Is it hard to be anything but elated with your group at this point in the season?
“Yeah, I think so. I think if you ask any team in the country they’d like to be sitting at 9-0 and our ranking, so yeah, we’re happy but certainly not satisfied. There’s work to be done.”
How about your position group?
“Playing well. I think we had a little bit of a slide in the Michigan State game. Other than, I think they’ve learned from it and are moving on.”
What’s the key or you guys in the short-yardage situations, in the red zone, to be as effective as you have?
“Well, I think in short yardage it’s just gap integrity. Guys in front have to stay in their gaps, linebackers have to stay in their gaps, the secondary fits and fills where needed, so that’s very important in short yardage. Then red zone is something we work day in and day out, starting on Monday all the way through Friday. That’s an area we hit every day, so it’s important in the game and you have to practice it.”
You talked about Channing [Stribling] in run support earlier in the year. Have there been some teaching moments the past few weeks?
“Well, yes, absolutely. The Michigan State game is a big teaching moment. He realized it and he knew he was wrong and he fixed it. That’s important. Just gotta keep building on it. That’s what he has to do.”
How do you fix that, exactly?
“You work at it. In practice we do some tackling drills, and we have some nice talks about it, too.”
[After THE JUMP: who is mini-Jourdan, more on run support, and talking about tunnel screen defense]
Is it just a want-to thing where you’ve got to be willing to do it? Does it just boil down to that.
“A lot of the time it is, yeah. Absolutely. A lot of coaches will say ‘Is he willing?’ He has been, and that’s what was so disappointing in that game.”
Jourdan Lewis and Desmond King will be on the field this weekend, two really good corners who’ve known each other for a long time. You ever notice Jourdan talking about him or working out with him or anything?
“Um, no, I haven’t. We talked briefly about it Monday that they knew each other, but that’s pretty much where it ended. I don’t know their relationship.”
Jim called Lavert a mini-Jourdan Lewis or a young Jourdan Lewis-type. I don’t know if you saw that--
“I didn’t see that.”
Do you see some similarities there?
“A lot of similarities, absolutely. He’s gonna be a fun player to coach. He has all the ability in the world. He really does. He’s just got to grow with it and be able to mature with it.”
Where’s David Long at this point?
“David, he’s—you know, he’s right there. David’s very cerebral. It’s great to have in the room. Very smart kid. He’s gonna be another good player. It’s just, they’re young. They’re young and they’ve still got a long way to go. Their bodies have got to mature yet along with their minds, but they’ve got some good stuff in ‘em for sure.”
Lavert got in there with the first team, especially this last game. Is that something where there’s hesitation because they’re freshmen and it’s a trust thing or is it just playing?
“It’s just about the experience. I wouldn’t say the trust. It’s just getting experience, and slowly we’re getting him that. If it comes up this weekend where we feel there’s opportunity for him to get more experience, he’s gonna get it.”
What’s one area where Lavert might be ahead of his years?
“I think he’s just very natural at the position with his eyes and feet. How you want it to be done, pretty much most of the time he does it in our press technique. Really good at it.”
So he’s a natural technician, so to speak?
“Yes, exactly. It comes natural to him.”
I’m guessing this doesn’t surprise you, the success. Did you have an idea in mind when you saw the talent here at what point you’d put it together and be competing for championships?
“Well, we came here last January. We were kinda, ‘Wow, we gotta fix some things here.’ As last year went along you could see the talent begin to come out. Going into the summer we were all very excited. Got to give the kids a lot of credit. They all worked extremely hard from last spring through the summer and now into the fall, so gotta give them credit. I think they can see they have some opportunities ahead of them.”
Does Peppers’s competitiveness and intensity rub off on the other guys, or do you have enough other guys like that that it’s kind of a group thing?
“Well that’s the cool thing. We’ve got guys that are competitive. Certainly Pep is very competitive. Not taking anything away from Pep; I would say that his ability and his leadership and his work ethic, everybody sees it. They all see it. They just kind of rub off on each other, all those things.”
It seems like Jim has kind of an NFL mentality in how he approaches things and structure. You’ve worked at other colleges. Is it different, the way he’s set this up?
“A little bit. A little different, but, you know, there’s only so much you can do in our timeframe in the hours we have set up with college, so it is a little different.”
The idea of taking every game the same, that seems like more of a pro mentality.
“Maybe. I’ve always taken the same approach to any game, so for me it’s not different.”
When you’re on a staff with this many guys with NFL backgrounds, et cetera—the players were talking about this yesterday in terms of taking about the NFL aspirationally. Do you think players appreciate that?
“Well, it is what it is. We’re there. We’ve played it, we’ve coached it, we’ve experienced it. I’m glad they asked because for a lot of guys it’s a real thing, and if they want to get there they’ve got to be able to play well. So, we talk about it quite a bit, actually, and I think it’s a great thing.”
I’m assuming Jourdan was part of those conversations last year. Were you surprised from the NFL perspective of him wanting to come back to school?
“No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t. I really wasn’t. Not once in any discussion did he mention anything about leaving, so I wasn’t surprised.”
Has Jabrill mentioned leaving?
“No. I haven’t—we honestly haven’t talked about that. Haven’t talked about that.”
From your vantage point, Wilton, how far has he come?
“Oh man, from last year Minnesota ‘til now? Unbelievable. I mean, every week the kid just keeps getting better and better. Super kid. Great head on his shoulders, and he’s taken it all well, taken it in stride. But, getting better every week. He’s not resting, for sure.”
Going back to the Jourdan thing and never having a conversation about it, talent-wise I assume he was good enough to go. Why wasn’t there that conversation?
“He never brought it up and I wasn’t bringing it up to him.” [laughs]
“It just never happened.”
MGoQuestion: What’s the most difficult aspect of defending a tunnel screen from a safety’s perspective?
“From a safet—just the big guys coming at ‘em. You’re talking about the two we had Saturday? Yeah. Those were zone, so you’re not in a man situation. Both the big plays were in zone where guys are off and it’s just a little softer. We just got our eyes in the wrong place. For a zone guy coming down, the big guys are coming right at you.”
You guys obviously love playing at home in front of 110,000. Are there aspects of going on the road you particularly like?
“Yeah, I get a good night’s sleep on Friday night before the game. Nah, the road’s the road. I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t even think about. It’s just another game you get on a bus, get on the plane, get off the bus, and to the hotel.”
So the coaching in those situations is no different?
“I don’t think of it as any different, no.”
In the defensive meeting room, do you and Don Brown ever disagree on anything? Does he encourage it and how does that work? Have you ever disagreed with a gameplan of his?
“Yeah, I mean, there’s some things, some small things, we’ve disagreed on. That’s why we’re there. If we all said ‘yes’ to everybody then I don’t think it’d be a very good defense. You know, that’s why we’re here, to put our information, our ideas into the gameplan. Certainly he has the last say, but Don has been from the moment he got here last January and we were getting ready for the Florida game, he’s been very open and very helpful for all of us. Nobody’s afraid to give input, and I think that’s a great thing for any staff, any work environment.”
You were talking about talking to Channing. Is that necessary, or—you said he knew what went wrong. Do you have to make a point to him as well?
“I probably didn’t have to, but I had to. He knew he was in the wrong, but I’m a coach. I’m his coach. He needs to know from me, his coach, what he did right and what he did wrong. There’s time you pat ‘em on the butt, then there’s times you let him know when he’s wrong.”