MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Coach Dana Holgorsen addressed the media before practice No. 5 on Monday, August 4.
Today we have practice number five, so that means full pads, and we will be able to do a lot of hitting and – I think you guys are coming out there if I’m not mistaken – much like we’ve done in the past, we’ll stretch for about five minutes and then we’ll do special teams stuff for about 15 minutes and then we’ll do that good old Oklahoma drill that everybody likes to watch. The kids get fired up about it being a live contact drill. We’ve had two pretty good practices the last two days. Yesterday was more of a review day. The previous day we kind of got after it a little bit, and there was a lot of energy out there and even a few fights, which is always fun to watch. But they guys are in a good spot. They’re excited about where they’re at, and they’re really looking forward to getting out there and being able to do some things. After you guys leave, we’ll finish with a team period that will involve a little bit of tackling for the first time. We’ll be pretty fired up to watch that.
On changing the name of the Oklahoma drill:
That’s been brought up every year. I almost said something different a few minutes ago. It’s just what it is – nothing against the great state of Oklahoma.
On the progress of the defense thus far:
After four days, they’re doing a lot of good stuff. I thought we did too much stuff last year – I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to as far as a lot of different people being out there, a lot of different looks. I think we’ve kind of simplified our fronts and coverages a little bit from what we’ve done the past couple years, which I thought was important. They’re lining up quickly, we’re playing a lot of different bodies. It’s hard to rep four deep, and there’s a few positions we have on defense where we’re repping four deep. A lot of different bodies – we’re lining up quickly, playing with a tremendous amount of energy, which is obviously good to see. It’s still early. Today is the first day that we tackle, so obviously we’ll know more after today.
On the different between this year and last year’s defensive depth:
All positions are deeper. We’re not plugging true freshman in the two deep. There are two true freshman who are in the two deep and that’s (cornerback) Dravon Henry
and (quarterback) William Crest is taking some second-team reps. Whether they end up there or not, that’s just night and day compared to where it’s been in the past. Not just last year but even the year before, and the year before we had a lot of true freshman in the two deep. That’s not the case now.
On whether he’d tackle earlier in camp or later:
The recommendation is you get about 12 days, which is about right. That’s why yesterday was more of a review day. We’re going to have some more review days in the coming weeks, but preseason lasts, I guess, three and a half weeks. You get about 12 opportunities to tackle in three and a half weeks, which is about what we did last year. Not a whole lot different than what we did last year. Because we have a lot more bodies as opposed to a 30-play live period, it may be a 50-play live period. This camp is designed to keep these guys healthy, and we’ll have a lot of recovery time. We’re not having to put a guy out there and get 50 reps out of him, per day, in a live situation. The goal is to get out of camp with enough reps to be able to be in game shape, but to also be healthy and ready to play that first game.
On giving true freshman quarterback William Crest early reps:
We’ve got our starter. If we didn’t have our starter, and we were trying to figure out, much like last year, trying to rep three guys to figure out who our starter was – that would have hurt a true freshman like William. Because we have our starter; because we have another senior in (quarterback) Paul Millard
, who’s taken more reps than anybody around here – he knows what to do. He doesn’t need the reps; he knows what to do, it’s enabling us to rep him. I don’t know how he’s going to continue to progress. He’s talented, he understands – he doesn’t understand what we’re doing but that he’s going to get reps. He knows he’s going to make mistakes. It’s just about learning from those mistakes. Because we have a starter, because we have another senior, it allows us to dump a bunch of reps in here to see where he can go. Nobody knows where he can get to in the next month – he doesn’t know it and we don’t know it.
On who he expects to be the return specialist this season:
It’s a huge emphasis for us right now. We led the Big 12 in punt, and we’ve got all those guys coming back. (Kicker) Josh Lambert
had a good year; he’s going to be able to come back. Our kickoff guys are fine. The return game is what’s important. I’ve said this each and every year. We didn’t find out who our two best return guys were until about midseason last year. You’ve got (running back Wendell) Smallwood back, you’ve got (wide receiver) Mario (Alford) back. Those two guys are very capable return guys, but it takes the other nine people in front of them to be able to work techniques. That’s where the depth comes. You’re four deep at linebacker, well, those linebacker bodies are guys that are typically the front line or the second-line guys, that can get good at their techniques. There’s been times in the past where I’ve had to put starters in there, because those are the only capable bodies that we had. (Cornerback) Daryl Worley
’s a return guy, (cornerback) Dravon Henry
’s a return guy. (Wide receiver) Shelton Gibson
’s going to have an opportunity to be a return guy. (Running back) Rushel Shell
has returned in the past. We’ve got a lot of good quality bodies that can do it, and those guys are going to have to compete for it. From a punt return perspective, (wide receiver) Mario Alford
is much more comfortable. (Wide receiver) Jordan Thompson
is extremely reliable, so we’ve got guys. It’s not just about the return guy. There’s very few Tavon Austins that can make eight people miss – not block a soul – and make eight people miss and go score. Very few of those guys. So you’ve got to be able to block people up front.
On preparedness now that rules changes allowing coaches to meet with players over the summer:
Everybody, really, has been more prepared. It’s a combination of a couple of things. It’s a lot of guys that are returning. Watching last year’s spring cut-ups, you weren’t watching 40 percent of our guys that we had in the summer that we are relying on to play. This year we’re adding very few guys this summer so that people that we coached all summer and spring are the same guys that we’re coaching right now. Most of the coaching staff is back. Offensively, we were working with three new guys in offense last year from a coaching perspective and that’s not happening either. The continuity and the chemistry is much better as a result of the experienced players and being able to be around them a lot more than we were in the past.
On the ruling that coaches could work with players in the summer:
As coaches, we campaigned for it for several years. The downside is there’s not a lot of separation time between coaches and players, so everybody gets sick of each other at times. We didn’t wear them out; we didn’t get around them too much. But it is something that we campaigned for, and I’m glad it went through.
On designing special packages for a player like (quarterback) William Crest:
The plays that we call when William is out there are not the same plays that we call when (quarterback) Clint Trickett
is out there, because that’s a little bit too technical for him right now. We’re just running basic stuff with him right now because again, you can overload a guy. There’s a reason why (former Texas A&M quarterback) Johnny Manziel redshirted. There’s a reason why (Florida State quarterback) Jameis Winston redshirted – and those are your latest two Heisman trophy guys. We’re already doing that; we’re keeping it basic for him. We want him to experience some success, to not get too overloaded. The more we feel like he can handle by how the film looks, the more we’ll be able to do with him. I don’t know how advanced we can get, so how big that package is – I don’t know yet.
On creating a package for Crest that will actually be used:
I would like to if he continues to progress, because I think he’s a pretty good player. Again, I don’t want to put too much on his plate. If that package doesn’t look very good, then we don’t do it. If he improves over the next three weeks, those specific things that he can do well, if he can do things better than what Clint can do when Clint’s in there, then we’d be more than happy to do that.
On downfield passing:
(Quarterback) Clint Trickett
is doing really well at it. (Wide receiver) Mario Alford
and (wide receiver) Kevin White
are light years ahead of where they were last year, technique-wise. We’re able to get real specific on technique, because we’re not teaching them what to do all the time. The timing and the continuity between Clint and those guys is light years ahead of where it was last year. A lot of it goes back to that. It takes more than just a fast kid to run down field and a quarterback to throw the ball down there – it takes more than that. It takes technique, and it takes practice. They are much more on the same page than they were at any point last year.
On the hype over the season opener vs. Alabama:
I doubt we’ll be overlooking that one. My job gets harder after that game happens, regardless of if we win or if we lose. We haven’t talked a lot about our schedule. It’s up; they know who we’re playing. The motivation is probably different. That’s going to be a huge game in a big atmosphere. We won’t have to say a whole lot about that. How you respond from that is where the coaching is going to have to come into play.
On the strength of the schedule:
We play a lot of good teams in the Big 12. Alabama is a storied program, but so is Oklahoma; so is Texas. Oklahoma State is pretty good, TCU is pretty good, and Texas Tech is pretty good, Kansas State is pretty good – the list goes on. Every game is big so I don’t think our guys will be very intimidated by it. Our guys will be ready to play. They’ll go in there and they’ll be excited about the opportunity.
On the playing three top-10 teams:
We haven’t talked about it. I don’t pay any attention to the rankings. I don’t pay any attention to what they think about us at this point either. We’ll start talking about the first game two weeks out and start preparing for it about two weeks out. I don’t have to say anything about it. They know what the schedule is. We play in one of the most challenging conferences in the country and arguably have the toughest schedule in the country when you add in a couple of those non-conference games. They know that and they view that as an opportunity to be able to have a pretty good year.
On finishing close games:
We focused on that. That’s one of our goals that we’ve talked in here with the coaches and the players. One of them is to get better at finishing. That was frustrating last year. It wasn’t any more frustrating than it was for myself and the team when you sit in the locker room after losing an overtime game or losing a 10-point fourth quarter lead. We have focused on that since January. Not only have we focused and talked about it, we’ve done specific drills where we work on finishing things. Finishing pre-reads, finishing practices, finishing reps. It’s something coaches say a good bit around here.
On having to constantly talk about close games:
It’s better than getting kicked. We’re in a good conference, so there’s going to be close games. It’s the beauty of the situation that we’re in with the Big 12. We’re going to be prepared for close games. We’re going to be in them, and we need to use our experience and things that we’ve been through and the motivation to close those games out.
On comparing last year to the Orange Bowl season:
There were a lot of close games that year too. We had some experienced guys and some talented guys that were able to close those games out the appropriate way. We had young guys last year that weren’t able to close those games out the appropriate way. I’ve taken the blame for all of it, but you can blame it on the lack of continuity with coaching staffs, or turnover or whatever it is. The ball just didn’t bounce our way, and we didn’t close it out. We’re using that as motivation to develop more camaraderie and having more continuity with staff and players and systems. When we’re in those situations again, which we will be, regardless if it’s the starter or the backups in there for a variety of reasons we need to get in there and close them out.
On offensive changes:
We’re still figuring that out. We’ve simplified things offensively from last year. Last year, we were searching and searching and changing and changing, but we’ve narrowed our packages down offensively as well. We’re trying to get good at the specific things we need to get good at. I don’t know exactly what our identity is going to be. Last year it turned it we had to rely on the run game more that in the past because that’s just what our strength was. I want to multiple – I want to be able to run the ball, I want to be able to throw the ball. I think we’re on track to be able to be good at both of them.
He’s very similar. I’ve made reference to this – Charles is going to be a great pro. The reason he was the second back taken is because he was versatile. They want to do that in the NFL; to have guys that can run between the tackles but can also be a receiver. He left his mark here with the younger guys. Wendell learned from him and they do possess the same skill sets, so hopefully they’ll have the same production. I think we can replace Charles with a combinations of Wendell and (running back) Rushel Shell
, (running back) Andrew Buie
, (running back) Dustin Garrison
and (running back) Dreamius Smith
. I think we’ll be better at back because we have more bodies.
He’s been doing well. Defense closed Saturday’s practice out by going after offense pretty well and Dayron made a few plays at the end. He made an unbelievable interception and had a tackle for loss. He’s stepped in for (safety) KJ Dillon
. KJ has been out the past two days so Wilson has stepped in there and given us quality reps. I rewarded him with a scholarship on Saturday after practice. He’s going to be a good one for us.
On tinkering with preseason routines:
I think you’ve got to continue to build your roster. You’ve got to build it to the point we’re at now – we’ve got 105 guys out there that understand what we’re trying to do. When you have depth like that, you can practice more. I’ve been in a situation where I went into camp with about nine healthy offensive lineman or four healthy corners. That makes it tough to practice. Because our depth is good, we’re able to play a lot of ball. That’s got to be a focus each and every year. You lose guys to graduation – I think we’re got 20 seniors at this point. There was a time when I thought that number may be about eight, but we have upped it to about 20 and when those guys leave us you’ve got to replace them and get them coached up. That’s just college football.
He’s in the best shape he’s ever been in. He’s not walking around with the red jersey. He’s out there practicing. He’s probably our most valuable special teams player at this point. He’s on six special teams – he’s on every one of them. He’ll probably end up being on more. He’s a good football player who’s healthy and knows this is his last opportunity to play ball. You take a guy like that – there’s only five fifth-year seniors in our program right now – the higher that number goes, the better football team you’re going to have. You can do a lot of different things and it means a lot to them.
On the offensive tackles:
(Offensive lineman) Adam Pankey
and (offensive lineman) Marquis Lucas
are the same. (Offensive lineman) Marcell Lazard
and (offensive lineman) Sylvester Townes
are younger guys who needed reps. We’re really looking for the third tackle right now. We’ve got our two starters – they need to continue to get better and hopefully they can hold out. Neither one of those guys has been counted on to play a full game so I think they’re ready. I know they’re ready. We just need a third tackle in case something happens.
On the players who are not at camp yet:
No change on any of them at this point.
On Russell Haughten-James:
He’s going through some things that need to be worked out. He’s here, he’s just not in camp. He’s not ready to go yet. I’m evaluating his progress. He’s enrolled for school this fall so I anticipate him being ready to go when school starts.