Head coach Todd Monken
First of all, I appreciate everyone coming. This is always fun. It is hard for everybody to get here for everyday at practice, but it is always fun for our players to get the notoriety that they deserve for their hard work that they put in. I appreciate you all coming.
Start of camp has been great. We are one week in, maybe a little bit more than that. The second year is always easier. The same voices, my voice, coordinator voices, strength coach voices, terminology. You can see the progression. We've got more guys carrying the message. That is a good thing. We are working towards being team led. I think we have hit that point to where we don't feel like constantly it's just our staff pulling guys in the right direction. There are a number of guys doing that. It is an exciting time. We are excited. People ask about in the past; we are not worried about that. We are moving forward and focused on the team we can become and Mississippi State.
On who is taking a leadership role this season...
If you start defensively, you have Jacorius Cotton, Alan Howze. Those are the starting two. Emmanuel Johnson, Rakeem Nunez(-Roches). You have a number of guys over there that have a lot invested in this program. The more you have invested, the easier it is to lead; the harder it is to give up. The more you see the end of your career coming. Age doesn't determine leadership. Some guys naturally have that. Picasso Nelson is a natural leader because he works hard. He is a great kid. He is a good student. They will follow that. Offensively, you've got (Markese) Triplett. You've got Fred (Moore) doing a good job. I think Rashod Hill is doing a better job. Then you've got Nick (Mullens). I think that is a good base of leaders.
On watching film on Mississippi State for months...
I think if you go back six months ago, what starts that is beating UAB. I think that the energy that came from that, singing the fight song, reaping the rewards for your work. I think that starts it. `Wow! That is what it feels like.' I think Mississippi State adds to it. A number of these kids were recruited there. They know a lot of their players. I think that adds to it. Playing just anybody to start the season off and get an advanced look at your opponent is common.
What would a win against Mississippi State do for this program?
I don't look at it like that. I really don't. It is a credit to them to give us a home-and-home. Is it a big game? Yes. But sustained winning really is the staple of this program, not just one win. I know that people talk about going over to Alabama and beating Bear (Bryant) and all that, but people talk more often about over the last 80 years the 20th winning program in all of college football, 18-straight winning seasons, 14-straight bowl games. The mark of a great program is consistently winning.
Does Nick Mullens have the charisma that you are looking for at that position?
He has all of it. He is mentally tough. He is intelligent and accurate.
Would you consider Casey Martin the surprise of camp?
I don't know if a surprise would be the word. I think happy that he was what we thought he'd be. You decide to take a young man who has been at another program for three years. You are hopeful that he can come in and play. You'd be disappointed if he couldn't. You would be disappointed in your evaluation and what your coaches said. Surprised, probably not; but happy it turned out the way we thought it would.
He is a pretty smart kid right? He graduated from Houston in just three years?
The bottom line is he was in the same system offensively. That allows you to come in. Doug Meacham was their coordinator last season. He was the inside receivers coach the two years I was at Oklahoma State. Very similar (systems) so not being here all summer, he is able to pick up (the offense). It is not exactly the same, but it is close enough. That enables him a chance to have success. And he likes to play. You are at a point where you need players that can come in who have done it. He knows the system and he knows how to work.
What are your thoughts on the offensive line?
Better. Better in a lot of ways. Better because I've done a better job of communicating how we do things. Luke Meadows has been a tremendous addition. We've had addition by subtraction. There was a number of guys that we had to change the room. Let's put it that way. In a lot of ways to pull in the same direction. I feel like there is a connection there. Our guys listen and I think they know how to get better. That is the first part. Good football still wins. Are our numbers where we need them to be? No. We are way low in terms of scholarship numbers, but we are a lot better. It will take some time to build that back up, but I think moving Cameron Tom to center was tremendous for us. Him and Nick (Mullens) are the same age. They are going to be here together for the next three years. Rashod Hill is better. Jerry Harris, a freshman, is better. Norman Price is going to be a great player. Just the struggles of change, coming from junior college to here and the amount of effort it takes when you step up a notch and the competition you are playing every day in practice. I think they are developing. Fred Moore is coming along. He missed all last summer. I think we are going to be fine there. I know we have the right guys and we are all pulling in the same direction.
Where does the wide receivers group stand right now?
Talent won't be an issue. I really believe this. I really feel like we have enough guys that can run, run all day and can catch. They can process. I think the toughest thing in throwing the ball is the ability to process and catch. Spacing. Spatial awareness. I think we have to continue to build guys who understand that. Our guys played hard last year but we didn't catch the ball. We just didn't understand what teams are trying to do to us. I think we are getting closer to that. When you go to practice and watch us, it looks that way. It looks like we've got enough guys running around who can run and catch. We will continue to build it that way.
On wide receivers blocking on the edge...
It was a tough go. We couldn't run the ball. When you are a one back offense, now everybody is doing it, you are putting it on the perimeter one way or another. So you have to be physical on the perimeter, which we were not. It has been and emphasis and you have to recruit physical players. You've got to coach it; teach it; and recruit guys who like to hit. That is part of it. You are never going to get away from that part of our game. I don't care how spread out it gets, it is still a physical game. You've got to like the contact. Not everybody has got to love it, but you can't shy away from it. You've got more guys that way so we will do it better on the perimeter. It's not always about who catches it if you have guys that are physically out on the perimeter.
On the young defensive backs...
They have been great. There is a gap there when you lose players. You have Kalan (Reed) at the top and he is only really a true junior. We brought in Troy Jeter from a junior college to help us bridge that. We are still looking. You have Trae Collins and (Jomez) Applewhite who redshirted. Then you have Picasso (Nelson Jr.) and Cornell (Armstrong) so they are all freshmen. They are all talented and all capable of playing. I anticipate all of them will play. I anticipate Cornell will play; Picasso will play; the other two will play. That is just where you are at. That is just from a talent standpoint. We are going to play the talent. That's just the way it is. Develop those guys.
How do you see the younger guys at running back fitting in?
They are going to both play. We are going to have to play them. Now Tez (Parks) is a little bit behind because he wasn't here this summer. Where he will play or how that will fit, I don't know. Ito (Smith) has been a pleasant surprise. He just picks things up. He is natural. There are some things he does natural that you just look at and say `there is something our other guys don't do or don't do as well.' I think Jalen Richard is finally healthy. Jalen yesterday or a couple of days ago had a play on film that from a protection standpoint or a finish standpoint is in the top one percent that you will see in practice. The key is every day. What are we going to get every day? Is that what we are going to continue to see? Because he is capable of it. George (Payne) is a physical back, downhill runner. I think we are going to develop depth, but I see both of those young guys playing.
Is Ito Smith a between the tackles guy?
We find out more tonight (at the scrimmage). Do I think by his stature that you want to live in there? No, but he does have a natural feel inside and he is not afraid. We will find out tonight. We will be one step closer. One scrimmage; one sample size. But we will be closer to understanding.
How has Jerry Harris fit in on the right side of the offensive line?
Jerry originally came here as a defensive lineman. Then we told him he was going to be a defensive lineman, but we knew all along he was going to be an offensive lineman. It just works that way. He is just finally starting to figure out what I am. That takes a while for a player when you change positions. I think he has started to buy into that. Over the last 10 days, he started off the first two days poor. Just poor. With every day, he has gotten better and better and better. He is smart and he likes to play football. There is no reason he shouldn't be a good football player.
On Brian Anderson's progress...
Brian is in the same boat, similar, but not as much, as Casey (Martin). You bring in a guy who is an older guy and say, `Okay. We are hopeful he can process and play.' You hope he is what you think he is and thank God he is. David Duggan has been really impressed with his ability, his process and his natural ability to play that position, which enables us to move Alan (Howze) over to the Will position and get them both on the field. That is where we are at now. He is a great kid. He really solidifies that group as a whole. There are things that you see, whether it is recruiting or with your team, that just stays with you in your mind. Brian had gotten here from a junior college. He graduated. He wasn't in shape. We were doing 110s. He was struggling. He was starting to cramp up on one of them. I can't remember how many we were into. It wasn't towards the end. It was in the middle. Probably about 20 yards from the finish, he started to cramp up. He could have fallen down at any given time and quit. You would have thought he was cripple by the way he looked. I don't mean that as disrespect to anybody. He fought for 20 more yards to finish this one rep `cause he didn't want to quit. You can say, `that's no big deal.' But that is a big deal because not everyone does that. A lot of people just fall down, the trainers come out and they get carted off the field. Right there says something like, `Alright, if that guy can process and he is anything we want `cause he is going to fight, scratch and claw for this program,' which is what this program has been built on. That is everything you can say about that kid.
How did Casey Martin and Brian Anderson fly under the radar?
There are good football players out there that may not have an elite skill set. That is not degrading to anybody, they are still Division I football players. Sometimes a 5-11, 5-10 linebacker that is 235, 240 pounds doesn't pass the eyeball test. Sometimes a 5-7 wide receiver that just gets it doesn't pass the eyeball test. I'm sure to a lot of people Neil Watson didn't pass the eyeball test in basketball. They are good players and they bring people with them. They love to play and you can build off of that.
Can you talk about your expectations with Jacorius Cotton and Emmanuel Johnson at safety?
Having Jacorius back, beyond his play, he brings people with him. There is only so many players. You try to have a number of players who bring players with them. Jacorius has that ability. He plays with unbelievable passion. Whatever skill set he has, and he is an incredible player, he brings people with him. Having Emmanuel, who was hurt a majority of last year (but) continued to play and missed the offseason with surgery. Those guys, both seniors, you expect to play their best football. That is the part of growing and lifting and developing and understanding the game. They are going to play their best football. It is true at every level. No matter what the job is, the more you do it, the better you get at it. They are both vocal guys who the guys follow and they carry the message.
On injuries during camp...
We haven't lost anyone for a significant period of time. We've had a couple of dings head-wise which is going to happen in today's day and age with concussions. You are going to lose guys. Who is to say that is not for the better? What used to be considered `Shake it off. How many fingers am I holding up?' It is much more beyond that, which is a good thing. You are going to lose guys, which is why depth is so important. Once a trainer pulls their helmet, they have to pass a baseline and then it is five days. So they are going to miss a game. You get pulled in a game, you are going to miss a game. You are going to get that, but we haven't lost anybody right now. We have a couple dings here and there, but right now, hopefully, we will get through tonight and get to our next scrimmage and stay healthy for the opener.
What have you seen from Rakeem Nunez-Roaches as a leader on this team?
Rakeem is a developing leader. The one thing we keep trying to harp on with Rakeem is he is a fun, energetic guy who is a really good player. Charismatic. They are going to follow him one way or the other. That is a responsibility that is not easy to bear. Not every moment do you want to be that guy. No one wants to be that way all the time. He gets voted by the team that way. You are one of our leaders. The key is how do you develop a consistent approach to every day of your life? I thought that Khyri (Thornton) did a great job with that last year for the first time. We talked every day about a consistent approach on the field; off the field; how you present yourself. Rakeem is working that way. That is that people want to see - a consistent approach every day. Not the up and down. Someone you can count on. He has gotten a lot better at that. He is another guy who is working through (injuries). He got hurt last year and he didn't go through spring. It is hard when you are not feeling right yet to work towards that. He is working towards it.
What has Adam Williams meant to the team?
You talk about a guy when someone says most improved. I think what is most improved about Adam is just Adam. He has always had a chance to be a pretty good player, the way he approaches every day and how he works and how the team views him. I don't think I have called his name out once this camp and that is a good thing. I am an offensive guy. I see certain things, but usually it is for attitude, energy, body language, not running to the ball. Those kind of things. I see a smile on his face. I see an excitement. That is what I like about Adam. It allows him to maximize his measurable skills set. That is what I like most about him.
As an offensive coach, are you confident in your defense's ability to keep the opposition off the scoreboard?
I am confident in my ability as a coach and not wavering in what we believe in. I have a tremendous amount of respect for David Duggan and our defensive staff. I am always expecting that we will play good defense and try to do it better than they do it. Play hard. Those are the things we have to do on both sides (of the ball) and on special teams to be successful. Good football still wins. That is what we are driving towards. There were a lot of times we didn't do that last year. Irrespective of who was on the field, it didn't look like we wanted it to look like. That can never be us. It just can't be. Some of that was us. Some of that was youth. Some of that was injuries. Those are all excuses and we just have to find a way to do it better. I anticipate we will.
On the schedule being front loaded with Mississippi State and Alabama early...
I don't know. I don't know when is a good time to think about when you play different opponents; who you are going to see when you play them. The schedule gets laid out and that is the way it is. I learned that in the NFL. When you become really good in the NFL, your schedule is a bear. Those teams that continually win, you'll be playing on Monday night then Sunday night and Thursday night `cause they want to see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. You learn to go with it. You don't even complain anymore. You just know you are pretty good. My first year in Jacksonville we were pretty good; we had those games. The next year we weren't very good; we were at one o'clock every week. That is the way it is. If the schedule is consistent, you aren't very good. I hope we get to the point that you have tough schedules. You are willing to play those opponents at different times. It means you are pretty good.
Do you feel this team is a bowl eligible team?
I always do. I believed that last year. I felt we were good enough last year. There is a lot to that. You have to stay healthy and you have to play good football. There were enough games in there that would have given us that opportunity. Even with the tough three games that were on the road, we still had opportunities against a number of teams. We didn't play well enough. I don't see a reason why not. I see our team doing it better. We have a number of guys and a little bit more depth. We are going to continue to grow that. I don't see why that's not an obtainable goal. It is what this program was built on. It should be our goal.
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