“Before we go to questions, since I haven’t seen you in a few days and obviously you’ll have some questions, I just want to go over some of the logistics as related to Kallen and his Mom and the funeral and everything.
“You have all heard that Kallen Wade’s Mom has passed away. Fortunately for us, she had the opportunity to call us about three weeks before and let us know that this is the direction in which it was headed.
“So you are never ready for it to actually happen, but he went home and a couple of his
teammates went with him. He came back Tuesday night and was in class yesterday and today and will be in class tomorrow.
“On Thursday morning, Jappy Oliver and Stan Wilcox and myself are going to take him back to Cincinnati. I’m going to get him situated and Jappy is going to stay. Stan and I are going to get him situated and visit with his family; then we’re coming back here because I have to be in Chicago for the Rockne dinner Friday night.
“Just so you guys don’t think I did this thing in relation to the media. His sister called me up and asked if I could move practice to earlier so some of his teammates could be there for him at the funeral, and I said I would try to get that done. So we checked with compliance to see if we could get a bus and things like that, and as it worked out, we got it all set so we’re going to practice from 7:30 to 9:30 on Saturday morning. The clinic we have going on, we will just move all the speakers to 10:00; then the bus will pull out at 10:00 to go to Cincinnati as the funeral has been moved to 4:00. So this way we will have a bunch of Kallen’s teammates down there to support him.
“At this time, I don’t know how many; they’re still checking in to give us the exact number. So that’s the plan and we were scrambling a little bit yesterday to go ahead and get accommodated, but I felt that was imperative to go ahead and do. I figured I would just start and clear that up so everybody would know what was going on as related to Friday and especially Saturday, being as Saturday the practice is open to the media.”
How is Kallen doing?
“I’ve talked to him a bunch and he’s doing okay. He knew this was coming so it wasn’t like he didn’t know it was coming, but the finality of it, I think, has rocked him pretty good. He has a couple of sisters and he has been able to spend time with them. He’s looking forward to going back and being with them and his family and his teammates coming down. I think once the funeral is over and he gets back here Sunday night, it will be good for him to be around so many of the guys. I think the team and coaching staff have been wonderful in their show of support to him and it has really helped him through this tough time.”
What is his Mom’s name?
“I’m not sure, I always called her Mrs. I’m negligent on that, but I always just called her Mrs. Wade.”
Was she ill during recruiting?
“I was in their place during recruiting and fortunately, as I said, it was just three weeks ago we had the conversation for her to tell us that it was a matter of weeks, not months. She knew the end was near but still the finality, when it actually happened, still gets you pretty good. She was ill before Kalen got here. This has been going on for quite some time, at least three years. I don’t know how much before that it had taken place, but it was already going on at that time.”
Are you driving to Cincinnati?
“The four of us are flying down together. We are then going over to his home and make sure we spend some time and answer any questions as it relates to the future. More than anything, just be there for support. You don’t want to be there doing business, you want to be there in support of the family. I always try to do things on the front end where I don’t become a distraction with other people around. I’d rather that become more about his family and his teammates than rather than it being about me being there.”
In regards to the safety position, it’s obvious that David Bruton is leading the way. Is Kyle McCarthy opposite him or is that still up for grabs?
“Sergio (Brown) has had a great camp but Kyle, right now, you’re going to have to do a lot to beat him. He’s running first and you’re going to have to do a whole heckuva lot.”
What does he bring to the table?
“First of all, he’s very knowledgeable about the position even though he hasn’t played it that much, but he’s brought a lot of toughness and probably the thing I like the most, more than anything, is how strong a tackler he has been in this camp. He has been a very hard-hitting, sound tackler which you know is something that lifts my spirits.”
He started to see some playing time toward the end of last season, but did you see some of this before that time?
“We saw signs of it as last year was going on, as the season was progressing. He was getting more and more time, especially when we dropped Zibby down in the box and playing him at safety. We are gaining more and more confidence in him as a player.”
All things being considered, he’s not that big?
“He’s plenty big enough; he’s plenty big enough. He looks like a safety out there; he’s plenty big enough.”
Where is Ray Herring in the mix?
“To be honest with you, it’s a very deep group at safety. Ray’s made nice progress but he was banged up most of last year. I could sit there and say that about Raeshon (McNeil) and Harrison (Smith) and Leonard Gordon for that matter too. They have really done a nice job of pushing each other. Even though you have the first guys, everyone is pushing each other in that group of safeties.”
Because you are so deep, will you play four at that position?
“Four will see time; the question is can you play more than that besides on special teams. Initially, you just don’t know. You don’t know if you’ll end up throwing seven DB’s out there. You just don’t know. Right now David Bruton is obviously the leader of that group and Kyle is moving ahead of the pack right there, but he’s getting pressed hard. I would say Sergio is the leader in the clubhouse as being the third guy in.”
How are the baseball guys doing, especially Golden Tate?
“Golden is running around real well and catching the ball pretty well. In group routes, he is obviously catching the ball. He didn’t get a whole bunch of balls thrown to him in team, that I noticed. Today we didn’t have a seven-on-seven so he got a lot of action and he was back there working on kickoff returns. So what we did for him, we backed up punt and kickoff returns for the two days that he was here. So in addition to catching balls, he got a chance to work as a returner in both those factors, plus a kickoff returner and a punt returner.”
How did you go about evaluating the returning receivers for this year?
“Mike, there were so many things across the board that I thought we were weak at. There was such a long list of things that I was not happy with. But if you’re talking just about the receiver position besides our completion percentage, which a lot of times there are a lot of factors in there, but the receivers and the definition of their routes is definitely one of them; dropped balls, that was definitely one of them. I think the thing we lacked the most, and this is a combination of quarterback and receivers, is chemistry. I think it is very, very important, just as we talk about the offensive line and the protection, the quarterback’s chemistry with receivers is always a critical thing. Because when you know you can count on them - I have coached quarterbacks before who wouldn’t throw to a guy because they couldn’t count on him. Even if the rotation told him to throw it to a guy, he said, ‘I’m not going to throw it to him because I don’t know what he’s going to do.’ Then we would get in a screaming match and things like that. I think that’s one thing they are working on is dependability and chemistry. I think in the passing game, you can’t be efficient if the receivers aren’t dependable.”
Have you seen any one particular receiver stepping up?
“Several of them, but not all of them, but several of them are moving up the ladder. Just like any other position, there are going to be people moving up the ladder and there are still other people you are not that fired up about. And there are still some of them too.”
Did you go to Blacksburg (Virginia) and how did it go?
“Yesterday, oh it was wonderful. We spent a whole day, got there early. Coach Beamer made himself available to us. It was him running the clinic, not one of his assistants, but of course we had a tradeoff where I had to give his offensive staff a couple of hours. It’s never that you do something for nothing. There’s always a tradeoff. They had requested for some stuff for me to bring so in the late afternoon when he decided it was time for him to go home, that’s when I met with the offensive staff and had to pay my dues. We went through everything they did: watched tape; went over drills. Brian (Polian) and I went together and then when I went with the offensive staff, he continued to watch tape with one of the assistants.”
What is so hard about reaching special teams excellence?
“One of the reasons I went was because of my involvement in special teams this year. One of the things I wanted to understand was his mentality and involvement; his personal involvement with special teams. He sort of had the same problem that I had years ago; one time he was a defensive coordinator; then he got involved in calling plays on offense; then he kind of moved away from both of those things other than to throw his two cents in on everything and became much more involved in special teams. His feelings on that is that his special teams really didn’t pick up the tempo until he had more direct involvement so the kids knew that they were answering to the head coach.”
Did you go because you don’t feel you have an understanding of special teams?
“For me, this had very little to do with understanding special teams. I have coached special teams at the highest level. It wasn’t understanding special teams, it was how to coach; how his approach to coaching them to get the guys to play at a higher level of efficiency.”
So it wasn’t X’s and O’s?
“It was X’s and O’s; like they have blocked a whole bunch of punts but they probably have roughed the punter more than anybody else in America too. So No. 35, we talked about, he’s going to be on the right side, not on the left side. When he’s on the left side, he roughs the punter a whole bunch of times. Our standard joke at the end was the previous year, they had this one guy, No. 35, he was doing a great job on the right side and moved him over to the left side and about every other kick he was rushing, he was roughing the punter. So I said, ‘That tells you something coach, put him back on the right side.’ So we had a couple good laughs with that. Obviously, he spends a lot of time trying to scheme a block of the week, so to speak. That is one of the things they have hung their hat on, but there is risk/reward there. I mean, if you want to bring it after it every time, you have to be willing for everyone in the place to boo you every time you rough the punter at the same time. So there is give and take. His feeling is, when you’re the head coach, you can do that because if they’re going to be booing someone, they’re going to be booing you anyway. So he figures, what the heck, go ahead and do it.”
Is that a risk you will want to take more often?
“I can see me doing that (laughing); I can definitely see me doing that.”
At the running back position, are you looking for a guy to establish himself as an every down back or are there parts of all three of the guys with experience that you would like to utilize?
“They’ll all play. I think they’ll dictate how much they play. James (Aldridge) won’t be stagnant now because those two young guys are very, very, very good. It’s one of the positions on the team where you have three guys you know you can put out there and be very confident that you are putting a top flight player out there.”
What are you looking to see from each one of them to set themselves apart?
“I’m just looking, period. I’m just watching. I’m watching blitz pickup; run reads. I’m watching routes. I’m watching their hands. I’m watching their knowledge and I’m watching for mental errors. It’s all encompassing. I’m looking at everything they do.”
Is there a stage where it’s less about running the ball and more about everything else they have to do?
“No, I think running the ball is one of the unappreciated things. There are guys that are very natural runners. I remember going back years ago; going down and working out Rudy Johnson at Auburn. I loved Rudy Johnson and everyone said he’s too slow. But I said he knows how to run; he knows how to read holes. He can feel fronts; he can feel pressure. He runs with power. The only thing he doesn’t have is straight-line speed. Then he went on to rush for over a 1,000 yards for about five years in a row. So every once in a while, I am actually right. So running is one of the critical things that they are able to do in addition to blitz pickup.”
Has Coach Jon Tenuta, with his philosophy of defense, helped your offense?
“We always practice against pressure; there’s never been a time when we don’t practice against pressure. But the more you practice against pressure full speed, see, like if you do it during the season, you’re going against the show team, you’re not practicing against the full speed. So in the spring when they are not show teams, you are going against guys moving at full speed and it definitely pays dividends.”
How is Duval Kamara coming along since he missed some practices due to class schedule?
“He has been here plenty. What’s today, Wednesday? I don’t know if he was here at the start of practice, but he was there for the last hour of practice when we were out there running all the team stuff. He was there for all of that. He has the chance to be very good. One of the key reasons for that, even though he’s tall, he is capable of getting in and out of breaks and sinking his hips. I think that is one of the things that tall receivers have trouble with, getting in and out of breaks and sinking their hips.”
With Golden Tate not being around as much in the spring, will that hurt him in the fall?
“I think in training camp he will have plenty of opportunity to make his way up the depth chart because the one thing he has is straight-line speed. Anytime you have straight-line speed, you have the opportunity to get on the field. Is it ideal for him to be in baseball and football? No, it’s not ideal, but that’s the philosophy I believe in. I believe if a kid is good enough and his grades are in good standing, to let him do it. Will it hurt him a little bit in the spring? Yes. Is there enough time for him to recover in August? Yes.”
Do you have a plan to get him on the field more next year?
“Right now, he’s trying not to strike out.”
What is your early impression of the offensive line now that they’ve been in full pads?
“I know one thing, they’re trying to be physical. I think every guy you talk to will say the same thing. They’re really trying to be physical. We’ve banged them pretty good here now; Saturday, Monday, and today. There are a lot of sore puppies. When they come walking in today, you can ask them that, but they’ll tell you we’ve banged them pretty good.”
How does Evan Sharpley look?
“Not bad. In fact, what I did today at the end of practice we had a full-speed scrimmage where we went ones against ones and twos against twos. And then when the ones went against the ones again, I actually gave him, because I won’t have him Friday and Saturday, I gave him half of that next drive so he wasn’t just playing with the twos all the time. It certainly doesn’t look like it has hurt his arm or anything. I guess playing first base you don’t throw the ball too much.”
It hasn’t hurt his throwing motion?
“No, he’s still throwing it like a football. He’s behind mentally because when you’re not in the meetings, you still do fall behind. But he is a really smart guy and he’ll be able to catch up in a hurry on that. Physically, he’s throwing the ball very nicely.”
What has Toryan Smith done to separate himself from the others?
“Right now he is the starting middle linebacker. He’s clearly at this point the starting middle linebacker so I think it’s his job to lose. I don’t see anyone moving ahead of him in the very near future.”