Aug. 20, 2010
Opening Statement: We’re halfway through preseason camp. The guys are really tired. [There are] a lot of pulls, some sore ankles, sore shoulders, everybody’s sore and tired. It’s still at a point where you don’t see the opening of the season coming too quickly. I think we’re still 15 days away from Rice. The guys have a lot of work to do. This is a very difficult time during camp. I’m very proud of this staff. They continue to work so good together. Yesterday they met together for about an hour and a half and just talked about what hurts the offense, what hurts the defense. I think they’re working together as well as any staff that we’ve ever had. They share their notes. That’s tough on us. That’s a good thing. I really like that. That puts you in a bind in that formation. That blitz is tough. So they’re really doing a good job.
We thought the Wednesday scrimmage was just okay. There were a lot of great things in the scrimmage, but we did not feel like they started and finished with the enthusiasm that we need to win this year. This is not a team that’s full of experience. There’s enough inexperience in key spots that they’re going to have to play hard every play. We thought they played hard but they didn’t show the enthusiasm that we like for an opening scrimmage. You’ve got really three scrimmages and we treat them like a preseason NFL game. We’ve got one behind us. We’ll have another one in the morning really early. We’ll have fan day after that. Then we’ll come back and have one Wednesday night that pretty much simulates what we’ll have at Rice. We’ll work on Rice starting with the Wednesday night meeting. When you’re in preseason camp and especially as many young ones as we’ve got that are making a little bit of a splash, you’re always working on your chemistry and your team morale. If a younger one might take an older one’s place, that’s a difficult thing for a guy that’s been here a couple years, three years, four years and really tough to get his place. That’s something that we have to continually look at. Leadership is really important. The older guys have to continue to step up. The younger guys could still hit a wall. You watch them very closely as you go through. I think the freshman class is really good. It looks like if we can close in the class for 2011 in this class, I think it would be the two best classes we’ve had back-to-back and really good for the future of Texas football. Obviously time will tell.
To be consistently good like we’ve been in the past, we have to have experienced depth. Right now we don’t have that on either line of scrimmage. Injuries are such a key factor. As a head coach this time of year you try to balance how much you push them, how much you hit, because the young ones have to hit and get experience and try not to lose players. It’s a difficult thing. Every time you look up there are players across the country that are starters that are great players that won’t be playing for the year because they’re lost to a knee. As a head coach, you usually leave practice mad every day because your offense or defense got beat by the other side. You can’t be happy. It’s a very difficult time of the year. You’re dealing with kids that are disgruntled because they’re not getting to play as much as they wanted and they worked really hard. Or maybe they played well in the spring and some younger guy is stepping up now about to take his job. There are a lot of things going on right now to try to continue to get better. Depth is a key. We pretty much know where we’re headed with philosophy, what we’re doing. We’ve got to get two deep because you never know when you’re going to lose a player. Because of that we constantly cross train players. Ryan Roberson will cross train at linebacker and fullback. He’s working at both places. We’re trying to find the right keys to our H-back, tight end and fullback positions. Demarco Cobbs has had a pulled hamstring. He’s been slowed. He hasn’t been able to do a lot. My commitment to him was that we would look at him on both sides of the ball when he came to see where his best position might be. He’s played at tailback for the first two weeks and he’ll go look at safety now for the next two weeks. That’ll give him a chance to figure out where he thinks he fits the best.
I’m really proud of Ahmard Howard. He’s playing really well at tight end. It’s the best he’s played since he’s been here. At the same time, I’d like to explain the H-back position is a hybrid position. It’s a guy that can sit off the line of scrimmage in a tight end position and play basically tight end from off the line of scrimmage. David Thomas, Bo Scaife, we’ve done with those guys a lot. It’s a guy that can line up on the line of scrimmage and be a tight end if you’re a tight end set. It’s also a guy that can motion across and be a wide receiver. It’s also a guy that can motion to the backfield and be a fullback. When we have two tight ends or what would be considered a tight end or H-back in the game, you’re basically in a two-back situation. You would like to find that guy that you can split out and go from two tight ends or a two-back look to a three-wideout look. That’s what we’re constantly looking for and we haven’t found that guy yet to do both of those. Then you’ve got some guys that are just fullbacks. Ryan (Roberson) would probably mostly play on short yardage and goal line at fullback. Your H-back is a guy that can do a lot of different things and change up your formations.
Luke Poehlmann is also pushing hard to get in the mix at tackle. That’s good for us. Luke hasn’t played a lot since he’s been here. So that helps us. Garrett (Gilbert) has looked great. He’s taking care of the ball much better. He’s in a position where he’s learning to lead every day. He steps up. He’s more aggressive. He’s got full command of what we’re doing. He loves the deep ball. He has to make himself come down and drop the ball off. He will go to the throw to score every chance he gets.
The two younger quarterbacks are playing really well. They’re both much better than they were in the spring. At the same time there’s very little separation between the two right now. There will be a very good quarterback who will probably redshirt. We have no timetable on that decision. Obviously we’ll have to do that before the first game. They’re both getting a lot of snaps right now.
Dravannti (Johnson) is cross training at end and (strongside) linebacker. We’re really pleased with him. He’s come a million miles in his transition from defensive end to linebacker. Christian Scott is playing really well. He’s covering better. We always knew that he could run and hit and tackle. He’s actually toned some down. He hurts guys in practice if we allow him to go full speed all the time. We say, ‘Christian help us. Wait until the games.’ He and Kenny Vaccaro will light you up. Duane Akina did a great job in Christian’s year off in keeping him involved with the defense and working him and not letting him get behind.
Defensive tackle is still a question mark. Kheeston Randall is the guy. All the other guys are working to see which one can get up and help us. We need four. Right now we don’t have four. That’s a concern. Backup offensive line, backup defensive line and the other guy are still the concerns. We’re making some progress there, but we’re not ready to step up and make decisions yet.
Justin Tucker has shown a tremendous leg in practice. He’s got a great leg in field goals. He’s only missed one so far in camp. He can still punt, but John Gold punted so well on Wednesday in the scrimmage he out-punted the coverage. He’s done a tremendous job. Will Russ has done a good job. He went to a wedding over the weekend, a family wedding that he told us about when he signed. He missed a couple of days and he came back and had a fresh leg and is doing a good job for us as well.
We’ll have fan appreciation day after the scrimmage in the morning tomorrow. We apologize to some of the fans that won’t get to come like they normally do, but with things that are happening with the agent issues and people selling things that the players sign on eBay that might question their eligibility. Through the NCAA compliance has asked us that we do things in that area. We’ll always continue to try to work to be available to our fans. Our fans are great. We wouldn’t have the place we’ve got without our fans. At the same time, when things change out there we have to be smart enough to change with them. We do want to encourage all of our fans in the state of Texas to go fill up Reliant. I think that’s important. It’s a national TV game, opening game of the year, young team, got a lot of new players, some that are older that haven’t had their change. They’ll get their chance now. This team needs to have people behind them in the opening game.
Just a few leaders that are stepping up – Garrett Gilbert has come a million miles. (Kyle) Hix and (Michael) Huey, the left side is really coming off the ball. They’re doing a great job. Neither one of them is vocal but they really enjoy coming off the ball with the running game. You can tell one thing that makes a difference is a three-point stance instead of a two-point stance. When you line up and you can get lower and your weight is forward, obviously you can get off the ball better. So they’re enjoying that. Greg Smith and both of the older running backs are doing a good job. We’ve talked a lot about Cody Johnson. Cody has come back in the best shape he’s been in. He’s doing a tremendous job. The other two are still playing really well. When we’re talking about Cody getting in the mix as an every-down back we’re not taking way from what Tre’ Newton and Fozzy (Whittaker) have done. They’ve done a great job.
Defensively, Sam Acho, Emmanuel Acho, Keenan Robinson, most of the guys in your secondary, Blake Gideon is a tremendous leader. He can step up at any time. Aaron Williams is very vocal. He’s fun. He lightens the mood out there for the guys. That’s good. Then Kheeston Randall is the leader in that front. We’ve got all three senior receivers are older. They know what to do. We think that one of the things that we’ve done to Malcolm Williams is we’ve probably played him too much. He plays on every special team. Then he runs and competes so hard and plays too hard, we might have worn him down in some games. We’re looking at cross training some guys there. James Kirkendoll will go to X some. He’ll rest Malcolm more. We’ve just got to be aware of the heat especially early in the season.
On kickoff duties: Right now Justin Tucker would be the kickoff guy. He’s actually kicked the ball five or six yards deep just about every kickoff and some into a slight breeze. I think when we said that we’d rather have a young one come in and take some pressure off Justin, he took it as a challenge. He’s kicking the ball better now than at any time that we’ve seen him. John Gold would be the punter right now. John Gold would be the holder right now, probably. He gets to spend all day with Justin. They’re close. That’s part of that scenario. You still have Alex Zumberge as your deep snapper on punts and you would have Greg Smith as your short snapper on extra point on field goal.
On kick returners: I would like to see D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin on kickoff returns. Marquise does not get to work out with the kids in the summer. Every year he comes in he has a slight pull. We have to be very careful with him. He’s been limited some in practice. We’re going to look at that next year and be smarter with it when you’ve got a two-sport guy that doesn’t do any of the football drills all summer that the other kids do. We’re just going to have to go slower with him. Last year he did the same thing. He started great then he had a tight leg for a while. We’re just careful with him because he doesn’t do what the other kids do. So we’re watching him. Today you would probably have D.J. Monroe and either Aaron Williams or Christian Scott if we played today. Hopefully by the time we get to Rice, Marquise will get back to 100 percent, because he’s not hurt, he’s just limited with what he can do.
Punt return would be a tossup right now between Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams. Both of them are real fast and have done a good job. I do think we’re further ahead in the kicking game. We’re working really hard on it. We know this is going to be a different type team. We’re going to have to be a physical team on offense. We’re going to have to continue to have to play great defense. The kicking game has to continue to get better.
On where this team is compared to last year’s team at this time: It’s always hard. I think the hardest time of the year for a head coach is preseason camp because you have so many things going on. You’re dealing with so many issues. It’s 102 degrees. How much do you hit? How much do you run? How much do you practice? You never practice this hard at any other time in these kids’ lives. They never get a break. Trying to balance all of that is important. That’s why I was a little disappointed, it usually happens with the first scrimmage. When you go in the stadium and you scrimmage the first one is usually the worst one because you’ve got some young ones that are trying to figure out what’s going on. They’re in the stadium for the first time. You’ve got old ones that played hard but they’re not as enthusiastic and they don’t have the same leadership energy that they will later. I think there are still some question marks on both sides of the ball that have to get answered. We’ve got 15 days to get them answered. Again, we’ve got to keep pushing this team and hope to stay healthy.
On what young receivers are stepping up: Mike Davis and Darius White. Mike is a very confident young man. When he walks in the room he knows he’s good. Darius is a very quiet young man. He was that way in recruiting. He’s gone a little bit slower. Those guys have a good chance to be really good players in time. Talking yesterday, we’re going to play more freshmen than we have. To do that you’re going to have some freshman mistakes. It doesn’t matter. We’re just going to have to be aggressive with it and go forward.
On the improvement at defensive tackle: Your first couple of games you’re going against teams that are throwing the ball. We’ve got plenty of guys that can rush the passer. We’re in as good of shape there as we’ve been. You just look at the additions of Greg Daniels, Jackson Jeffcoat and Reggie Wilson to what we already had. We’re going to have fresh legs as pass rushers. I’m not concerned at all about that. When you get a pounding team, you’ve got to hope. Tyrell Higgins has done some good things. Calvin Howell has been sore some and played some and hasn’t played some. He has to get back. Then you look at the young ones. Ashton Dorsey is probably further ahead. You hope that Taylor Bible will come on. Those guys aren’t ready to jump out there and play a lot of plays right now. It’s funny with freshmen; they have highlight plays. Some of them aren’t consistently conditioned enough or mentally in a position where they can play 50 plays in a ballgame. They just wear down and it’s just different for them with the pressure and intensity.
On his confidence in Kheeston Randall: We thought last year that one key to our team would be Lamarr (Houston) staying healthy. We see the same thing with Kheeston. Kheeston is really good. Again, we’ve got to work him enough but not because you’re limited with your numbers and your experience at defensive tackle, not work him so much that he gets tired and gets hurt. It’s a fine line.
On the linebackers: Dustin Earnest, Keenan (Robinson) – Keenan probably had the best scrimmage of the linebackers on Wednesday. Emmanuel Acho, the addition of Dravannti Johnson has helped those numbers. That gives you four. Jared Norton is playing. He’s hitting. His shoulder is well. He got a little heavier than he needed to be when he was going through his transition with his year off. He’s still working. We see progress. He is going to be able to play this year and we weren’t sure of that when he came back to practice. You’ve got Ryan Roberson who can help in that group. All of a sudden Jordan Hicks has jumped up and he’s making a splash. He’s doing some good things. He’s not ready to play today, but again these guys down the road might be. Aaron Benson is doing some of the same, especially on special teams. Tevin Jackson has been limited some because he broke his wrist in the All-Star game. He’s had some soreness because he’s taking on some bigger guys now. It’s limited some of what he can do because some of the big linemen are coming off and we’re running the ball so much that it’s been tough for him to take on blocks like he’d want.
On what aspect of their game is ready to play today: One thing that’s ready to go today, I would think probably the secondary. We’ve got probably eight guys that can play, seven for sure and that’s comforting. When you can play man coverage on defense and disguise with older guys, it really, really helps you.
On Barrett Matthews: He is practicing. He missed maybe a week with a tight hamstring. We’re cautious that if there’s a chance that they can pull a hamstring really bad and they’re tight, we send them to the trainers in camp and make sure they’re totally well before we put them back out there. He scrimmaged Wednesday, he did really well, he is at tight end right now. He is the perfect H-back, he gives us speed at tight end but he’s the perfect H-back because he can do all of the above that we need that hybrid position to do. We’re not cross-training him there yet, we started, but since he missed some time, we’ve gone back and limited him just to tight end until he can get comfortable again and then we’d like to cross train him. We’re cross training Greg Smith, we’re playing Chris Whaley at H-back, it is the tight end position when he steps us so he would not be at tight end but he would be the H-back and at 260 pounds, he’s big and strong enough that he needs to be able to step up and take that other step as a quote ‘tight end’ in that package.
On the players wanting to hit somebody else: They are so tired of each other. It’s funny, every check, the linebackers start saying, ‘Hey screen, they’re going right over here. We’ve seen this for three years.’ Then the offense has to change the names. It’s just unbelievable how tired they get of each other and that’s why, most coaching staffs fight during preseason. It’s really a problem because you want to compete as coaches and if your guy gets beat then you turn around and yell at the other coach or if your team wins and they’re all tired and they get frustrated, so we’re hanging in there pretty good with all that. We’ve got to get through Wednesday. Wednesday is your key injury moment – they’re tired, you’ve got the morning scrimmage. How much do you do? Who do you play? Do you hold anybody out? Then you get to Wednesday and you’ve got more of a Rice feel, so that’s the first time they actually think there’s going to be a season with another team because they haven’t heard that other team mentioned for a while and we really sell our kids on ‘we’ve really got good players.’ If you can block Sam Acho, then you’re going to be able to block most of the people that you play or all the people that you play. If you can beat Chykie Brown, then you’re going to have a chance during the game and it’s going to be more fun because we’ve got really good players each day. If you can stop Cody Johnson running the ball, there aren’t many 250-piund running backs that are going to hit you, so those are things that we constantly talk to our kids about, enjoy the competition, fight against some of the best players in the country and you’ll have more fun in the games then you do the practices.
On Gilbert progressing on the field: Just confidence, he’s got his swagger back like he had in the second half of the National Championship Game. Players know he’s good and he understands football so well. He can sit there and talk to you and know what he did wrong if something doesn’t work before he turns to Greg [Davis]. He’s a student of the game and I think he’ll be pretty good and you like him being around. He’s a young guy that can make fun of himself. He cuts up about himself all the time. I’ve cut up with him some about the pregame at the National Championship Game. Obviously he didn’t eat his steak and somebody else’s, obviously he wasn’t sacred, he was anxious and excited. He couldn’t find his helmet because it was 15 seconds and we were all looking around and trying to figure what was going on there, but he doesn’t mind that. He cuts up and he’s fun with the kids and at the same time. As humble as he is, he is really competitive and that’s the thing you don’t see in an interview. I’ve watched some of his interviews and he’s so nice and he’s so polite and he’s so smart and when he gets on the field he’s very competitive.
On Gilbert being able to check his passes down: He’s done that much better. Probably the best guy we’ve ever had at dropping it down was Major [Applewhite] and that’s been fun. Greg’s the hard guy, he’s the bad guy, he’s a tough guy so Major can be the good guy when it comes to quarterbacks. So Garrett will throw one and maybe it gets tipped and we catch it for a touchdown and he’ll be walking back and Major will say, ‘That was lucky, your back was wide open, be smart.’ So those are the things and Garrett will say, ‘I got ya, I got ya,’ and we’re doing a lot of film work together as an offense and a defense so Greg Davis will take the entire offense in and we’ll show them 15 plays that are really good and we’ll show them five plays that will get us beat. We’re talking a lot of game-type situations. We took the last drive at Ohio State yesterday up at the Horseshoe. We took the ball when we got it back with 1:24 against Southern Cal in a game situation the other day. We took the 1:24 that was left at Texas Tech the other day and we’re putting our team in those situations. It was interesting out here on Wednesday in the last-game situation, it was ones against ones and Garrett thought the defense was offsides so he throws the ball out, it goes right through one of the defensive back’s hands, it wasn’t Blake [Gideon] and I’m not going to tell you who it was, but it would have been an interception and I thought, ‘Gosh, we are in Lubbock.’ But it was a great teaching moment because they didn’t call offsides and we had Big 12 officials and Garrett thought they did so it taught us, number one, unless you’re sure they are offsides don’t get the quick snap and throw the ball because it can kill the game. Number two, defensive backs have to catch the ball. Then we go down and the offense kicks a field goal to win the game and they call one of the wings for holding, so we back it up and the kick gets blocked. There were so many teachable moments in there and yesterday we had a similar situation and we call them ‘Storm and Attack’ but basically the second team went out there and they were having that game situation and they were supposed to stop them, punt the ball, offense was supposed to get in and go down and the offense took it the length of the field and won the game because they were down 21-17. So we’re getting some great teachable moments and you have to practice as much game speed as you can and try not to get people hurt, that’s just the roll of the dice, you’ve got to be lucky.
On Cody Johnson changing his body: I think we got onto him so much that we got discouraged, very honestly. You can’t do it as a coach, the young man has to do it and this summer he did it on his own. I’m really happy for him. But after three years of hope and expectations, I’m really pulling for him now because he is working so hard. I see him sitting in Major’s meeting with a pad and pencil and looking at every pickup and he’s such a great blocker and he’s taking care of the ball and he’s really excited about his new self. He’s kind of reinvented himself and that’s fun, that’s what you love to see with college teams and to continue to be good, you have to have that. You have to have some guys that have had enough and want to step up and do something else. I think he’s done that. Ahmard Howard, Luke Poehlmann, I mean there’s some guys now saying, 'I’ve been around here long enough, I’d like to reap some benefits from playing, I don’t want to just be a guy on the team.'
On the offensive tackle position: What you’d have right now is Britt [Mitchell]’s doing a good job, Kyle [Hix] is doing a really good job and then you’d have Luke that if we played today, he would move back and forth, so you’ve got three tackles that we feel like right now are playing well enough to step up and play. But I think Greg mentioned it yesterday, we’re all really excited about Trey Hopkins. I mean he’s sixth in his class of 1,000 at North Shore, he’s a brilliant kid. He’s so much smarter than Mac McWhorter and I, it’s hard to talk to him because he’s just brilliant, but he can really run. We had him at tackle and he’s got great feet out there, but also, we’re doing a lot of things with our guards running and moving and he’s moved inside and is doing really well, so he’s a guy that if he stays healthy and keeps working as hard as he is, he’ll play early.
On Carrington Byndom: He played safety a lot at Lufkin and we weren’t sure how quickly he would respond to being a corner that plays a lot of man [coverage], but he’s a 3.6 student, he’s a guy that could have played college baseball and he’s a guy that’s made a really quick transition to corner. You’re going to lose Curtis [Brown] and Chykie next year and because we’re not sure about Aaron [Williams] because he’s a talented, young man, he could decide to leave early if that’s what he wants to do, but at the same time, you’ve got to get young corners ready to play fast because you’re going to play with some younger corners next year, regardless. We’ve been pleased with both A.J. White and Carrington, but Carrington, he’s been a surprise that he’s moved in so quickly because he wasn’t here in the spring and he played a lot of safety.
On scheduling tougher non-conference opponents: DeLoss [Dodds] and Butch Worley and I sat down and talked, and DeLoss and Butch Worley do our scheduling, and it’s a very difficult thing to do here. It’s hard. I’ve often said that the way the BCS is set up, I don’t think it encourages a great out-of-conference schedule and you want to win a National Championship. If you do play an Ohio State and you lose, you’re probably out of the mix. If you play an Ohio State and win, it helps you some, but it’s great for the fans, it’s great for the kids, everybody loves those national matchups. What we felt like, and I’m not speaking for them, but as a group we kind of came out and felt like without the (Big 12) championship game, which will give you a lot of points in strength of schedule, that we needed to replace that championship game with a national opponent and that’s something that even before, UCLA is on there for that reason, then you’ve got California, we had Minnesota and that didn’t work out, you’re adding Notre Dame, but we’ll constantly look for a national opponent each year and the other thing is that you want to open the season with it or have it the second game or the third game and unless they’re willing to do that, that makes it very difficult. Most of the games have to be home and home. Well if you’re playing a nine-game conference schedule and then you have to go away from home for one of your preseason games, you lose a home game, so it’s a very difficult thing to look at. So if we’re going to go away and not playing a home game, we’re going to play a national team as often as we can.
On keeping the players focused at the end of training camp: I think it’s pushing them to a point. They’re in great shape and tough and preseason camp does make them pull closer together because it’s the dog days and they’re tired and they’ll talk about how much they hate the coaches and how hard this is and how they fought through it and all that and that’s important, and at the same time, not getting them so tired that you get them hurt. Those are things, tomorrows scrimmage, what do you do? How long do you go? How much do you hit? How long do you stay out there in the heat? How long do you play your tailbacks? If a defensive lineman and an offensive lineman get tired and one gets sloppy and falls into Garrett Gilbert, is it worth it? Those are all things that you never know. Kicking game, how much do you cover live tomorrow because they’re exhausted? Can they pull a hamstring more easily when they’re covering a kickoff full speed? Those are nightmarish things that head coaches do. Your assistant coaches all have differences of opinions and that’s why football coaching is more like a dictatorship because one guy has to step up at some point and say, ‘You four want this, you five want this, obviously we’re split in here, here’s what we’re going to do and like it.’ That’s just the way college football has to work, but at the same time, when they all walk out of the room, everybody’s on the same page and that’s important.
On practice being predetermined: Every year we have a schedule and we change it daily, so it cannot be predetermined. For new head coaches, there’s no book that says how much to hit, there’s no book that says how much to run, there’s no book that says how many freshmen can you play and all of a sudden you’ve got him starting and the next day he’s homesick and wants to go home and you the you go back to the other [player] and say, ‘I was kidding, get ready, get back up there.’ So there are no books on that kind of stuff. There are no books that say you’ve got be in shape but you can’t be tired, you’ve got to hit enough to be tough but you can’t get hurt. I mean those are just nightmarish things and trying to balance how much ones on ones do you do and if one side of the ball is whipping the other, you get mad at them but do they need some confidence so then you put them against the two so they get more confidence. When you pull a young guy out, coach [Gene] Stallings and coach [Joe] Paterno used to tell me that in a scrimmage with a great player, you should leave him in seven plays and that gets him going. It makes him work, and at the same time, he doesn’t stand there long enough for a tired [player] to fall into him, so there are just balances of those things that are very difficult this time of the year.