Updated: Aug 6, 2019
Q: Do you have multiple leaders with such a veteran group?
A: “I think they’re all in the room feeling their own way. I think they all lead in a different way. Some are a little quiet, some are gonna lead by example. The biggest thing for me, what I’m looking for in a leader — and I don’t care if you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior — I want somebody that’s gonna lead by example and do it the right way. If you can do it the right way, the vocal part will come. I think if you’re living life the right way and doing things the right way — on and off the field — and trying to become that man, the leadership comes easy. Now other people will follow you because they see you doing it the right way.”
Q: How do you delineate the depth chart and receiver rotation with so many receiving options?
A: “You take a look at the room I have right now, those guys are all competing and you’re talking about from the young guys all the way through. And they’ve done a good job of learning the system. But the competition level — understanding that we’ve got one ball and they’ve got to compete to get playing time on the football field — makes you work a little harder. But at the same time, for me it’s still great because you’re developing. You have a couple of knicks so somebody’s not practicing or someone twists an ankle, all of sudden you’re down three guys. But you can still practice at a full-speed tempo or you can play a game at a full speed tempo because everybody understands the roles, as far as being able to play multiple positions or being able to adjust to something.”
Q: Why is that development so key in your mind?
A: “We always talk about if somebody goes down you gotta be able to move. What is your value, what is your worth to the program? The more that you can do for the program, the better the chance that you’re gonna have to play. But it’s like anything else, you got one ball. Everybody wants that. And I like it when they’re kind of complaining at me and saying, ‘l want the ball.’ Great, come practice and do a great job with it to earn that responsibility and earn that right. But they’ve all did a good job this spring. I’ve got an upper class group level and they’ve practiced that way. We gotta continue to coach. You can’t get tired of the process. You can’t get bored of the process. The minute you get bored of the process because you know what’s going on, that’s when you’re gonna drop down a level. So it’s about competing every day within yourself to make yourself a better player and they’ve done a good job with that.”
Q: What is Jacob Copeland’s frustration level and how do you deal with that?
A: “You know what, he’s frustrated because he can’t play right now and he’s been injured. He came in as a true freshman and got hurt last year. He got healthy, came back in the spring and did some good things, one of the practices I was blown away. I was like, ‘Wow.’ It’s kind of like a little kid when you forget about that toy that you haven’t played with a while. Oh my gosh. He was explosive, in and out of breaks. Then he tweaked a little bit again. The one thing I will tell you that he’s done a great job with — not a good job, a great job — is learning. His learning curve went like this (points up). Some guys when they get hurt, you see it go in different places. Different people drift away and they don’t always focus into the learning curve. But I’ll tell you what, he’s done a fabulous job. You ask him a question; he can spit it out. We go out and review, we go through a walk through, he’s the guy reading me the script. So, he’s constantly learning, taking the rep mentally. He’s done a fantastic job. He’s got a group of brothers on this team trying to push him in the right way and keep him positive. But he’s done a great job of as far as staying positive and learning.”
Q: On freedom of routes, has that always been your style or developed?
A: “No, I think it’s kind of always been the same. It all depends on who you’re working with. I’ve been very fortunate to work with Coach Mullen for a long time. When you develop that relationship, what his expectations of quarterback play is and what his expectation of receiver play is, then it allows you and it allows the receivers to just play.
People ask me, ‘What do you recruit?’ Well, I want great athletes. I want guys that can take the ball the distance every time they touch the ball. What (freedom of routes) allows you to do is to play fast. We give them options. They can go inside or outside and different releases. They don’t have to just be rigid and do it this way. We recruited them because they’re great athletes. I don’t want to take that away from them. I still want to keep that great athleticism, let them use that, but now lock it in fundamentally with different techniques. But at the same time, allow them to use their God-given ability to have that freedom to work.
If you saw Freddie Swain, he caught a couple of long passes. Well, that’s not the natural play. What it is, that’s the natural read. He sees the defender come up; he has an opportunity to change his route. Then, all of a sudden, it’s timing between him and the quarterback that took place last year, last summer, last season, this offseason coming into the spring. But it’s got to continue that way to be successful.”