March 24, 2009
Opening statement: The guys came back in great shape for a first day. You're always concerned when they go to spring break if they'll exercise when they get home. We give them conditioning drills to do and it looked like guys did them because they were rested and it was like the first day of spring practice. We're more than halfway through now with our eighth practice, and we'll have another physical practice tomorrow. Today was really good and tough.
On tomorrow's Pro Day: Tomorrow is kind of a special day because after the Pro Day, the pro scouts stay and watch practice and that's exciting for the young kids. Obviously pro day is really, really important. For the guys that weren't invited to the combine, they get to work hard tomorrow, and it is their combine. For the guys that were invited to the combine, they get to re-do anything they didn't like. They can do everything, but most of them will just do what they feel like they need to improve, and then the pro scouts coming out to practice is really fun for our guys. A lot will get to watch the pros compete and then have a good, physical practice tomorrow afternoon.
On Colt McCoy's mission trip to Peru: Colt came back in good shape after being in Peru for a week. He said the experience was even better this year than last year because it was the same kids, same place and he was a lot more familiar and he felt like he got a lot more done. He may not tell you, but the kids could go to the Internet once a week and they got on YouTube and watched his highlights. It was a fun trip for him, and I think he felt like he got a lot accomplished for the kids while he was down there.
On depth at tight end and the team's injury update: You look at the last eight days and you set your goals. We want to continue to run the ball better on offense, continue to separate the receivers and make sure that we get good work for the young ones as we go. We've got to continue to improve at tight end. D.J. Grant sprained his ankle. He'll be day-to-day now and hopefully we can get a little something out of him here at the end. It's not a situation that's any worse than that, but he did sprain it and did not practice today. Kyle Hix had a scheduled operation last Friday that we knew was scheduled. He rehabbed and got seven good days of practice and they cleaned his shoulder up a little bit, so that's something that we anticipated. He'll be back 100 percent to start summer work, and regardless of what D.J. gets here at the end he'll be back 100 percent for summer work as well.
On the team's goal for the rest of spring: We want to continue to be tough, work on our depth. We need to figure out the depth at tight end. We need to figure out the depth of starters in the offense, period. We're trying to separate the receivers some more and trying to figure out at running back who is the guy that's stepping out the most. We change that every day, so we'll grade our film today and look at that. Defensively, we've got to continue to look at depth in the defensive line. Eddie Jones had his shoulder operated on yesterday morning. He'll now be working to get back to be ready. He should be ready for summer conditioning and ready for fall. A lot of the young guys are getting some work there. We're really just working on depth more than anything else. We're forcing more turnovers, which is good, but we've got to take care of the ball on offense. That's what spring practice is about, and we're working really, really hard on the kicking game. We're probably working harder on kickoff return and kickoff coverage because those are things that have been inconsistent. We're working harder on that than we ever have.
On the running game: When you go back and you work at the running game, you again have to go back and say we ran it good in short yardage, we ran it good in the goal line, we did not run it good in the last four minutes of the game when we needed to against Kansas, against Tech when we needed to be able to run the ball. What we're trying to do is take away the lost yardage plays, and take away the no-gain plays and try not to end up second-and-10 if you run it on first down, and we think we're making progress there. The offensive line looks good. The guys are competing. We've got situations now where all the backs are really competing, and we're being really hard in our grading system with them. Antwan Cobb is well for the first time in a long time and he's showing up and doing some good things at fullback for us, so we're able to play a little bit more with a fullback. We're not where we need to be, but we feel like we're making progress.
On the status of the running backs: Fozzy (Whittaker)'s ankle was tweaked a little bit, so that slowed him some, Vondrell (McGee) was in class today, so he didn't get to practice, so today Cody (Johnson) started.
On what the staff is looking for from the running backs: What we saw last year in our backs was we had really good backs, but no one separated themselves with that one thing that gave them an edge over everyone else, and that's what we're looking for right now. There's no doubt when Cody (Johnson) got in the games late and the other team was tired or beaten down a little bit it was harder to tackle him because he was 250 pounds. What you've got to do is figure out where that balance comes in. Can he play for more plays and how productive will he be if he's in there for more plays and will he continue to take care of the ball? Still the most phenomenal stat to me that goes with our running backs is that they didn't fumble last year. That's just absolutely unheard of that somebody didn't get a ball hit a helmet and come out. As much as people have scrutinized our running backs, that's probably the most important thing they did and taking care of the ball is really important.
On Cody Johnson: We've quit trying to get Cody to lose weight, we're working with body fat and we think that's the key to it. He looks like he's in good shape. He came back in good shape after the break. We feel like that he's doing a really good job. When you've got a weapon like Colt (McCoy), you cannot play a tailback that isn't very good at picking up the passes, running the routes and catching the ball. We've got to find the guy in there that can put the whole package together, and Cody is improving in those areas that he didn't do as well last year.
On if Cody Johnson has the endurance to be an every-down back: That's the question. That's what we're working on this spring. We really challenged him to get in better shape. We challenged him to improve his body fat. We quit talking about his body weight because we think that's unfair. If he's in great shape and his body fat's in great shape, we don't care how big he is. If he's as fast at 250 (pounds) as he is at 230, he gets weak if he eats salads every day and he's not going to be happy either. We feel like his endurance, his competitiveness, his toughness, his confidence, all those things are improving.
On if he gets nervous for his players before Pro Day: I do not get nervous because we've told them, `You are who you are. If you've given your best every day here like we've asked you to for four years, then that's all you can give today. What you want to do is show them your best, but if you'll just be your best every day that's easy to do.' We've told them that if you go in there and try to be something you're not, you won't make it. We do talk to them. We had Larry Mac Duff talk to them, Will (Muschamp) will talk to them about what they're looking for in the draft, what they're looking for in the combine. We have anybody who has been involved in pro football draft day to come in and tell our guys exactly what they expect. Will went over a list of five things today that he and Coach Belichick talked about Monday. Coach Belichick has called him and asked him about players for the last five years. It's all the things we would know - do they act right, are they smart, are they nice, do they take notes in meetings - none of it about football because they can see the football on the film. They'll have the tests tomorrow to make sure they've got the measurables, but they've got to have the intangibles and that's really important.
On the early enrollees: Two of them aren't practicing. Kenny Vaccaro is getting some individual work done now but Dominique Jones will not practice this spring. The other six guys are doing a good job, kind of lost, especially the offensive linemen are lost. It's been really difficult for them, especially with our defense moving so much and blitzing and playing so many different fronts. I would say the guy that's made the biggest impact has been Alex Okafor because he's really been good at pass rush and that's what we hoped, and he's just got to continue to get better against the run.
On freshman DE Alex Okafor: He's smart, he's quick, he's tall. Again, his pass rush ability is there and it's easier than taking on a 320-pound offensive tackle because he's got to improve his strength and you have to move him right now, make sure he doesn't have to take the guy on every time. As he gets stronger, he's got a great upside. We want to see the entire spring and then see what kind of summer he has in the offseason program because he really hasn't had an offseason yet, and then come back and watch him in two-a-days and see, because spring is easier because you're not game planning and you show up on some plays because the play didn't fit the defense. We don't want to get too high on a guy until we've given him some time, and he also needs to be working against our best guys because that's who he's going to be playing against in the fall.
On the competition in the secondary: We're fortunate that we've got good numbers of defensive backs that can run and can play. We feel like those guys are all good enough to play. You've got great competition at corner and safety right now; probably as good as we've had since we've been here.
On which defensive linemen have stood out this spring: Russell (Carter) is really making improvement, we're proud of him. Michael Wilcoxon was dinged a little bit and missed a day or so. He's come back and I thought he did a good job. Kheeston Randall is in a battle in there. We've really been impressed with Ben Alexander. His weight's down and he's had probably the best spring of the inside guys on a consistent basis up front. Lamarr (Houston) has played a lot, but Ben's a guy that it's his turn to play, so we've been really impressed with him and it'll be fun to watch him today and see if he continued to play as well as he did in the first seven practices.