Here's a quick preview of what could be in store next Wednesday, National Signing Day.
> NOTE: I wore the old Cubs jersey in honor of the late great Ernie Banks.
"We were on the road all week, and we’re excited to be out on the field tonight and again tomorrow for the last two open practices, and then we’ll great into our preparation for Louisville and the Russell Athletic Bowl. I missed an opportunity to visit since the bowl announcement, but clearly we’re grateful for the opportunity to go to the Russell Athletic Bowl, to play in Orlando, and let our kids experience the sites and attractions and the community in Orlando, and get a great opponent in Louisville. Our kids are excited, I think they’re grateful. They’ve been through a lot the past two years, and they have not been able to have this opportunity. I thought after we talked last weekend, that [the conversation] resonated in the way they practiced. Hopefully we’ll see that again here tonight and tomorrow. They’re practicing with a purpose, they’re excited, and clearly they have a really tough opponent coming up."
On the younger players who impressed during the first weekend of bowl practice…
“Just jumping around, I think Taylor Gadbois and Alex Gall were two guys that really benefited from that. I think both of those guys stepped up and showed that they’re capable, so we’re going to continue to push them and get them ready here for the bowl game. Those are two guys that come to mind. I told [Raphael] Kirby again today, I thought he really grew up last week and played with low pad level and ran and took charge of it. He needs to do that. In Jimmy [Gaines’] absence, he needs to be able to do that. If he keeps practicing like he did last week, he’ll carve out more playing time. I thought Jamal Carter really great up and answered the call for us.
“There were a lot of guys who really competed. There were others, a lot of guys that really competed. You got that sense when you were out there, that it meant something to them. Clearly now with a lot of the veterans coming back, there will be more competition. We’re still going to see a lot of those young guys, but this time it will be against guys like Allen Hurns, Stephen Morris and Brandon Linder, which should make the competition all the more better.”
On the challenges for his secondary of facing Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater…
“We have to play really well. This is a very talented young man. He has great command on the offense. I don’t want to intimate you at all, that I’ve studied everything I can about them, we’re going to do that about 11 a.m. Sunday. We’re going to take two whole days to do that. Clearly we see enough Thursdaynight games or Friday nights to see the young man is talented. He has speed, good corps of receivers, knows how to distribute the football, doesn’t make many mistakes with the football, can move in the pocket. It’s going to be a great challenge for our corners and safeties. Those guys are going to be challenged again tonight to improve, compete and get better. Certainly we’re not where we want to be yet, in every facet of the game – not just corners and safeties.”
On his satisfaction with safety play, specifically Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush…
“I think your comment is fair. We need to continue to be more physical and more consistently physical. Deon clearly has been hampered all year. Hopefully every time we were hoping we were going to see Deon…he came up with a hamstring recently and before that, his groin. Hopefully we’ll see him get healthy here and finish off the season well. With Rayshawn, it’s continuing to trust the process and be consistent. Not your highs be high and your lows be low – just continue to be consistent, and we have to to get that play out of him, there’s no question about it."
On how he has seen freshman Stacy Coley improve over the first weekend…
“I think Allen [Hurns] has been a great mentor for him. He has learned how to prepare. I keep saying to you guys, his talent is really good. He has excellent talent. But what’s allowing him to play at a high level and have so many explosive plays is [that] he’s trustworthy. We give him a lot of plays. It’s really a great example of ‘Hey, if you want to increase your role in a game, master the ones we give you.’ He has done that. It hasn’t always been easy for him, as you guys can recall. He didn’t start off the season the way he wanted to, let alone how we wanted him to do. He fought through it and continued to get better every day. This is a young man who can be a great model for a lot of young players out there for how to prepare, how to study, and how to article that. Mike James talked to our team in the spring, when he got back from the NFL Combine, about being able to regurgitate it and being able to articulate it. This young man, no matter what we ask him – he’s very loud and proud in the meetings. He tells James [Coley] or Brennan [Carroll] or the offense exactly what he’s going to do on a play – with conviction. That leads to a lot of trust. There is a preparation element in there that really exceeds his age.”
On the health improvements of junior Phillip Dorsett…
“I’m expecting him to be healthy, I really am. I’m as anxious as you. I’ve been out all week. I think we have a green light with him. We should see Phillip back to normal, which hasn’t been the case since the North Carolina game for us. We would love to have Phillip back - he was really having a heck of a year when he got hurt.
“I think he has had a great attitude. He fought, fought, fought and got really close, and really we thought we would have a chance with him in the Virginia game but it wasn’t quite right. There were a couple plays in Pitt when he got in, but not to have the impact of the game that he wanted to have. Clearly on offense we were doing well, so it got to a point where [we said] “Do we really need to put him in?” I know he’s anxious to get back out there, and hopefully we’ll see him out there today.”
On how closure to the NCAA investigation has affected his staff’s ability to recruit…
“I don’t know if it’s ever easy, but what energizes your staff when you go out? What motivates it and what drains it? Clearly you can understand almost every high school we left, we left answering 20 questions about something we didn’t have any answers about. We did that for 28 months. It’s very difficult to recruit under those circumstances.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to have tonight - we’ll have 30 or 40 juniors out there from South Florida. We haven’t had that opportunity. We haven’t been provided that opportunity. It feels totally different. You’re not going to get them all. There are other good opportunities for kids and all that, but at the end of the day, we feel like we’re on a level playing field for the first time. It’s unfortunate it comes at the tail end of our third class, but nonetheless, it gives us a chance to finish this one and start the 2015 class with a fresh slate. There has been a lot of positive energy out there, and we’re just excited to move forward. You can feel the difference.”
On the difficulty of recruiting dominant interior linemen…
“When I answer the question, it’s hard to answer without reflecting on the players that are currently in the program. What head coach and what defensive coordinator doesn’t want dominant defensive players? We have to continue to develop the young men we have, but I don’t think it’s a secret we need help on the defensive line, help on the front seven.
“I think everybody understands that, and I think that’s reflected in our numbers of guys we have committed at those positions. We were not given the opportunity to recruit the type of full class we wanted to recruit last year. We’re making up for it right now. We were looking at 16 commitments going into Signing Day a year ago. If you’re on a regular ‘Year Two’ schedule, that number probably would have been 23, 24 or 25. Here we are the following year trying to make up for that. It’s been a challenge. There were a lot of places we would have loved to fortify our positions a year ago, we weren’t given that opportunity. We gave up a lot so we can move forward now, so let’s move forward.”
On if he has a plan to divide the scholarship reductions …
“I do. I don’t know if I want to share that at this time, just because we’re working through it. Again, it seems very simple, because now they quantified it for us and made it a static number. You can deal with a static number. Last year, I had no idea how many I was going to have - before Signing Day, after Signing Day, right until after we kicked off the ball. Now that we have an idea, I feel like we can plot a course. Clearly I don’t recommend anybody running their business that way. It’s hard.”