Aug. 25, 2008
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -
“We’re certainly excited to be in game week. Saturday’s game is certainly a challenging game for us, but I think the big thing is that we’re going to find out a lot about who we are. You know, the identity of our team. Who can lead through adversity? Who can play through adversity? Who can finish? Who can execute regardless of the circumstances in the game? Finish plays? Finish the game? How are you seen as a competitor? What is the identity of the team? How can you sustain intensity, intelligence, a sense of urgency every play? How are you seen as a competitor? How are we seen as competitors? So, from that standpoint, it’s really all about our team.
“Now, obviously, the team that we play is going to be a tremendous test for us. Clemson has got an outstanding team. They’re a Top 10 team. Tommy Bowden has done a fantastic job there in the 10 years that he’s been there as coach. Their offensive team has tremendous skill players. (C.J.) Spiller and (James) Davis are as fine a runningback combination, tandem, whatever you want to call them, as anyone in the country. (Aaron) Kelly is certainly a fantastic wide receiver. Cullen Harper is probably as fine a quarterback as there is in the country and will be certainly drafted very high in the NFL draft next year, maybe the first quarterback taken in the draft.
“They’ve got eight starters back on defense. And their defense: everybody talks about Clemson’s offense and they do have great skill players, but defensively there were ranked in the top 10 in most categories last year. They were 10th in scoring defense. Turnover margin, which is always important in winning and losing, they were one of the top teams in the country. I think they were 9th in turnover margin. So this is a very good all-around team.
“On special teams they’ve got both their specialists back and they’ve been very sound and solid on special teams. So this is an outstanding football team and is certainly going to be a challenge for us, but, again, I think it’s about who we are and what we try to establish as an identity for ourselves. And that should be the challenge that our players take to the game.
“Practice preparation went well on Friday and Saturday. From an injury standpoint, Charlie Higgenbotham should be back at practice today, so, therefore, we don’t have issues. I don’t know if we’ve already released the depth chart or if we are going to release the depth chart but where it says ‘or’ guys, ‘or’ means ‘or.’ I don’t know if I need to define ‘or’ for you, but it means ‘or.’ It means both of those guys are still competing at that position. If you ask me about those guys and it says ‘or,’ I’m going to have to say that obviously both guys have done enough as players that they are competing at that position and we respect what they have done at that position and they continue to compete at that position. And hypothetical questions about ‘or’ are not going to be answered because that’s going to be determined throughout the rest of the week in practice. It’s as simple as that.
“Nick Fanuzzi has been talking to us for several days and he’s decided to transfer. Nick is a fine young man. (He) Did an outstanding job here for us. We certainly hate to see him leave the program because every characteristic, every value that we try to instill in the program, he certainly represents. (He’s a) Great team player and did a really good job here, and we’re sorry to see him go. But at the same time, we wish him well and we will help him every way that we can get some place where he feels he has a better opportunity to compete. We wish him, and his family, both well.”
On the depth chart, Julio (Jones) is listed first at receiver. When did you realize Julio would be a starter, and, also, talk about what kind of contribution you see him making on special teams. “First of all, Julio did an outstanding job coming in here in camp. He worked hard in the summer. He was in good shape. He’s been able to sustain his performance. He’s consistently made plays in practice as well as both scrimmages, and I think probably after the first scrimmage it was pretty evident that he was going to have some role as one of the three receivers that we use quite a bit. And I think this last week he certainly solidified his position as a starter. He and Mike McCoy have been our two best receivers throughout this camp in terms of consistency, how they’ve competed, how many plays they’ve made, so those two guys deserve to be the starters. And he probably solidified that position this past week in practice.”
Regarding special teams: “We’re going to use him on kickoff returns some with Javier (Arenas), but I think we have some other guys that we can use in that role. He does a really good job of fielding the ball on punts, so he is the back-up punt returner right now. Kareem Jackson can do that very well. Marquis Maze has worked back there. We have other players (such as) B.J. Scott who have worked back there and (who) we will continue to develop as returners. But right now if we played the game today, he would go in there as the back-up punt return guy.”
What kind of things do you preach to the defense about stopping guys like (C.J.) Spiller and (James) Davis? “I think the first thing that’s important is when they’ve struggled to run the ball and make big plays, that’s when they’ve had the least amount of success offensively. Even though they are a very balanced offensive team, and they have a tremendous ability to make big plays throwing the football, the whole synergy of their teams seems to center around those guys making great plays. They’re also good pass receivers, so it’s not like they’re void in the passing game. But I think it’s pretty easy to show the defensive players that if we stop the run in this game, this is going to give us the best chance to be successful on defense. I think our players have a tremendous amount of respect for both these guys and what they do well. We just have to prepare to do a good job of keeping leverage and staying in our gaps and tackling well and those are the things that usually contribute to being able to stop good runners. And you certainly can’t make mental errors and be in the wrong place.”
Your offensive line depth chart last year was both horizontal and vertical, meaning Antoine (Caldwell) could shift outside. How much of that is in your offensive line depth chart this year? “The basic one issue going into this game that I still think that because Mike Johnson has had so much experience at tackle, that if we lost a tackle in the game we would move him out to tackle rather than playing one of the young guys right now. We’re really impressed with the development of the young players but to throw them in the frying pan right now, we might be better served. (Brian) Motley has made really good progress, especially since we’ve kind of been playing him at guard rather than center. So that’s been helpful to him. David Ross has also done a good job at right guard. So, even though we hate moving the guys around in the offensive line, I think if something happened to a tackle, Mike Johnson would give us the best option at back-up tackle right now at this point in the season.”
What has Don’ta Hightower shown you defensively that’s he’s on top of the Will position? “The guy’s a very bright guy. He’s learned a lot and been able to execute and not get affected and frustrated. He’s a very good athlete. He’s very physical. He’s got good size. He’s very instinctive. And he and Rolando (McLain) give us two really good inside backers. Not meaning to make any comparisons, but he’s the type of young player that seems to be able to come in and get it, learn it, take it to the field. He’s a great competitor. It really bothers him when he doesn’t do things correctly, and I think guys like that tend to develop a little more quickly but they still manage their frustration where it doesn’t affect their next play, and he’s done a good job from that standpoint. “The Chris Jordan move has worked out really, really well, as well, in terms of being his back-up, but we also could move Cory Reamer back to that position if we needed to, but that’s not something that we would plan on doing right now.”
How much has Javier Arenas improved as a defensive back and now starting at corner—do you think he can make a name for himself more as a defensive back? “He’s done very well for us. I can’t predict the future in terms of what he might do or what he might be, but he’s certainly been a very consistent player. He’s got great quickness. He’s got good understanding. He’s a great competitor. He works hard every day. (He’s) Probably one of the hardest-working guys we have on the team. He’s got good instincts. He’s playing multiple positions, corner and Star which takes a lot more focus on his part because they are completely different position. But he’s done an outstanding job for us and hopefully he’ll have a great year for us playing both as a returner and as a starter in the secondary.”
What’s your experience in dealing with Rob Spence’s offense (Clemson’s offensive coordinator)? What are the tendencies of what he likes to do offensively? “I don’t have any experience dealing with it. I’ve known him ever since he’s been back at Toledo but-- past my time at Toledo—I think one thing he does a really good job of (is) they have a tremendous amount of multiples in their offense. They use a lot of different personnel groups, a lot of different formations. Utilizes the players that he has and when he has good skill players, that makes him even more effective. But this team probably when you take the cumulative effect of all that they do—and they do a good job of executing, so I’m saying this in a positive way—that the way they present themselves each week is always a challenge to the defense from an adjustment standpoint in terms of how they use their players and the formations they use. The multiples of this team are probably as great as anybody that we play.”
And from Alabama’s perspective, does that affect, meaning last year nickel and dime alignments, would it affect that? “Well, they use three wide receivers and four wide receivers a lot. So that usually puts you in that circumstance and situation.”
Ideally, how would you like to use the running backs this year, and, is there a third down guy in that group? “We feel like we have four running backs that have really made good progress throughout the course of camp. Roy Upchurch has had a really good camp and done a really good job all the way around as a player, also as a special teams players he’s probably one of our core guys that is outstanding. And we have total faith, trust and confidence in him to play even though he’s listed a little below the rest. Terry Grant and Mark Ingram, Mark Ingram has probably been the surprise of all the young players in terms of his maturity as a player. He’s elusive. He has speed but he has power and tremendous toughness and he’s a good receiver so he’s a very, very good all-around guy. You’ve seen a lot of Terry Grant. You know what he can do. And Glen Coffee is ‘Mr. Consistency’ for us in terms of being able to do just about everything, whether it’s being a good receiver, being a good blocker and being decent with the ball in his hands. So we don’t have a third down back in that bunch. We feel like several of those guys can play that role, and we certainly need to figure out ways to use these guys throughout the course of the season because we feel good about that group of guys this year.”
Starting with such a big game, how does it work with confidence if you win or should you guys happen to lose? “I think that the big thing is who you are, what I said before: finding about yourself in terms of how you compete, how you play, who the leaders are. So it’s really more about our team and winning or losing really doesn’t determine that. How the guys play on individual plays, how they compete, how they can refocus. Can you go out there and give five seconds and do it multiple times and not be affected when you don’t have success? Be able to deal with success when you so that your consistency and performance and your ability to finish is better. This is one game in the season. The way I figure it, you can win and go 1-11. You can lose and go 11-1. And I know that doesn’t make good media coverage, but that’s the fact of the matter. Obviously we want to win. I think our players want to win. That’s what we work hard for. That’s what we’re preparing for. It’s really more about finding out who we are and where we’ve got to go to get to where we want to be.”