Aug. 21, 2011
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz
On how the defense looks right now: I think our defense has continued to improve. Guys are starting to come together. I think the big thing is that guys are starting to buy into the plan. We sort of have a plan for success involving being tough to run the ball against, not giving up big plays, being great on possession downs and third downs, and being great in the red zone. They're starting to see that. They're starting to see that if we're hard to run on and don't give up big plays, the worst that can happen is the ball ends up in the red zone. If we can toughen up in there, we're hard to score on and if you're hard to score on you're hard to beat. What we're starting to see from the scrimmage is that we're starting to see some feedback from that. The guys are starting to believe in the plan.
On if there's a certain part of the defense that clicks a little more than others: I think we're at the point where I expected us to be. We made great improvements in the summertime and the spring. Our guys did a great job on the scheme in the summertime. Now we've come back and we've detailed some things and our guys are playing with the confidence in our scheme that they didn't have in the spring and didn't have on August 5. Now the next part is games. Now games are going to come because performing it with the people in the crowd is going to be different than performing it in an empty stadium. As a coach you hate to say it - you know sometimes there are going to be some mistakes that you make because you make practice mistakes and you correct practice mistakes and then you're going to have some game mistakes. We're going to try real hard the next two weeks to try and minimize our game mistakes as much as possible, but it's still a process.
On how much improvement was made between the first and second scrimmage: Well, I think we've seen improvement individually within our players. We have players that are better, that believe that they're stronger, faster, more physical than they were in the spring. So we've seen that individually. Now it's about coming together. I think that's really what these final two weeks are about. Now we've got to come together and play a game. In spring and in early fall camp, you have ones and twos, we call our white and our attack defense, but when we run out there against Rice, it's only Texas. We've got to make sure that anybody that represents us in that 11 is a starter, is a one and can play at the highest level. That's what we're trying to find now, getting those guys game ready and ready to go beat somebody else.
On if there has been separation between some of the players: That’s an ongoing battle. We're still not entirely there yet if I could tell you that our batting order is set. Obviously, our experienced guys are making the steps we thought they would. We're challenging them to be our best players and our best players can't have bad days, and they're getting better at that. We have to bring the other half along though and that may happen up until the morning of September 3rd. We're constantly trying to improve our first 22. Then when we get done on midnight of September 3rd, we've got to continue to fight the same battle. The good thing is that our defense is in, now we just get to fix it. We wake up every day, we don't know what to expect, we don't know what we're going to see necessarily, what we're going to have to fix but we get out there and we put on our blue collar shirt, we open the hood up and get our hands dirty and we go in there and fix it. We come and maybe the next day it’s the carburetor and we've got to go in and fix that. That is it. We're not adding any new parts, we just get to fix what we do every day. I don't care who we're playing.I don't care if it's week one or week 12, we're just going to be in a constant battle fixing our defense.
On what it means to hear that LB Emmanuel Acho and LB Keenan Robinson say that they're helping lead the defense: It means that they understand their role. I always use a basketball reference. You know in college football because of the nature of how our roster turns over, sometimes you can defer. When you're the young guy you say, ”Well that guy will get the team rolling, or that guy will take the last second shot.” Well that guy graduated, so now when we're coming down the court in the last possession of the game, we're passing it to you. Maybe last year you got the ball and passed it down low to this guy but that guy is gone. So you've got to shoot, we're passing it to you. You want guys to have that responsibility where they say, “Put it on me coach”, and not just mean that I'm going to make the play but I'm going to bring everybody else along to understand their role. We're trying to really sell our younger guys to play for our seniors and our seniors to be guys that I'd want to play for. Part of being a leader is that someone has got to want to follow you. We want those guys to excel in both those dynamics.
On if he's seen the leadership on the field during practice: We have. They will follow who they believe will lead them to somewhere they want to go. Our players respect our seniors at every position because it's not just by words, it's by actions. Ultimately that's who we'll follow. We will follow actions more often then we will follow words.
On if the defense is where they understand why they're doing what they're doing: We are, but it's scattered. It's scattered amongst our roster. The more experienced guys are getting to the “how” and some of them are into the “why” where they can get into the theory behind it and how this defense compliments that one. Where they can understand why we're asking them to do what they do. All of our older guys are probably at that point. Then you have some of the medium guys that are somewhere in the middle, and then sometimes it's not even clear cut. There might be some defenses where they're already on the level two or level three, and then some other ones where they might be struggling to keep up with the call. It would be too hard to generalize it as an entire team. We're all in various stages in moving up the chart.
On who stood out at the scrimmage: I think this scrimmage was more of a collective effort. I thought in our first scrimmage, the older guys were really dominant. I thought this scrimmage was more of a solid performance. I don't know if we were as clean, and when I say clean, we were a count off in some ways. We were there maybe half a step sooner the week before. We were a little sharper the week before and our guys say that. What it means to our defense is this - we want to be a big play defense. We want to be an aggressive attacking style defense. When you're a count off, instead of a sack, it’s a quarterback pressure. Instead of a quarterback pressure, the quarterback gets the ball off. Instead of an interception, it's a pass break up and instead of a pass break up, it is a completed pass. We were one beat off from where we were supposed to be. We're not busting assignments, but we're not quite as crisp. The neat thing is, you'd rather it happen in August instead of September and you're able to show them if we were on the beat, on the rhythm, look at all the big play opportunities that are out there. We could have done this and done that, and that's our battle. That's what we're really able to look at this week.
On if the players aren't worrying about the depth chart at this point: I mean, what difference does it make? In reality, how we rank our players on August 1st or August 15th or September 1st, to me it's really irrelevant. Because once the game goes on, things are so dynamic. I actually showed the linebackers a couple days ago, our season opener last year at Mississippi State and I made a point that in the first series we lost our starting corner. In the second series we lost our starting middle linebacker. Our second team middle linebacker was out for the game already anyways, so we had a third team guy that nobody would talk about on a day like today, because no one wants to talk about a third string linebacker. Well that guy played the whole game. So we're trying to press that up on the players. The least important thing on defense is who runs out there on the first play of the game because we intend to play a lot of people. To me what's more important is can we send you across the line. That's what matters. Are you good enough to go across the line? Where if I send you in, the rest of the players look at me and think, “That guy is crazy.” Or when you go in, somebody is coming out in turn, they'll think, “Oh, I'm glad that guy is going in because I trust him.” So to me, that is the line we're working on right now. That does change every day. Bottom line is do I, and more importantly, does the locker room trust you when you go in that you can represent our defense the way we want to be represented.
On getting the players into the mentality that they want to score on defense: Because we are aggressive, we got call it “gotcha” plays. We feel like there are some times where we can get the offense in some bad downs. When we do, we have to capitalize. Whether that's where we have a guy coming through on a blitz or we get the quarterback to throw it into the teeth of our coverage, that's where they have been able to see throughout the course of the fall camp that there have been times where we've gotten them. Then there have been times where we've had some gotcha downs and we let them off the hook. A play gets run right into the middle of a blitz or something like that, and it's a play that no one notices because the back spins off a tackle and falls forward for two yards and its second and eight. What we're trying to teach them is how this all relates to a game because it would have been second and 14. The difference for an offense between second and eight and second and 14 is monumental. Once we get them behind the chains, now we've got them in third and long. We're trying to teach them that we don't want to make big plays because it's cool and it will make people like us on campus, we want to make plays because that wins football games. If we can make plays behind the line of scrimmage that gets the offense off the field and that gets our offense on the field closer to the goal line they're attacking. It all gets back to winning defense, and that is what we are obsessed with. We want to play winning defense, and that's what we feel wins. Putting the offense in negative situations wins football games. That's our sole mission.
Co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Major Applewhite
On if the players are making it easy on the coaches to decide the depth chart: No, they're making it hard. All the guys have competed extremely well at all positions. They make it tough on you, but that's a good thing. When you're sitting in there as a coach and you're trying to decide does this guy deserve it or does that guy and they're constantly producing and making it difficult on you, that's what you want. You don't want any easy decisions, and we've got a lot of good football players and they're working hard.
On if they're where they want to be at this point in the offense: We're where we want to be at this point, installation-wise, putting in certain packages offensively and defensively and special teams, and certain positions. The competition has maybe been higher than we anticipated so you're having to analyze it a little more. I don't think you're going to find any coach in the country that's going to say, “Hey, I'm not happy with where we're at right now.” They're pretty much going to say they're happy with where they are. There's just a few more things we've got to figure out over the next few practices.
On what worries him while installing the offense: The gruel of camp. Camp is so long, so at some point an 18, 19, 20-year-old brain can only take so much and it just starts to shut down and you kind of hit the wall. As a coach you just constantly want to keep your guys enthusiastic. You want to keep them in-tune to what you're doing. You want to keep that intensity there, whether it be a walk-thru or a practice. And the guys have done a great job. The seniors have done a great job. We've implemented some programs, some unity programs to keep things light and fun when it's appropriate, but also just to keep them involved with the camp atmosphere. That's the thing that you battle the most is that when you practice so much in so little time, three weeks, you get 28, 29 practices in, you can get that sense of boredom or “same ol' same ol' ” from the players. So you've got to keep it fresh. That's the one thing you're constantly fighting is it to keep them intense.
On if there’s anything the coaches are worried about at this point: The thing that you always worry about from a coaching standpoint, other than keeping the players intense and focused on what they're doing, is are we giving them enough or are we giving them too much. That's just the constant thing that you're trying to tow the line on. Do we have enough offense or do we have too much offense? Are we giving them enough of the right stuff? You're just trying to find that constant balance. But they've done a great job of accepting all the teaching, all the installs. We've got a ton of plays in so we feel confident from that standpoint. Now you get to that point where you start to pare it down. We've got our first three opponents, do we need this? No, we might not need this until week four so let's not practice this as much. Let's start repping more of these plays and these packages.
On the competition between the offensive players: I think it's been at every position. It hasn't just been quarterback. It's been at offensive line. It's been at tight end, wide receiver, running back. The depth chart has been fluid because of the competitive level at all those positions. A guy may be coming the morning of a two-a-day practice and have a great practice and he moves up in the afternoon and in the afternoon that [oher] guy gets his pride hurt and he has a better practice in the afternoon. So you know just trying to keep that competition there, helping those guys understand that nobody is entitled to anything. You have to come to work every day and keep earning your position, and I think that's helped us as a program top to bottom.
On if the players aren't worrying about the depth chart at this point: You use the word uncomfortable. You want to make them a little bit uncomfortable from the standpoint where you just can't rest on their laurels. You can't sit in the shade, and I think that's been apparent. There's been fifth-year seniors that have been starters that have seen freshmen or sophomores go ahead of them, so they've had to fight back to get those opportunities back and get those positions there. That's healthy, and that's what you want to do as a team and a coach. You want to create an environment where you're guys feel like they've got to produce to their potential every single day to earn their job. I think we've done a great job at that top to bottom as coaches to keep that environment going, keep those guys hungry.
On if the players get stressed because of no depth chart: Absolutely, and it's a great thing to see them stressed. You want to see them stressed out. You want to see them worry,”Is my job safe?”, because that puts them back in the dorm room, back in the play book. That keeps them in the meeting room a little longer after you leave as a coach, studying more tape. You want to put that same stress on, that same pressure because on September 3rd, there's going to be pressure. So you want to see how those guys respond, how they react to that. I think it's very healthy and very natural. If you have a 105 football players that feel comfortable about their role on the team and this is it and it's set in stone, you're not going to achieve very much. So we want to put them in that environment, add a little pressure and see how they respond to it.
On the quarterback battle: They've all done well. We're going to keep evaluating them throughout the week. We've got one more [scrimmage] on Thursday night that we're going to watch them compete. They've all brought something to the table. They've all exhibited great leadership at times. They've all made great plays, and that's a tough decision and that's a good thing. It would be tough if it was a really, really easy decision for us. We're glad that it's a tough decision because they're so much competition at that level right now.
On the running backs' performance at the scrimmage: Both of the backs, both Malcolm [Brown] and Joe [Bergeron] had a great day in the scrimmage and the offensive line is obviously where you need to attribute most of the credit. Those guys did a great job in the scheme. They've learned a lot of scheme in these first couple of weeks. They've done a great job of going out there and executing. The backs ran behind them well, so I'm cautiously optimistic. We've got some guys that have done some great things running the ball, some great things out there blocking, but I want to see it live. We want to see it live. We know what we're capable of, but we just want to see it live.
On if the quarterbacks’ snaps were equal during the scrimmage: In the scrimmage, we gave them all opportunities with the ones. Ones versus the ones. Ones versus the twos. You've got to remember quarterbacks, they're always analyzing everything. “Well, I didn't get a shot with the ones, but I got a shot with the twos. But I had to play the first team defense so that's not fair.” So we all gave them a shot with the ones. They all got a shot against the second team defense, so they all had their opportunities. It was a level playing field.
On if the wide receivers are progressing: Absolutely. The wide outs are a young group, not a senior in the group. Mike [Davis], Darius [White], Jaxon [Shipley], DeSean [Hales], John Harris, Miles Onyegbule - a bunch of young guys at that position and that's great because they have a great sense of pride. You can see it. You can feel it in that position, a lot to prove. With it not being a real experienced group, they kind of feel like the little brother that's ignored so they're going to make their mark. They're doing a great job with their assignments, being detailed with their assignments and being physical when they're asked to be.
On what he thinks about the offensive sets that co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bryan Harsin has installed: I enjoy watching the defense get confused. It's a great weapon to have offensively obviously, but it's a blessing in disguise defensively because I'm not sure anybody is going to present the number of motion, shifts and things that our offense presents our defense on a day-to-day basis. So I imagine the first time our defense gets out there and sees someone that's stationary, they're going to be shocked. They're just going to be able to sit in their cleats and go play. So it's fun watching it. And you just get to see it's just one little thing, maybe a shift or a motion gets a linebacker out of place and now a crease is there in the run game. Or you shift the tight end and motion a guy, and now they're not as tight in coverage so now you've got a looser throw and the quarterback doesn't have to be as accurate. It's obviously working, and our guys need to continue to work and develop and just get stronger in our executions and the details of it.
Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bryan Harsin
On the quarterback battle in the scrimmage: Here's what I think. First of all, overall scrimmage wise, not just the quarterback position, I thought it was good in general for the offense. We did some things that we needed to get done in the scrimmage. Put them in difference scenarios, and I thought they handled it pretty well. We were seeing a lot from our defense, and those guys on defense were doing an excellent job. So we really wanted to see the red zone scenarios, the two-minute scenarios and see how we handle it as an offense. I thought the guys did a pretty good job. I thought all the quarterbacks in the scrimmage did well. Each guy, we talk to about two or three things going into each scrimmage, what do you need to get done, and I thought that we did. Those guys continue to battle and make it very difficult because everything we're asking them to do, they're doing out there. I've been very proud of that. We still have another scrimmage left. We still have to let these guys continue to battle. We'll start getting into a little more game-planning stuff as we get started here this next week, but I thought all those guys did well. I thought overall the offense had a good showing out there and performed well. Both sides of the ball were competing hard and making plays and it was good to see that.
On if any of the QBs remind him of Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore: You know it's interesting. Jared Zabransky, Kellen Moore, guys that I've had an opportunity to coach, Taylor Tharp at Boise, they all have different qualities and each guy [here] has got qualities that those guys had. The competitiveness. The smarts. The accuracy. So every guy has some of those qualities. Some more than others, and when you decide your quarterback, what's their strength and you've got to go with that. Each of those guys are similar to what I've had, and they're all very good in the meetings. That's the one thing - if you could see these guys in meetings, they prepare very hard. They've very intelligent as far as the game of football, so that's good.
On rotating the quarterbacks during the scrimmage: I think that is the natural thing as a quarterback to go, ”Okay, if I'm with all these starting receivers, I could have done this and this.” Well that's not the case in a game because things happen. Our job is to put them in those uncomfortable situations and see how they adapt and handle it. I think they've all done a good job, and they've all had those opportunities to go with the first group, the second group - to go with different wideouts, to be in different scenarios and you've got to be able to do that so you know how they adjust and adapt to it. And that's going to give you a feel for, come game time, what's going to happen in this scenario if it comes up.
On if he's seeing the progression that he thought he would at this point with the quarterbacks: I think the one thing about the quarterback position is that they're all very smart, and they understand that we need to do those things and it's just part of the process is what we talk about. These are some of the steps you have to take in order to be where we need you to be. So they understand it. They embrace it. They've done a good job with it, and we'll continue to put them in those scenarios.
On if the offense as a whole is progressing the way he wants: Absolutely. It's everybody. It's not just the quarterback position. It really is everybody. Its running backs, different o-line, o-line positions, guard playing tackle. There's going to be a rotation if something happens. Now this tackle goes to guard and so on. We just have to make sure we've covered our bases from that standpoint.
On why the quarterback competition has been so close: I think the way we started when we came in spring was that it was a fresh start. That was my mentality. That was our mentality, and I think it's a credit to [Garrett Gilbert] and a credit to those other guys that they've done so well up to this point. I would say that just overall as a group, I've been proud of those guys in the way that they've competed and everybody's gotten better. That's really what you want. Every position as a coach, you want to have to make the most difficult decision on who's going to be the starter because it's so hard, and you're splitting hairs and that means that you've got a pretty good team and you've got pretty good depth and back up. Those guys have done that, and I think Garret's done a great job. I do. He's competed as well as any of those guys and everybody else. Case [McCoy], Connor [Wood] and David Ash, they've all continued to get better and better. They just continue to do that as a group, and that's why we're in the position we're in. I think [with] all those guys, again, what are we asking them to do and that's what I look at. Here was the two or three things you needed to improve on, and this is where we are at this point. I think David's done a good job. David's a young guy. David's a very good player, very competitive. And he's going to continue to get better, and those are some of the things that we've talked about with him.
On if freshmen can play early in this offense: That's a good question. I think so. And the reality of it is, when we got together in the spring the new guys coming in, they're 15 practices behind, but they did a good job in the summer and I think the guys that have been here did a good job of catching them up. So coming into fall camp they knew the terminology, they knew the plays for the most part, and they continue to get better. I think our young guys as an overall group are very good at preparing. They seem to come out, and there's mistakes made, but they come out and make new mistakes the next practice and that's really what you want. You try to eliminate the mistakes you made before and come out and make new ones, and they seem to do that and they'll continue, along with everybody on offense. But just make new ones each practice, and get better at the ones we made before. I think those guys are talented, and I think they've done a good job and we've got to play the best players.
On what would keep RB Malcolm Brown or RB Joe Bergeron off the field: You know, I don't know. I think, obviously for running backs, if you're turning the ball over, like any other position, that's huge. Not knowing your assignments, which those guys have done a great job with that, Coach [Major] Applewhite does an excellent job of having his guys prepared out there. So as long as we're hanging on to the football and those guys are going the right directions as far as protections go - I never played the position - that's why they play running back. They've got the vision. They've got the instincts. And you just cut them loose as long as they're heading the right direction and hanging on to the ball, they should be okay.
On how the running backs are as pass receivers: Very good. I think all the backs have done a real nice job catching the ball through camp. Those guys have done very, very well with the balls we've thrown them. We've had some good situations in practice where the quarterbacks have checked it down, and we have a lot of space and those backs are all pretty electric and can take it and get 15 yards in a hurry.
On if he knows where this offense is now and what they're going to be able to do well: I think we as a staff have a lot better understanding now, going through a spring, going through these practices, all those scenarios that we put them through are designed to help. One help them, but two help us. “Okay, what's this guy's specialty going to be?” We still haven't gotten to, really, the game-plan part of things, but we'll get down to where we have certain guys doing certain things and that's how they're going to work that week in practice. And when they get into the game, they're specialized in that area and they're going to feel a lot more confident going into that particular play because that's all they've done. So that's where we're at now. We're starting to talk personnel. We’re starting to talk “Okay, where do we move guys around?”, because of the situations we've seen for this next week in practice as we start to get into a little more planning and then still let them compete. We've still got that scrimmage on Thursday and that's going to give us a really solid idea of where we are after that Thursday scrimmage, and we're into at that point, full go.
On the differences between Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron: They are both big, and they are both powerful. But it's interesting, they're both very quick. They both have great balance. I think that's what you've seen on tape. Both of those guys have done a great job at taking shots and keeping their feet, and they're taking some hits. Our defense is flying around and making some plays and those guys have stayed on their feet. They've done a great job at hanging on [to] the ball and shown some toughness. That entire group of backfield. Fozzy [Whittaker] has had an excellent camp, and I think he has set the tone for those young guys and really helped them in meetings and his knowledge and his experience and all those things. They're big. They're powerful. They've got a lot of very good qualities that we've seen out there, and we'll continue to watch them progress here this week.
On freshman WR Jaxon Shipley: Jaxon has done well. He has done well. I think to each guy in that position, they've all had their days and their moments. Jaxon has been consistent and for a young guy, the way he practices and the way he prepares has been impressive. He's great to be around. He provides an energy, not just for that particular group, but for our entire offense out there with just his practice habits, and it's been fun to watch him compete and play.
On TE Blaine Irby's progression: He's done well. Blaine has done everything we've asked him to do. He's a very smart guy. He's been very helpful with a lot of positions, not just his own. We have been very pleased with his progress now, and we'll continue this week to try to put him in the scenarios that we want to utilize him in - and he's going to be successful -and get him prepared. He's a guy that really understands the game and has been a big asset for us on offense just helping guys out with his leadership qualities.
On the offensive line: We're getting there. [offensive line] Coach [Stacy] Searels has done a nice job. Like anybody, we're mixing and matching. That's the one thing about the o-line is it's interesting. It was two years ago at Boise. I believe, out of 13 games we played with 11 different lineups on the o-line. That's what you're really preparing for. You're preparing for, “What if this happens?”, and letting guys rep tackle and guard and center, and that's what he's done. I think we've got a couple combinations to go to in certain situations, but [Stacy] has done a great job with those guys. I like where we're at, and I think guys are starting to get comfortable. We've gotten good work with certain groups at that position which is important, and they're starting to communicate with each other and I think that's important.
On if freshman OG/C Dominic Espinosa is starting to settle in at the center position: He's done a good job. He has. I think he's played well. He's a smart guy that makes the right decisions out there. I've been pleased with his performance, his snaps and I think he's got the feel for playing that position. I think [senior C David] Snow has done a good job at that position. [Sophomore OG/C] Garrett Porter's done a good job. All those centers have really come along, in our opinion, in understanding protections and run game and making the right calls and putting guys in the right spot. We put a lot on those guys, but Dominic has done a good job.