You’ve got to be pretty pleased with the play of your group through four games.
“Yeah, definitely really pleased. Lot of room for improvement still, but we’ve made a lot of plays and are gradually improving week to week in terms of technique and everything.”
After one week it looked like Jake was going to be kind of the focus of your group; he caught eight balls, and now you guys are spreading it around. Which is more desirable, to have a lot of different guys or one that you know will [inaudible, but they’re insinuating a go-to guy]?
“More desirable would be to have more guys that you know you can trust, so I think we’re working towards that. Spreading it around is good. I think being able to get a bunch of guys on the field and not have anyone know who you’re throwing the ball to or whether it’s run or pass is a good thing, so we like having more guys involved.”
A lot’s been made of the wide receivers’ blocking. How do you like your group in terms of that?
“Yeah, we’re doing a nice job. The receivers are setting the bar really high, though, in terms of their effort through the end of plays and second-effort blocks, cut blocks, so they’re giving the rest of the offensive players something to strive for and putting really impressive stuff on tape.”
Khalid [Hill] was saying after the game that that was sort of an important moment for him to actually get involved in the offense again. Have you seen sort of a difference in him over the last few weeks, and even now with sort of a confidence boost from that?
“I don’t think a difference necessarily in him. I know obviously he was excited, and then the group’s excited for him to get a few touches and to have his number called but he’s been working hard. I don’t think he’s approached anything differently.”
[After THE JUMP: Hopefully the MARS game is more fun than the MOON game]
Coach Harbaugh the elder said he still watches some NFL games, picks up plays from the NFL. Do you keep in touch with people from the league and pick their brains about different plays and that type of thing?
“I wouldn’t say we, like…you [don’t] keep in touch quite as much, but you certainly watch and you tend to know who does what well. Some teams are better with tight ends than others. Some teams do really good stuff with backs out of the backfield, so you know- if you’re looking for a certain idea, you know which teams to look at, whether it’s third down or red zone. There’s certainly some of that. We’re open to getting ideas from anywhere.”
Who’s your go-to tight end team this year, watching them?
“Shoot, I’ve watched a lot of everybody. The Chiefs have done some nice stuff recently. I would say probably them the last couple weeks. They’ve done some pretty good stuff. Panthers as well, and then the Patriots are always good.”
Do you watch college teams also?
“Um…occasionally. You’ll see teams with cross over, like if you’re watching, for instance, West Virginia play Maryland you can pick things up in that way. But I think our offense lends itself to looking at NFL tape more than other colleges.”
Does that give you an edge? Do you think that you do that more than other teams might, college teams?
“Uh, we probably do. Probably just because it makes more sense for us to, because there’s more carryover in terms of protections and formations. It’s something I think to an extent everybody does.”
Do you see a big change in your guys’ mentality after the Utah game, kind of a realization of the things you guys were teaching them and a buy-in to a certain amount?
“I wouldn’t say change. I thought we had really good buy-in from our guys from the get-go. I think coming out of a game like that they kind of…more than anything it’s just such a good indicator of where you are, and technique-wise and scheme-wise what we need to improve on. So, I think it was just maybe for out guys more so like, ‘This is where we’re at. This is where we can be. This is what we need to do better to get there.’”
Did it help you guys as coaches to see the difference in an actual game versus [trails off]?
“Probably. It’s probably helpful to see something versus another team and how someone’s going to play us, because things are different against the team that you see every single day in our defense and they’re really good. So, it probably is helpful week to week to see how things kind of evolve and what teams are going to do to try and take things away from us.”
Where has AJ Williams made the biggest strides?
“I would say his blocking fundamentals and their consistency. It’s something that he has the potential to be dominant at, and he’s really improved remarkably in terms of doing things well consistently, not just here and there.”
Is it a gradual thing or did that happen at some point?
“It’s been gradual since spring ball.”
Given who you are and who your dad is obviously, did you feel a little more pressure to prove yourself when you got here in this position?
“Um…I guess, sure. I don’t know. I’ve…I think pressure is kind of like a privilege. Not everyone has a lot expected of them, so I enjoy that, the fact that people kind of I think imagine I’m pretty good at what I do- or maybe they don’t, I don’t know. I like that aspect of it.”
Do you have Baltimore people coming? Do you have a lot of people coming to this game? From the Ravens and your time in Baltimore.
“I think there’ll be a few, yeah. They play tomorrow, so hopefully they’re going to win and maybe have Saturday off as a staff, so there might be a few Baltimore coaches there.”
MGoQuestion: We saw Tom Strobel for a game at tight end, and then the next game he was in an offensive lineman’s number. Is he still practicing with your position group?
“He’s kind of all over the place. He can do a lot of different things: defense, offense, O-line, tight end, extra O-lineman lining up at tight end. So, he’s been- he’s learning stuff really, really fast, and having a guy like that is really useful because then you can do darn near anything with him. I mean, you can put him in the backfield. He’s a physical guy, so we like guys like that.”
With Poggi kind of having that floating spot there, how much have you worked with him in him having the change over?
“Uh, pretty much nonstop.”
So what have you seen from him going through taking on a whole new set of challenges?
“He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts. Things come really naturally to him. He doesn’t have to see things too many times. He has a good sense how things should look and feel, and he’s a tough, physical guy. So, just by his nature he tends to do things right and it’s just a matter of tweaking and correcting certain things. He’s been a blast to work with.”
He said that that Utah game, actually getting out on the field, kind of put him on his back- you know, learned a lot that day. What do you kind of remember from that game, and from him maybe coming to the realization of what it would take to do the job?
“Uh…I don’t know. I think as with everybody else it’s just a wake up call, an indicator of where you’re at as a football player; your technique, your fundamentals. Then you carry that over week to week and see where you can improve to not miss blocks that you missed in the first game or not drop balls that you dropped in the first game, so- and that’s, I’m just speaking on everybody there.
“He’s the same as the other guys; just constantly getting better. And he’s so focused on improvement that he’s really easy to work with.”
How far has Khalid come since fall practice?
“Very far. Yeah, he’s- I hadn’t worked with him at all, so I’ve been very pleased with how he’s been moving around and picking things up. We ask him to know a lot scheme-wise and position-wise, and I’ve been really pleased with how he’s picked everything up.”
One more on Poggi: right now in terms of the transition, what are the biggest things he needs to address? What are the biggest steps he needs to still take?
“I think for him the main thing or main couple things are just at the second level and through holes when he’s lead blocking, playing with more consistently low pad level. And at the point of attack, he’s got a tough, tough duty blocking guys that are 300 or 310- I think the one UNLV lineman was like 350 pounds- so technique’s always paramount at a position like that. He’s been good, it’s just continuing to improve to the point where it’s always a win with him in there.”
AJ said one of the things he likes is your youth, that they relate to you. Do you have a sense that they react to you differently than maybe some of the other coaches and the relationships they have, those things?
“Uh…I don’t know necessarily how different it is, because I don’t feel like in 10 years I’m going to be that different because I just act like myself. It’s not like, ‘Oh hey, I’m a young guy. Act like a young guy.’ I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I don’t envision myself being different in 20 years. I think that your style’s your style and you personality’s your personality. I might be wrong. Maybe in 10 years I’ll email you and tell you I was wrong.”
You do seem to be a little more social media savvy than some of the other guys.
“Yeah, I think that’s just a generational thing. I’m starting to feel outdated with some stuff that happens. I’m like, ‘What does that mean? What does this acronym mean?’ It’s going too fast for me, even.”
Do you see that they relate to you on a different level, perhaps?
“Maybe. You’d probably have to ask them. I don’t really- I wouldn’t say that I see that very much in terms of football stuff. I mean, certain references and all that I get that maybe are over other guys’ heads, but I just think that that’s kind of a little bit overrated. But that’s just my opinion.”
He also said that he felt that this group was overlooked, the tight end group as a whole, last year. Do you get the sense that overall the group has a level of confidence, a little bit of a different swagger?
“Yeah. I think that from the get-go they were really, really excited to be a part of this team, and I think it’s obvious why with the opportunities in terms of playing time and the diversity of assignments and responsibility is kind of unparalleled at this level. No matter what anybody says, it’s really not close in terms of what we ask them to do.
“And then to throw to them, I think we’ve thrown to the ball eight times per game to my group and I don’t think anyone else is that high in the country. I don’t think anyone else is even close. I think UTEP is at like seven per game, but teams like Alabama and Georgia are at like four or five per game. They’re aware of that and the opportunity, so I think they’re..it was just exciting from the get-go, and as it’s progressed and they’ve actually been involved and seen it develop, they’ve really been happy with it.”
How have you progressed through four games coaching the position? Where do you pick up things? Do you pick up ideas? Are you constantly studying?
“Just being around our other coaches, for one thing. I mean, they’re all like gurus of whatever their specific little field is, so watching them coach and seeing the way they prepare and teach and gameplan is invaluable. You know, I don’t think there’s a better group in the country, so that’s one thing.
“And like we talked about before, looking at NFL tape. I mean, you can always get a new idea from somewhere. We’ve gotten ideas looking at high school tape looking at recruits, so there’s always ideas to be had and ways to improve, so I consider myself as one of the players in that regard. Just always focusing on getting better.”
When you’re working with those younger players, I mean, you’re one of the younger coaches in Division 1. How do you kind of establish that boundary, like ‘I’m the coach, you’re the player, just because I’m close in age to you doesn’t mean I’m going to be your buddy’? How do you establish that boundary?
“I don’t really look- I don’t think of it as like establishing, like there’s a moment where you draw a line in the dirt. I think that there’s two sides to it, two important things and it’s: them understanding that you care about them as a player and that you’re focused on them getting better, because then your players immediately are receptive; and then knowing what you’re talking about. If you have those two things, if you know what you’re talking about and they know that you’re in it to get them better, anybody looks up to you.
“I mean, there’s guys, plenty of coaches in the NFL who coach guys older than them. If they understand that you’re looking out for their best interest and you actually know what you’re doing then there’s no issues with it. I think Belichick coaches LaVar Arrington- not LaVar Arrington, what was that famous outside linebacker for the Jets?”
“LT. He coached him when he was older than Belichick, and somewhere along the line he was talking about something like that, and I thought that was really interesting.”
AJ was saying that the guys in the room are really close. How have you worked to foster that?
“Um…I don’t think I have anything to do with it. I think it was them accepting me, because that’s a great group of guys and they do have a really good relationship. I think just the time spent together and the proximity was as important as anything, and the fact that [at] our position we do involve a lot of the group.
“It’s a little bit different than at quarterback, for instance, where one guy gets to play. We played six guys in the game last week. Wish we could have played seven. So, I think by nature it’s a little bit more involved as a group because it’s like this guy’s in, then this guy’s in, now these two guys go in. It’s less like…it’s not just the Jake Butt show, as I think has been evident the last few weeks.”
Did that surprise you at all? I mean, everybody knew about Jake Butt and what he was able to do, but the amount of depth and guys that can block and go in and catch passes and different things that you do- did that surprise you at all?
“Um…not really. I mean, I don’t get it, because I knew that when I was coaching them, so…”
I mean coming in.
“I was the one saying the opposite, like, ‘It’s a really good group. It’s a deep group.’ and everyone was telling me it was just Jake, so are you guys surprised?”
Before you even had a chance to see them or work with them. I mean, to have that many tight ends…
“Oh, I gotcha. Yeah, yeah. No doubt. Sorry, that was probably rude. To get here and they hadn’t had a ton of production and it is a deep, talented group, so in that regard I was psyched. I was like, ‘Okay, I have a bunch of guys who are all good guys and have differing sets of physical tools’ so that was exciting, and it’s really played out how I would hope. Everybody’s healthy and contributing, so you can’t really ask for much more than that.”
Has the potential of weather come up yet when you’re all getting together of what could be brewing out there?
“Just in passing, like, ‘Hey, there might be a big storm’ but not like gameplan adjustments or practice adjustments. It’s kind of a- we’re kind of a weatherproof team, I think, so it’s not something that we’re really concerned about.”
Even a hurricane? Hurricane-proof?
“Yeah, we’ll play anywhere. We’ll play on the moon, or Mars; they found water there, so maybe that’s our next spot.”
So it’s on radar, literally?
“Yeah, there you go. That’s pretty clever.”