McElwain's goal for CSU spring ball: Wake up on daily basis to be champion
March 20, 2012
Head Coach Jim McElwain
General: We’re excited as heck to get out and actually get into the football phase of what we’re trying to get done. Just seeing how these guys perform, how these guys compete . . . we haven’t really built any depth charts yet, because everyone there has the chance to compete for a position, and find out who the best players are who want to do it the Ram way. That’s really important in what we’re doing right now, and I’m sure it’ll start to develop, and either guys will weed themselves out or the cream will rise to the top. That’s what we’re trying to do as practice advances to the 15th practice.
On a depth chart: As of right now, we really don’t have any so-so depth chart. There’ll be equal reps at the quarterback position. There’ll be equal reps at the running back spot. There’ll be equal reps at the O-line spot. Guys will get their chances to prove themselves.
On injuries going into spring camp: We’ve talked about guys who will be out of practice totally—tight end Blake Jones and (fullback) George Maumau, and linebacker Broderick Sargent won’t have any practice to begin with. We’ve got a crew of guys limited to non-contact drills. We’ll be able to roll those guys into drills. We have to be careful with the tackle position with (Joe) Caprioglio and (Jared) Biard. They’re right on the edge where they probably could go, but we want to wait and see for now.
On goals for spring practices: As far as goals for spring ball, I think that’s an important thing. The goal I have for this football team is to become a football team. Become an offense, a defense and a special teams, coming together with one common goal, and that’s to win ballgames. Make each other better, learning how to practice and compete on a daily basis—just like we do in the classroom—and on a daily basis wake up to be a champion. That’s what we’re going to really emphasize. It’s going to be very basic. We need to find the guys who can block, the guys who can tackle, the guys who can handle the nuances of what we need to get done offensively and defensively.
On the Rams’ base units: There will be four-down fronts (on defense). There will be odd fronts (on defense); it’s base. Our base offense, base defense, and then obviously with special teams finding the guys that are going to be difference-makers. The special teams is something we’ll really harp on here, and it’s very important because of the hidden yardage in games; games are won or lost in the hidden yardage, and where you come up with that is in the special teams. We’re going to make sure we have the right guys in those spots. In fact, the message to our team is you’re a starter on special teams before you’re a starter on offense or defense. You’re a starter on special teams first.
On the staff: Staff-wise, we just hired Greg Lupfer. Greg will coach our defensive line. Marty (English) and Skip (Tim Skipper) will split up the’ backers, and depending on if you’re in a four-down or an odd front, Al (Simmons) will handle the secondary, along with some GA help as well at the spot. Greg comes to us as another defensive coordinator, from Cal Poly. He’s been a long-time friend. The guy played all the way back at Walla Walla Community College when they still had football. We’re excited to have him on our staff. He gives us another great recruiter, who has recruited in a lot of the areas we need to be recruiting.
Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin
General: We’re going to step on the field tomorrow, and we’ll find out if the attitude of the young men is what we’ve preached: Do things right, and do the fundamentals right, and execute the things we’ve asked. Offensively, I can’t tell you where we are. I’m excited that they’ve bought into the program that Coach Mac is bringing, but now it’s time for them to buy in to the program on the football field.
On the depth chart: We have a lot of competition going on; we’ve opened up competition to every position. There is not a returning starter. It’s a new system, a new program for them. You will battle; you will get your opportunities. We will alternate quarterbacks, we will alternate three centers, alternate tackles, running backs . . . you will get the opportunity to shine at practice, and the more you take advantage of that opportunity, the more you’ll move up on the depth chart. I’m not concerned about the depth chart; I’m concerned about developing as a team. Eleven heartbeats for one. We have to have 11 guys execute one play. If we can become one unit all the way across the board, we’ll have a great chance to win. Obviously we have some running backs that are very talented, some receivers that can run, some tight ends that were productive last year. The system Coach Mac is bringing will allow these guys to get reps. Every one of the kids will get reps.
On concepts: We will implement concepts, but it’s more important to implement how we practice. If we can learn to practice the right way, we’ll get better and better.
On finding the starters: When you take over a program for the first time, I don’t think you have to come away from spring and say, ‘These are our No. 1 guys.’ Competition makes you better, and the better the competition is, the better this team will be.
On the quarterback position: In a realistic world, every program in America would like one guy to take off and know who their No. 1 is. I’m not sure that’s possible, for four guys to take off like that in 15 days. If we come out of this with a couple guys competing that are heads and toes better than the others, and have one or two guys competing going into fall camp, I’ll like where we’re at.
On possibly being behind other teams because of splitting reps: Those teams have already implemented those things, but we’re here right now. I’m not concerned that some teams down the road may be a step ahead. We are what we are, we are what we have.
On if the players will learn more about the coaches or vice versa: We definitely have to learn about our players. We have to implement the system that Coach Mac is instilling. I think it’s a two-way go. We’re both learning about each other. If I can go to our special teams coordinator and I can say, ‘This guy’s going to be a big plus for us,’ that can only help us.
On if he’s watched film on the players: I think you want to evaluate on film, and see all the things they’ve done and see their athletic ability. Film is everyone’s resume. We went back and looked at all the games, and all the opportunities. We didn’t know the system, though; we were just looking at an individual.
On offensive strengths: I certainly like our running backs. I think they’re young but talented. Our O-line could be a strength once we get healthy there. We have a tremendous center; I really believe he’s a talented player. When a guy hurts his hand, stays in the game and snaps with his other hand, he’s a talented young man, and that’s where you’d like to be, strong up the middle.
On what he’s looking for in the starting quarterback: He’s got to run our system. He doesn’t have to be the most talented athletically, have the best arm, be the best thrower . . . he has to do what we ask. He’s got to change the play to make it better for us, run the system, have the eyes in the huddle that shows leadership, he can’t stutter, he’s got to be strong, he’s got to be loud to get the snap-count off. It’s going to be loud at Boise, it’s going to be loud at Fresno; wherever we’re going it’s going to be loud. It’s going to be loud down against Colorado. He’s got to have the voice and the character and the leadership, more qualities of leadership than the athletic skills.
On what he likes about the players: Yeah, I like these kids. I think they’re all athletic. They have good size. They show good leadership. With the little time we’ve had with them, they’re showing us. I’m excited. It’s a new time for them in the huddle now.
On sharing coordinator duties: (English) We feel very comfortable with each other, and how we work the front, secondary and everything. It’s just coaching. It’s become a really good fit. We’re both very, very excited that we just hired Greg (Lupfer) as a D-line coach. It was real simple to come together. Most of it was just coming together on terminology-wise.
(Simmons) One of the biggest things, and probably one of the important things, is that Marty and I both have the same philosophy of keeping it simple. In that same asset, we want to be able to do a lot of things, but have a lot of carryover from one call to the other.
On using multiple defenses: (English) We’re going to be a multiple defense. It really matches what we’re getting personnel-wise from the offense. It’s really easy transitioning. We have to find how we can match the talent we have right now to a system.
On first impressions of the players: (Simmons) We’ve been focusing a lot on the playbook. I have seen some games, including last year when they came down to UTEP. I think we have some talent here. I’m excited about it; I think we have some depth at all of the positions. I want those guys, and we want those guys, to make our job tough, in terms of figuring out who those guys are later in training camp. I think we have some competition at multiple positions, and it’s just a matter of executing the system.
(English) I’ve watched a lot of film, and there is a lot of talent there, there really is. It’s going to be more of coming together as a team; we have to develop an attitude with these guys of how to play together, communicate together. We have to have a solid two, three-deep group. That’s why you’ll see in spring, we’ll be mixing and matching all over the place. You can’t have one set of safeties be comfortable with one set of linebackers and not others. There’s talent to win here.
On using the same system he’s used in the previous positions, at Wyoming, for instance: (English) Whatever I did somewhere else has no effect on what I’m doing now. This is CSU’s system; it’s Mac’s system. It’s together. It’s helping with special teams, offense, defense; it’s a team concept.
On goals for the spring: (Simmons) More than anything, coming together as a team. Really to develop, technically, and understand the concepts we’re putting in. What we’re trying to accomplish in these 15 days is to get better technically, fundamentally, and understanding their assignment and executing it. Football is really a pretty simple game if guys understand their jobs and pick up what the coaches are trying to do.
On who will be on the sidelines and who will be in the box during gamedays: (Simmons) We’re still trying to determine that. I’m thinking, being the secondary guy, I should probably be in the box so that I can see everything. We’ll see; we’ll decide that as we go.
On the importance of special teams: The great thing about being here and working for Mac, it really helps that he’s been a special teams coordinator. He’s sat in my chair and done that. We have a lot of guys with special teams backgrounds, so that helps us all realize how important special teams is.
On watching practice differently than other coaches: You do. I try to tell the guys that. A coach might tell me I can leave, but I want to stay. I might want to evaluate Skelly (James Skelton) or another player, see how they move. The offensive guys, I’m trying to evaluate guys that are great in space. We’re doing agility runs and I’m trying to circle guys that I notice, you know, this guy wins sprints every time. Why can’t he run down and do kickoffs?
On the difficulty of putting together special teams units while still being unfamiliar with the players: The guys that were here last year, I’ll try to keep them in the same spots to begin. With our punter, Pete (Kontodiakos) does a great job; we have to keep him going. You’re trying to get the guys who have done it in the past, and then add some guys who have ran well to give them a chance, and after practice we’ll try to do some drill work and competition to see which guys show up.
On the philosophy going into the spring: The big thing that Mac has hit home with is a team concept, and that starts with everyone being a special teams starter first. I’ll do more drill stuff than scheme stuff. It will be fundamental evaluation, but we want the guys to come away with concepts of understanding the importance of field position, and why playing special teams is so huge. Anybody that’s anyone is on special teams. Even the punt coverage team is going to involve offensive linemen now.
On finding a kicker: We’re going to take in a couple walk-ons in the summer. Every practice will be a tryout for them, basically. But Jared (Roberts) has done a good job for us. Keenan (Adams) has done a good job. Jared, it sounds like, is doing a great job. Tanner (Hedstrom), our center (long-snapper), is my evaluator on how they’re doing. Jared’s a very competitive kid, and Keenan I really like, and it sounds like, is doing well and his rehab is going real well and should be able to kick in the spring. Pete I feel real good about; he ran pretty well in conditioning drills. Then I think Patrick Gibbs is a young walk-on. We’ll have a couple guys who can compete for those spots. With Pete having a lot of success last year, he needs to be able to compete with himself. That can be the hardest thing of finding that realistic challenge of pushing himself.
On limiting stars from playing on special teams, in order to prevent injuries, such as Mychal Sisson’s broken ankle in 2011: No, everybody’s open. Mike Orakpo’s a heck of a player. I think he needs to be on punt for sure, and he needs to be on kickoff because he’s our best cover guy. Everyone’s available to me. I probably won’t throw a quarterback out there, but they will be out there as our holder, because I think what it does for a team like USC when they have (Matt ) Barkley out there holding, it slows you up maybe just a step or two, and I think that’s important.