You just snuck in here.
“I snuck in. Sly. It’s camp. Go under the radar.”
Your early impressions of the three freshman linebackers you have?
“Yeah, they’re all competing, they’re all athletic, they like to hit. They’re what we expected.”
Where have you seen a lot of improvement from Devin Bush given the year of experience now?
“Just a year of maturity. That’s a big, big thing. Just a year of development in the weight room [and] athletically. He’s a guy that works just as hard in the weight room as on the field. Really enjoys the game and all aspects of it so his ceiling is high and he just keeps getting better and better, and he’s obviously a very savvy football player from his background with his father playing and everything like that. We’re excited about what he’s going to be able to do.”
He said in the spring that he was working at both Mike and Will. Is he focusing more on one of those spots now?
“He’s still able to do both. He’s been playing a lot of Mike lately but he’s able to do both—Will.”
Mike McCray’s been getting a lot of praise for his leadership and what he’s done. Can you talk about that aspect as well as how he’s come along as a player?
“Yeah, Mike, like I mentioned—so Mike came in last year and won the starting spot but if you know his background the prior two years he had been coming off some injuries and stuff. I think last year he was kind of feeling it out early, started gaining confidence, and became a tremendous football player for us. This year he’s coming in having that background and he kind of imposes himself on the other guys and the young guys. There’s an aura about him that’s different than it was last year, and that’s important because will look up to him and he’s a hard worker and tough. He’s a Big Ten linebacker, and now with that aura about him and sense of leadership he’s stepped his game up.”
[After THE JUMP: First word used to describe Khaleke Hudson is “violence” and no you can’t stop the MGoHypeTrain, you can only hope to contain it]
A lot of former players over the summer were saying even though they may not be an experienced linebacker group they felt like that position group was the strongest. Is there any pressure in the room? Is there any pressure on you? How are you guys seeing that when you’re hearing that?
“Oh yeah, there’s pressure at all moments and that’s something you have to learn how to deal with and you got to just put your head down and keep working. I tell these guys all the time, if you want to be tough you do tough things and pressure is a part of being tough. Camp is a part of being tough and fighting through things and working together and so we’ll take on all comers. Anything that will make us tougher and will make us a better unit is something that we embrace.”
Khaleke Hudson and the skills that he brings to that position?
“Violence. Aggression. Hammerhead. He’s a guy that just loves contact. I think that people feed off that, too. He’s becoming very well rounded as a player so he’s going to be very enjoyable to watch.”
Do you have any movement on your return game? In spring it was a bunch of guys and—
“Bunch of guys. We’re all competing. We’re in camp. We got a bunch of guys that are competing for the spots and working hard and getting better and better, so they’re still the same. There’s a wide variety.”
Has anyone improved in any way in terms of ball security or little things that need to happen there?
“Oh heck yeah. I mean, that’s what we’ve got to do. We have to improve; we have no choice. We’re getting better and better. We’re getting more comfortable back there. I think it’ll be a dynamic unit with a lot of depth.”
Particularly for those who only got to see the spring game, Nate Johnson, how is he practicing day-to-day handling the ball?
“I think that they’re all improving as a group, every single one of them. It’s something he knows he need to focus on just like the rest of them and they’ll work together really well.”
Khaleke getting more well rounded, you mentioned. Is it a matter of getting him to not want to run into things full speed and slow down a little bit and learn some different parts of the game? What is it that—
“Shoot, I mean, you’re never gonna tell coach Brown that you don’t want someone to run full speed into things. That’s I guess a small part of it. Khaleke played as a freshman last year but he’s young. He’s going to round out his game, just like anyone always would. I’ll never say and coach Brown will never say take away the physicality. Learn how to play with that physicality maybe, but I think overall and everything he’s just learning the game.”
Jim mentioned Kwity [Paye] and Luiji [Vilain] as two young guys on the edge possibly as DE/LBs. Have they spent a lot of time with you or primarily at defensive end?
“They spend most of their time with coach Mattison and like all the other freshmen they’re what we expected.”
Seems like you have a pretty solid feel for who’s leading to be the starting three but how’s the depth developing at the linebacker spot?
“Like always, there’s a lot of guys competing and it’s really early here so it’s determine anything or say who’s going to be the guys. I think that there’s a big group of guys that are all trying to fight for it and are all pretty much on equal footing right now.”
What’s the attitude of the younger group knowing that you guys could possibly be the strength of the defense or if not a great complement to the D-line?
“I think it’s the same as the entire defense. There’s no segregated group; they’re all hungry, they’re all eager to learn. Being a young unit with a couple younger guys, I think the whole deal is the same. The whole defense goes out there and is eager, is hungry, wants to get after it. They’re physical, they’re fast. I think it’s a group thing here.”
You don’t coach him but obviously Tyree Kinnel is on the same side of the ball. Have you noticed anything about his play and stepping up?
“Oh yeah. I mean, I coach Tyree every day. He’s the special teams guy that graded out the highest and he’ll continue to do that. Tyree is a leader. That’s what he is. He’s a natural leader and he gets those guys going. Another guy that loves the game and loves all aspects of it, so he’s someone we’re looking at to play a big role.”
What does it take to grade out the highest on special teams?
“Consistency. Just being able to do what you’re asked to do and being able to do it in an aggressive manner. I think he’s very savvy. He can move around and play a lot of different spots on Teams for us [as he did] last year. Just a guy that was consistent week-to-week for us.”
Jabrill question: Kind of some things pre-draft, some misinfo but now reports that he’s doing pretty well in Cleveland. Have you talked to Jabrill and been in contact with him over the summer or anything since he’s left?
“Yeah, I mean, I’ve spoken to him briefly. He’s doing his thing like you knew he was. He’s a great football player, he’s a competitor, [and] he’s a smart kid. He’ll do big things and he’s motivated and he’s ready to go.”
Any surprise that he’s coming on pretty quick in Cleveland?
“No, no, no surprises there. Not at all.”
Is the kicking game something that’s going to go right up until the first week?
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And it’s gonna stay wide open. They’ll all have a chance to compete at a high level every day, so yeah, that’s going to go up until the very end.”
Same with the punters?
“Same with the punters, yeah. Same with the return guys, same with the snappers. All those guys, they’re all even right now and they’re all competing for the job.”
In the return game last season I know you had Jabrill and Jourdan but do you want star players or is there a benefit to having someone who might not play as much elsewhere hone his craft?
“No. Returning especially punts but kicks also, it’s one of the hardest things to do so the best guy on the team is going to do that that’s able to do that. There’s no, ‘Hey, he’s a star, he can’t do it.’ None of that. It’s the best guy who’s able to catch punts and get vertical. It’s the best guy who’s able to catch kicks get vertical, break tackles, those are the guys that are gonna do it and they’re all competing for it.”
Can I get your opinion from a recruiting aspect? With the new recruiting calendar and the December signing period, have you seen kids make a change and adjust to that as well, how they go about and when they want to make their decisions?
“No, not really. It seems the same to me. We haven’t really looked into that December signing day that much until we get into the September area, then I think we’ll look into it more. I think it’s the same. I think there’s the kids that want to go early and commit early and sign early and there’s the kids who want to drag it on and go late and do it on signing day. I think that’ll stay the same.”
You’ve got a bunch of, I think four, 2019 commits so far. Is 2018 set or are you still reaching out to those classes?
“We’ll recruit all the way up until signing day. It’ll never be set. I think you reach out to both classes all the way through. A commitment doesn’t mean we don’t keep recruiting the guy. You’ve got to continue to form relationships, build relationships, coach kids, and help them as they go through their senior and junior year or whatever it might be. No, its doesn’t get set. You just keep rolling through it.”
Obviously special teams to be effective need a good kicker [and] a good punter. How critical last year given the streak that Kenny [Allen] went on—is that the most important part of your special teams, kicker and punter?
“I don’t like to view it like that. There’s a lot of important pieces to it. I think every component is important. You can’t have one digress and one get better; you’re going to have a rift in there. I think we gotta build the whole deal and put the pressure on the whole thing. We don’t, as special teams, just rely on the kicking and punting game. We want to block kicks, we want to return kicks, we want to be aggressive, [and] we want to keep the other team on their heels so I think we build it all up.
“The one thing that we’ve really tried to do this year is we’ve really tried to each all the units what each other are doing and try to build that whole deal. I’m not ready to say that one is more important than the other.”