“Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.”
[Everyone in unison like the end of a Peanuts special] Happy Thanksgiving.
Talk about the Ohio State Offense and the challenge of preparing for them.
“Yeah, they’ve got good players. Two really good running backs, quarterback’s a veteran guy who knows how to play this game, some explosive guys at the receiver position, I think they’re improved in the offensive line, tight ends solid, so yeah, we’ve got a good offensive outfit to get ready for.”
Chase Winovich said that the highest praise he feels he’s ever gotten here is you calling him an ‘animal, bro.’ What do you think the highest praise is that you give out to a guy?
“Well, that’s pretty close right there. I think he’s really played well. You know, we try to make our living here on sacks, TFLs, living that approach, and you look at the numbers at the end of the day and he’s right up there in the TFL piece for sure, so I think he’s playing at a very, very solid level.”
Do you have different levels? Do you have like a guy, a man—
What are they?
“You know, you’re a Guy, and that’s your first start. Then, you know, if you’re really playing well, then you give ‘em Dude status, and then you give ‘em the competing animal status, so there’s your three levels of it. Being a dude’s not easy to do, now. I mean, that’s pretty high esteem.”
How do you approach the challenge of not only trying to slow JT Barrett but also the fact that they have the two really talented running backs?
“Yeah, they’re good. You know, the bottom line is you’ve got to pick your poison and you’ve got to stand for something. Some guys try to sit there and spread out and cover everything and that’s one approach. Some people try to read and react and that’s another approach. Obviously we try to do it all and make it tough on them. So, that’s our goal.
“But you got to stand for something. I can’t tell you what that is, but you’ve got to stand for something. You just can’t let ‘em pick you apart and move you down the field. That’s not going to happen anyway, so our approach is always try to be on the aggressive side of things, but at the same time, you’ve got to be intelligent.”
[After THE JUMP: the best practice of the season, not cheating the game, and playing with an X on your chest]
How did you view the beginning of the year when you only had one starter coming back?
[chortles] “You know, I really felt good coming out of spring with going to meetings, the interaction, the things that were being discussed. You knew that the guys had an idea of what we were doing, so that’s a positive. Obviously you’re paying attention all year of how you’re doing, and the things for us that are always kind of important is you want to be pretty stingy in the run game. I think we’re sitting around 14th, 15th, somewhere there. Sometimes I hear the chatter about pass defense and we’re giving up 144 passing yards a game and the lowest completion percentage of any outfit in the country, and you couple that with in our TFL range, which is somewhere around –400, you put all those things together and that’s a piece that sometimes gets overlooked in our pie is all those things come into play to put together our bowl of soup.
“So, you know, when you go through that process and you’ve got a bunch of young guys that are learning on the job—I look at Lavert Hill, I look at David Long, obviously last week Jaylen Kelly-Powell got his feet wet. Unfortunately he got beat on one play, but the bottom line is he came here to play that. Everybody knows what we’re gonna play and you’ve got to be able to take that challenge and play on the island, and he’ll be better for it. That’s the beauty of it is I think our guys have been pretty in sync. We’re not perfect, but I think we’re doing a good job at getting better at techniques and fundamentals ever day.
“And I commented on this and I’ll say it again: yesterday might have been one of our best practices of the year. That’s saying a lot for a young group because you’re obviously on a bounce-back Tuesday. Just to get that kind of energy makes you feel good going to work.”
Do you take any motivational aspects out of last year’s Ohio State game to toss at these guys?
“Uh… on this one? You know, this is big. The guys know it’s big. I don’t know if they really need to hear that from me. We certainly look at some of those things in terms of schematically and so forth, what they did, what we did, those kinds of things when you’re trying to analyze and move forward. But this game will stand for itself, and there’s a bunch of guys, they can’t even relate to this game because they didn’t play in it. But the next thing is, we’ve got a nucleus of guys that did play some in it, so you feel good about that part.”
I’m interested to see with the gap, how do you bridge the gap. You’re 62 years old, you’ve got 18-to-22 year olds. How do you keep that connection where you guys can have a bond where they’re going to play for you?
“Ah, I don’t know, you’d probably have to ask them. You know, I don’t look at my—I think age is a number. You want to come up to the room and work with me, we’ll see how we do. I just be myself. I’ve been doing it for 40 years, so who knows, maybe I’ll do it for 20 more. You never know. But that’s an interesting question. I’m not like ooooh, offended by the question. It’s just, you know, I got a good group of guys, I can tell you that. They work extremely hard and they’ve given me about everything they’ve got.”
Do they keep you young due to the face that the sport is football, it’s physical? Does it help keep you young, this job?
“Well, the challenge—here’s the deal. If it’s not and that doesn’t drive you, I’m out. I’m good, because I’m not cheatin’ the game. I’m not doing that, so, you know, if that drive isn’t there, I’m good because I haven’t had a real job in 40 years. I’d like to keep it that way. It’s all good.”
The way Maurice Hurst has played this year, does he have a different title? Does he transcend Guy, Dude, Animal?
“Uh, he’s up there. I’m really proud of him, too. Done such a good job of quietly just—you know, not a loud guy but just quietly going to work every day. His practice habits have improved. If you said to me ‘what did you think of his practice habits’ in 2016 as opposed to ‘17, I think his arrow’s way up on that piece. Now, that’s not saying he wasn’t practicing hard.
“I just think his game’s elevated to a different level and he realizes how important he is to the group, and we’re getting that. We’re getting that kind of leadership, practice effort, energy, and very selfless guy. You know, a lot of guys, this day and age, try that one on for size. Selfless. Hard to do.”
Do you see differences in JT Barrett from last year to this year on film?
“Um, no, similar guy. You know, Ryan Day’s his quarterback coach who was the OC at Boston College with me when I was the DC in ‘13 and ‘14. You know, making good decisions, knows where to throw the ball, knows where to go in the run game. Just a really good player. He’s a… I wouldn’t say typical because I think he’s an atypical dual-threat guy. I mean, his numbers speak for themselves, so the challenge is certainly there this week for sure.”
When it came time to pick a Viper, what was it about Khaleke that jumped out at you?
“Well, he’s physical, he’s strong. I wasn’t sure how well he would tackle and blitz game, how much of a factor would he be, and of course the comfort factor in the scheme. He took care of that himself, so that’s a good thing. Like, he put the time in. He studied. He’s learned the position.
“I think he’s kind of jumped off the screen the last couple weeks. You know, Minnesota, he played really well. We had a couple of good indicators last week. They would run a lot of their bootlegs obviously to the—quarterback’s left-handed so he would roll that way, but he did great job of disguising and giving him edge pressure, because obviously the one thing that can distort nakeds and rollouts is edge pressure, and I thought he did a good job of disguising it and then coming which you can talk about until you’re blue in the face with some guys and they’re just [/blank stare] and then they go, you know.
“He’s got it figured out, and it was hard for him to have that figured out because he should have had an X on his chest from the week prior like, hey, this guy’s coming, watch. So for him to do a good job with the disguise factor piece was not easy to do and he probably had a big X on his chest.”
With Devin Bush, as teams have kind of become more aware of him and tried to get him out of the box or off balance, what do you work with him on to keep him a step ahead?
“Just keep him honed in on techniques and fundamentals. He’s got a lot on his plate, now. And it’s like I told him about week three, four, somewhere in there. I go, ‘Buddy, this things gonna get harder, now.’ Because it’s the same thing we talked about: put that X on your chest. Now it’s hey, there’s no. 10, guy’s gonna make a lot of plays, he’s gonna run it down, we’ve got to get this guy blocked. So obviously he’s gotta raise his game. He’s gotta be very succinct in his reads and fast because obviously he’s one of the key guys they’re looking for, no question.”
How have you seen him respond to that?
“I think he’s responded really well. I thought he played very solid last week. You know, I would have liked to see him stay on his feet with the interception, but that’s asking a lot. You know, that’s a hard deal, now. He caught that thing like this [/stretches arm over head] but if he ever stayed on his feet we might have had something.
“I think he’s playing really well. The thing I was worried about with him a little bit [is] not the biggest guy in the world. How would he weather a long Big Ten season and would he be able to keep playing at this level with all the nicks and nacks. It’s like I tell my guys all the time, you’re a linebacker in the Big Ten. You’re gonna hurt. Every. Single. Day. That’s just the way it is, and I think he’s handled that really well.”
In what ways has David Long grown from fall camp through 11 games?
“You know, I think he’s mentally tougher. There’s a process you go through as a corner. And I always fool around with you guys, close up and get in your face, but that’s kind of how you make your living because the bottom line is, well, ‘how’s your completion percentage so low?’ Well, we’re going to challenge every throw. We’re not gonna give ‘em any easy ones. Now, you don’t want to give them home run shots either, now.
“I get all that, but the reality is at the end of the day, this guy’s techinques are better, fundamentals are better. The things we just talked about with Devin: managing your body, taking care of the little nicks and knacks that you gotta get through because a lot of those corners, now, you know, when their toe hurts they don’t feel good. Now, we don’t have those kinds of guys and we’re not allowing that kind of performance or behavior. You know, we don’t condone it, but the bottom line is I just think he’s gotten way mentally tougher.
“His gameplan with his techniques and fundamentals is rock solid and hey, when you give up a pass play, doesn’t lose his mind, goes right back in, digs himself back in the fox hole, and goes back to work. I mean, those are the guys you like coaching because you know they’re gonna stand there and compete for 60 minutes, and that’s really what you’re looking for.”
You said you were excited about these guys in spring, you were excited about the progress. I know the season’s not over yet, but how much has this year lit a fire for you for the future of this group? It’s mostly all back. Not everybody, but mostly all back, especially with the backups, too.
“We talked about this before, but we have a group of guys that are going to lose Mike McCray, Maurice Hurst, and Mike Wroblewski. Again, who else is gonna leave that process? I couldn’t pick anybody out, so I don’t know. I just know those three guys have exhausted their eligibility. So you take those guys out and you look at our second group, which is the freshmen team… I think the sky’s the limit.
“But I will say this: Their approach has to be of a competitive nature from the minute whenever we get ready for the offseason. Then what’s your approach? If the attitude is ‘I’ve arrived,’ pfft, doesn’t matter. The attitude’s got to be ‘My feet are on the ground, I’ve got a foundation, I want to be better.’ If that arrow points up and they want to be better, I think the sky’s the limit. I really do.
“I just look at our secondary. See, all those guys are back, a lot of those guys have played, and we’ve still got a couple guys that not quite have played yet but watch out, now, because they’re just starting—they’ve got it kind of figured out. Linebacker-wise, Devin Bush is back. Very anxious to see the Josh Ross, the Devin Gil, Drew Singleton, all those guys. And I know I’m missing a bunch of names but there’s a lot of these guys—Jordan Anthony—that are getting huge experiences throughout the fall that I think will pay dividends. And up front, we lose Mo Hurst. That’s really what we lose, so. Aubrey’s playing more now. Rashan Gary has played well, I thought, all year long. He’s gotten a lot of personal attention: the chips from the tailback, the slide protection to him, which has made us hustle to kind of get ourselves in position schematically to still stay aggressive and keep that sack and TFL total up.”
Jim says it’s important to him that you’re happy; Harbaugh always talks like that. Could you see yourself as a lifer here?
[Chuckles] “Ahhh, boy. Yeah, I love it here. I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say it again: Coach has a tremendous philosophy of how he coaches this game. I never have to worry about anything but coaching defense. What a beautiful job. That’s all I can say. You know, I work for the best head coach in the country and I get to practice my craft and hopefully keep kids happy. When they’re not happy, then you gotta go, so I don’t know about the lifer piece but I’m enjoying every day, that’s for sure.”