“Well, everybody alright? I’m good. Who wants to start?”
You have a couple of players who are new to the position in Brandon Watson and Ross Douglas, though Ross Douglas has played it before. How are they adjusting to that change?
“They’re doing well. It’s a whole different deal for everybody. It’s a different defense, so everybody’s making a lot of adjustments but those two guys are coming along just like the rest of them.”
We’ve heard it said that you’ve played a lot more press coverage than they’re used to. How have they adjusted and how much work is that?
“It’s a lot of work. It’s a new total concept for the defense, for these guys who haven’t played- for Jourdan [Lewis] two or three years, for Blake [Countess] four years- so it is a new concept. It’s a whole new technique they’re learning so it’s taking time but they’re working their butts off. They’re working extremely hard at it and in time we’re going to get it done.”
Press was something they tried last year and did a little bit of it and struggled with it. Are you guys totally committed to it?
“Well, that’s coach Durkin’s defense, yes. So yes, we are totally, 100 % committed. We’ve just got to find the guys who catch on the fastest and handle the technique the best.”
Most cornerbacks are really excited about the chance to do that. Has that been the case here?
“Absolutely for us, and in recruiting they’re very excited to hear we’re aggressive on the outside and they want to see and hear what they’d have to do, so I think it will help us in that respect as far as getting some other corners in here.”
Can you talk about Lewis and Countess in particular and their ability to do that?
“Yeah, Blake’s an extremely hard worker. He’s very focused. Jourdan’s a natural at it. He’s probably our most natural corner for what we’re asking him to do. He does it pretty good but he’s still got some things to get better at because of the fact that it’s something they haven’t done all the time as far as last season goes. But those two are definitely, as far as technique-sound and even athletically and mentally, more experienced in that way.”
[After THE JUMP: Skills needed to play press, a transfer from Stanford confirmed-ish, and depth chart discussion]
What makes a guy a natural? What are the skills they need?
“For us they need great hands, great eyes, [and] great feet. [They’ve] just got to be very disciplined. And you have to have some suddenness, some quickness to you, and you have to have great hips because all those things happen like that,” /snaps. “So those are the true attributes that those kind of guys need.”
There were so few interceptions in the secondary last year. How much film did you watch of that and see if there were issues you could improve or is it all fresh?
“It’s all fresh. Absolutely all fresh. We’ve turned the page and moved on and we’re starting basically anew, and that’s how we approached it. Coaches have looked at a little bit of last year’s film but for the most part for this team, for this defense, it’s moving forward.”
Neither Jourdan or Blake are very big guys. In terms of size is that something where you think there’s an advantage to being smaller?
“I think if you get a guy like Channing Stribling and you give him Jourdan Lewis’ skill set and you give him Blake’s mental toughness, his work attitude, you’ve got one hell of a football player. Those are the things that you’ve kind of got to bob and weave around and find the right guy and the right combination.”
Will creating more turnovers be a big focus for you guys?
“It has- we’ve stressed it quite a bit. We do some turnover stations within practice and constantly talk about guys going to the ball, stripping the ball out so that’s something that is emphasized, yes.”
There was a lot of rotating last year at the cornerback position. Do you like to do that or do you want two guys getting the majority or the minutes?
“If we have four corners, five corners that can play- that are equally as good- we’d all find a way to make them play because for what we’re asking a guy to do you can wear a guy out, you can. We’re going to help guys. We’re going to give those guys some help in certain situations, certain defenses, but I would say most of the time they’re going to be up in there and they’re going to be competing up close. Yeah, I know for myself I don’t have a problem with the more the merrier, believe me, and I think coach Durkin would say the same.”
Just a few weeks in but how do you feel about the depth overall? You mentioned getting more guys in. Do you feel okay about the depth right now?
“I think we’ve got to develop some more guys. We definitely need to develop some more guys. We’ve got three for sure there- Channing, Jourdan, and Blake- and really I think you can count on them now. They’ve still got a long way to go, but we’ve got to bring a couple of the younger guys along.”
Does that open up an opportunity for Keith Washington?
“Well, there’s- and they’ve been told, the room has been told that there are going to be three guys coming in to the secondary. One coming in, a transfer from Stanford coming in [Wayne Lyons], and then a true freshman [Washington], and the other’s a safety that likes to play corner in Tyree Kinnel. They know that their back’s up against the wall and we’ve got to see how they handle it.”
How familiar are you with the kid from Stanford?
“Wayne was here over the weekend. Spent some time with him [and] watched a lot of film on him. I think he’s the right kind of body, bigger body kind of like Channing. Lot of length, and he’s a pretty good corner. [From] what I saw with Stanford he did pretty well.”
What does it take for a young guy to play that position?
“Well, certainly all the athletic things we just talked about- the eyes, the feet, the hands, the hips, all that good stuff- but more than that, too, is the mental aspect of it. You have to be mentally strong because you’re not just going out there and covering man-to-man, there’s other things you’re doing within this defense and you have to be able to handle checks and listen for checks and possibly make checks. So [there’s] the mental aspect of it as far as knowing the game of football and then the mental aspect of knowing that, ‘Hey, I’m going to get beat sometimes. These guys are good. They get paid too [Ed.(Adam)- Err, it looks like he hasn’t updated his coachspeak software since leaving the NFL]. They’re going to make catches. I’ve just got to learn to dust it off.’ So that mental part of it will be big as well.”
When you got here what were your initial impressions? Were you looking at it as more of a project or were you pleased with what you had to start with?
“Starting from fresh, watching film you only get to see so many guys play. Not all the young guys played, so I just said, ‘You know what?’ Basically this defensive staff said, ‘You know what? Let’s start anew. This depth chart means absolutely nothing. We’re throwing you guys out there and how you play and how you practice, that’s where you’re going to be.’ And that happened earlier in spring ball. The roster moved a little bit, the depth chart moved, and now it’s kind of settled. As I said earlier, we’ve got to get those guys underneath those three- Channing, Jourdan, and Blake- just got to pick up their game. B. Watson’s got to pick up his game. Terry Richardson, he’s hurt so that kind of hurts us because there’s a guy we’re counting on to compete. But yeah, we just started fresh.”
When you learned that you were going to take the job was there anyone in particular that you were excited to work with? I know Blake and Jourdan have been mentioned, but Jabrill…
“Yeah, Jabrill and JW [Jarrod Wilson] in the secondary, Delano [Hill], all those guys. And certainly with Joe [Bolden] and Desmond [Morgan] at linebacker, Ben’s [Gedeon] working his butt off, the guys up front…I was just excited to work with everybody. Just got to learn this defense and learn how to play tough and hard for sixty minutes and I think things will work out.”
Did you and Greg [Jackson] battle a little bit over who gets Jabrill?
“No, he’s in Greg’s room. He’s a safety, and the way Greg and I coach, I don’t know if you saw it on the field but I’m on the left side and he’s on the right side and so we coach equal. It’s not as if I’m the corners coach and I stay away from the safeties and he’s the safeties and has to stay away from the corners. When we’re out there we’re coaching what we see. We kind of get Jabrill equally.”
Was that the intent by Durkin or Harbaugh to have you guys be interchangeable that way or did you guys work it out between the two of you?
“Coach Durkin asked how we wanted to handle the situation and we thought and he felt that would be the best way. When we go into meetings corners go here, safeties go here, but when we’re out in the field it’s ‘You take right, I’ll take left’ or however that worked because we both know the defense, we both know the game, so we’re seeing the same things and speaking the same language.”
You guys played together, right? Does that help?
“Absolutely! Absolutely. When I first walked in here and saw him it was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ Greg and I were both very headsy players, lining people up, directing traffic, telling people where to go, and then to play two years together on a really successful defense, yeah, I think it helps. Absolutely.”
Is Peppers the kind of kid that can make these cornerbacks better?
“Yes, he absolutely is. You’d be surprised. Pepp’s a very excitable player- very excitable player- but at the same time he’s a bright player. He’s learning the defense really well, he’s lining people up, and his competitive attitude helps bring out more in everybody on that defense, not just the corners alone.”
How much of a resource has Greg Mattison been?
“Oh yeah, he’s been great in all ways. Even finding places to live, from there to talking about personnel on the football team. He’s a super guy. He’s been a good help and he’s damn good at what he does, too, so that really helps.”
The genesis of you taking this job- you called John Harbaugh to congratulate him?
“Well, I called John to wish him luck about his playoff game and then my head coach had just gotten fired from Youngstown State and he was talking to Jim about coming here and Harbs said, ‘Well, what about you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t mind working for a Harbaugh again’ because he was my coach when I was playing in Philly. Then one thing led to another and here I am. Glad to be here, too. It’s a great place.”
They’re both very successful but they’re different, right?
“A little bit. A little bit.”
What are the things that stand out about Jim to you?
“Oh, I just love his openness. I think he’s really fair with the players and he’s strong with them, too. It’s pretty much no nonsense, you see what you get, and that’s what all kids need. They need a firm hand to help guide them and I think he does that, and he’s certainly a good guy. And we all know he’s been very successful and knows the game of football and knows how to win.”
Did you ever hit him when you were playing?
“I think we crossed paths but I’ve never had that path cross.”
You mentioned a firm hand and starting from scratch. What do you make of the way that Jim’s come in here and kind of taken charge aggressively?
“Yeah, I think it’s good. I think it’s what the university needs, I think it’s what the kids need. You might be tired of hearing me say ‘starting anew, clean slate’ and all that stuff but that’s the approach we have to take. We are a new staff. We are expected to do things well, and he is certainly expected to do things well and that’s what we’re here to do. So we’re starting anew, and I like his agressiveness and I think that’s why he got the staff he has, the kind of guys that he has. We’re all the same kind of guys.”
That just worked? Everyone’s kind of got the same mentality?
“Working, going, moving right on forward, yes.”
You were down in Ohio not too long ago and obviously that last game of the season is a long way away right now, but have you thought about coaching in that game yet?
“The Ohio State game? Not as much as I’ve thought about the Penn State game.”
“But yeah, that’ll be exciting. Looking forward to both of those games.”