I think the practices so far have gone extremely well, good energy, a lot of learning. I feel like we’re staying with it very well as a team. I can tell you Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips are two exceptional talents at wide receiver, you notice them. We’re going to give (Shai) McKenzie a little more work here and I look forward to seeing where that goes. (Greg) Stroman is a very impressive defensive back, very talented. (Travon) McMillian, we’ve moved him to tailback, and we had a little extra work for him yesterday and the guy has real speed, you notice him.
It’s great, you look at the other two quarterbacks and their day’s going to come, but I really think it’s an exceptional class. We have three, I think, exceptional kickers. Joey Slye is booming it, he’s been impressive. (Michael) Santamaria is a real skilled kicker. He hasn’t been as consistent the last couple of days but he gets height on it. Carson Wise, he’s been as consistent as anyone. So three really good kickers. We’ll have to make a decision (referring to choosing a starter) but the good thing is, it’ll be a hard decision.
Coach, as you know, recruiting has become a year-round thing. You hired two guys on your staff to focus solely on recruiting. I’m curious what precipitated that and how much of a role did the visit to Ole Miss play in that?
Recruiting has changed in the fact that things are happening so much earlier. Many kids will come during the summer to visit unofficially. Many kids are making decisions earlier. The way you communicate with kids has changed tremendously. So I think with the changing times, you have to have people who can keep you up to date, and recruiting is the foundation of the program. That’s the reason for hiring two people to work directly with recruiting and keep up with what’s being done and ways to communicate and so forth. I know we’ve really helped ourselves.
Coach, a lot of teams would like to win eight games and go to a bowl game every year. The kids that have come up before you seem to exude wanting more. Last year was not good and they almost sound like they’re coming off a losing season. Is that something that is coming from the coaching staff? Do you always have a feeling of it needs to be better and a sense of urgency?
Actually I think it’s coming from you guys.(smiles) We’ve had a lot of talk about it, and in reality, it’s one or two wins away. It’s not like the bottom has fallen out here. But I think our expectations are still the same. Our goals are to win the ACC championship, and when you win that now, you’re definitely a player in the four man field for the national championship. It’s now much more of a way to get to the National Championship. Our goal is to win the ACC Championship and play for the national title. I think that’s where our players are, I know that’s where I am.
When you think about the elements that are critical to success for you guys, where does the running game, and getting that back to an elite level, where does that fall for you?
It’s definitely a priority. I think we’re closer with our offensive line, I think we’re closer with our tight ends. It’s encouraging, I think we have three great guys there with Malleck, Hodges and Cline. They’re tough kids where you can get them inside and block, but they’re athletic enough that you can move them outside and get mismatches and matchups. So I think it’s a tremendous element we haven’t had a lot of in the past. These things help your running game because of the way they adjust when you move an athletic tight end around. I think you help the running game in that regard.
Our running backs are a year older. And what I saw with McMillian, he’ll come along and be a real speed guy in our backfield. J.C. Coleman looks better than ever. Our tailback position as a whole will be better, more experienced. The two freshmen I talked about will help us be more explosive on the outside. Stanford is an improved receiver, Demitri Knowles has been hurt, but his speed is always going to be a factor in the game. With the more explosive outside possibilities it helps the running game. If they feel like they can one-on-one you outside and put ten or eight guys in the box, that’s a tough run right there. So all these things go back to the fact that we plan to run the ball better.
It’s been awhile since you didn’t have a starting quarterback going into the year. How’s the competition going, how many people are legitimately in the mix, and when will you make a decision?
The tough part is, (Brenden) Motley hasn’t been able to compete, his back has been bothering him a little bit. I think it’s very difficult for a freshman to step in there, but I like our two freshman kids a lot. But I just think it’s very difficult. I think (Mark) Leal and (Michael) Brewer are battling, and we need to get Motley back in there, and I will do that Monday and make a decision pretty quickly.
Is it more rewarding to see a guy like Chase Williams, who paid his dues and moved up, starting as a senior?
Yeah, you know Chase has really been a good team player, a good special teams player. The guy has really been impressive. He’s playing fast and he’s a much better player now than he was even in the spring. He’s lost a little weight and he’s gettin’ it out there.
You talked about your goals still being winning the ACC Championship, and in turn being in the running for the National Championship. If you had a list of things you need to be in the National Championship, what would be some of the top things?
Well you have to be a complete team. The year we went to it, we had Michael Vick, we had an exceptionally good defense, we had Shayne Graham. So you have to be a complete team, you need a little luck. I remember coming back at West Virginia and kicking a field goal to win it. You need things to go your way a little bit. So the broad picture is that. The running game, getting it going, is critical, I don’t think any team can win a championship if they’re not good at running and throwing, you can’t be one-dimensional and win. So that’s kind of where we are.
Within a year here you’re going to have a new practice facility, you got a fully renovated stadium the last 15 years or so, you have new employees. Do you feel like you now have the infrastructure to get back to a championship?
Oh, absolutely. I can sit in my office and see every facility that we have. It’s all there and it’s very easy not having to go a long way to the practice field or go a long way to an indoor facility. It’s all right there and I think we’re fortunate in that regard. So from a facility standpoint we’ve always been good. And it’s not state money, it’s money raised from our supporters and it’s demonstrated by how much they give us to build the facility.
Frank, you mentioned a lot of tailbacks already, how quickly do you get that down to a workable rotation?
I think that the same amount of time you get to a quarterback. You’re probably trying to name a starter and who’s going to be the backup and who’s gonna be the third guy. In tailbacks it may not be quite in that order, but I think we know that we can’t work a lot of guys and expect to have good results on Saturday. Who’s going to play on Saturday is the guy you give reps. The two and three guys get a few reps. That kind of situation.
Coach, you mentioned moving Travon McMillian to running back. Have you made a decision on Joel Caleb yet, and I know there’s a few others, have you guys made any decision about where those guys will be?
Well Joel is making progress I think. We’re going to try to get some good work in today and get a good reading on some younger guys. You’ve got to make decisions so quickly. The hardest part is a new guy in here, and you project where he is right now, what you really need to be able to project is where will he be three weeks into the season? You don’t want to give a guy a redshirt year and then not play him very much. You want to be fair to what’s best for the kid and sometimes you have to jack through it and get that done. So with the whole football team, you try to get it down to two teams and see who does the work in practice.
The shield changed the way you approach things in the punt block game. Do you have any idea where that came from, and also how did that change your philosophy?
I don’t really know where it came from, I think it’s probably easier to practice. Sometimes those people up front are not assigned a guy, most of the timethey’re assigned a guy and then you have three guys in the shield will be responsible for the three guys in the middle. But where it really gets hard is, okay, now you’re trying to figure out how you can use one free guy to get to the shield. And now you have three big guys, not cover guys, and offensive linemen and defensive tackles. Then you have to get past them, and you’re kicking right behind it and it’s tougher to not rough the guy. You’ve got to be really good.
Back in a normal formation once you get past the first group, then there’s just a punter back there. But now you’re not running at the kicker, you have the shield blocking you. We still try and we still get some blocks, but the better thing is now, the percantage play now, is to return the ball. Again, you have those three big guys back there and they better not tackle the return guy in the open field, or we fire the return guy.
And the guy who’s up front, the center isn’t a great cover guy, he’s a snapper, but that can go either way. So you have the three guys over here and the three guys over here who are fairly athletic, and if you can take care of those six guys, you have a chance to return. That’s where I think the percentage play is now.
We’re really working on trying to identify our punt returners. And some of these new guys i just mentioned could enter into that . Explosive guy back there that you don’t have to block for real well. You need that return guy, and we’ll have two back there most of the time. I think the way things are going with rugby kicks and the ball going all over the field, it could get away from just one returner. So we need to make sure that the ball gets caught. If we just catch it, a lot of the time it keeps it from rolling another ten yards, that’s a first down right there.
We’ve might even have three back there like the old days when I was playing. Frankie Loria was deep and I was up there blocking for him, and I would catch anything that went short. We might even think about that. Old school.
Coach, can you talk about the decision to close scrimmages after all these years, what went into that, and what advantages does it bring and what does it enable you to do?
I’m not a big guy one way or the other. I think just from the standpoint of concentration, being out here, getting your work done, we do some things that you don’t have to think, ‘Okay, do I need to not do this because people are going to be there?’ You don’t worry about that so much. To me it’s not a big deal one way or the other. It might be to some folks, but I think from an operations standpoint, it’s not bad.
Coach, you had years where, at this point, you were in the national conversatoin. And this year going in you need to figure out who your quarterback is going to be and who your running backs are going to be. Do you find this type of season to be exciting, challenging, a pain in the butt, especially when all these people giving all this money want you in the national conversation?
I think what’s exciting is the talent that you’re picking from, in other words, there’s some young talent, but they haven’t proven themselves. You may not know exactly who they are, but in most cases it’s going to be a very talented guy that we choose. I think it’s exciting seeing talent that can take you to a national championship, so to me it’s an exciting time. I’m excited because … sometimes you’re making a decision, and your team’s not a lot better. But we’ve got some explosive people that you’re talking about.
I’m just curious what the challenges might be if you decide to start a transfer at quarterback. I know you take a lot of pride in this program and work ethic and self-discipline from the time they get on campus. Does Brewer have all those attributes naturally, or can he maybe kind of shortcut that route to the position?
It’s interesting how things happen sometimes, and maybe it happened for a reason. His high school coach (Chad Morris) is at Clemson, and Shane (Beamer) and a couple coaches were somewhere with him, and he called him the next day or that night and talked about this quarterback who transferred and is going to graduate. Then we get interested and realize this kid’s for real, started at Texas Tech, which is a great program. And we’re in a situation where Logan Thomas is gone, so it’s going to be a new guy, so it just kinda fell in place for us. And he’s got it. He’s a really good player, very smart, very alive on the field. I think he’s got the intangibles that you really like in your quarterback. And he’s a good player, so we’ll see where that goes.