CHERUBINI CHIMES IN
Monday, January 9, 2012
By Ron Cherubini
reflects and looks ahead
with ECU's Offensive Coordinator
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Bonesville Mobile Alpha version of this page.
(ECU Media Relations File
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Bonesville features writer Ron Cherubini
conducted one-on-one interviews with East
Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley
(left) and Pirate defensive boss Brian
Mitchell (right). Links to the wide-ranging
Lincoln Riley Q&A
Brian Mitchell Q&A
With the 2011 season
fading into the rearview mirror, East Carolina's players are ramping
back up for next semester and the hard-pushing of Camp Connors till
spring ball starts. Signing Day is just around the corner and football,
never far from the forefront of the Pirate Nation's collective
consciousness, is edging back into the headlines.
It's as good a time as
any to check in with ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to get a sense
of what he's thinking as 2012 begins to take shape. A bit of a reflection on
last season and a some insight into his perceptions right now about the
players he will be working with in the upcoming campaign would seem in
The 2011 season might
best be considered one that, in absence of wins and a bowl game, provided an
abundance of perspective for the young and talented OC. It was a season
that, without a doubt, was a disappointing one but it was also a campaign
that revealed a number of things offensively, that should bode well for the
near future — 2012 — and beyond.
Last season Riley
experienced what his colleague, defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell, had to
painfully endure in 2010 — an inordinate number of injuries. The attrition
left the offense unable to settle into a rhythm and the result was an
unusually high number of turnovers. Turnovers were way up… offensive scoring
was significantly down... and we the results were apparent.
But in the face of that
adversity, there were a lot of positives. Like the emergence of some real
stud — and young — wide receivers. Or… depth on the offensive line. Despite
the injuries, the offense cut its penalties down drastically. Though its
production was down, it wasn’t down by much and the Pirates, young guys
aside, were equally devastating in the red zone and improved third down
Coach Riley was kind
enough to engage in a lengthy one-on-one, off-season interview and was
forthcoming with his thoughts on 2011 and on the future:
Hi, Coach. Can you take a moment to reflect on last season? Didn’t quite go
as scripted as you found yourself living some of Coach Mitchell’s 2010
Lincoln Riley (LR):
Well, it was tough. I mean you’ve put in a lot of work both the
coaches and the players and you to the point (at the season’s beginning)
where you think you can do some good things. You know, it’s a part of the
game… certainly you don’t imagine it will happen to the extent it did with
us… we lost 14 players for a total of 41 games… that certainly makes it
tough. It is a real challenge because you always expect to have a few (major
injuries) but you don’t expect to have quite as many as we had this year. It
makes things tough because you end up having to play some younger guys who
maybe aren’t ready — maybe they are — but you find out some positives, too.
It didn’t make us
better then, but having gone through it, it makes us better now getting
those young guys experience. When somebody gets injured, you know, everyone
moves up a spot so somebody’s role increases. Guys like Reese Wiggins, and
Zico (Pasut) and Josh Clark and I could go on down the list, but there are
lot of guys who ended up playing a lot of snaps — Derrick Harris being
another one of them — than they were probably going to.
BV: So, from a
forward-looking perspective, last year’s misery could be this year’s joy…?
LR: Like I
said, it didn’t make us better during the season, but it will benefit us
down the road. Consequently, originally heading into this year, we were
going to be an offense that maybe didn’t return as much experience (losing
Dominique (Davis), Lance (Lewis), (Michael) Bowman, (Joe) Womack). Now all
of a sudden we return just about everyone who was playing for us at the end
and that is exciting now. Of course it was disappointing then because we
didn’t play as well as we expected, but there is always a positive in it for
those guys who are returning really hungry and now with a lot more snaps
under their belts. It bodes well for the future.
BV: Do you get the
sense that the guys who are coming back see it the same way, heading into
met with the offensive guys after (the last game) and I told them… I said,
‘The older guys — our seniors this year — had to go through a hard time this
year. We had injuries, we didn’t accomplish our goals, so the championships
and wins we talk about now are in the future and are your responsibility
now. The seniors had to endure the injuries and the tough things that go
with. Now that you guys have all this experience and the tools to win, we
better make sure that we work and get everyone doing their part to make sure
those seniors can go off having contributed (to championships).’
Those guys are heavily
responsible for the success I know we are about to have.
BV: Sticking with the
topic of last season, as a coach, you too are a competitor. How do you keep
your composure when you have lost so many key players and see some of the
mistakes and have some of the opportunities to win go by without the
LR: Well… I
know that the players look to me and react to what they are seeing from me,
so if I go around making a lot of excuses and if I get disappointed and hang
my head or show that I am frustrated, then that is the first thing they are
going to do. We talk about adversity and that we have to be able to handle
it. I thought that we had some phenomenal games where we demonstrated that
we can handle adversity extremely well. The Central Florida game being one
of the better games we played as a team and going into that without so many
pieces. And, there were some times that we didn’t (handle adversity well).
But this team… I was proud there wasn’t one play all year offensively where
we didn’t play with great effort and that says a lot about our guys with the
type of season we went through. The majority of these guys coming back —
which is just about all of them — are very prepared for (adversity) if it
comes around again. Of course, I was a little disappointed and I talked to
one of my mentors who I have trusted for a long-long time and he said, ‘You
do the best you can.' I think our players did that each and every week and
these players will continue to do that next year and we look forward to
having that group back and, hey, we’re ready to go (for spring).
consistently talk about the turnovers, negative plays, and penalties.
Overall, you look at the numbers from last season and you are not all that
off on a lot of the positive indicators and not as many negatives as you
would have expected given the team’s final record. Share your thoughts on
LR: Sure. No
question, the turnovers were a killer. You can’t be as good as we want to be
and turn the ball over like that. I was really proud of how we cut
down the penalties… our guys did a phenomenal job of that (nearly 50%
improvement). Obviously, we had that rash of fumbles early. You try to come
up with answers… some cases our guys didn’t protect the ball and other cases
the other guys made good plays… having so many young guys who are
inexperienced touching the ball it is understandable especially in today’s
college game where it is like the officials don’t have whistles anymore. The
referees know they always can replay it and get it fixed so the whistle’s
now are basically non-exist. I think our guys need to adjust to that. We
definitely have to do a better job coaching… we did a much better job with
fumbles the second half of the season. We dropped some balls and had a few
breaks go against us.
turnovers are going to be the number one emphasis going into spring ball.
You start to look at who maybe is going to be the next quarterback and it
will be the guy who turns it over the least who is going to have a darn good
shot it because that is something that we will be placing a premium on and
an area in which I am going to do a better job coaching. I have already made
the point to the guys who are coming back that we are going to play the guys
who don’t turn the ball over because we have a chance to be a really good
team and we are not going to give the other team extra possessions. We did
that way too much this year and it is something we must improve on.
BV: I mentioned the
statistical comparison from 2010 to 2011… that straight look at stats tell
LR: They do
tell you things. The numbers do not lie. The numbers tell you that we were
still an explosive team that can put up big numbers any time we are on the
field. Looking at the numbers, we were pretty good in a lot of the
categories but the one that really stands out it is the turnovers and that
is really important because it impacts the other important one, which is
scoring average which we were down this year. Turnovers really deflated us.
Ruffin (McNeill) did a study on those numbers and there were also a lot of
positives. We know there were… look, there were a lot of games where we
played extremely well offensively and there were a lot of young guys who
made a bunch of huge plays. I don’t want to discount those positives…
numbers certainly tell the story of what we did right and what we need to
BV: One last question
on last season. Can you address the signal stealing topic… give us the final
word on that flap?
…some of our guys don’t know our signals so… The fact is that it is always a
thing, especially when you run a no huddle offense that you have to use
signals. We went through the same (flap) at Texas Tech. There were a few
plays — a couple of specific plays — where somebody said they thought they
saw a signal even though there is somebody standing there wide open that we
didn’t get the ball to for whatever reason. (The signal stealing) is more of
an urban legend, a chasing ghosts thing. Nobody has our signals. If the
defense can get our signal right before the play, get into the perfect
coverage, know where (QB) reads are and anticipate his decision making, then
they are so much better than us, it doesn’t matter. We change the signals
now and then, too, so I seriously doubt anyone is effectively stealing our
BV: Shifting to the
2012 season, how are you feeling about recruiting this season and the
recruits that you guys may or may not bring in come that first week in
LR: I feel
fantastic about it, Ron… fantastic. We pretty much have all of our
commitments already… most of them aren’t public yet, which is probably a
good thing for us. There are couple of spots we are looking to fill and have
some candidates who will be visiting in the next few weeks. You know that is
one thing about this staff, it recruits so well. Of course then also there
is Ruffin who is just dynamite in these kids’ houses… just as you would
expect he would be. Really, this is probably the first staff I have been on
that everybody just recruits hard. We have been grinding on the road since
the last day of the season and have never slowed down. You can see it paying
off too, as we are getting some phenomenal, phenomenal kids that if we can
hang on to the kids we’ve got right now, this can be a special, special,
special class. I am excited for signing day to get here and I think it is
going to generate a lot of excitement (for the fans).
BV: Can we talk
personnel… in detail? Anyone who followed Texas Tech during Mike Leach’s
tenure knows that it is possible to have a system where you have a new
quarterback each year, but consistent, nation-leading output each season…
without drop-off. You find yourself looking for the next standout starter
for the 2012 season. Does Rio Johnson head into spring as the top
quarterback to beat or do you reset everything?
LR: We will
reset it. We need to find out where each of them are now. We told them
before we broke (for the holidays) that we expect everyone to work hard and
that we expect it to be apparent in spring ball who wants it the most. Like
we do for any position, we are going to see where each guy is and narrow it
down quickly to the guys who look like they are ready to go. I could see a
scenario where all four quarterbacks are ready to go. Rio earned the No. 2
job last year and he did it by coming from behind, really. Honestly Shane (Carden)
was probably No. 2 going into (fall) camp. In camp, everybody took a shot at
him and Rio made a nice move and narrowly edged him out. You know Brad (Wornick),
of course, has game experience, the most of all of them really — I know Rio
got some snaps this season, too — but every time Brad has gone into a game,
he has played very well and he has that gamer quality to him so you (can't)
discount him. Shane had a great, great spring and earned the No. 2 slot
going into fall and got a lot of quality snaps (last season) running the
scout squad against our defense and was able to lead and compete every day.
Another thing I like about Shane is that he brings a real athletic type to
(the position) and makes a lot of plays on the run. We’ve got to get Cody
Keith healthy. He had an ankle surgery this summer and was a little hobbled
and is just getting over the hump right now. Cody showed some really bright
things in our Thursday night scrimmages and he can really throw the
football. I think he will be a little bit of an X factor in the spring. I am
eager to see how he does. Who knows, honestly Ron, right now I could flip a
coin and have just as good a chance of telling you who it is going to be
than I would if I had to pick them on what they’ve already done. Right now
we have to give them all a chance and narrow it down like we always do and
it will land us on the right guy… always does.
BV: On Rio… you have
mentioned how much you love his football IQ growth and his off-field
maturity as compared to where he might have been when you first met him. Do
you see that continuing and is that make or break for him?
LR: Yeah… and
he better (continue). I have made it very clear to Rio that it is our way or
the highway. He needed to change for the better and he did that (last
spring). I don’t see him backsliding, I don’t. He is a pretty motivated guy
right now and he will have an opportunity to win the job again. He got a
little taste of it last year — got a few snaps — and played really well at
the end of the Southern Miss game last year in particular. I think he is a
good kid who is really motivated right now.
BV: You mentioned not
to count out Brad and you mentioned that he is the only QB on the roster who
got to have some extended game action with critical snaps in games. If you
are not on the depth chart, you can’t help and Brad seemed to fall off of it
last season. How do you keep his head in it and keep him ready to play?
LR: Well… you
know… it is tough for him… it is having been the No. 2 before. That said,
Brad is going to be a senior and it is his last time around, so if he is
going to do it, he has to do it now. He will have to earn it but I know he
has a lot of confidence in himself and he knows he can play and play well…
he has proven that to himself and others. So, I see him as a guy who can
make a move. You know… the thing about Brad is that he really is a gamer. He
is guy who ups his level of play in games but he has to do it in practice.
If he can do that consistently, then he will be right there in it this
LR: You and I have
talked extensively about some of the realities of this offensive system when
it comes to quarterbacks. You have to sign several more than maybe other
programs do and you end up generally having two, three, maybe even four who
are very talented and who could start elsewhere. Transfers in this type of
system are common. You have a guy like Shane there who is highly talented
and now is getting very antsy. How do you manage that in such a
highly-competitive scenario that we have here at ECU?
LR: I am very
excited about Shane and how he led the Scout team, which is something I
think is very underrated because he was getting snaps — a lot of them —
against our No. 1 defense. He is learning to lead and growing as a
quarterback… which as good as he is, he needed. He is very consistent and
has a better grasp of the offense now and has matured a lot. Like I said, he
had a heck of a spring last year and he is going to be much more prepared
for this spring. Physically, Shane is the best quarterback we have. He is
pretty big, muscled up, he is able to take hits, able to run. I really feel
good about him and I am really excited to see him in the spring.
BV: Then, of course,
there is Cody… (who) came in as a highly-touted prep quarterback. Injury
aside, do you feel that he could realistically compete for a spot on the
depth chart this spring?
absolutely do. There is a reason we brought him here. He can throw the ball.
He can make plays. He’s a talent now. He can really, really throw the ball
and can move. Even when he was injured and in there he showed he can
compete. He has really gotten a good grasp of what we are doing here. He is
a really competitive kid, too, and is ready to compete… ready to go. He will
be that X factor in the race. I am the only one who has really seen him
throw and play fully healthy... the other coaches and players haven’t, so I
am excited to see how the other guys react when they can see what he can do
when he is really healthy.
BV: Let’s talk running
backs. Last year, you told me that you were really worried about the
position in general not only because of the numbers being thin, but also
because none of the backs seemed to have a full skillset for the offense. It
looks a little then again… are you equally as worried?
LR: You know… we
certainly took a blow with Reggie (Bullock) last year when he went out with
that freak injury at Navy. That was a big loss because we were really
running the ball well and had gotten into a kind of rhythm with him back
there. He is probably the most natural runner we have as far as setting up
blocks and rarely got less than what he should have got even if we weren’t
blocking well. Obviously Reggie is not the most physical guy or the biggest
guy in the world, but he is a good, good runner. That might have been one of
the top two most important injuries we had last year and we really did some
good things running the ball when he was in there. Obviously having Reggie
back healthy and having him work with Coach (Jeff) Connors for an entire
year getting his body ready to handle it… I am very excited about him and
when he is healthy, I think he is one of the better running backs in the
conference. So from the perspective of having a back that can do the job, we
have that guy and he has proven. The numbers are still thinner than we would
like, but there are some guys I am excited about and we are recruiting guys
who can compete for the job immediately.
BV: Anyone in
particular you are excited about?
LR: I am really
excited about Hunter Furr. I am eager to get him in the mix in there. We
certainly wish he was eligible last year. He has shown some real flashes in
our Thursday night scrimmages and over on Scout squad. He is bigger than any
back we have right now and probably the fastest back of all of them, too. I
am eager to see what he can do and have the opportunity to coach him every
day to see where he can help us. I think he could play a good bit for us,
BV: Torrance Hunt
seemed to get better each time out. Do you see him in the mix for the top
job as well?
really grew as a running back last season and really helped us. We probably
don’t beat Central Florida without him. Torrance has got to get more
consistent catching the ball and running through arm tackles. I am not sure
he can get much bigger, but he is really just learning how to be a running
back. He is an older guy by age, but still a young running back for us. He
has shown some great flashes for us in critical game situations and I think
he can be in the mix because he is a hard worker and I am eager to see how
good he can be with now a full year at the position.
BV: And, Michael
LR: Dobson did
some good things last year. He was steady for us in a few games. The thing
with Dobson is that he has got to be a little more explosive for us and he
can do that… he made some big runs and I think having a great year with
Coach Connors to learn how we want him to run.
BV: And how about the
redshirt freshman, Chris Hairston?
LR: Chris got
hurt very early in the season and I don’t know if we will have him for
spring ball, it will be very close. He also showed some flashes of
brilliance last year so I hope we can get him in there and he has certainly
got a lot of ability. Chris is a super-talented guy who needs to get reps.
BV: Will we see Zico
Pasut at running back anymore?
LR: It is
possible. Zico really gave us a lift last season. He didn’t have any big
runs or a lot of yards, but he brought some power to that position that we
were lacking at the end of the season and did some really, really good
things for us. So yeah, I think Zico is a guy we will use in a lot of
different ways, he’s earned that. Part of it will depend on these (other
running backs) and how they develop and part of it will depend on where his
roles are elsewhere in the offense. He provides punch in a big body.
BV: Turning our
attention to the receiving corps. It seems last season that we learned that
we are, indeed, deep in talent, but we also learned that talented guys who
are also very young, don’t always make the play. With Lance, Michael, and
Joe moving on, how are you feeling about that unit? Will guys move around…
inside to out and vice-versa?
LR: It is
certainly possible that we might move guys around, we’ll have to see how
things shake out in the spring. Last season, Justin Hardy was probably — he
and Will Simmons — were probably our best two offensive players. Hardy was
just fantastic and so he is guy who is going to be out there somewhere.
Everyone saw what Justin Jones can do and then you have Andrew Bodenheimer
outside who you can build around. A lot of young guys got a lot of reps and
that will help us this year.
BV: Let’s talk about a
lot of these guys individually, starting with Justin Hardy. You mentioned
what a great season he had. I know when I watched him, I forgot he was just
a freshman. Were you surprised by his level of play?
LR: I have said
this before and over again, I truly believe if Justin continues to work hard
and I am sure he will, that by the time he is done here, Justin Hardy will
be one of the all-time best receivers to have played football at East
Carolina…he is just that good. So, no, it didn’t surprise me. Of course I
was happy for him, but I expected it. Football is very important to Justin
and he works hard at it. He is one of the hardest workers we have. He loves
to practice, he loves to play, he has a great attitude, he is a great
student, and he is just that kid that you always want your son to be like.
He’s not perfect, nobody is, but he tries to do the best he can at
everything at all times and we get it from him on a consistent basis. That
is why — along with a lot of God-given ability — he was able to step up
right away as a freshman and play at the level he did. He has a bright,
bright future and yes, it is exciting for me because I was a walk-on and I
love to see guys who get the opportunity and do with it what Justin has
done. Three more years of him on the field is exciting.
BV: How about the
other Justin… Jones. Good to get him back on the field there at the end of
the season. He didn’t disappoint did he?
LR: I wish we
could have had him for a lot more. I mean, he plays two games and has 4
touchdowns… that would have been nice to have. Look, that is what we saw in
camp and expected to have this season so his injury was one of those two
most important ones, definitely, that I mentioned earlier. We all know that
a healthy Justin Jones is a great weapon. Now, we have to continue to find
ways to get the ball to him because he is such a special talent. He does
have some growing up to do and so we are going to push him on that every day
and I think he will do that. What he can do is pretty obvious and he is
definitely a priority that we need to work with and keep improving and to
make sure he stays on the right track. Obviously when you have a tight end
who can move like he can not only in the passing game, but when he is moving
he can be a great blocker too. So we really missed him last year and are
glad he is back and healthy.
BV: How about the
younger Harris… Derrick. Did you expect the consistency and level of play
that Dwayne’s little brother brought out there last season?
LR: Yeah, I
have to admit it was a little bit of (a surprise). Derrick got an
opportunity and made the most of it. He is certainly one of the more
improved players that we have seen since we have been here. He’s a
dependable guy… you throw it to him, he is going to catch it. He had the big
touchdown catch against Memphis that got us started in that game and he’s
had some big first down catches for us. He is a good blocker, too. He does
everything we ask him to do so I wasn’t that surprised but I was happy to
see him do what he did with his chances. I am glad he transferred here and
now will have a chance to help us more next year.
BV: You were excited
about Danny Webster from the jump last spring and the true freshman finished
the year — up to his injury — getting better each time out. First, how is
the injury and then please talk about Danny and where he can go in this
LR: Yeah… Danny
will be back and all healed up. He has some work to do on it, but he has
time to heal. I would expect him to be ready to go (for spring). I think he
did get better as the season went on. You know he turned the ball over too
many times early in the season, but then he really did sort of shed the true
freshman (skin) and was playing well (when he was injured). Danny is a
coachable kid who takes what we tell him and does it well. He is fearless
which you have to be to play at that level and he made a lot of big plays
for us. He is another one who I am excited to see have a full year with Jeff
(Connors) to get bigger, stronger, faster and he is a receiver we are really
excited to have for three more years.
BV: Sticking with
young receivers… where the hell did Reese Wiggins — the one exploding for
long touchdowns — come from? He seemed to just sort of explode out there.
again… kind of like Derrick… Reese got a few opportunities and really made
the most of them. We always knew Reese had that ability but it was about
being consistent and he really, he was very consistent there at the end of
the season when he was getting his opportunities. He did a great job and
showed he can be explosive and a force to be reckoned with. He has a great
shot to take one of the jobs this year. He has to keep improving and he
gained a lot of confidence and is an example of the guy who had success,
gained confidence and then it translated to harder work. Now we know we
don’t have to coach up his confidence, he is ready to get out there again.
BV: Can he be Lance
they are really different types of receivers. Lance was bigger and a little
more of a jump ball guy who goes up (and) gets it. Reese is much more
explosive with the football in his hands. You know he had two or three
touchdowns this year longer than any that Lance had while he was here. Reese
can go… he is a better runner with the football. I am glad we have him for
several more years and we can coach him up. But I think he could have (a
Lance Lewis) type of impact on our offense if he keeps progressing.
BV: It seemed this
season that Andrew Bodenheimer’s name didn’t seem to be called that much. Is
he expected to re-establish himself this year.
LR: Now Bodie…
he had a pretty darn good year this year. He caught a bunch of balls and
probably played more snaps than anyone last season. I think he is a guy we
are going to build it around next year. He is without question one of the
very best blocking receivers I have ever been around or coached. He is a
tenacious player and the kind of worker and person we want in our program.
He leads that outside receiver group and will be one of those bell cows for
us for leadership and playmaking. I love that guy… I love that kid and I
think he is very motivated for his senior season, which is a good thing for
BV: What is up with
Dayon Arrington? He sort of vanished this season.
definitely started out slow last year and then came on at the end of the
season and did some really good things. We are deep enough that you just can
afford to start slow. Now, Dayon has ability and has playing experience from
2010 and I think he can make plays for us, but he has to start fast for us
this spring and he knows that. He is another senior for us and another guy
who expects to be a part of what we are doing. It is going to be competitive
but he certainly has the ability to go out there and play like he did in
2010 and earn a position.
BV: And Mike Price?
LR: For Mike, a
little bit of it was that he had some injuries. Mike needs to increase his
durability, no question. We were really excited about Mike going into the
season, but it just never really happened for him. It is important for Mike
to mature, physically… he has to get himself physically where his body can
take the toll. We are working with him to get there. There simply are not
many guys out there more explosive than Mike when he is on his game.
BV: How about some of
the other young guys, like Donte Sumpter, Antonio Cannon, Torian Richardson?
LR: Cannon and
Sumpter can both make some noise, no question, this season. Cannon had a
really, really good year in Thursday night practices. He has to get better
physically… get acclimated more to the weight room. His off-season will be
big for him. But, he is a playmaker… he is. (He is) the one that reminds me
most of Lance. He isn’t a big, big guy, but he finds a way to come down with
the ball. Sumpter did some good things too, running around catching the
ball. He is a smart kid and pretty dependable too and is deceptively fast
and good with the ball in his hands.
BV: For all of the
airing out of the football and the stars that creates on the field, I know
that your favorite players on the offense are the offensive linemen, so I
saved that for last. Last season, it looked like the starting five that
opened the season were pretty good… and then the injuries mounted. We you
were pleased by what you saw from those guys before the all the injuries?
LR: We were hit
pretty hard right away with injuries. In fact, there was only one time all
season where we were able to start the same five guys in back-to-back games.
(That) is tough is because the offensive line is the ultimate in continuity…
it’s not like a receiver where you can just plug another guy in there — when
an offensive line guy, especially when some of these guys were having to
play positions they never played before, goes down, is not that easy to
plug-in without affecting the others. I am excited about that group. We
played pretty well in the run game all year and at times we were good enough
at running back to take advantage of it and at times we were not. I felt we
were solid there, but we have to have a running back who can take advantage
of it. We were extremely physical, much more so than the year before so I am
excited about that. And so we have to build continuity and depth,
particularly at the tackle position. Of course, we have to find a way to
keep these guys healthy. Some of it is luck and some of it is practicing the
right way and preparing for that. Every time we got some continuity or
rhythm it seemed like we would get an injury. You know those guys are really
coming together. You are basically talking about a bunch of sophomores who
never played this much before in their lives but are a really hungry,
confident, and motivated group heading into the spring. We need to find a
left tackle, but really we return everyone else… some of our young guys from
our first recruiting class are going to be right in the mix, too, especially
Chaz Lowery and Isaac Harris — those two look like they are going to be
ready sooner than later.
BV: Let’s get into the
weeds on these guys, starting with Jordan Davis. You moved him inside to
guard and seemed to be a pretty darn good one. Does Jordan stay there now?
LR: We would
like to keep him there since it is his best position, which we have known
all along. He was our best option at left tackle last year until Steven
Baker came along and then we were able to move Jordan to his natural
position at guard. He was extremely physical and confident in there and I
think after a year there, he will be one of the most physical and gifted
guards in the conference. He is a very good balance to Will (Simmons) on the
BV: Other side,
with Will, he really appeared to be that beast you were so excited about
last spring. Did he exceed your expectations?
LR: We expected
him to be good, but he did surprise, too. He was incredibly consistent. He
played really only one poor game all year. For a sophomore and for the one
guy who played every game, that consistency is really very good. Will always
does a great job… always working… I am so proud of him and how he played
last season. He might be our most consistent player on the entire offense.
Plus he is growing into a great emotional leader for the group. I wish I had
five more just like him… really… he can become that leader in his last
couple of years and he is where it starts up front for us.
BV: You know center
was just a mess for you guys last season and you knew it going in and you
end up there sort of finding Josh Clark via attrition. Is he a guy that
could really lock in there for you guys?
LR: Oh yeah…
Josh was just great. Look at the Marshall game… we ran off 14 points on
two-straight possessions, Josh goes down, and we got stuck. Not saying it
was Doug’s fault… but Josh is (a) really good center. What he did on short
notice… I’ve personally never seen a guy do anything like it. He
communicated and executed right away at a high level.
BV: Sticking with
Josh… did you guys not see that in practice before the attrition at center
with the injuries?
LR: Well… we
weren’t really looking at the time. He was playing tackle for us and we had
some centers and we didn’t feel like we were going to need him there. We
just really didn’t think we needed him inside and he was in the mix at
tackle (for a job). With Doug and Hugh, we didn’t think we could get him any
work there either. All (of a) sudden, Doug is down, Hugh is down, we
scramble and here we are. It was unforeseen… absolutely Josh stays at
center. He was just fantastic in those last two games. He will be a senior…
a coach’s kid… has played the position. Looking forward to going into the
spring with a center like him ready to go.
BV: Looking at the
depth at center… is Mack Helms still in the mix? Can walk-on C.J. Struyk be
an every-play center at this level?
LR: Mack has a
nagging injury. We will see if he heals up, which is the best way to say it
right now. I really do think C.J. can be a center here. He’s a kid who came
in and got snaps early in camp last year and showed that he can play the
position. He is one of the strongest guys we got, I can tell you that, and a
real good snapper, so I see no reason why C.J. can’t help us at that
BV: Can Taylor Hudson
earn a job in the interior this season?
LR: Taylor is
another guy we worked some at center and he can play guard — either side —
as well. He has a lot of ability… but it is time for him to put it all
together now. He can play all three interior positions which makes him very
valuable for us… he needs to be ready because he can really help us this
BV: Let’s talk about
the position you are a little more concerned with, the tackle spots. What
happened in there last season with Grant Harner? Was he injured or did he
get beat out there at the end?
LR: Grant got
hurt pretty bad last season and toughed it out and played through it,
especially in the Southern Miss game. He didn’t play well against Houston
last year but responded well after that, but then he got hurt and really
couldn’t play at the level he expects to, which set us and him back. The
only way to say it is that Grant took it for the team — he is so unselfish.
Grant will be healthy and motivated to be a starter this spring and we need
him that way, really.
BV: You mentioned
earlier that we need to find a left tackle. Adhem Elsawi seemed to be pretty
solid there. Does Elsawi stay at left tackle?
LR: Elsawi can
play both tackle spots so he is very valuable to us… I think he will stay at
left tackle. Losing him in the Houston game really hurt because he was
playing so well. He brings a lot of size and strength to that position and I
think he will be at one of the tackle spots this year.
BV: You already
mentioned that both Chaz Lowery and Isaac Harris are way ahead of schedule
developmentally and you expect them both to compete this spring for playing
time next season. Any other guys you think deserve mention here?
LR: I think
Drew Gentry will be a factor this time around. He played well against UTEP
last season and showed us he has the ability but he has to get stronger in
the weight room to contend. He is a good kid, a smart kid, motivated and
with good athleticism… his off-season in the weight room will determine
whether he challenges in spring.
BV: One last question
Lincoln… off-topic. Your old boss, Mike Leach, is back in business now out
there in Washington State. A few of your coach-mates have gone out there
with him. Did you get a call from Coach Leach?
LR: Yeah, I
have spoken to him. You know, I am really happy for him and glad he is back
(coaching). I think he can do a great job out there rebuilding that program.
BV: Lincoln… I think
you know what I meant. Did he call you?
LR: Yeah… I
knew what you meant. I was just trying to avoid the question. I love it here
and I am not going anywhere. I am looking forward very much to this spring
and getting going again.
Ron Cherubini Archives
01/12/2012 04:05 AM