Feb. 22, 2007
"For me, this is probably THE most exciting time of the year when you start really putting the team back together on the field. It's a little bit shorter off-season program for us this year because of the way the schedule fell with Easter and spring break. There are a number of teams around the country that have started this week or will start next week and I'm eager to see how it works out. One of the consequences that come out of starting early, if you did have an injury you would have a chance to get a young man back perhaps before the season started. So some plusses and minuses. It does squeeze us just a little bit coming off of recruiting, but our coaches have done a good job of getting themselves ready for spring practice.
"Spring practice is about players, not necessarily plays. Who can play is what we're looking for, who can run, hit, catch, throw, cover and do those kinds of things. Also, spring practice is about toughness and about finding those guys who have that innate toughness -- regardless of the position they play -- that can mark a good football player. Who can be special, some dynamics, finding guys that can help you that way and then also what role they are going to play. There are a number of players, especially young players, that need to find their place and need to find their role on this football team. So it's a very, very important time.
"This particular spring, we are going to study and experiment with some no-huddle ideas as we go along. We've got a mature quarterback in Erik Ainge that I'm excited about. We're going to try to use his talents every way we can. The kids are pretty excited about it as we've talked and met during the course of the off-season. It will give us a chance to take advantage of Erik's abilities.
"From just a mental approach to spring practice, what we're expecting from our players is a physical attitude and a mindset of going out there on a daily basis and becoming a more physical football team. We obviously have to fill some spots, but more than just filling the spots is the attitude we take into this spring -- that we understand it's a contact sport and we need to have a hungry and passionate football team on the field.
"One of the areas where we did a really good job last year was growing our leadership during the course of the season. Some guys we expected to come on did so and some guys we didn't exactly expect came on and took a leadership role on our football team. That's got to happen this year. I can definitely identify some guys who have leadership abilities; they have to take on that challenge. And there certainly are some guys capable of being leaders who have to mature into that role. It will be fun to watch and see who takes on those leadership opportunities. Most of the time it happens naturally with your team and I'm hopeful the guys will be committed to do that. During the off-season, we took on the theme of being totally committed to what we're trying to get done. I'm eager to see who is really going to do that once we get to pads.
"With the positional needs we have, probably the biggest concern for me right now is our defensive front and becoming the kind of defensive front we are accustomed to being. Replacing Justin Harrell, although we didn't have him a great period of time, and Turk McBride will be a big-time challenge for us. Demonte' Bolden is that kind of football player if he will reach the level we expect him to. He has made some progress and has a good attitude about it and certainly has the skill. J.T. Mapu should be considerably better than he was last year. He did a great job for us last year considering he came in off his mission and was thrown into action mostly because of the injury to Justin. With his work in this off-season and getting him into 100 percent good shape, we expect good things from J.T. Those guys have got to step up for us at defensive tackle.
"Xavier Mitchell had a good year last year and is trying to take a leadership role on this football team. He certainly is a hard worker. Antonio Reynolds is a guy who just never has developed as far as we thought he would. Hopefully, this spring will lead to us seeing him reach that level. We've got a group of guys there in the mix that -- we'll see how far they can grow and if they can find their place. There certainly is not a lack of numbers but we've got to find the guys who are committed to being as good as they can be. Robert Ayers, Walter Fisher and Chase Nelson will not get to practice at the beginning of spring and will be very limited during the spring and that's unfortunate. We'll have a chance to see them once the fall starts.
"The second place I'm concerned about is our secondary. We graduated Jonathan Wade and Antwan Stewart and lost a great football player in Inky Johnson. I don't think everybody really knows how important he was to our defense last year and how hard it was to overcome his loss. We've got to make sure we address those things quickly and where we have to fill in the gaps with the guys we signed we will do that. Jonathan Hefney just has a great attitude, leadership skills -- kind of a coach's dream, if you will. What happens after Jon is you've got four guys competing at corner, four guys competing at safety and we'll see who develops. We signed a couple of junior college players and we don't sign junior college players unless we expect them to start or significantly contribute, so we're expecting those guys to come in and help.
"The next area would be the offensive front and we're replacing Arron Sears and David Ligon. I think we have a couple of really good players who will miss the spring in Eric Young and Anthony Parker, who had surgeries. It's a fantastic opportunity for a group of guys -- Steven Jones, Jacques McClendon, Josh McNeil and Ramon Foster -- to step up in a leadership role and a good number of guys we can build our depth around, especially Chris Scott and Ramon Johnson. I'm eager to see what they can do because I think they could be starters for us and certainly swing guys who could play a lot of positions. It looks like those guys will have a chance to play significantly and I'm particularly eager to see what the young guys are going to do in spring practice. We've got some concerns about if the young ones really understand what it takes to play at this level of football.
"The receiver corps, there are a number of guys to replace there. Replacing Robert Meachem and the experience of Jayson Swain and Bret Smith certainly will be difficult. I'm anxious to see how that goes during the course of the spring with Austin Rogers, Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe and Quintin Hancock being the most experience guys, although they are not tremendously experienced. We're looking at who can be the most consistent and who can have the most dynamics with their hands on the football.
"In the kicking game, Britton Colquitt returning is a big plus for us and Casey Woods returning is a big, big plus for us in that he handles a lot of that. I'm anxious to see how much improvement Daniel Lincoln has shown and can Morgan Cox handle the snapping duties.
"At tailback, we've got LaMarcus Coker and Arian Foster going into the spring; Montario Hardesty will be limited. We're going to give Roy Olasimbo a chance to really see what he can do. We've got some help coming in the fall but hopefully before we get to that, one of those guys will come out of the pack and be our featured tailback.
"Tight end was a really strong position for us last year and we're expecting it to be this year. We've got the same guys in Chris Brown, Brad Cottam, Jeff Cottam and I think there are going to be some really exciting things done with Luke Stocker.
"At quarterback, Erik Ainge has done a really good job in the off-season of being a leader, as has Jonathan Crompton. Nick Stephens has worked really hard, so it's a good group of guys. Erik has shown a lot of leadership and we certainly plan on trying to use his abilities.
"Our scrimmages will be live scrimmages and we're going to try to play football. It will help our quarterbacks' development, help our defensive development -- it just helps everybody and we can find out where we are really quickly. The things we can control -- our attitude, effort and total commitment to what we're doing -- is really important for us this spring. I'm eager to see what this team looks like after we get going and what kind of attitude we have."