Some of the defensive players were saying that Joe Hewlett was really helping out with the scout team in emulating Air Force’s offense. Have you seen that as well?
“Yeah, I’ve been busy with the offense. I really haven’t paid much attention to the defense, but I know that Joe Hewlett’s in there.”
Have you ever run a triple option at any stop in your career?
“Uh…no. I’ve kind of messed with it here and there.”
What does that mean?
“I’ve put in some different plays but never saturate yourself into it, so I don’t know the ins and outs of it. You try to maybe put a play in here or there in the form of a triple option but not live in it, no.”
What have you seen from Air Force’s defense?
“Great question. Very fast, well disciplined. They play an odd scheme. They love the pressure. They’re very good tacklers in the back end. Play extremely hard. Just technically sound. They know how to get off blocks, know how to pass rush. Secondary’s very good at reading route concepts, know how to break on the ball. They’re very well coached. They do a great job at Air Force.”
Do you think Jon Runyan’s a better fit at guard? He was in the mix at tackle and then seems like he’s coming in a little bit—
“Yeah, Jon’s a very athletic guy. He could play all five positions. It’s just right now he could be a guard, he could be a tackle, but he does a good job just initial quickness off the ball, with his hand placement, really athletic, feet move well, when something moves he can cover it up. Jon’s doing a nice job and progressing well.”
[After THE JUMP: correcting little mistakes, O-line development, and Grant Newsome as coach/president. Oh, and what it means to be human]
Do you see players like Nolan [Ulizio] and Mike [Onwenu] and even Patrick [Kugler] progressing from start one to start three? It’s their first real experience on the field there.
“Absolutely. You can see them getting better every week and every day they’re getting better, and the confidence you see in their eyes and understanding what we want. We take a lot of reps and every rep they’re getting better, so it’s really nice.”
What do you say to Nolan after something where he gets a little bit too emotional on the field and has that penalty?
“You know, it’s—you don’t want that to happen. He wans to play physical; he wants to finish. Don’t let that happen again, but you don’t want to take the fight out of somebody either, so you just correct it and push on and don’t bring it up again. Just address it just like you’re talking to your child, you’re disciplining your child. You say, hey, don’t let that happen again, the reasons why you don’t want it to happen and then push on. You know there’s an unbelievable trust level there between one another that it won’t happen again because you’ve got faith in these guys.”
How have you seen Wilton handle the outside criticism the past week or two with his play?
“To be quite honest with you, I don’t know the outside criticism. I don’t pay any attention to it, so I can’t make a comment on that. I know that Wilton comes in here every day and he brings his A game and wants to be the best and knows the gameplan inside and out and leads this team. I’m very pleased with Wilton.
“We all have things we’ve got to correct. It’s not all Wilton. We’ve got to do better offensively as coaches, as players. That’s what we get paid to do. And that’s the exciting thing is when there’s things you can fix that are easy fixes, that’s the exciting thing. And keep motivating.”
In a more general sense, do you or does Jim warn players about the criticism they might face publicly and the pressure that’s put on them?
“No, because we don’t make a big deal out of anything from the outside. We keep everything inside, so it’s another day. How can we get better today? How can we lead this team and how can we lead these young people to be great? We shut out the outside noise. We just don’t pay any attention to it to make it a factor.
“There’s lots of critics out there. I mean, there’s gonna be people who critique you in your job and what you do, people who are gonna critique me and my job, but I know when we walk in every day that we’re giving the best of our god-given ability with a whole heart to be the best and that’s all you can ask somebody. If you’re giving your best and you’re turning over every stone to be the best, that’s awesome.
“You guys want the same thing, right, in what you’re doing. Your boss is going to say something to you or critics are going to say [to] something that you write: what the heck, why’s that guy thinking that way? But you know what, that’s what defines a human being. That’s what defines me. Makes me who I am and makes you who you are, so it’s a neat process.”
Been seeing quite a bit of the younger tight ends: Gentry and McKeon and Eubanks. What have you seen from them to be able to get so much time on the field and how would you rate their blocking as well?
“Really good. I mean, they’ve really progressed and improved. Greg Frey’s done a great job with them. They’ve improved in their blocking and they’ve improved in their pass routes, the feel of how to play a game, all the different formations you use and motions. They’ve come a long way, and that’s a good stable of tight ends that are progressing really nicely and the sky’s the limit for them to be really good.”
Jim talked about coaching up the handoff on the fly sweep and you just mentioned coaching up some stuff better offensively. Maybe not getting so specific, but what are some of the things that you want to improve on?
“Yeah, it starts with just with not having too many guys in the huddle, making sure the substitution’s right. The fly sweep, the motions, not fumbling the ball, not giving up a sack. Those are all correctable things. A pass set, a guy not setting too far outside. Making sure the depth of the fly sweep, where that depth is. Just being really detail-oriented. Those are the things that we’re really focused on, and we focus on them every week.
“Then when it happens in a game it magnifies like everything magnifies, and you put your eyes on it like, hey, how can we do it better to coach it so they understand it, because they’ve got to feel comfortable with doing it. Just coaching up the details. Dotting every I, crossing every T to make sure you’re looking inside and have the gameplan to be really good.”
Are you going through some of the same things as Jim, [who] talked about understand how young some of these guys are and keeping that in his perspective with everything?
“Yeah, I mean, they’re young, which is great. They’re very talented, but every day’s a new day. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fifth-year guy, a fourth-year guy, or a first-year guy, you’ve got to teach it to them like they’ve never heard it before and be dynamic the way you’re teaching it so they do understand it, and then have them ask questions back to you. And then you ask them questions to make sure they fully understand it.
“That excites me as a coach is being able to teach and then getting it and them understanding it and executing it. I get a rush out of that, you know, when you’re teaching it to them and they’re starting to get it. It’s a fun group to coach and it’s a talented group to coach and I get excited every day because the talent’s really good.”
Is that dialogue happening in practice, live reps, or is that more in the meeting room?
“I think everywhere: on the field, practice, live reps, in a game. We’ve got good feedback. In the meeting room it’s really good. Is there a better way we can do it? They players---it’s not just a dictatorship where hey, you’ve got to do it this way. We want the feedback. ‘Mason, how do you like that? What do you think of that? Is there a better way of doing it?’ And making them feel comfortable so everybody’s got ownership on it and everybody’s got their fingerprints on it but we’re doing it together. Once you get everybody to trust and get it together, you can pull one direction. It’s an unbelievable thing.”
Cincinnati had a little bit of success with some twists against Mike and Nolan. Is that something you guys saw on film and have you talked about that with those guys?
“Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that we’re doing. You get into second-and-10, second-and-15, you’re gonna get a wide three, they’re gonna twist and try to create a pass rush and that’s what you see. They’re all fixable things. And the neat thing about it, those two guys, they brought that same twist the third time and they cleaned it up. That’s exciting. When a guy fixes a problem you’ve talked to him about, they fix it, they do it, it’s like, hey, right on. We’re getting one step closer to being really good, so it’s exciting.
After the game Wilton said that he was trying on his footwork a little bit more. Is that something that was causing some of the off throws? Have you seen that in practice from him?
“Yeah, I think anything with your footwork, your rhythm, the timing from your drop, the progression of the routes, the guy that’s running the route: It’s all part of it. I think Wilt comes out every day trying to work on his footwork, his velocity on the ball, the accuracy. Same with somebody running a post route when the ball is thrown, and so all those things that we all need to work on. It’s not just Wilton. I bet ya, you come out to practice, everyone’s working hard. We’ve got our heart and soul in this to get this thing corrected and we’re working on it.”
How have the other quarterbacks looked? Obviously we see starters in the game but we don’t know how the backups are progressing.
“Feel very comfortable with those backups. Doing a nice, nice job.”
You talked about fixable mistakes. What’s the timeline on the mistakes that you’re seeing right now? Are these one-week mistakes, two-week mistakes…
“You want ‘em so a mistake happens, bam, you put it down. It’s done. You don’t want to ever see it again. Is it going to happen again? It might. You don’t want to, but at least you’ve addressed it, you’ve coached it, and they understand the adjustments off that mistake and what needs to happen, but any mistakes you don’t want to happen again.”
Ty Isaac looks like a different back out there. When did you start seeing or did you see a difference in him?
“Yeah, I think Ty has progressed really nicely and in training camp, he had a nice training camp. He’s running the ball—he’s had opportunities to run it and he’s really getting the feel of how the guys are blocking it up front and letting the play express it self. Really, really thrilled about Ty and the productivity he’s having. He’s a definite guy. He’s a big-time player.”
Jim mentioned that Grant Newsome was kind of a student-coach right now. Is that something that if not physically better, he could be mentally more prepared to play the position because of that?
“Yeah, you know, he’s up in my office all the time and the O-line room. He makes cut-ups for us, he’ll analyze stuff, he’ll look into information on the other team. We were all talking about it: he’s going to be a better player when he returns because he’s sitting in there, we’ve got him drawing up plays on the Vizio, he’s making cut-ups, he’s helping coach on the field. He’s helping those guys. He’s going to be better because of it, because once you saturate yourself in it and you put yourself in a coach’s shoes and teach it, now you understand how hard teaching is and how creative you have to be to get some people to understand how you have to do it.”
Do you think he has a future in coaching?
“Absolutely. I’d love to have him coach. I think he probably has bigger things. I mean, Grant might be the next President of the United States.” [laughs]
Does he do a lot of coaching with the players individually?
“Yeah, he talks to them and stuff. He’s a student-assistant out there so he talks and stuff. It’s nice having him around. Grant’s a special, special young man. Like all of them are, but I’ve got a fond place in my heart for Grant.”
Do you think he’ll give you a cabinet spot?
“I hope so. I want him to, yeah. Maybe I could be his campaign manager.”
Did you ask him to start helping out?
“He just did it. He just wanted to do it. He wants to be around it as he’s doing his rehab and stuff. That’s what type of person he is. He’s all about the team. He wants to give back and wants to be good and he wants to help and he’s a trustworthy friend.”
Did he talk to you about it?
“I think it just naturally happened. I think with Jim and all of us, it just naturally happened. We wanted to make sure he’s stimulating the mind and staying active and plugged in. Don’t want to lose him.”