How are you coming together?
"We're coming together. We are coming together. You know, every day is a work in progress because I think we're so critical and emphatic about doing everything right that when something gets corrected or something gets finally taught to these young guys, now you might spring a leak somewhere else. I guess what I'm saying is we're not ready to play today. I am really excited and really impressed with how, for the most part, we've come out every day and had energy and tried to get better. We've played with some physicality. i don't know that there's a position or a guy that you're looking to count on and say, 'Oh boy, that was bad.' You probably say, 'you've got to step this way' or 'your hands aren't here.' The next play they're going to do it right. That's what keeps you really excited about this group of kids."
How about the pass rush? Are you starting to see what you wanted to see?
"I'm seeing improvement. I'm definitely seeing improvement in that we've worked really really hard on it. The thing that I don't like is that we teach it, we go through it, and then there's sometimes when we look at it on film and it's being done the same way that you can't do it. But going back again, the next day they do correct it. Something's going to happen. And so I think we're going to be able to do that. I know our players really want to. We've put our defensive team in that situation a lot more than we did last year where if it's a two-minute situation or a third-down situation, we're just calling four-man rushes and say, 'Okay, now it's up to you. You say you want to do that? Get there.' If it's a completion, a lot of times then that's your fault. You didn't get the four-man rush that we said we were going to get. They have a lot of pride in wanting to do that."
Is that a product of them being older so you're putting more responsibility on them?
"No. I think it's because in looking at last year, you said, 'We have to be able to rush four.' You can't continually bring pressures to think you're going to get that. It puts too much pressure on the back end. I just think the first year you're there, you had to do it. Now it's our assessment that we have enough guys put in the right positions where we should be able to, with great technique and great effort, be able to rush four at times."
Who's pushing Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington?
"Everybody that rotates in there has a day, you know? We had a competition yesterday where it was four-minute, so the defense has got to stop a team without getting a first down. Watching the tape, and you look, and all of a sudden Ryan Glasgow, from the three-technique position, makes two tackles on the line of scrimmage all the way down the line the other way. When we stopped it and showed our guys and said, 'Look, this is Glasgow making this play. This is a heck of a job.' The point I bring up is we're getting a different guy every day that's doing that. It's a good thing."
How do you determine starters if you have so many guys rotating through?
"We're going to be the kind of team that's going to rotate players. Like we did in the spring, we're going to have a first unit, a second first unit, and whoever wins the right to be in that unit. There might be at one position three first-stringers. Now one of them starts, but that doesn't mean he plays more than any other guy. And we truly believe in that. That's a positive in that there are a lot of guys that are very equal. So why not play a lot of guys so they can go harder?"
Do you feel like you have depth to do that at most spots?
"I think we have it in a lot of positions. You don't want to do it as much in the secondary, not that there isn't talented backups there, but it's just something about a secondary guy that you just have to make sure -- you can't rotate them. I really think we could do that up front and at linebacker. Our front seven, I really believe we can do that at every position."
How are your linebackers doing at getting off blocks?
"Better. If you would have asked me this three days ago, I would have said I'm concerned, but two days ago and yesterday, you saw them finally understand that the ball is the issue. That's what you have to get to, not running into the blocker. There's a split second in there as a linebacker where you have to decide, 'Do I take on that block and stuff that hole? Or do I avoid him, and if I avoid him, sometimes I get caved out of the hole.' It's just a feel. That's a youth thing. The last two days I saw that happen for a positive more than it is has all year."
Is Dymonte Thomas still showing his instincts as a blitzer?
"Yeah. Dymonte's doing a really good job of that, and again he's the same deal -- the nickelback position is a position where you always want to be able to have a lot of ways to do that because if somebody goes down at corner, one of those guys has got to go out there and another nickel has to come in. The nickel has to be a linebacker, blitzer, and a cover guy, so you have to make sure you teach that to a couple guys at least so you don't get taken out of your package if something happens. What he's seeing, and all these freshmen, Taco [Charlton] included on defense, the spring was fast paced, way faster. The fall is double that. I think they're going, 'Whoa, I thought I was [keeping up].' And that's a credit to the way we practice and it's a credit to the way we do things. I think they're saying, 'Thank goodness that I came early.' "
Is he playing safety for you, too?
"Yup. He's playing both of them. In the back end we try to play a lot of different guys at different positions just for -- you know what happened in the Alabama game with Blake. So you're always ready to put the next guy up."
James Ross said the other day that every day last season he wanted to give the coaches something to remember him by. Did you get that? Did he show you that?
"Well he's given me something to remember, and I let him know if he doesn't run hard to the football, I remember that, too. There's no question. Every one of our coaches is going to watch every play. The one thing about him, and I mean that kiddingly -- he truly has the pride and the wherewithal of a junior or a senior. That's what you like about him. He's not a freshman in there. He's not a sophomore. He takes charge when he's in there. That's why I think he's got a very bright future."
Hoke mentioned that he's one of the guys he's challenging in the offseason. How have you seen him respond to that pressure?
"He's got real thick skin. He's got thick skin of a big time football player. He also has great pride. You know inside that if he doesn't do something right, that bothers him. But you also know that he can take the criticism because it's not criticism. It's coaching. It's teaching. He doesn't hang his head. He's not one of those guys."
How's the battle at corner?
"Really good. Really good. We're moving guys all around. The great thing when you have a guy like Courtney, when you have a guy that's played a long, long time, you can say, 'Okay, I'm going to play you at corner this play, and I want you to be able to know the safety position.' He's played nickel here. Not to say if something happens, but now switch guys around in practice so you've got that flexibility. Ray [Taylor] has had some good practices. Ray's had some good practices. He's showed up. Now what he has to do is do it every time."
You said safety is one of the spots where there's still competition. Assuming that Thomas Gordon is at one spot, who else are you looking at for the other spot?
"Well, Jarrod Wilson, obviously. You've got a young man by [the name of] Jeremy Clark who is a freshman. A guy that is a young kid that we haven't seen half enough yet, but all of a sudden, woo, he shows up, is Delano Hill. Anyone of the corners that have played a lot of football can always go back there and play safety also. I'm just using this as an example, but let's say your three best secondary guys are your corners. It's not very intelligent to have one of them be on the bench if they're better than someone else. That's another reason we want to get the best four or five back there."
With Jarrod playing a decent amount as a true freshman, what did he do to adapt so quickly to get into the mix?
"Well I think the first thing is he came early, so he's really a year and a half. That spring probably was a real advantage for him. And then you have all last year and again, you're not longer the first year camp guy. You're now a guy that's been here a while. The other thing -- most of our defensive players want to get better. They pay close attention in our meetings. They take notes. A lot of teams, guys don't do that. This group here really wants to know why it's successful or why it isn't successful and what do I have to do."
Can you see signs of improvement in generating turnovers?
"Yeah, but you really don't know that until you get under fire. I could say, okay, yesterday we were doing a drill and we got two interceptions. That may not have been the first unit doing it. You can't judge by that. But you can judge by them wanting to do it and understanding that's a key for us on defense."
Has anyone made a move or caught your eye in camp?
"No? I mean, I'm not going to single out anybody, but I am going to say that the depth of the three guys -- let's use an example -- at end. Heitzman, Godin, Wormley. All three of them look like starters in different phases of that practice. And the same thing could be said when you look at the rush position. Frank Clark's had a very good camp. So has Mario. Taco has shown his ability -- he has to be consistent as far as doing everything right, because he's a freshman. That can be at every position where you're rotating. You look at Cam Gordon and Brennen Beyer. Who knows who the starter is? They're both the starter. When we go out there, one series we'll have Cam be the first SAM backer. On our next series you're going to have Brennen do it. Me? I don't see the difference. That's a positive. That's a real positive. They're doing a good job. It's not like they're all we have there. No no. They're both playing like first unit players. That's positive to me."
Hoke said that Wormley's a big, high-potential guy. Does that surprise you that he looks that way already coming off an ACL tear?
"No. Very talented young man. Very smart young man. I think he would have been in the mix last year had he not been banged up. The thing that he's now showing that he didn't show in the spring is complete trust that he's 100%. So now he's back to turning it loose at different phases. He's got to do it every day. He's got to do it every play. But I don't think there's ever any thought in his mind anymore of, 'Oh, my knee.' "
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How much is Jake Ryan doing now?
"Jake's doing a lot. Jake's doing a lot."