Spring Football Wrap Up Press Conference
April 26, 2004
Check out picuters of the Spring Game:
My observation of spring football, I thought overall I was really pleased with our effort and our attitude. I think we got a lot accomplished. I'd say we got at least 75 percent of our offense and defense in. I thought the guys were getting more comfortable towards the end. We need to play and execute a little better than we did at times, but putting in a new system in on both sides of the ball was difficult for them to learn so we're still feeling our way around. Hopefully by the time we start next fall we can keep moving forward and the speed of our football team will improve from an execution standpoint and from an ability standpoint. I think that those are goals for us over the summer, just to get to be a stronger, faster, quicker football team so we can execute with a more violent attitude as me move closer to the season.
Overall we're happy with the improvement of the defense. I thought we did some good things, made the offense execute for long periods of time. Our position on the ball seemed to be good thoughout most of the spring. They (the players) understood the concepts well, we put a lot in. We have parts of every form of our defense that we want in, so obviously we've just got to build on the foundation that we built throughout the spring. I think we're moving in the right direction.
We're trying to develop depth at some positions and we'll release a depth chart hopefully by the end of the week, once our coaches get back to formulate a depth chart. Obviously being on the road recruiting since right after the spring game has prohibited us from putting a two-deep together.
I thought our defense did a good job, we still have a ways to go, but I think we have a chance to be pretty decent if we play as a unit which we did most of the time. I was pleased with their attitude and their ability to learn and play. They're developing some pride and we've made strides and we're going to have to if we want to have some improvement. Obviously when you're last in the Pac-10 in scoring defense and total defense we've got a lot of work to do. Hopefully we're moving in the right direction.
Offensively, I was really pretty pleased with the last week or so, you could see some things coming on. We were able to get Mike Bell loose in a couple of mini-scrimmages/team setting types of deal. I think a lot of the offense will be formed around Mike and his ability to see holes and us getting him some running space and that's going to be a big part of what we do. I think that will have a chance to help (quarterback) Kris (Heavner) and our throwing game out a little bit. A lot of our success will be predicated on our ability to run the football.
Some of the negatives when you look at the offense, our inability to have Tanner Bell, John Abramo, Brandon Phillips, guys like that, really hurt our continuity as an offense line and that's an area we need to be much more physical and play with a little more violence up front in moving people off the ball. I think that's an area, that when we get our group back together, that we'll have a chance to be a strength. Having three guys out that we're desperately counting on was tough on our offensive line this spring. We didn't have much of a rotation and that's why we did the spring game the way we did. We just don't have two full lines right now and that really hurt us throughout parts of the spring. The biggest thing we have to do offensively is get healthy over the next month when we start back in June with our summer conditioning. Getting those offensive lineman back and healthy will be a big bonus for us.
You came out of spring pretty healthy otherwise. Do you think that is a key for building depth for you?
I thought we did a good job of staying healthy. We had a lot of contact throughout spring and our ability to do that (stay healthy) takes us back to our strength and condition. We had a good two months before we started spring ball and those are positive things. We had one guy get hurt throughout the whole spring, so either we were well conditioned and prepared or we didn't hit hard enough to get anyone hurt. I hope it was the first.
Could you give us a couple of standouts during the spring?
I thought defensively I was just happy with our overall play. I thought the way they played, they lined up tough, they understood the system well. It came easier than I anticipated, the kids did a good job of picking up our system. I was happy with some of our linebackers, some guys that really gave us some quickness and speed. Those guys, for not playing and being young, I thought they really gave us some depth at linebacker. I was happy with the way those young kids played. It really showed they can help us. Those guys were pleasant surprises.
The secondary guys pretty much did what we anticipated. I think we have three good safeties in Darrell Brooks, (Tony) Wingate and (Lamon) Means. We feel like we have three players there that we need to continue to develop. Our corner play, Wilrey Fontenot was a guy I was really pleased with this spring and has a chance to be a dynamic player. He has tremendous speed and really plays the position relatively easily for a young kid. I'm really happy and think he has a tremendous upside to him as a player.
Our entire D-line showed signs. Paul Philipp is a guy who I think can be a dynamic player. Carlos (Williams) is your prototypical nose guard who did some good things. So as a whole I think we developed some depth at end. All those guys played decent at times, but I still think we need to get more pressure off the edge from our defensive ends as we move forward if we want to have the front four that we would like.
Offensive, Mike Jefferson did a great job in the spring game. As a whole, I think our receivers need to step up and be better as an overall unit. They had a chance to make some big plays in the early part of the scrimmage and didn't. We just need to continue to get better with all of our fundamentals - catching, running, routes, quarterbacks getting comfortable with the receivers. When we have an opportunity to make a big play we need to make it.
Steve Fleming did a great job. He continues to develop his all-around play. He just does everything well and that's the thing I like about Steve. He likes to block, he likes to catch, he's just a very well-rounded tight end. His greatest strength is his ability to do everything well. He might not be the most flashy of players, but I really like the way he catches the ball and blocks.
Mike Bell I think is just a tremendous football player. We have to do a lot of things to get Mike out in some positions to make plays because he's a very dynamic player. He's a guy that is probably our most explosive player, he could go the distance at any time. We have to get him in some good positions to make plays.
The offensive line's inability to play together as a group (due to injury) hurt us a lot in the spring. We'll get that as we move forward. That was probably the biggest disappointment, just all those guys sitting out and not being able to participate in spring ball just hurt us a group.
In the quarterback position, I think they all did some good things. I think Kris (Heavner) got a little more comfortable the last week or so and our offense looked like they got more comfortable with him in there. Kris will definitely start as our No. 1, where we go from there I'm not quite sure. All of the other quarterbacks did some really good things or are progressing well. Ryan O'Hara is a guy I've been really pleased with his maturity in a lot of areas, not just football. The way he comes to work and practice has been much more mature and that's the thing I appreciate about him. He's becoming more focused as a young player. Nic (Costa) does some good things with his speed and his ability to run, he creates problems for defenses. Richard (Kovalcheck) has gotten better. I'm really happy with his progress, as well. They're all very different types of quarterbacks and right now I think Kris gives us the best opportunity to move the ball consistently.
Have you had any discussions with Nic (about a possible position change)?
Not really, we're going wait until (offensive coordinator/QB coach) Mike Canales gets back from the road to discuss his future and where that may be. He may stay at quarterback or whether we may move him into another position to get him on the field more if he's not the No. 1 guy. A lot of that will be up to Nic and coach Canales and where they feel Nic fits in the line of quarterbacks.
How is your kicking game?
I was really happy. We were 2 for 2, so you guys (the media) need to realize that going into next year. Our No. 1 kicker we got a 2 for 2 streak going so I don't want hear any of that stuff we didn't make a field goal the last seven games. You're going to ruin his psyche. We've got him on the right path now. I thought he (Nick Folk) did a great job, I was really happy. I thought he showed great leg strength. I thought our field goal, extra point and punting game was all good. We focused on that and getting better with those special teams and our kickoff return. We didn't work kickoff at all this spring, but we'll do that when we get back. I wanted to make sure we're good at returning kicks or at least have a chance to put our return unit on. Hopefully it won't be on the field as much as it was last year, we're trying to cut down on our kickoff returns as a team too, but improve our return yards as well. I was really happy with our special teams.
You've got 19 of your 22 starters coming back. Is that a good or a bad thing?
I think it's a good thing. I think we'll have a chance to do some better things. These kids have showed the right attitude and their work ethic has been tremendous. They're very hungry to start summer and move forward and get better and that's a very positive sign. We're finally getting some maturity and leadership that we desperately need on this football team. Our guys know what's out there in front of them and what they need to do to improve and hopefully we'll get that throughout the summer. I think they feel confident in the schemes that they have in front of them and understand what they have to do to get better.
How much impact do you think the incoming recruiting class will have after going through the spring?
I think we'll look at some incoming receivers. Maybe an offensive lineman, we'll have to see how the new kids adjust. That would be the only two positions offensively and maybe possibly a tight end. Defensively, I think you may see more players jump in. I think at cornerback we'll look at the two freshmen and give them a hard fast look in a way that they can contribute early. That's a very difficult position to put a young player. Our cornerback position is one we're trying to strengthen. Our whole secondary needs to get stronger as a group.
Those will be some important decisions made early and we'll try to get some kids in here this summer to see what they can do and see if they can be a viable option for us this fall. I 'm happy with the players we recruited, those are all very talented players so we'll find out early though their development through the summer conditioning if the strength coaches feel like they can help us and if they're able to pick up the system. You'll see at least a handful of true freshmen help us in some capacity.
We're looking forward to moving forward with this program. I think our kids are excited about our ability to compete at a better level now. They understand that they have to make a great commitment between now and August if we want to have to type of football team that can go out and compete and win football games in this conference. If we don't have a great summer then we probably won't position ourselves very well for next fall. I think that the summers have a direct correlation to how you play. As of right now, our players seem to be excited about the summer. When they start back in their conditioning program, they probably won't be as near as excited as when they started, but I think they feel like they're getting better as players and that's all you can really ask of them.
How would you gauge your talent in regards to the talent level in the Pac-10?
In evaluating a lot of the teams I've been able to watch, I don't think we're dissimilar to a lot of teams. Obviously the talent level that USC has assembled probably separates them from a lot of the Pac-10 schools. They may be the one team that, as pure talent goes, may be as talented as anyone in the country. They lost some key players as well and have to replace some guys. I think we're similar to a lot of teams in this league. If we continue to progress and continue to improve some things in the weight room, we'll be similar to a lot of teams.
I think our speed as a team needs to desperately to get better and that's one area where we might be a little behind, but I think our kids are getting a little bit faster as we speak. That will be a big determining factor in how we compete against these teams. I competed against Washington State (in the 2003 Rose Bowl) and against UCLA this year at Oklahoma and did very well, but we all know what kind of talent Oklahoma has. When I think of teams like Washington State, they're very well coached and they play hard and they know what they're doing. Those are the ingredients that we strive to get everyday with out players. So if we can get those three things out of our players, I believe we'll be competitive.
Right now the national focus is on you, what's it going to take to get that focus on the team?
I would hope that it is on our team. We want the focus to be on Arizona football and hopefully that's what we're gaining on the national scene. Maybe it's on me now, but hopefully that will translate onto our team. I believe that if we go out and win early we'll get more and more exposure. I think people in a lot of different entities are very excited about our possibilities here. It's a good thing, but we need to back it up with some wins early and to play well. We have a very difficult schedule. Three of our first four opponents played in good bowl games. We have a very difficult task to gain confidence early, but that's why its imperative to have a good summer and come out well conditioned and confident going into camp.