"I got you guys broken in."
How does Rocko Khoury’s departure affect the center battle?
“Well we do, yeah. We have enough guys to compete. You always would like more numbers, offensive line wise particularly because we’re not deep at the position. We have a couple kids, Ricky Barnum, Jack Miller -- I think will be good centers. Ricky has a good profile for the position, probably even more so than when he played guard.”
Are you experimenting with Devin Gardner at other positions?
“We’re doing what we did a year ago, pretty much. We’re giong to play the best 11 guys. Devin’s the backup quarterback right now. He’s number two, and we’re going to do what we have to do to get the best 11 on the field. Nothing’s changed in that perspective, so we pretty much have the same mentality that we had.”
Are you looking at him at wide receiver?
“Yeah … the practices are closed for a reason.”
Are you able to work on more experimental things now that you’ve had a year with this team?
“Later on, yeah. Not right now. First thing [is] we’re not going to get real fancy the first couple days of practice. We’re going to go through a little refresher course on the offense, take them about four or five days of practices to do that. Once we get to where we’ve pretty much got it back -- kids learn the stuff much faster now for obvious reasons -- then we’ll start dabbling more in some of the offseason research we’ve done on some stuff, whether it be deuce package or moving folks around. So we’re always evolving constantly, and we’re always trying to figure out how to get our best 11 on the field to do what they do best. That may not be not consistently be the same 11 guys all the time. You may change the the 11 so that you can get a guy out there that may be able to do something that may not be able to do it on some other plays. Devin’s part of that. We’ve got about five guys that are involved in that.”
Is it more difficult for an offensive lineman to switch to center than anywhere else on the line?
“Well, center, because the ball’s involved, you have the issues there in terms of snaps. But once a kid’s played center for a while, they usually prefer it. They know exactly when the ball’s coming up. They can control the line play a little better. But center’s a little different animal than tackle or guard. Mike [Schofield] had played tackle, so it wasn’t a huge transition for him.”
How do you balance being physical in practice with your lack of depth on the offensive line?
“Boy, that’s tough. That is hard. You have to be smart with it, but if you don’t get accomplished what you’re trying to get accomplished, then spring football’s a waste of time. We’re always going to err on the side of getting after it a little bit, and if you have to pull off, we’ll pull off. We just believe that the game’s played with a physical demeanor and we’re not ever going to stop that regardless of guys getting hurt. We’re going to be smart, but we’re never going to stop thinking that way.”
Where do you think Denard stands in terms of throwing downfield?
“I think the first two days of practice, he’s made a marked improvement in that because he basically understands the offense better. It’s always a work in progress. There’s still errors here and there, but there are less. I think as he goes and understands better and better you’re going to get a better product. There’s two issues with Denard, and that’s one: the overall understanding of the offense, which I know is going to be better, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, and the footwork issues, which generally cause a lot of the interceptions. We’re working on it everyday, and he’s so keenly aware of it. When he makes a mistake, he’s getting to a point now where he can almost coach himself. He’ll come out and say, ‘Oh I screwed up.’ He’ll tell me before I tell him. I’ll never assume it. I’ll still tell him. He’s tired of me telling him the same things, but he knows how I think as a coordinator and how I think as a position coach. One thing about the kid is he’s a very good football guy. He understands the game really well. He has great instincts. Now that he’s got a year in the system, I think some of those instincts will show up more than that, and that’s scary.”
What do you know about Denard now that might change the way you coordinate the offense?
“Well, not much than what I knew at the end of the season. He’s a great runner. He’s taken on a leadership role which is exciting to me. It’s exctiing to all of us. Those types of things. And we can probably do a little bit more now because he understands without doing it too much, where you get paralysis by analysis.”
Did he get enough time with Ricky in the offseason to get comfortable?
“Yes. Yeah, he did. He and Ricky have been working it out for a while and Jack too. All of them. They’re always on their own just go out and snap balls and working the skelly drills and all that. This isn’t the first time they took a snap. It wasn’t yesterday or the day before yesterday.”
How do you replace Junior?
“Boy that’s the best question that’s been asked so far. That’s not been easy to do. One way we are doing it is with Roy Roundtree. Roy is moving to flanker. Roy was a split end last year. He played flanker in some spots. Because we split time with him and Jeremy Gallon, Roy took some hits with his numbers, but going to Junior’s position, a healthy Roy Roundtree is really running well right now. Best I’ve ever seen him run. But a healthy Roy Roundtree could really have a good season. I’m thinking great things about Roy. Roy’s had such a great attitude. He did take a hit with numbers, and it would be natural to second guess a lot of things, but he didn’t, and because he didn’t, he’s improving daily.”
Was Roundtree unhealthy at all at any point last season?
“Not really. I think he stayed in one piece pretty good. But out of flanker now you get a lot more balls thrown your way. You saw Junior -- a lot of time you catch that thing and there’s some folks around you. But I have no doubt that Roy Roundtree’s going to have a heck of a year.”
Can he be your vertical deep threat?
“Yes he can. Yes he can. You bet he can. He’s got excellent speed. He goes and gets the ball. He can definitely be that without question, and so can Jeremy Gallon for that matter.”
Who besides Roundtree are you looking for at that position?
“Jerald Robinson. Jerald Robinson, in two days, has been very impressive. Big, physical receiver. Very much like Junior. Not quite as big as Junior, but still big. Has excellent hands. Ran on the scout team quite a bit. Not because he wasn’t good enough to play -- he was good enough to play, but we were pretty good at wide receiver and we never got a chance to use him. But this year Jerald’s going to get a great look. So far what we’ve seen, he’s going to make a contribution, and he is that big physical guy much like Junior was. If you’re aksing how to replace [Junior], he’s definitely at least one answer. ”
You saw Fitz Toussaint’s vision improve over last season. What’s the biggest thing you want to see take a jump up this spring for him?
“Well that to continue, number one, and improve his pass receiving skills. He’s got good hands, but we used Vince so much in that capacity that I’d like for Fitz to be equal to what Vince did so we don’t have to take him out all the time. Pass protection still can improve. We ask our backs to block. That can always get better. Those types of things. Refining more of the little things about his game, where a year ago there were some huge factors, the vision being at the top of the list. The more we learn with Fitz, the more he plays, the faster he learns and the issues go away with him. Some backs they never go away. They never gain good vision because they simply don’t have very good vision. He does. He just needed the time and I think that’s going to be the case with the other things we’re talking about.”
How do you envision using a player like Justice Hayes?
“He’s another one. We’re going to take a good look. Knowing that Fitz has been productive, we don’t have to overuse Fitz in the spring, yet still try to improve him. I’m not talking sit him on the sideline and let him watch, he’s still playing now. But that being said, it isn’t like last spring where we have to run him and run him and find out what he can do. We kind of know what he can do. That’s where we can use Justice now is give Justice a chance to carry that ball, tote it a few times, get him in some pass protection situations. He’s got some great receiving skills, see if he can do that, but this is a big spring for him.”
Switching between shotgun and under center puts a lot of stress on the center. How does Ricky’s transition to the position affect how you run your offense?
“Well, because we are under center some and because our center basically quarterbacks the offensive line -- he puts them all on the same page with regard to targeting fronts where it be in pass protection or running. That position is absolutely critical that we get productivity out fo the position. You need a smart guy that’s athletic and knows how to use his help. We don’t ask our center to consistently single block a nose guard, but he’s got to know how to make the call to allow for some help for him. I could go into all the nuances, but it’s endless what that kid's got to do. It’s not an easy position to play. ”
Do you anticipate being under center more this season?
“I don’t think it’s going to be much different. We’re still basically a shotgun team. I mean, we have a quarterback that can run, and the best way to exploit that is for him to be in the shotgun. Yet we still want to downhill run. You look the last two or three games of the season, that’s really what we want to be. We don’t want to be a total shotgun team. But knowing that the shotgun is going to be very very prominent simply because of the skillset of our quarterback. So in answer to your question, we’re basically going to be what we were a year ago.”
How quickly is Ricky learning how to make all the pre-snap decisions?
“He’s doing a great job. He’s still got a few deals. Now Greg’ll throw you some defenses that will test your center’s ability to adjust. It’s still a work in progress … and the more he sees it the better he’s going to get at it, the better he’s going to understand it and the better he’s going to get the other guys to understand it, because that’s part of his job, too. I’m not concerned about Ricky. He keeps progressing like I think he will. He’ll be a good center.”
Has anyone caught your eye at tight end yet?
“Not yet, but they’re not doing bad. No one has jumped out and said, ‘Oh my god, look at that guy.’ But they’re not doing bad. Brandon Moore’s been consistent. Ricardo Miller, who really is more of a move guy, but he’s played with his hand on the ground a little bit. He understands our offense. Very athletic. Very athletic. Athletic as any tight end we got. Used to be a wide receiver so he has speed and he has receiving skills. He’s another one that’s going to get a great look. Who knows, we have some freshmen coming in. If they show up, they’ll have an opportunity to contribute there, too. So we’ll see how that goes. It’s still too early. We haven’t put pads on yet. I want to save judgement on that position until we’ve been through a few practices with pads on and guys blocking at the line of scrimmage because that’s so critical to what we want to do.”
What have you learned about Devin, and how can that help you prepare for the season?
“Well he’s an incredible athlete. He has so many dimensions to him. He’s smart, so he picks stuff up fast. He doesn’t have any problem that way. That being said, every time you put together a plan, you have to find out how to factor him into it somewhere. Again, if it doesn’t sacrifice any other phases of your game. As you guys saw last year, we’re always looking for opportunities to get him in the game in some way shape or form without breaking the rhythm of the quarterback, which I don’t think we did. And seeing to it that we use him getting the ball, use him throwing the ball, and use him decoying. With that in mind, doing the same thing with Denard.”
Do you feel like you’ll use him more this season?
“I don’t know. I want to see. Maybe. I don’t know yet. We’ll see. It’s a matter of how. That’s the key. What are you going to do? We’ve done a lot with him, but there’s still a lot more that he can do, so we’ll see.”
Is his athleticism such that it’s better than your other skill position players?
“No. It’s very much like that -- he’s an athletic quarterback. I wasn’t here -- but Devin was recruited as the number one dual threat quarterback in the country, was he not? Generally those guys can do a lot of stuff. He was not a prototypical drop back passer type, although he was recruited by prostyle teams and spread guys, so he can do that stuff. He’s certainly one of our better athletes on the team, and we have to find a way to exploit that.”
Is he open to all of this?
“Oh yeah. Yeah. He wants to play.”
Are you concerned that giving him looks at other positions will disrupt his growth as a quarterback?
“Nope. Nope. Not at all. Smart kid, he’ll be fine.”
What do you like about Russell Bellomy?
“Russ is very athletic -- another athlete. Very good athelte. Can run the ball. He was recruited too by spread teams and pro-style guys. Accurate passer. His arm is improving strength-wise all the time. If you tell him once, he’s got it. He’s one fo those guys. You don’t have to re-tell him ten times. He’s got it down. He’s got composure. He can get himself out of a lot of messes when things break down, and he can run. He can run designed quarterback runs, although I don’t know you’re going to run as many as you would with Denard. But if you turn him loose he will hurt you. He has that kind of ability. We’re looking more at him because it’s spring time and we’re trying to give him some time. Like we’re talking about Fitz, where we’re giving Justice Hayes time and it may cost Fitz a few reps, we’re going to look at Russ more and cost Denard a couple reps or even Devin a couple. But we have to see them all now. This is our chance. Once we get into the season and we’re game planning all the time, it’s tough to give everybody enough chances.”
Do you start game planning at all for Alabama this early?
“Oh yeah. Yeah. We do. Kids are watching Alabama now. They come in on their own and they’ll look at Alabama. Right now it’s about developing our football team. We don’t have an opponent in front of us other than ourselves right now. We’re trying to develop our football team, try to get every guy a little better every single day and build up to that. Build up to that, get through spring fotoball, and as you get closer to the game, you get more focused on the task at hand, but right now we have a heavy emphasis this spring on becoming a fundamentally better offense. We talked about it. We’re allotting the time in practice for it. Whereas last year we were trying to be fundamental and installing our offense. That was a headache. Now second year, we have it installed, we’re just trying to get better with our footwork at every position -- offensive line, running back, you name it. Just doing the little things better.”
How confident are you in Schofield’s ability to transition back to right tackle?
“I think he’ll do fine because it’s really a more natural position for him. He has a tackle profile He’s 6-foot-6 plus. He was a hurdler in high school, somebody told me, and it’s obvious because he can move. He’s really more of a tackle body type than he is a guard body type, although he did a nice job at guard. This is where we need him now, he’s very receptive to it, and so far he’s done a nice job.”