What do you like about what you see so far?
“Other than Angelique and Chantel, not much.”
“No, uh … I think we have some good enthusiastic practices and really good hitting, which has been fun. Competition is hot and heavy. Guys working hard. It’s been a fun first six days. Spring football is always kind of fun for the coaches because it’s all about teaching a system and evaluating the players without the pressure of playing a game. It’s kind of nice.”
What’s the change in Devin’s preparation?
“I don’t know if there’s a big change in preparation. It’s just the kid has to continue to refine himself within the system, as do all of them. We’re all preparing pretty much the same way, being taught the same way. A lot of the guys are getting the same reps, but not all of them -- it’s so much more of an evaluation deal. It’s systematic, too, don’t get me wrong, but there’s so much more evaluation going on than once you start the season when you’re pressed to get the game plan ready and do all that.”
“I think he’s made some strides that way. I think there’s still more to go, but I think he’s made some strides. Any time you start experiencing success, like I said dozens of times, you can become a better leader. It just doesn’t necessary follow. Once the team gains confidence in you, it’s a lot easier to be in the vocal leadership. When you’re not doing as well, that’s a lot tougher to do.”
Running back competition?
“Just run them and see what they do. That sounds simple, but just keep running them and see how they do. Make sure that it’s fairly balanced with regard to how many carries they get, you know? Try to get them behind good offensive lines so they can show their skills. That’s how you do it, really. Now you can’t always do that. Not everyone can run behind the first line every play, but I try to keep it balanced with who they play with and how much they carry the ball. I think after 15 days of spring, you have a pretty good idea who your best one is. The good thing about running back is the numbers tell you a lot, whereas sometimes other stuff is less defined … And even after spring it’s going to be competitive all the way through. We’re not going to eliminate anybody unless it’s demonstrated that they can’t play the position. I haven’t seen any of that.”
Anyone standing out?
“They’re all about playing the same. One day one looks pretty good, the next day the other looks pretty good. And sometimes it is predicated on who’s blocking for them. That has to have something to do with it. But if I just told you this guy’s starting tailback right now, no that wouldn’t be fair to everybody else.”
Does it matter to have an experienced starter at running back vs. a freshman?
“Nah … well that matters. Experience matters at every position. That would be nice, but I just don’t know if we’re afforded that luxury right now. We just have to find the best guy regardless of how much experience he has and go with him and hope like heck the line comes around, which I think they will.”
Do you think it will be a better run-blocking unit this year?
“I think there will be some growing pains because there are some new guys, but with another year in the system, even though some of them didn’t play, they’ve heard the words and they have played -- we have practices -- and a lot of the kids were in spring football last year. The game time is brand new and that presents a whole different issue, but they’ve heard the numbers, they’ve heard the words. They know pretty much for the most part what to do.”
Any of those guys standing out to you right now?
“Uh … eh. Standing out is a strong statement at this point.”
“Well I think Ben Braden is doing a nice job and Joe Burzynski has been pretty solid. Jack Miller, you can tell he’s played the position now. Jack’s much more confident and doing a nice job with his snap, which is a big part, too. Those inside three and Kyle Kalis, you know, is picking it up and doing better. I mean, all those guys -- but no standouts. I would not even venture to say that. I’ll say this: I think every one of those guys has improved. Now how much? I’m going to save my judgment until we’re done with that. But every one of them, from the time we stopped playing for the bowl game to now, and I’m talking more about the new guys, has gotten better simply because I think they know it better.”
You always talked about wanting Denard to “stay with the play.” How is Devin doing in that respect?
“He’s doing pretty good. You know, you don’t hit them out here. It’s a different dynamic when you don’t hit the quarterback. I just find some things happen when you hit the quarterback that don’t happen out here. But the one thing about Devin, I’ve seen him for a few games now, he’s been pretty good. I mean, we don’t discourage the quarterback from running, nor do we necessarily encourage him. We encourage him to give the pass a chance, and then if it breaks down, don’t be afraid to go, or if you see an easy first down, don’t be afraid to go. And he’s pretty good doing that. I find even with Devin, probably maybe even more than Denard, he was willing pull the ball and run even faster than Denard was. So I don’t want to discourage that as long as we’re not aborting opportunities for big plays with our passing game.”
MGoQuestion: Have you been able to find someone to replicate Vincent Smith’s skill as a third down back and pass protector?
MGo: No, Vincent Smith.
“Oh, Vincent Smith. That kind of all ran together.”
MGo: Sorry, I mumble.
“That’s okay. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. You’re talking about the skillset Vince brought to the table?
“We’ve got a couple guys who have potentially that. Now Vince was pretty smart. Vince played a lot, and they’re not to that level, but guys like Justice Hayes, guys like Drake Johnson, both of them have excellent hands, good option route runners. They could be that. They’re not there yet.”
MGo: What about pass protection?
“That, too. Those two, too. And Thomas Rawls has demonstrated he’s a pretty good pass protector. So yeah. I think we’ll find -- if your question is will we find someone to supplement that piece, I think we will.”
“Well, you know most of the guys. You know Jeremy [Gallon] and Jeremy Jackson and [Drew] Dileo. The ones you probably don’t know too much about are Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh. Those two have demonstrated in the first few days that they have some big play ability. We’ve won a few jump balls, lost a few, but haven’t lost them all. Both of them have really good straight line speed, particularly Jehu, but Amara is fast, too. Amara’s a little more ‘feel fast.’ He’s more ‘feel fast’ than his time is fast, but his time isn’t terrible, either. So big receivers, rangier recievers. What we wanted, you know. We wanted to get some bigger kids in there knowing that the little guys have done a great job for us, but we did want to give a little more range to the position, and those two offer it to you. We’ll see how they develop as this thing goes, but so far so good.”
How much of the offense have you been able to install?
“Six … five installs to this point. We still have several days left. We have more to put in. I don’t know what percentage that is, but that’s where we are with it, you know?”
MGoQuestion: You talk about “professional enrichment” a lot during the offseason --
“Uh huh. I love being professionally enriched. Don’t you?”
MGo: Well yeah.
“Yeah. It’s good stuff.”
MGoQuestion: So what kind of professional enrichment have you been doing lately?
“Just a little research, you know. Looking at some different things that different people do from a lot of different perspectives. The one thing as a football coach, as you age, and God knows I’ve done that, you have to be very careful about being set in your ways and saying, ‘Okay, well this is how we do it. I know enough now. I don’t need to know anymore.’ That’s not good, because the game’s always changing. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little bit. But as it changes, you have to make some changes too. The other way you can do that is to research and find out exactly what the latest and greatest techniques or schemes or whatever, you know, are out there. The way you do that is you study film. You talk to other coaches. You contrast and compare schemes with everything geared to who your players are. They aren’t X’s and O’s. They’re people.”
MGoFollowup: Have you found anything from NFL film, e.g. Redskins and 49ers, that might fit your personnel?
“We’ve looked at some of that stuff. Heck, we looked at everybody. We look at guys with skillsets that are similar to our quarterback. Seattle, very similar. Carolina, you know. Similar to the skillset of our quarteback. And still just continue to develop some of the prostyle stuff that we’ve had back from the beginning. Are there going to be drastic changes? No. But there will be some subtleties, some things that will be a little different, all of it mostly geared to the players we have, with the quarterback being at the top of the list.”
Devin says he’s been watching Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick and he texts you frequently with questions. What are some of the things he sees?
“I can’t tell you what he texts me. I mean, those are all athletic quarterbacks and he’s an athletic quarterback, so he sees himself in that mold, and I see him in the same way. You have to look at some of the stuff that they’re doing. Particularly because it’s pro football and running quarterbacks by design has not been a really popular thing to do in pro football over the years. Suddenly it kind of is the last couple of years, particularly last year. As long as you’re not running the quarterback too much to where you get him hurt, I think it’s all good stuff to look at, and that’s what he’s doing. He’s looking at it, I’m looking at it. We’re talking about it every single day. Every day. He’ll call me at night, we’ll talk for 10 minutes about something, sometimes it has nothing to do with football, sometimes it has nothing to do with anything to be honest with you, but good conversations.”
You said Jack Miller looks more settled at center. How do you see that position battle being played out?
“He’s being pressed hard by Graham Glasgow and Joe Burzynski, which is forcing the issue with not just him but all of them. As that situation continues to develop, I think Jack sees an opportunity, as does Graham and Joe for that matter. And with most kids, competition tends to bring the best out of them. It does. And I think that position is a prime example, because it is pretty much up for grabs.”
Last season AJ Williams was mostly a run-blocker. To what extent is spring practice valuable to him to develop a more complete game?
“Well, continue to do and improve his run blocking and try to get him more involved in the passing game. Not that he’s going to be the next Tony Gonzalez. We’re not necessarily going to do that, but we don’t want him to be a glorified tackle either. We’d like to have him still have a part in our passing game. But every player on the team brings a certain role to the table. AJ, because of his size and his strength and his ability and his greatest asset that he contributes to our team is his ability to block. We want all our tight ends to be as multi-dimensional as their skills will allow. So if it means catching a few more passes, which we would like to see him do, we’re working on that just like we’re working on his blocking. But at the end of the day if I told you I thought AJ Williams was going to catch 60 passes I’d probably be lying to you. I guess that was a roundabout answer to your question, but that pretty much encapsulates how I think about it.”
Devin had chemistry with Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon at the end of last season but no so much with Funchess. Are you trying to get Funchess more involved?
“That’s not a special thing, but yeah, we want to get -- Devin [Funchess], on the flip side, is a better receiving tight end, and we’re trying to improve his blocking more, you know. And get him more and more involved in our passing game because that’s the skillset he brings to the table. So yes, to a degree. Yes. But are we making a concerted effort to see to it that Devin Funchess catches X amount of balls every spring practice? No. But when we get to game plans that will be a completely different story if he continues to show the progress he’s made.”
Would you like Funchess to add more weight?
“Yeah. Yeah. I’d like to get him a little bigger. More than that, a little stronger. I figure it always helps when you’re playing on the line of scrimmage, but it’s got to be quality. If it slows him down, it takes away from the other facets of his game and it may not be good. So we just have to be careful with it.”
How can Taylor Lewan take another step after having an All-American season?
“Well he made a statement to start with just by deciding to play another year here, which I think is pretty cool. Pretty cool sign to send to the rest of the team, number one. With that, with his successes that he’s had, he’s taken on an active role in being a leader, which I think is awesome. That will help our team immeasurably. I think as we continue to go through it, he just like the coaches now helps mentor some of the younger kids. It’s helpful in so many ways and not in the least is the fact that you have a solid left tackle that’s a proven commodity, but all those things. He’s been really really good, and believe me, we all sleep a little better knowing that position is taken care of and he’s decided he wants to be an active leader.”
Brady talked about Russell Bellomy being the lost man in the QB competition. How has he looked?
“He’s up to about 213 pounds, he’s throwing the ball really really good. He’s gained some confidence back I think. He probably lost a little bit -- who wouldn’t, I guess. He’s had a really good six days of spring football. He’s smart. He’s such an intelligent kid. He takes to coaching exceptionally well. He just needs to get back into the arena. God knows when that’s going to be, but get back into the arena and show his wares. He is determined to do that. He’s a very very determined kid. I think as he grows more in the position, he will be a very good quarterback. He’s certainly showing it out here in the first six days.”
Do you feel like he has something to prove?
“Oh he might. You’re going to have to ask him that. But I think he’s aware that I think the perception isn’t what he’d like it to be, and he’s highly competitive as I think most of our kids are. When it’s all said and done, I think he’s going to give you his best effort, not that he didn’t in the past -- he did -- but he’s just a little more seasoned now. Quarterback is a position where you go through growing pains whether you like it or not. He experiences some successes and failures, and sometimes you have to go through those to realize your potential … I think that when you don’t have a good game, it’s a natural thing. For anybody. Anybody. A quarterback tends to blame himself probably more than he should because the result of the Nebraska was not all on Russ Bellomy, that’s for sure. We didn’t play very well. But, you know. That’s over and done. We’re just going to move on. We have a whole different deal. Spring football. Different football team. Brand new schedule. We’re just kind of looking at it like it’s all starting over again.”
“My pleasure, guys.”
MGo: See ya later.
“Thought I'd miss you but I really didn't.”
MGoIDidn’tMissYouEither: But I missed you.
“Well that’s nice to know.”