March 6, 2012
Opening statement: I think you can see the attitude of this team with how hard the guys are working and how physical they have been on the open practices on Friday and Saturday. It has been that way since the beginning. They have worked hard in the off-season program, they come on time to meetings, and I have been very impressed with their attitude. If they continue to work like this, this can be a really fun team for us to watch next fall. Twenty-four of our 63 scholarship kids that are in school right now, are involved in their first spring practice. It is still a really, really young team and then you have six guys that are here early out of the 28 [person] recruiting class. You will have 22 coming in the fall and only 10 seniors on the team. We will still be one of the youngest teams in the country next year. Practice has been very physical and we have been able to do that because we have a little bit more depth than we had at this time last year. I remember [offensive line coach] Stacy Searels was playing with seven offensive linemen throughout spring that were scholarship guys. We still have to continue to create more depth. We have two more practices before spring break, and then we will have a chance to sit back and evaluate and see where we are. One of the things I told the coaches in the morning meeting was, we need to expose our concerns right now. You don’t want to go into the fall and say this is still a problem. If it is a problem right now let’s try to get it fixed in the second part of spring practice. If not, at least we will know it has to be fixed by a freshman or someone coming in the fall. Let’s not walk out of here with unanswered questions this spring. Last year, we had to because we had so many unknowns. For a [sophomore RB] Malcolm Brown, [sophomore RB] Joe Bergeron, [sophomore WR] Jaxon Shipley and [sophomore LB] Steve Edmond, there are so many young guys that are getting the benefit of their first spring practice. We just see them getting better everyday.
On the concerns with the kicking game: We feel like [freshman kicker] Ben Pruitt has been doing well and did not do well this weekend. It is something we have talked to him about, and we want him to get back on track. I thought the kicking both days by [sophomore] Will Russ was pretty good. We all thought the one on Saturday was [good], but they called it wide right. It looked good to us. Neither one of them has gotten experience yet, and that is something we will look at the latter part of spring. You have some young men coming in in the fall that are walking on and we also have Nick Jordan. We think Nick is really, really good at the field-goal part of it for sure. I didn’t get to see Will punt much this weekend, but watching Will Russ punt in yesterday’s practice he was really good. I was impressed by it.
On having young kickers: We are not going to have the experience that we have had, but we have kicked with a lot of young kickers before. I think Ben and Will will have their chance. Will and David Ash are doing the punting right now, and they are doing very well. We think that that will take care of itself. If we don’t feel better about the field goals and extra points by the end of practice, then we will let them go back and compete for it this summer and fall. That is why we signed Nick Jordan. It is unusual that we have signed kickers, but we knew that Justin [Tucker] had done so much for us that that was an area we had to get fixed.
On the offensive line’s progress: The offensive line is so much better than what it was and still not where we need it to be. I’m really pressing our coaches and players to get 22 players on each side of the ball that can play. We have been really good when we have had that and when injuries haven’t been such an issue. Last year, too many injuries popped up and it kept us from getting where we needed to. Our big emphasis is to try and get 11 and then after that start building on 12 and 15 and 17 and hopefully getting to 30. If you get 17 that is good and if you can get 22, where you can actually play an entire second unit some, that really helps you. Stacy is one of the best I have ever seen at moving guys around. He took [junior OG] Mason Walters yesterday and put him in at center for five plays. He moves them around and wants to see how they look. He is not worried about just the success they have in the spring, but he wants to see if he puts them in a position they are not comfortable with how they will respond to try and build up. We want two guys at each position, but if not maybe he can get a guy that can play two or three positions. Then if he has eight offensive linemen that can be considered starters, he will build his depth by changing positions.
On OG Mason Walters playing center: Mason did in high school; that was all he played. He was really good, and that is one of the things we are looking at to create that depth.
On junior college transfer Brandon Moore’s size and what he can bring: We haven’t had junior college players for quite awhile around here. One of two was a punter and the other one didn’t play very much. What they do bring is maturity. They bring the natural strength of a junior as compared to a freshman coming in. It is more like a 22 year old playing against a 23 or 24-year old than a 17 or 18-year old. They have played a lot of football. From Brandon’s standpoint, he played on a national championship team, so he has been knocked around by really good offensive linemen. Both of them have been doing that for us. They are an older presence, unlike a freshman offensive or defensive linemen that would just have been here for the first six practices.
On the two junior college players: They are pleasantly what we thought they would be, and they are probably still behind because they have only been through six practices and three or four weeks of off-season programs. We feel like this spring will be so valuable to them, plus two-a-days and the fact that they will have the off-season program from the end of spring until August. They are more like where our entire team was this time last year in the learning curve. They are a little lost, and that is fair because we are pretty complicated on both sides of the ball. It has been thrust upon them full-speed ahead very quickly. They are handling it pretty well.
On junior WR Mike Davis having a strong spring season: I’ve talked to Mike a lot since the season. For whatever reason I felt like he had lost a lot of confidence. And I don’t know why. You never know. He had some personal issues, family came up. And we forget sometimes that these are not professional football players. And even professional players have some troubles off the field that bother them. That doesn’t mean that it’s something really bad. It’s something in their family that the dynamics weren’t as good. Or some personal things affected them and bothered them. And I think those things happened to him. And then he has tremendous amount of pride. And then when he wasn’t playing as well, or dropped some balls, it bothered him. Lost some confidence. And then sometimes he had a pulled groin, or a hipflexer that hurt him some. And when things aren’t going well those things hurt you a lot more then when you’re playing great. I felt like he probably just got overloaded. Some players have senioritis. Some players have sophomore stuff that’s going on. And Mike had such a great freshman year. The expectations were so high. I think with all the change in the new it wasn’t as easy for him either. Because he expected the same out of himself the second year. But he made some great plays yesterday again. So I think he’s well on his way back to what we saw when he first got here, and even better. Because he’s in better shape. His confidence is really gaining. In fact, he told me his middle name is “Magic.” He asked me if he could put “Magic Davis” on the back of his jersey. Because he wanted to hyphenate because that’s his middle name. And you all know the answer. He said it could just be for “Mike” if we put “M. Davis,” but I said no.
On senior WR DeSean Hales having good spring practices: DeSean just needs to continue to get consistent. I told him one day, I think he only starts jumping up and down and catching balls when you all are there. So I’m going to have you come to every practice, no doubt. But DeSean’s the only senior. Need an older guy in the room. We’re asking him to give us leadership. We’re asking him to give us plays. He’s not a big-bodied type guy so he’s not going to be a great blocker out on the corner. He’s just got to make the plays that he’s making now in the fall.
On the tight ends: Still a concern. They’re getting better. We talked long and hard about them this morning. What we did, is we had a spread offense that we took a bunch of receivers and had them beef up and become tight ends. And now we’re probably going to have to start looking at a different type of tight end coming in. He may need to start at 240 [lbs] instead of start at 205 or 210. And at the same time, the [senior TE] D.J. Grant, the [senior TE] Barrett Matthews is blocking really well, but he was a high school tight end. D.J. Grant, [sophomore TE] Darius Terrell, [RS freshman TE] M.J. McFarland were all receivers. And we’re looking at them as well. And we’ll have [sophomore TE] Greg Daniels in the fall, because he’ll miss this spring. But he’s in all the meetings, watching all the drills. He was 270 this morning. He’ll probably need to lose some weight to get back down to where he needs to be. But that is one place we’ve got it fixed in the passing game, but we’d like to get past the point where we have to put [OT/TE] Luke Poehlmann in to block every time we’re going to run. And put one of those other guys in every time were going to pass. It’s such a tendency that we need to find the right guys here. And that’s one of the issues with the last nine practices here. We want to figure out who we are at tight end and what we have to do with this offense to get better.
On TE M.J. McFarland’s size: I looked at it – he’s lost weight through the offseason program. I think I checked it this morning, it’s 247. But that’s still a big guy. And he made a great catch for a touchdown again yesterday. Like he did on Saturday. So he can run. He’s got the height. He can catch. He’s got everything we need. But he has not been a blocker in his life. And we’ve worked on it everyday it’s legal since he’s been here to get him to be lower in his stance. He stood up as a wide receiver. He’s never been in a stance. So all of this is different for him. And that’s what he’s got to do. So that’s one of the things we talked about with Bruce Chambers this morning. We know what kind of blocker Barrett Matthews is. We know who D.J. Grant is. It’s probably not going to change that much. So let’s really put a lot of pressure on M.J. McFarland to block in very difficult situations against [DE] Alex Okafor. So we’ll let him learn who he needs to be, and let us learn who he is right now.
On if he has to worry about teams knowing how they are telegraphing plays based on who is blocking: It’s fine because they still have to worry about you throwing to everybody else. But the tight end is not as big a factor in the passing game. If you keep Luke Poehlmann in there, you’ve got to have plays where he blocks and you throw the ball deep. We can break more tendencies now. If you start looking at D.J. Monroe, he’s a great speed sweep runner. That’s what he does. That’s the best thing he did for us. So we can’t just run the speed sweep when he goes in. So we’re trying to expand him to some receiving plays because he’s catching the ball better. And we’re also trying to put him in a position where when he’s in the game for his speed sweep, we have another offense that we can run other than just D.J. So we’re at a point now where we can have more tendency breakers.
On working with such depth at the running back position: Number one – we need to get them in great shape. Make sure that they start healthy. We’ve hit them now for six straight days and they’ve done well. But I looked at [sophomore RB] Joe Bergeron, he looks great. He looks like he’s about 220 – he’s 241. And he looks no different than he did when he got here at 228. So he is in great shape. But he’s big. He’s a big strong back. [Sophomore RB] Malcolm Brown is almost 217 this morning when I checked it. So number one, they need to stay healthy. Because last year at Missouri we were out all of a sudden. So you add [incoming RB] Jonathan Gray to this bunch. You add [incoming ATH] Daje Johnson and what he will bring in this bunch. We’ve got to figure out exactly what fits him offensively. And then you try to really push them. You try to be physical with them. Find out if they can be a third-down back. Find out who is going to stay healthy. And then if they can all play all three downs, like at North Carolina there was a time with Natrone Means and Randy Jordan and Curtis Johnson and Leon Johnson, that we actually could rotate them every five plays and keep them fresh. Keep them happy. Keep them healthy. And then if one of them got the hot hand, keep them in. And then you don’t get one carrying it 30 times a game.
On if senior S Kenny Vaccaro’s potential is underestimated: I think so. We still think he can be a first round draft choice, and we’re pushing him to become that. And he was probably somewhere around it this year. But we think Kenny has been a really good player for us, and we want him to be a great player. We want him to be as good as any safety in the country. And you saw the lick Saturday on [sophomore RB] Malcolm [Brown]. That’s what he brings. He’s one of the hardest hitting safeties in the country. And he has great hands because he was a receiver in high school. So we feel like there’s even more there, though. So he needs to be the coach in the back field with those young guys. He needs to be the leader on the field everyday. He and [senior DE] Alex [Okafor] are the only two seniors, period, on the defense. So he needs to be more than just a great player. We want him to the leader back there as well.
On puling guys up from the squad team and potentially redshirting freshmen: I pulled up all of the guys that might have a chance to play in the fall. And I think most of the guys that are coming in will have a chance. Usually offensive linemen are the slowest to be able to play. And last year we had to play a number of freshmen. So that’s always a question mark for you. But the rest of them, we’ve changed our redshirting philosophy by and large because if he’s a great player, he’s probably going to stay three years now. [Former DB] Earl Thomas we redshirted as a freshman, then he’s gone after his redshirt sophomore year. [Former TE] Jermichael Finley we redshirted as a freshman, he’s gone. [Former QB] Vince [Young] we redshirt, he’s gone. So we figure if they’re great players, they should participate in their first year. And likewise, if they’re very average players, and they can help you on the kicking game, they may not want to stay five years. So we’re only redshirting guys that we feel like cannot step in and help us immediately.
On the balance of the run and pass plays: We’ve always said that what we want philosophically is to beat you with either one. If you’re going to stack the line of scrimmage, we didn’t care if we threw it 50 times and beat you. If you’re going to be balanced, we’d like to be balanced. But if we have to run it every time, we’ll run it every time if we need to. So the most important thing is to be able to do either one to win the game. What we’d like is to have 50 percent of the plays runs, and 50 percent of the plays passes. Fifty percent on first down so you don’t have an indicator that you’re going to run it on first down. Stay out of third-and-long so you can run or pass. Go for more fourth downs, especially when you cross the 50 [yard line]. If you’re fourth-and-two or less. And to be able to do those things you’ve got to be able to run it when you want to run it. Be good in short yards and goal line. Worked a whole lot in short yardage and goal line already this spring. We had a goal line scrimmage that was actually live yesterday. And it was really exciting for both teams. One defense got an interception and one offense scored three times out of the four live plays we had at the end of the scrimmage. But it brought a lot of excitement for them. We’ll have to do that more now because we were so inept in the red zone last year offensively.
On who is likely to fill the open safety position: [Junior CB] Adrian Phillips is the guy that is most experienced and will have the best shot early at that position in the fall. Then you’d have to think [sophomore DB] Mykkele [Thompson] has played more safety than the other guys. And we want to get him some live tackling work. Because he’s athletic. He’s smart. He can catch. He can really run. He’s got some length back there. We want [sophomore S] Sheroid Evans to get back. And I doubt if we’ll have him until the second half of spring, and then it looks like we will. We need Mykkele and [sophomore CB] Josh [Turner] to be forced to tackle some in the open field. So we’ll start working on that more here in the second part of spring. Because that’s the one thing you do not get out of “thud” – is whether a guy can tackle or not. He can get there and shove, but will he come up and break down a tackle.
On how the spring is going for the coaches as compared to last year: So much better. We didn’t even know when staff meetings were going to be last year. Who liked this in practice and who liked that. It was all over the place. Now we’re pretty comfortable with everything we’re doing. That’s why sometimes you need some coaching changes, sometimes you need continuity. And probably too much of either one is not good for you. But I did want our complete staff to stay together a second year, and I’m excited about that. I think we’re reaping the benefits.
On “second-team” guys who have been making good impressions: [Senior OT] Luke Poehlmann is doing great job on the offensive line. [RS freshman OG] Sedrick Flowers is doing a great job on the offensive line. And we’re excited about him. He continues to improve, and he’s stayed healthy with his shoulder so far. [Junior OG] Thomas Ashcraft is making some improvement. He and [junior OG/C] Garrett Porter are fighting to try and get in the mix. We mentioned all the tight ends. We want to see [WR] John Harris get back. We thought he was playing really well when he got hurt. And I think we’ll get him for the last seven practices and that will be fun to watch him. You go to Case and David. There’s been a lot of talk about David. Case is so much better than he was at this time last year. They both have been playing really well. And if they can continue that will help us continue to bring [freshman QB] Connor [Brewer] along like we want to. So we really are excited about both of their play. And they’re getting along right now, neither one of them is worried about the other. So that’s all working like we’d hoped. And if that will continue to work like that, we were smart by not bringing in anybody else. Defensively, [junior DE] Reggie Wilson and [sophomore DE] Cedric Reed continue to improve. But they need to be. When [junior DE] Jackson [Jeffcoat] gets back, he and Alex, those two [Wilson and Reed] need to be able to come in and rest them at the same level. And they’re doing it at times right now. They’re not doing it every time. We’re seeing plays that let us know they can be good enough. But we need it every time. Really excited about [junior transfer DT] Brandon Moore. Because he’s a second-teamer he will be up in a mix of guys that are rotating to keep fresh. But [sophomore DT] Desmond Jackson has had a great spring so far. [Junior DT] Ashton Dorsey has had a great spring so far. And Brandon is coming on hard. [Junior DT] Chris Whaley is making some plays. We’d like for him to get so he can be an every down defensive tackle instead of a pass rusher. You look at linebackers –[sophomore LB] Tevin Jackson has gained experience and opportunity because of the injury to Demarco. So he’s getting more work than he would have gotten at the same time because Demarco was going to do really well, we thought. And we think that will take care of itself, and he will be back. And then you start looking in the secondary. We’ve really been impressed with [freshman DB] Duke Thomas. For a high school senior who was a quarterback and wide receiver, he has made such a smooth transition. He is really catching our attention. And like I said, we want to look at Sheroid. Huge plans for Sheroid this spring and now we’re down to half of a spring practice already if we get that because of his track injury. And I may have missed somebody. But ask if there’s a guy that I don’t have on my list in front of me.
On changing his philosophy on freshmen playing: But you know we really haven’t decided to change. And it sounds funny. We got a lot of criticism around here because when a highly recruited kid would walk on campus he wasn’t an All-American and a starter. And they never watched him practice and didn’t know if he could pick up the blitz or those things that are minor, unless you’re the quarterback or offensive coordinator. [Former LB] Derrick Johnson started his third game here, and started every game after that. So we’ve played the great freshmen. What we’ve changed is number one – when the NCAA started allowing the guys to come in June, that really helped us. When a guy can come in January and be here in June, he’s gotten more than a spring practice before he would have come in August before and maybe been out of shape. So the summer transition, the early enrollees, have really helped a lot of kids get to play more than before. The other thing, with the economy like it is, and some parents don’t have much money, an Earl Thomas, because of their situation after the hurricane, makes it where guys are going to leave earlier. And if a guy feels like he can be on special teams in the NFL, he makes $475,000 – that’s a whole lot of money. So it’s easy for us at one time to say, “Unless you’re a first-rounder don’t go out. Unless you’re a first- or second-rounder.” $475,000 is a lot of money for a guy covering kicks. So he can be a fourth-rounder and if he thinks he can make it on some team he might leave early. So that means you might want to go ahead and play them. And the day that you’re going to see, at a program like Texas, a whole lot of five-year guys, is probably gone.
On if some of the freshmen can come in and motivate the older guys: There’s no doubt. No doubt. And it got the attention of this year’s team because 18 came in last year, and they know we had a great recruiting class this year. So we’re already saying you’ve got until the end of spring. And then after that we’re going to look at freshmen if you’re not at the level we’re talking about. And we’re not talking about starters. We’re talking about players. We want you guys to be able to go in and play. And if you can’t go in and play for 12 plays a game, then we cant consider you in the mix. And we’re going to find someone that can. And they understand that. And we tell them everyday that, “This evaluation is not good enough for you to be in the mix. You can’t play in the fall with this performance. So here’s what we see. Here’s what we’re concerned about. And here’s what you need to do to fix it. And if you don’t you’re not going to be able to play.” So we’re very direct with the guys at this point to let them understand where they are. And we’re telling the freshman, “If you want to play, be in shape. You better not get out of shape from June to August.” Because some of them get too heavy. Some of the guys they get too heavy before they get here. And then they just lose the year and may not get it back at that age when you gain that much weight. So we’re constantly talking to the signees and their coaches about if he wants to play in the fall, here is what he needs to do before he gets here. And then that sends us a message as well. But you’ve got to have competition. The best motivator is that you might lose your job to the guy behind you if you don’t bust your rear end.
On if the economic situation is a factor in kids leaving school early: Some families, more than at any other time need money. The parents are laid off. So the kids are having to reach out and help their parents. And it’s fair. And I’ve had some kids that left early tell me, “I can’t stay. So it’s really not about whether I’m going to be drafted first round, or third round, or fifth round. But my family needs the money coach so I need to go.” And what do you say other than, “Got it. Let’s try to make sure you can get with the right team and make sure you can make a team and hope you make that money.” But it’s pressure on them. But it’s a valid point. But teachers are being laid off. I’d never thought I’d see teachers being laid off. So there’s a lot of people struggling out there right now. And this is a way for kids to help out their family, by leaving early.
On the potential of sophomore LB Steve Edmond: I think Steve can be really good. Steve is very quiet. He’s very bright. He’s not going to let you know he’s bright because he’s not going to talk to you. He won’t look at you in some cases. But he’s got great instincts. I think he might have been 254 pounds this morning when I looked. Because I know he was 261 when we started the offseason program. And at 254 he can run like a deer. In fact, [former Longhorn] Derrick Johnson came out and watched practice yesterday and spoke to the team at the end and said, “Who is that? He’s a great looking kid.” But I watched him yesterday on a sweep, and he played it perfectly, bounced out and knocked [senior RB] Jeremy Hills out of bounds after a five-yard gain, and he shouldn’t have even gotten there. So I think Steve has a chance to be really good.
On the quarterbacks:
I think they’re doing well. I am so excited about what we saw. I think leaving the Holiday Bowl we had cautious enthusiasm. And then there were rumors about Case transferring – which he said he was never considering it, when I asked him. Obviously, David did a good job in the last half, and we won the game. Then we had to make some decisions on freshman quarterbacks. And with [former QB] Garrett [Gilbert] and [former QB] Connor [Wood] leaving, do we bring in one? Do we bring in two? What do we do? We’ve got to get back on track with our quarterback situation because it got off track. Right now, I would say that [co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach] Bryan [Harsin], [co-offensive coordinator/runningbacks coach] Major [Applewhite] and I are really excited about where we’re headed. Both quarterbacks are much better than they were at the end of the season. And those guys won eight last year without a lot of help. So what we’re doing is challenging the rest of the guys. [Former QB] Colt [McCoy] very seldom threw a ball that wasn’t perfect. So we got a little spoiled around here. We talked about how great we caught them - well they were right and perfect in their hands. So we’re challenging our tight ends, backs, and receivers to number one – make the hard catch. Let’s help these quarterbacks. Don’t put it all one them. Make a great play. And we’re seeing that happen more. So they’re taking some more of the responsibility. We’re challenging the offensive line on the backs to protect them longer. We beat them up last year, let’s give them a chance now. They’re older. They’re trying. They’re more accurate right now. They’re more confident. But I would say their demeanor in the huddle and around the team is much better than at any time last year. Because they know Bryan well. They know the offense well. And they can actually be more emotional with the team. Give more motivation to the team simply because they’re more confident. And both of them are doing that. And that’s what we’re excited about. But I think it’s much further ahead than I would have anticipated. And it was two stages. That’s why we had the open practice. I wanted to see what they looked like when we walked out there in shorts the first two days. And then we wanted to see what they looked like out there in front of you all. Because maybe they’d tighten up some. And that’s happened around here some time ago. Some guys responded around here better than before you guys showed up. That’s why we wanted to let everyone see them. To see how they respond. And I thought both quarterbacks responded exactly the same way before you were out there, when you were out there, and yesterday. So I didn’t think it made any difference to them at all which I think is a huge step.