How’s practice been so far?
“Good. It’s been good. We had a good day. Our guys had more energy and were moving around better; [they] had a bounce in their step. This’ll be a big weekend. This is—guys are going to get done with training, get into playing positions. It’s a big weekend for it because we start making those two-deep rosters soon. Train’s already left the station and it’s picking up steam.”
Are you going to give us those two-deeps?
“Uh…no, I didn’t say that.”
You said 8-15 practices for the quarterbacks to--
Has anybody stepped up? Is it still a three-horse race or a two-horse race?
“Yeah, John [O’Korn] and Wilton [Speight] have really stepped up. I think they’ve created a little bit of separation and they’re battling now. It’s going one with the ones and the next day the other’s with the ones and the other’s with the twos. We’re keeping a very close eye on it and it’s progressing well.”
Pep said the other day that one of the things he really likes [QBs to have] is command of the offense. As a former quarterback, what does that mean to you when somebody says they have command of the offense?
“Well, it’s just a process of knowing where all your players are and figuring out what the defense is trying to do to you or take away or give you or where they’re more vulnerable, being able to move the team in and out of the huddle, and make reminders is always another one.
“If a guy has good command of the offense he’ll be able to give other guys reminders, the running back or the fullback or a wide receiver or a tight end. He’s got it on the tip of his tongue and he just knows it cold; that’s having command of the offense.”
Is that the kind of thing that Brandon [Peters] has to do to get back to the same level as John and Wilton?
“Yeah, I mean, it’s just a process for him. He’s competing hard and doing good. Not to say that it’s set in stone right now. I think that the two guys have really created a little bit of separation.”
[After THE JUMP: right side of the line, the unblockables, young guys likely to contribute, and more]
How has the competition been on the right side of the line?
“Uh…it’s been good. It’s been good. Michael Onwenu, Runyan, Bushell-Beatty have all been in there rotating with the ones. Bredeson’s been a mainstay, Cole’s been a mainstay, Kugler’s had a nice camp; he’s given us a lot of confidence there. Just continue to pick up the enormous variety of blitzes that we see from our own defense. It only makes us better, which you love. It’s not the normal practice sessions; there’s a lot of chaos, but it’ll make us better.”
Did you notice any changes in Wilton’s demeanor as opposed to this time last year? Is he still the same personality-wise? Have you noticed anything different about him?
“I would say the same. He really has been—really from last training camp he really has been a very even-keeled guy. I think that’s his personality. He has emotional moments in a good way and I think that’s since last year at this time, I think he’s been a steady guy.”
Maturity-wise, could you talk about his maturity a little?
“Yeah, he’s been steady. He’s been good.”
Mo Hurst said the other day that he thinks the offensive line is the most improved position group on the team. Do you have a similar impression?
[laughs] “We can’t even block Mo Hurst. It’s been tough to block Mo Hurst and Rashan Gary. And Bryan Mone and Chase Winovich; all those guys have been really good.
“The battle really is raging in there with the young guys: Luiji Vilain and Hudson and Lawrence Marshall, Michael Dwumfour, Deron Irving-Bey; there’s a lot of young guys in the mix there. I think our backups on the defensive line are going to be some young guys. All of ‘em—I mean, even seniors are young, but there’s quite a battle going on there. Pull hard for a guy like Lawrence Marshall. This weekend’ll be big for him. Getting to where he can cement a spot.”
Last year at this time you talked a lot about Chris Evans being an emerging player. Are there any players in that vein that have impressed so far?
“Did I? This time last year I said Chris Evans? [/pulls a Kip from Napoleon Dynamite] I was right.
“Alright, I’ll give you a couple. The receivers are doing really well. DPJ and Oliver Martin and Tarik Black are making a lot of plays. They really are. They’re making some superb athletic types of plays. I’ve never seen freshmen doing it the way they’re doing it. Nico just got out there, Nico Collins. Half the guys we just kept all through summer school. They have the weekend off this week and then they have finals on Monday and Tuesday.
“And James Ross is really playing well.”
“Josh Ross. I call him James half the time to his face.”
How does he react to that?
“He laughs. He’s a real hitter. It’s hard to imagine. I mean, what was he like in high school when he’s hitting guys out here in the college game like that.
“Another guy giving everybody a run for their money is Ben Mason. Just a wonderful, wonderful, physical football player. He will help us this year. He’ll help us win games. He’s climbing up the depth chart at the fullback position. He’s made to be a fullback. Just real excited to watch him. Every day you just get excited to watch him come play.”
Does he embrace that?
“Oh yeah. You gotta interview him sometime!”
We’d love to.
“It’ll be a treat, an absolutely treat when you’re around him.”
MGoQuestion: Considering the youth of your roster, where is your offensive and defensive consistency relative to where you’d like it to be after this number of practices?
“I don’t—I mean, I’ll know it when it’s good. Until then we just keep on going full speed and don’t want to back anything off and just keep grinding, as they say. So it’s not there yet but when it is, you usually know it.”
Warde [Manuel] released a statement about Grant Perry. Do you have anything to add to that?
“Just that I support Warde and his decision. It was never a good situation from the very beginning. None of us liked it or liked that one of ours was in a situation like that but it is good to have some resolution, to know it’s been investigated and prosecuted and adjudicated in a court of law where everyone had their day in court. That’s—I wouldn’t call it a good thing but…
“We’ve already suspended him. We suspended him pretty severely from games and from time around the football team. I think just following Athletic Department and University protocol. That’s all we did the entire time through and, you know, never anything where anybody did anything for Grant. He got himself into that trouble so it’s up to him to have to face it. But now we’re at this point where we have some resolution.”
Did you have any input into the decision to reinstate him?
“That was Warde’s [decision]. Warde did talk to me about it and he talked to a lot of people on campus. He talked to many, many people on campus; more learned scholars than I. I did have some input. Basically just, ‘Yeah, I support how you’re thinking on this.’”
Football-wise, does he have a little bit of rust to shake off? Is he a little bit behind after missing the spring and a significant amount of time?
“Uh…no, maybe. He has a little bit of a hip flexor, which I can relate to because I got a hip flexor right now. He’s battling through it.”
Can you talk about the backs a little bit and what kind of camp they’ve had?
“Yeah, the backs, really good. Chris Evans, Karan [Higdon] has been really good, and Ty Isaac. I mean, that guy’s so slippery it’s unbelievable. He just bobs and weaves and tough to get down to the ground. I really see good things for him. Kareem Walker has started to assert himself; practicing good. The backs seem good.
“The tight ends seem good and the receiving group is coming along nicely. Offensively, we just keep honing in on that offensive line and that’s where we’re at offensively.
“Defensively, Don [Brown] and Brian [Smith] and Mike Z are coaching the heck out of that. Feel good that we’ll get there. Guys are battling. I mean, really, through things, which is good. They’re all competing for those starting jobs.”
What have you seen out of the tight ends?
“Uh, really good. Ty Wheatley is really—he’s running faster. He’s lost some weight, about 20 pounds. He’s been the most physical of the tight ends. Sean McKeon really has been very, very athletic. And Zach Gentry is just fighting like a mad man and doing some really good things. Ian Bunting is back now and he’s practicing, getting himself back to where he was. Nick Eubanks has really, really been tough and proficient in the pass game and Greg Frey’s bringing him along as a run blocker. Really excited about all those guys. They’re going a nice job. And Selzer and Files are battling away, so it’s a good group. As you would expect from tight ends, they don’t miss practice, they don’t limp off the field, they just keep going.”
How urgent do you think it is to have one of those guys develop into a safety blanket as these young receivers get comfortable?
“The tight ends?”
“A safety blanket for the quarterback?”
“The quarterback’s going to throw to who’s open. It’s got a chance to be really good. The young receivers, Grant as well, Kekoa Crawford, Eddie McDoom—he’s not giving up anything to anybody. There’s quite a few guys that are really battling hard.”
Last year right around this time you said you could count on 10-15 true freshmen playing. It turned out to be more than that. Is that the same this year? Do you think you could have that many or is it not—
“I think we’ll know that more after this weekend. We’ll start giving it some thought and we’ll see exactly. I guess Oliver and DPJ and Tarik are going to be out there. Probably Nico too at some point. Ben Mason very much. Then those defensive linemen; the defensive linemen are going to be in the mix for sure.
“Ambry Thomas is a guy I didn’t mention earlier when I was talking about the rest of the freshmen but he’s been sensational. I love him. Not too many guys on the team I get along better with than Ambry Thomas. He’s mature beyond his years and I love that about him. No softness whatsoever. Out there every single day and his parents should be very proud of him; he’s a real ball player.
“There’s others. And Drew Singleton, he’ll have a chance. I talked about Luiji and Kwity.”
You just mentioned double digits.
“Oh yeah. I have not sat down and figured it out what it’s gonna be, but as we said, they’re utilizing some of the opportunity to get in there and play.”
How will the kicking game shake out? You had Kenny [Allen] doing everything.
“Right, right. Will Hart is really punting well but Brad Robbins is the real deal. They’re neck and neck. That’s how—I mean, I haven’t had a freshman punt as well as Brad Robbins has. But Will Hart, he’s not giving an inch either.
“Cameron Cheeseman has done a fabulous job. You can visibly see more velocity on his snaps. Doing really good. Then Quinn Nordin is really kicking well. Seychel is back in the mix, doing a good job. Then Tice, possibly kicking off. It’s not gonna be one guy doing it. It’ll be a different punter, different kickoff person, and a different field goal guy.”