendously hard worker. It’s just the knack for—you tell him to do something or say, ‘Hey, I want you to work on this’ and he just does it and doesn’t overthink it. He just puts in the work. Very blue-collar in his approach. He’s improved a ton in really every way. Specifically as a route-runner [and] his ball skills.”
Jim talked about how happy he is with Kenny Allen. He did a good job for you last year. Where have you seen some improvement in all of those phases?
“He’s another guy—I mean, pretty much everything he’s improved on. We asked a lot of him to really shoulder the burden in all three phases, which not many guys do in the country. I think Hawaii’s guy was one of five guys in the country to do it last year, the Sanchez kid, who’s a very talented kid. Kenny’s excelled. He’s improved in every way. It’s exciting for him as a senior to be playing so well in every category.”
Would you be comfortable with him doing all three?
“We’d be more than comfortable with it because he’s physically more than capable of doing all three and he has the talent. I think ideally you’d like to take a little bit off of his plate, but it’s a long season and as other guys develop into certain roles I think that could happed. We’d be more than comfortable with him doing it if need be.”
There are so many athletic guys in this recruiting class that did all these good things in terms of returns and things in high school. Are you more apt to try and work them in there to not put a burden on Jabrill or Jourdan or Jehu?
“Yeah, there are a few guys that will have an opportunity.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
So Jay, how’s your new house? I saw you bought a house on Twitter.
“Uh, I have no heat. Gas got shut off even though I tried to not have it shut off, so I haven’t slept there yet. No heat. It’s about 35 degrees in there. Not great.”
MGoQuestion: Are you guys still going to use the shield punt formation this year?
“We’re going to have a bunch of different things. Shield will be one of the things that we do. I think we’re going to be kind of hybrid—a little bit of everything.”
MGoFollowUp: What led to that decision?
“To basically change it up?”
MGoWe’reOnTheSamePage: To switch it up, yeah.
“I think when you look at what teams are doing nationally I think out of 120 teams probably 75 or so, maybe 65-75 that are some variation of hybrid, meaning they’re not really pro-style, they’re not really shield, they kind of go back and forth; it’s a little harder to identify. Those are the teams that generally have the most success, so probably go that route.”
We saw a lot of Wheatley working with Butt and that first group when we were in Florida. How has that evolved? Is he still among those fighting for that other spot?
“Yeah. I mean, we traveled six guys to all the games so there’s really no other spot to be won. There’s certain jobs to be won, maybe, in terms of, ‘Hey, you’re going to do this role on this play’ but I wouldn’t think of it like that in terms of ‘Hey, this guy’s fighting for that third tight end spot.’
“We want to put guys in positions to do things that they’re good at anyway, but he is doing well and he’s one of that group of guys that kind of rotates with the ones. There’s really four or five of them, though.”
With a guy like Jake, as good as he is and experienced, how much of a comfort is he for whoever emerges at quarterback to know that Jake’s probably going to be open and he’s probably going to catch the ball?
“I would imagine it’s pretty nice. I don’t know for sure but I’d imagine that’s a pretty great thing to have him and Amara and then eventually Jehu out there. That’s got to make you feel really good throwing the ball.”
Can Kenny [Allen] punt and kick field goals if needed?
“Certainly. Yeah, Kenny’s very good and he has a very good sense of how much he can handle physically and he’s not going to wear himself out, so he can certainly do it all.”
Doesn’t seem like an ideal situation though, is it?
“Mm, no. Ideally yeah, you’d have a different person for everything but the really ideal thing is to have the best guy at each spot. If he happens to be the best guy at each spot then we’re good with that, but there’s still a long ways to go. And those guys, that’s one position where you can really develop quite a bit in the offseason more so than some other spots where it’s more just strength and conditioning. Specialists can actually improve their craft more than some other spots, I think.”
Have you had a chance to do many returns yet, and are there any different guys mixing in than what we saw last fall?
“I wouldn’t say different expect for new guys like Kareem [Walker]. But Jehu and Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill, Dymonte [Thomas], Kareem. I mean, I think that group as a whole is really, really good. I’d be surprised if there’s a better group as a whole in the country. All those guys are pretty dangerous.”
You mentioned four or five other tight ends. Who’s in that group, and is it a little deeper than it was last year, would you say?
“Umm, it probably is. I mean, at one point or another this spring we’ve had Jake [Butt], Ian [Bunting], TJ [Wheatley], and Sean McKeon and Gentry with the ones obviously doing different things. I’d like to put everyone in a position to succeed. TJ can do things different than Gentry; just naturally they’re very different body types and they have different strengths and weaknesses at this point. But yeah, at one point or another each of those guys has been with the ones.”
[After THE JUMP: Jake Butt, best tight end in America; recruiting a dominant trait; why Gentry moved to TE; Ol’ Skillet Hands hype]
Are you finding teams focusing on Jake [Butt] a little bit more as part of their gameplan, trying to take him away?
“There seems to be a little bit of that every now and then. Just, sometimes that’s how it shakes out, how the cookie crumbles, that the guy that’s the intended target of a route isn’t open and we trust Jake Rudock to get the ball to the guy who is open.”
What was your reaction when you found out about Jerry Kill’s resignation this morning?
“Sad. I figured it was something that had to be pretty serious. You never want to hear anything like that, and you know that he has the background of certain health issues so you hope and pray that he gets healthy and his family deals with everything alright, because that’s a serious thing.”
As a young coach, how do you have to learn to manage balancing the stresses of coaching with your health?
“I don’t know, I probably don’t do a good job. I had a donut today, so that’s good. I don’t know. I mean, I think a lot of it has to do with your work environment. The guys we work with are serious about football but they’re lighthearted guys, so it’s fun, it’s loose and serious at the same time if that makes any sense. I’m not a doctor, but I would imagine that’s helpful over the long term of not developing like hypertension or something. I don’t know. I probably should stop eating donuts, too.”
How have your dad and uncle managed to handle it? How have you seen them do it?
“Um, I don’t know. Not in any way that’s special or unique, I don’t think. They both find ways and time to spend with their family and exercise and stuff. They have fun doing what they’re doing. I don’t know. It’s a good question. Certainly it’s something to be aware of.”
[After THE JUMP: Did he use the two-costume strategy as a kid? Also, things about tight ends. And Jabrill.]