For those who might not know, what's the day-to-day schedule of coaches during the summer? There's plenty of recruiting, but you're not allowed to actually coach. Is it a lot of studying film?
"Well, the recruiting part never ends. It's kind of like being a doctor; you're always on call. The recruiting never stops. Obviously, we have our summer camps that go on, that's a big part of what we do. Then you really try to get a jump start on your first four opponents. Once you get through the first four or really the first three, you get enough game film from the following season to know what to expect.
"The first few, it's a little bit of a guessing game, especially if you have a new coaching staff and stuff like that, wherever you're playing. We do have one or two of those. It seemed like last year, our first four almost were all different. You try to guess and you try to anticipate what you're going to get.That's one of the things with Western last year, we tried to guess and anticipate what we were going to get and we got something different than what we expected."
This time last year, you said it was hard for you to joke around when you were losing your starting quarterback, running back, and two wide receivers. This year you bring all those guys back except for Matt Roark. So are you in a better mood now, or not so much when you look and see that you were No. 118 in the country in total offense last year?
"It's different. It's better in that you kind of know what to expect from some of your people. Last year we really didn't know what to expect. You didn't know how guys were going to respond, how they were going to step up, or if they were going to step up, how they would go from being in complimentary roles to having to be 'the guys' at different positions. I think guys understand more about what's expected of them and I think we understand a little bit more about what to expect from them and how they're going to respond to things. They'll be a year older, a year better. That doesn't mean they're bigger, faster, stronger, necessarily. But it's a little bit easier to anticipate. One thing as a coach, if you know what you're going to get from somebody, you can usually plan accordingly. When you don't know what you're going to get, it's harder to plan. That's kind of where we were last year. It was really hard to plan because we didn't know what we were going to get. It seemed like we didn't get consistent results from people from week to week. Somebody would play really good one game, then they'd disappear the next two when we were counting on them, trying to get them involved and get them going. Last year was challenging that way. Very challenging."
Do you feel more optimistic at this point with those guys coming back? Or are you skeptical that this year they'll be able to perform week-in and week-out?
"Well, I'm much more optimistic. I don't think there's any question we'll be a better offensive team this year than we were last year. It shouldn't be real hard to be better than we were last year. When you take the things we were just talking about, the young people, along with the number of injuries we had to fight through starting with the offensive line and then going to receivers, running backs and finishing the year with quarterbacks. Hopefully we won't have the same kind of year injury-wise that we did last year. We also know a little bit more about what to expect from some people. I'm pretty optimistic about what I think we can do. I don't think we're in a position where we're going to lead the country in total offense, by any means. But I think we'll be much more productive and much more efficient than we were last year."
As you look back at the production you got last year and factor in the injuries, was last year one of the most difficult or most challenging seasons you've had as a coach?
"It was, in many ways. One of the things you always do in coaching, you're constantly evaluating what you're doing. Especially once the season is over, you can go back and look at it and watch the film and play cut-ups, things like that. There were so many times when the big plays were there and we just didn't make them. Whether it's the quarterback not hitting somebody, the receiver not making the catch, a receiver running open and the protection would break down and we weren't able to make the throw or a running back make a mistake, whatever it was, there were so many things that stopped us. Too many of them were self-inflicted. Defenses in this league and the defenses we play are good enough that they're going to stop you enough times. You have to eliminate the times you stop yourself, whether it's quarterback, protection, receiver, that it's not right and it ends up stopping yourself."
Were there times when you would look at the game plan or the play book and you'd say 'I don't know if anything we have is going to work?'
"Well, you never throw up your hands. You're always looking. One of the things that's always a challenge as a coach is when you have a year where like we were last year where you don't have enough talent, you don't have erasers. Randall Cobb was an eraser. Somebody could make a mistake, but he was good enough to erase their mistake and still make something happen. Derrick Locke was an eraser. Mike Hartline was an eraser. Chris Matthews had the ability to erase other people's mistakes. Last year we didn't have anybody who could erase mistakes. We didn't have anybody who erased mistakes very often. If somebody made a mistake, it seemed like it would stop the whole group. When you're not in that position, you feel like you have to have the perfect play called all the time. Sometimes when you have to have the perfect play, you carry more plays. Sometimes when you carry more plays, it leads to more people messing up once here, once there. It wasn't like you would sit back and point your finger at one guy or at one position and say they didn't play well. Most of the time we would have 70 plays, and you may have 60 good and 10 bad by somebody. Those 10 would kill us.
"We went through a year last year on offense where our margin for error was very slim. I think we made too many errors. How do you fix that? Hopefully everybody is more accountable. It's easy to fix as coaches when you know what you're going to get or what to expect. That's kind of the track we've been on. That's what we've worked on since the season ended. That's what we approached spring practice about as coaches and challenged the players to do that. Let's not beat ourselves, let's make sure of our goal and do it right. Let's at least make the defense beat us."
You mentioned injuries. A guy who got hurt very early on, before the season even began, was Daryl Collins. The feeling I got was that he was a guy you were counting on to help you. Do you see him playing a significant role this year?
"Yeah. I'd anticipate Daryl being very involved in what we're doing. Daryl is one of those guys who has the physical ability to erase some mistakes. He has his set of challenges, things like that. But I anticipate him being very involved in what we're doing. You never want to put so much on a young guy that it overloads him and makes him play slow, but we're going to put a lot on him and expect him to be able to respond."
Is he a guy who could be a starter opposite La'Rod King or would that be too much to ask of him?
"I would like for him to be a starter. It just depends on how much we can put on him without overloading him and slowing him down."
There was another position it was trouble to get a read on in spring. At tight end, it looked like you had three guys who could help you in Tyler Robinson, Ronnie Shields and Anthony Kendrick, but they all do different things. Tyler is maybe a better blocker, Ronnie is a pass-catching on-the-line tight end, and Anthony is a guy you can flex out a little. Is that how you look at those guys, or am I wrong?
"I think you're right. They have the ability to all do the same things, but they also have things that they do better than others. Tyler can do all those things, he knows how to play split out and off the line, but he's probably a little better on the line of scrimmage doing those types of things. Same thing with Ronnie and Anthony. They have the ability to do the same things, but you try to get them in position to maximize their skills. Where Tyler is really good underneath, finding holes in the zone, Ronnie can do those but he's better down the field. He's much better down the field than Tyler is. Ronnie can play split out, but he's not quite as good as Anthony Kendrick is split out. Anthony is pretty good at finding the holes in zones, pretty good down the field, but he can really do a lot of good things flexed out. I like having tight ends that are vertical because they allow you to do a lot of different things. You can make the defense have to make a lot of adjustments if you've got tight ends who can be factors."
Obviously it's early and you haven't gotten the chance to coach them, but what are some of the reports you're hearing about the freshmen so far?
"Hearing good reports. We're so limited in what we're allowed to do as coaches. The strength coach obviously reports things about them from an athletic perspective. Most people around have good reports about their work ethic, the type of people they are. Obviously we thought they were talented from a football standpoint when we recruited them. There are a few of those guys we need to step up and be contributors this year. I don't know that any of them will step in and do what Randall Cobb did as a freshman but if they can step in and be contributors and play 20 or 30 plays a game for us, we can have a couple receivers come through and have 15-20 catches for the season apiece, that's what we need. There are some opportunities there for some guys and how fast some of those guys can come along. The challenge with freshmen isn't learning the plays or learning the playbook. They can usually do that pretty good. The challenge comes in when you take the playbook against all the different defenses you see. Typically, in college, you see a much bigger variety of defenses in each game than they probably saw through the whole season (in high school). As far as fronts and coverages and blitzes and things like that, it's so much more diverse. How fast they can pick those things up, respond to what they're seeing and still be able to play at a high level, those are the things you never really know until you get into it sometimes."
If we're talking about freshmen, then I have to ask about Patrick Towles. If he shows he's able to play, is the plan to play him as a true freshman?
"I've always taken the attitude that the best players play. Whoever gives you the best chance to win gets on the field. If he gets out there, whether it's Patrick or Jalen Whitlow or whoever gives you the best chance to win the game, that's who goes on the field and plays. It doesn't matter whether it's a quarterback, on the offensive line, anywhere. The guys that give you the best chance to win and the guys that can make plays and not do things stupid that get you beat, those are usually the guys you try to get on the field."
If you're looking for ways to get him on the field, would you rather put a package together for him to be used in certain situations, designate a series or two a game that he'll play, or do something else?
"It's still to be determined. You can't put more on him than what he can handle, but the package can't be so limited that it becomes easy to defend, either. You might get away with it one week, but defensive coaches are usually sharp enough that they have a feeling of what to do if so-and-so is in the game, they can devise a scheme to stop that. You have to do what they know, you have to push them to go as fast as they can and a lot of times, guys may have 20 plays or 30 plays mastered that they can handle, but if that's all they have, it doesn't necessarily give you the best chance to win. You factor how fast they can learn, how much they can manage, how much they can really go out and be productive with and if that gives you the best chance to win, you go with it."
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