On how the defense has looked: Good. Competitive. It’s give and take, which is a really good sign of a good team. Running around. I think the physicality is there on both sides. I think the effort is great. It’s not been an issue throughout the first eight days. It’s been impressive and I think just like Herm will end up telling you, when you start to see each side making plays I think that’s a really healthy sign.
On how he can replace Jefferson, Elliott, and other NFL guys, and if he feels he has guys that can: Anytime you lose pros, they’re losses. Other guys have to develop. We’re at Texas and we should do a good job recruiting. There’s some backups that actually played toward the tail end of the year. Guys that we trust and guys that know our package. To be seen, because those guys had played a lot of football. That’s the one thing that you always lose, that experience part. Athletically, I think we’ll be in the ballpark to be able to replace those guys.
On linebacker: We’ve been throwing a couple guys in and out of there. Malcolm (Roach) is a guy. Jeff (McCulloch) is a guy. We’ve been twisting up the lineup. Demarco Boyd has done a really nice job for us, too. We’ll wait on those guys to get healthy. I think (Ayodele Adeoye) is another guy that we’ve got to get ready for the Maryland game. A work in progress right now. Obviously, it’s an opportunity to develop some other guys for the future.
On the install this spring as compared to last spring: I think at some point you have to be able to play some base defense. Any time you’re going into a new year, especially in the beginning of camps, we did the same thing last year. We were “okay, this is what we want to see.” Base defense for us is great. Then we have an opportunity to run later on some of the stuff that we normally do. I like it because at the end of the day if you’re throwing guys at people and it’s not successful, you’re going to have to play some base defense. It gives us an opportunity to do it.
On if he felt slowed down at all this spring in the install: No. Never.
On what the hunger from this year’s defense from guys trying to fill spots: It’s been good. I think going into the bowl game there was a lot of questions about the same guys that weren’t going to play. To have those guys already be in the bowl game, have some success, then roll that into winter conditioning, I think there is some ownership. Guys like Anthony Wheeler, Charles (Omenihu), Breckyn (Hager), those guys. Once you get some of the established guys out, I think there is “okay, this is our unit right now.” They’ve stepped up. They’ve done a really good job. Some of the younger guys, I think they’re embracing… They look around. DeShon (Elliott) is not around in the back end. Holton (Hill) is not around. Malik (Jefferson) is not around. “Let’s go pick this up and play at the level that they did.”
On having an experienced defense: It’s good. These guys know a lot of football. They’re guys that we now can lean toward. I think last year, and I think this is collectively as a program, there’s a lot of new stuff. The culture is different. They’re not accustomed to it. We saw in winter conditioning where a lot of guys have completely bought in. When you see them out there, it’s almost that they can develop and can show a little bit more of their personality. When you get that, there’s ownership to it. Like you said before, I think some of these guys have had enough. It’s time. It’s our moment. We’re seniors here. Let’s turn the corner in this program
On Malcolm Roach: He’s instinctive. He’s just a playmaker. He’s got really good vision. Probably best not to screw him up to be honest with you. I’m very thoughtful of when moving around in different spots, how much and how hard I coach him. We can teach him. He’s been doing a really good job. He’s a ballplayer.
On Chris Nelson: Chris is working his tail off in rehab. We’ll see how this continues to go. With those veteran guys, especially a guy like that who has a lot of reps, looking forward to him when we get to fall camp.
On depth at DT and on the DL: I think (Ta’Quon Graham) is doing a really good job. I’ve been really impressed with him. Sometimes you look the part and have great strength numbers then you don’t go out there and play the part. I think he’s been playing the part. That’s a guy I’m really fired up about. Christmas-Giles I think is doing a really good job. Some of the other guys without going into too much names. It’s like I said, some of those guys I’ve talked about beforehand, Breckyn, Charles, Nelly, TQ, those guys are going to have to go. The other guys are going to have to collectively get their reps. It’s a good group. They play hard.
On Jarmarquis Durst: He’s done a really good job. I’ve been really, really happy with him. He’s gone out there. He’s played Nickel for us. He’s made plays. Good kid. He’s done everything we’ve asked. I’ve been impressed by him. He’s trying to work himself into the two deep.
On what Omenihu needs to do to have an impact in the defense: I think Charles has just got to keep working on the run game. We’ve been talking to him about it. He’s going to have a future at the next level. There’s no doubt about it. They’re not going out and drafting third down specialists. That’s not how it runs. What he can do elite in the pass rush game, we’ve got to make that the same in the run game. He’s taken some pride in it. We’ve been on him, and he knows he has to get better at it. I think he is developing a little bit more of an edge to him when it comes to the run game.
On having versatile defensive linemen: To me, the old-school plugger like guy, two gap…… TQ is the guy you want. He came in at 250 pounds. We knew he was athletic, could run, was a big-bodied, big shouldered guy. We knew that Yancy (McKnight) could put some weight on him, and he could still keep his speed. Those are the guys that when we look at recruiting, that’s what we want right there. If you grab somebody like Charles who is a little beat leaner but longer, you can move him in different spots. TQ, to me, has the versatility to play all three spots.
On how much that helps in being able to go three down or four down: That’s it. That’s a big part of a guy that can play out on the edge and also a guy that can play on the center. He gives us a lot of flexibility. He’s been doing a great job.
On what was the biggest takeaways from the last month of the 2017 season: I think it was just confidence. The crew was a little bit wounded when we first got here. It was still wounded after the Maryland game to be honest with you, then we had to change stuff that we were doing. I think when they had success and they just cut it loose and played without any hesitation, I think that’s when “hey, we have the ability to do this. Let’s just cut it loose.” To me, when you have success and you get confidence that mental barrier that you have, sometimes you watch us and you say “why do you do that?” There’s that mental lock, whatever that may be. Whether it’s being up tight or trying to do too much. Once you get rid of that part, you just let the athlete go. I think that’s what you end up seeing.
On what he thought was the turning point: I thought the West Virginia game was a pretty good game for us just because we won on the road. It wasn’t as much (knocking the QB out). We became bowl eligible, which was something that hadn’t been around there. We got out of there and you said to yourself “okay, let’s keep this thing going.” It was a coin toss honestly in the middle of the year. You didn’t know which was this crew was going to go because sometimes during our home games we wouldn’t play really well. What group is going to show up? I think that game said “okay, we’re legit.”
On the early enrollee DBs: “They’re unbelievable kids. We’ve had zero issues if I can knock on wood here. We’ve had zero issues with those kids. They’ve been accepted by our vets, which that’s to me what I look at. When a young guy comes into a program, I just watch the upperclassmen. They know whether they’re good in the locker room. They want them to be great players because they’re going to help them win. I just watch our vets with them. Probably took them two weeks where they said this is a part of our crew. We’ll show you how things go around here. They’ve been great. They’ve been really, really physical. They just work.
On the quarterbacks: I think the two older guys, Sam and Shane, you can tell they’re older guys. They’ve gone through this. They’ve gone through spring, the system, the style of play, what we expect. They’ve gotten a chance to see the defense for a little bit. Probably a little more calm than last year. The two younger guys are swimming. I should say this. I am impressed. I like those guys. I think they’re very talented guys. They’re smart guys, but when it gets out here sometimes when the bullets fly you can see it struggles for them a little bit, all of it to marry into one. I like what they’re doing. I do.
On if they want a starter by the end of spring: Again, if one guy runs away with it and clearly becomes a starter, I’m sure we’ll feel that’s the guy we’re going to run maybe out there first. I don’t know that we’re sitting in there going we have to have a starter by the end of spring. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Certainly, fall camp, they’ve got to prove it, too.
On how the running game helps the QB: Obviously it takes some pressure and stress off those guys to have to feel like they have to make all the throws, all the plays, all the time versus whatever it is. If you’re running game is working, you open up some things. You get some one on one matchups because teams will crowd the box a little bit more. We saw a lot of drop eight last year at times. They could double a lot of guys, too.
On if play action is big in this offense: It can be if you’re having success running the football and play action pass those guys, certainly.
On if that’s where Buechele is best: All the guys can do that. They’re all good at doing it.
On working with Herb Hand: I love Herb, man. He’s awesome. Real positive guy. Very knowledgeable. I love him. He’s a typical line coach. Great coach, great person, too.
On the o-line with healthier bodies: Healthier bodies. Much like Shane and Sam, they’re a little bit older. They’ve experienced a season and/or practice. They understand the tempo. They understand the physicality we’re demanding. You’re coaching them now more on technique and fundmanetals instead of everything. You see a lot of improvement in that area right now I think. Been very pleased with some of the guys up front.
On tight end: Really good. It’s great having guys there. To look there and you see (Andrew) Beck there, Reese there, Max (Cummins) has been helping us there, big body guy. Cade (Brewer) obviously is rehabbing his surgery. He played a lot for us last year. That’s an area that was a weak spot for us last year is actually a strong area for us right now.
On if slot WR fits Jerrod Heard’s skill better and being able to focus on just one position this year: I think he’s continually improving. Not fair to him, we’ve had to move him. He spent half the time in my room last year because of our injury situation and depth situation at quarterback. For him to be able to develop his game last year, he didn’t have quite the opportunity that he has right now. You see a really big improvement in him in this short time just because he’s playing one spot, which is helping him.
On Devin Duvernay: It’s everything with him. I just think that he’s playing harder. He’s made some big catches for us right now. Understanding the game. Understanding the whole philosophy behind what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it. Then you can coach guys to go out there and do it. I talk to our guys: “let us coach you.” Don’t resist and let us coach you. They’ve allowed us to do that. Even if we change some things, they’ve accepted it and moved on. It’s been a very positive spring at this point.
On if they’ve changed how they coach the players in the second spring: The thing I see is the leadership better. If a guy doesn’t have good ball security, the players are on the player. Not the coaches on the player. Those are signs that your program culturally is getting to where it needs to be. There is much more of that. Guys not running off the field, we have Lil’Jordan (Humphrey) telling this guy, this player “that’s not what we do. Turn around, go back to the hash, run off the field.” That would have never happened last year. To have guys that are actually doing that, that’s good. It does change a little bit because they’re policing themselves a lot more in some of the detail work, which it needs to be. The culture work. We’re able to focus more on technique and fundamentals.
On handling not calling plays in the bowl game and his role now: I think it was one of those things where Tom felt like to get involved in the game, and we collaborated quite a bit in that. I don’t know that it was a direct… I didn’t take it that way. I didn’t take it as a “we’re not going to do that.” It was more of a “I can help, let me get involved. Give me your eyes up there” kind of deal. That’s just how I took it. I’m a professional here. Coach is the head coach. He makes those decisions. My job is to do what he asks me to do as hard as I can do it. That’s what I did.
On if that’s been discussed this spring: Not at all.
On how Hand will help in the game plan: Because he’s been around, he’s experienced, he’s seen a lot of defenses. He’s got good thoughts in the run game. He’s got good thoughts in the pass game. He’s been successful everywhere he’s been as a coach. It’s like all the guys. Derek (Warehime), Drew (Mehringer), Stan (Drayton), and Corby (Meekins), all those guys gameplan. This was never and has never been a one man show. It won’t be a one man show. It doesn’t operate like that on offense. Maybe defense might be different. I don’t know. I don’t sit in their meetings. On offense, it’s not a one man show. It’s a group collaboration from Coach Herman all the way down to our GAs and interns. If someone has a good idea and there’s validation behind the theory, you can see it, there’s rules and it looks good, and we feel like this thing can help us win, it goes in. We don’t say “hey, that’s a chalk for Herb Hand or Tim Beck or Coach Herman.” Nobody cares. We just want to win.
On Herman saying he wanted to understand the offensive staff’s frustrations in the bowl game: There were probably situations through the course of the game that was true for him. “Now I know. Now I know what it was like” I’m pretty sure that was true for him during the course of the game.
On if WR group is as good as it was last year: Those are good football players. They helped us win last year. I’m focused on the guys that are here. I think the guys that are here are getting better, and part of the experience is all of it. It’s us coaching them. We know how to coach them better. We know these guys a little bit more. I think it’s a combination of all that. I like the group. Obviously, we continue to look for depth to come in and fill because we lost some guys. That’s going to be a big thing for those young guys coming in.
On what he needs to see in the spring game to know the offense is progressing: I think the first thing we said was we’ve got to run the football better. That was the first thing we did. We put an emphasis on that this spring to be a better running football team. That’s probably number one for us, to make sure that gets accomplished.
On what’s number two: There’s a variety of different 2A’s all the way down. Protect the football. We were 5-1 when we won the turnover battle. We were 1-4 when we lost the turnover battle. The old adage if you don’t hang onto the football, you lose games is pretty real for us. Penalties. Lot of offensive penalties especially in the fourth quarter. A lot of them. I think we had something like 52 offensive penalties and 25 of them were in the fourth quarter just on offense.
On what the staff evaluated in order to run the ball better: We evaluated all the plays. We looked at them and tweaked some of them differently to help, whether it was a blocking scheme, a guy we might have read, an alignment, whatever it was, we kind of went through and said “how can we help our guys be in better positions to execute?” Plays. Obviously, when you have a tight end now or two, you actually have blocking surface there. Beck and Reese and Max Cummins, those are some big dudes now. They can set an edge for you. We didn’t have that last year. It opens up some other things you can do in the run game because of that.
On Cade Brewer: Just rehabbing. Going through it. Doing well. There’s been no major setbacks or anything with him. He’s been working really hard.
On Kirk Johnson: He’s been coming along. I think today was his first day where he could actually get out there and run around a little bit. Hasn’t been in contact at all.