March 7, 2013
Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Manny Diaz
On the intensity during spring practice: Ever since that Kansas State game ended, we have talked about raising our expectations. It’s been more intense since December practice. We are still chipping away at that right now.
On whether or not players are progressing: Some of them are. For some of them it’s, “Yes, yes, yes, no.” Which is what spring practice normally looks like. We are still a work in progress.
On facing an up-tempo offense in practice: It’s a godsend for us. It’s the world that we live in. I’ve been around it both ways. It’s so hard to simulate, so when you see it every day in practice it helps everything you do. It adds to the energy in practice, because there’s no time to wait around. It’s been great. Practices have been very competitive and back and forth.
On building more depth: There’s no choice. I think last year was an example of that. It shows that the guys who are backups in the spring you will end up playing in the fall. Not all of them will have big roles, but some will for sure with the way this league shakes down.
On progress made since the bowl game: The bowl was really a great win, a great team win for us. Our mentality when we came back to work in December was to start hardening our football team up. We have the chisel out, and we are still a ways away, but that’s what is required. We are so unhappy with the way we looked last year.
On junior LB Jordan Hicks and the other linebackers: They’re looking for his guidance. He sees things that the others don’t at this point. The other guys have had to learn to adapt in his absence, and you are starting to see that. I am hearing more pre-snap conversation on the field which is encouraging.
On LB Dalton Santos: Well, I think the weight that he has lost is important. I think he is moving better and feels confident. He plays with a lot of passion. He plays with a lot of fire. He learned what college football was all about last year. Now, he understands what being prepared is really all about. Your players are always going to be driven by your hardest workers. And they see that guy in the weight room just eating up the weights. You want to be around guys that are like that. Every year, you have to assess the guys that you have and where they operate best. There are some guys that had to gain weight and some guys that had to shed some pounds to be at their best.
On the attitude of the defense: There’s a couple things there. Number one, we have to get this group to be as good as we can possibly be. All that being said, we can’t carry around the ghost of last year. Whatever happened last year, the game is not going to start first-and-nine this last year. We didn’t get to carry around 2011. It is a new year. Understandably, we will have lost trust from people from our performance last year, and we understand that. There’s nothing we can do until we go back out and play in the fall to regain that trust. Our job right now is to get these guys as good as they can be to become a physical, hard-nosed defense
On changes from last year: In terms of what we want to do, every team has different needs. For us, there’s three things. What do you do? Who’s doing it? And how do you do it? So after every year, whether you are good, bad or indifferent, you always look at all three of those. The other advantage is that we have so many guys that are back. So many guys that were in that bowl game that we still have the opportunity to coach and watch grow.
On the performance of the safeties in the spring: The first thing that stands out is Adrian Phillips is playing at a different level. What you are seeing with him is you are seeing the senior-year urgency. That’s been important because somebody had to take the leadership void that [Kenny] Vaccaro left back there. You see it in his play, the way he works, in the weight room - everything he has done since we got back in January has been at full speed and a high level. That’s been very encouraging. I think Mykkele Thompson’s development also has us very encouraged. There are guys we had to play with last year that weren’t ripe. We had to play them before their time. We took some punishment from that, but the investment is going to pay off. The debt is almost paid. The other guys, people will get excited about, but it’s hot and cold. It’s one day good, then one day of head-scratching plays. But that’s what you expect out of young players.
On moving junior CB Quandre Diggs to safety: We are not that far along yet. We are going to play the best guys that we have back there. It was important coming into the spring to let everybody have confidence in terms in their base of knowledge so that they could just go play football. We have to find the best football players, and then we will figure out where to stick them.
On the performance of the cornerbacks in spring practice: Same thing. Both [Sheroid Evans and Duke Thomas] are improving. I think Sheroid has made a move this week. He made some nice plays out there tonight. That’s important because we have to have those guys to survive in this league. Both of those guys are showing good things. And what they are showing, the most important thing, is toughness. Toughness, tackling, being physical players, not just being guys that can cover.
On last year: The mistake I made last year was that I was aware that expectations were higher for our team than they should have been. I think there were too many assumptions made. We said, ”Well this guy is bigger and faster than the guy who graduated, so he must be better.” The mistake I made is I should have said,”Forget about it, it’s your turn now.” And that’s why we talk about holding them to a higher standard. There’s nowhere to hide here. The standard, regardless of experience, whoever steps on that field, there’s a standard. A standard from all the guys who have played here and coached here before us, a standard we have to uphold.
On the performance of the linebackers in spring practice: We actually have an interesting mix now. Last year, we had one guy that had started a game, this year I have seven guys who have started a game. We have guys that have been in games, so what we have in practice is great competition. Our guys are better in terms of understanding what to do and where to go. Now, it’s just a matter of letting them battle it out. [Dalton] Santos has made [Steve] Edmond better. I think Steve has made some big improvements over the last week or so. It’s just a battle, and I am keeping score.
On the higher standard set for the defense: When you talk about depth, and Coach Brown is always hounding on depth, we need to have 22 guys. We were absolutely concerned about our second 11 last spring. Well, lo and behold, when it got to the fall, a lot of those guys were in the game. When people talk about being young, being young is not the excuse. The issue is when you are young, you are without competition. Either somebody is coming that is a phenom and has jumped ahead of the line. Sometimes you play when your are young because you are really good, and sometimes you play when you are young because you are all we have. That’s the situation we live in. Now, we have more depth and we have more competition this year. If someone doesn’t play to that standard we expect, you can use the bench to do more talking. We were handicapped in some situations with that last year. When you start freshmen and sophomores, I turn around, and there is nobody left behind me.
On the one guy on defense who has to be great this year: That’s an interesting question. I think the difference with us now is that we are so much more balanced. We are finding that out this spring. There’s not the obvious guy that you are going to put on top of the poster. But what we have is a lot of players who have been in games and made some good plays. It’s about trying to figure out who that best guy is. My concern as a coach is to figure out where we can collectively become the best 11. I want a defense that plays like there are more than 11 guys on the field. Our first year, we looked like that at times. Last year, it looked like we had nine guys on the field. When defenses don’t trust each other, space becomes bigger, people start playing slower, people lose leverage because they feel like they are on their own on the football field. My concern is that the nameless, faceless 11 players out there play with a trust of one another so everybody can go full speed and trust that their brother will be where they need to be.
On building trust: The first place that happens is in the off-season program. From the very first day we came back in January, that’s where that is earned. We can all sit around in circles and sing “Kumbaya,” but you earn trust by working hard. By pushing each other to the brink and finding out who will tap out and who won’t. You find your edge in the offseason. You win in October by winning in January and March. This is where it happens.
On the performance of the defensive ends in spring practice: [Cedric Reed] has taken some of the confidence he earned from the bowl game, and you can see that carrying through in some of his play. Reggie Wilson is in there fighting for his job, because now we have some competition from the young guys. Bryce Cottrell has some things he can do and skills he can add. Caleb Bluiett is running around there and Shiro Davis is improving. What we have now is depth, competition and numbers, but we are still a ways away. We need to get Jackson [Jeffcoat] back in the mix to really help lead these guys
Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite
On how the team practiced today: They did well. I talked to the team on the offensive side of the ball. [Co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach] Coach [Darrell] Wyatt and I are on the same page- we don’t like to talk too much about how we played until we have watched the tape, but there are some things that you don’t really need to examine the tape to see. Number one, they played without turnovers; that was great. All the quarterbacks, all the backs and wide receivers took great care of the ball, made good decisions in the red zone and took care of it, which allowed them to stay on the field and score some points. I didn’t do a great job inside the five-yard line on a couple of series and probably held us to a field goal on one of them. We definitely talked about that as an offense. It doesn’t matter what play we call, it matters who wants it the most right there. It doesn’t matter. I’ve got to get better at that, and they’ve got to get better at that situation. It was good to see us punch the ball in late on the goal-line scrimmage. The overriding deal that I saw up there in the box is that we’ve got to play a lot cleaner. We’ve got to substitute, get on and off the field, call out our substitutions and call our personnel groupings. We got them twisted up a couple of times, but we will get that. That is part of that being the eighth day of practice and doing a new system. I have been around a system like this before and it will get tightened up.
On if they will play as fast as teams like Oregon and Oklahoma State: We are not trying to be anyone else. We are going to do what fits us best. There will be plays we run every bit as fast as the teams you mentioned, but we are going to do what we need to do to win the ball game. If that is to snap it 55 times, we will do that. If it is snap it 85 times or 95 times, we will do that. There will be some elements when you look at us you will say, “Wow, that was fast.”
On how quickly this system can be tightened up: There are just a few things and it is everything as simple as getting the substitutions called. The kids coming onto the field [need to say], “This is a new personnel grouping. We are in red now, we aren’t in blue,” and just communicating so people can hear. Sometimes you are just so caught up in what you’ve got to do and executing your sign, that you are not relaying that information. It is all the way from that to simply handing the ball to the referee. That is something that is very big to us. If we are trying to go fast, most of those officials aren’t good athletes, so you need to hand them the ball so they can spot it and we can go again. There are a lot of little things that we’ve got to focus on and work on to get better and faster.
On QB David Ash’s growth in this system: David is pretty much the same everyday quite honestly. If he is more confident or if he feels more confident or if he feels more relieved then I don’t really notice it. I see him as the same, intense kid everyday. He is always like, “What do you have for me today coach? What am I going to learn?” I just told him that right now spring ball is all about mastering the course. Don’t worry about the other guys playing in your group. Just go out and shoot the best score you can shoot, and that is all you really worry about at that position.
On what things he has done with Ash to help him grow since becoming the quarterbacks coach: Sometimes ten practices isn’t enough to get to know a guy before the bowl game. Really only seven or eight days into [spring practice], I am still feeling him out and learning concepts about him pulling the trigger on this kind of stuff where he doesn’t hesitate at all. Then there are ones where maybe we are invested too much in this, because he doesn’t feel it as well. I think he has done a great job in camp. He hasn’t thrown a pick in camp, so that’s good. Where we want to improve is not just that we take care of the ball. To me, that is a minimum expectation. Where I want to improve is on our third down passing game and our red zone, being situationally aware and knowing what your answers are.
On getting the ball to the playmakers: That is the great thing about tempo. If you are trying to go fast, you can’t substitute, but there is a rule that the umpire can stand over the ball and give the defense an opportunity to substitute. So if you are really trying to go fast, you are not going to substitute a whole bunch so put your best players out there, keep them on the field and go fast. If you keep the same guys out there, one of those five or six are going to get it. If you got all of your good guys out there, if you have Mike [Davis], Daje [Johnson], Malcolm [Brown], Johnathan [Gray] and Joe [Bergeron] or whatever combination it is, someone is going to get the ball.
On any of the offensive players making moves: I thought all three of the young wideouts, Kendall [Sanders], Marcus [Johnson] and Cayleb [Jones] did a good job this week. Marcus improved in the last two practices and made some moves today, but it is just that consistency. Can you get yourself to be as consistent as [Jaxon] Shipley or Mike [Davis]? That is what those three young guys are competing and trying to do is put themselves on that level. Malcolm [Brown] has done great, too.
On what he is seeing from the offensive line with Josh Cochran and Trey Hopkins out: That is one of those blessings in disguise. Your guys like Garrett Greenlea and Kennedy Estelle get a ton of reps. Fortunately, it is not a huge injury that they can’t overcome. It might be something that we look at in week four or week five or week eight in the season when someone is nicked up. Those guys have helped, and they are learning. They are getting more snaps than they thought they were going to get.