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Mike Shula Press Conference Transcript - September 5, 2006



University of Alabama Head Football Coach Mike Shula
Vanderbilt Game Week Press Conference Transcript
September 5, 2006


“We have Vanderbilt coming in for our SEC opener. Their team is a well-coached. Coach (Bobby) Johnson does a great job. We've got some similarities; we both have young quarterbacks; replacing guys that have been very, very productive at that position.  Offensively, I think they are still doing the same things pretty much that they did last year.  I think their quarterback Chris Nickson; he probably runs it a little bit more than (Jay) Cutler did last year. And when he ran it and moved around, he ran it on quarterback draws and on options and things like that last week against Michigan.  That's probably where they made most of their yards.

“Defensively, they are a little bit different than last week's team and, going into the game, they’re not as much blitz as what we saw last week from Hawaii going into that game.  They’re always going to be in the right gap.  They’re not going to give up very many big plays. They are disciplined, so we're going to have really do a good job of being disciplined ourselves and not getting greedy. They are waiting for us to make mistakes, so hopefully we'll play consistent and move the ball, make first downs and find a way to get the ball in the end zone.”

Q.  Coach Shula, you mentioned Chris Nickson. Just talk about did you recruit him at all? What are your memories of him as a high school player?

COACH SHULA:  “Well, we watched him throw a bunch of passes to Nick Walker and what a productive football team that has been over the years since we have been here.  We liked him.  We liked some other guys as well.  I think he was the same class as John Parker (Wilson). Is that right?  And obviously we got the commitment from John Parker Wilson and that was the only one we were going to sign.  He was -- as we all know and remember-- he was Mr. Football in the state and (I’m) happy for him to see him doing well.  I know the coaches really like him up there.  I just hope he doesn't do too well this weekend.”

Q.  Mike, when you look back at the games film of Hawaii, what gave you all problems running the ball and how do you  attack defenses that are going to stack the box against a young quarterback like John Parker?

COACH SHULA: “We weren't quite as sharp overall, but I think we're going to be able to run the football.  I think Ken Darby is going to do a great job.  We didn't do as well as we could have last week.  We played defense as just about every week that have stacked the box.  And last week we probably got caught by surprise a couple of times when they didn't and we were throwing the ball, they were in deep in their cover, too, so we're not quite getting all that stack the box, that what you might think.  So we’ve just got to execute a little bit better, finish. There's a couple, different looks.  But hopefully we'll get back on track and have that good balance which when we're moving the ball well in the running game and the passing game, we usually have good balance.  Statistics are, in my opinion, are a little bit misleading when you throw the ball and have success in a drive throwing it, you know, 60 yards out of an 80-yard drive then all of a sudden your runs stats aren’t going to be quite as high. But we got to do better job. If you are talking about last week's game at the end of the game,  we had the chance to make first downs and keep the ball away and we didn't do well enough there and that is where we’ve got to do a better job; not just in the running game but also in the passing game.”

Q.  With Jimmy Johns being as productive as he was in the first half, when he plays like that, what does he do well and then what is he trying to work on right now?

COACH SHULA:  “This is really his second year in playing the position.  Last year everything was new to him.  I think as we have all seen him throughout the course of the last year he got better toward the end of the season running with it.  He got better in spring practice in watching the spring game.  He has gotten better in fall training camp and he played that way.  He just needs to, I think, keep getting reps and he's going to get better with experience.  The things that he needs to work on is continuing to be disciplined with his footwork and running the holes; not trying to cut back maybe too soon.  We keep reminding him that he is a big back; keep running like a big back.”

Q.  Talk about the change in the rules with the play clock and how guys handled that?

COACH SHULA:  “The game went by faster.  I think for sure the first half went by real fast.  You just got to be aware. I think the officials did a nice job.  That was probably one of the better crews we had.  They did a really nice job communicating all that stuff, letting us know, reminding us that the clock is going to be starting.  Obviously, the most important thing is right before the end of the half and also right before the end of the game to understand the rules there.  Things change at the end of the game, if you’ve got the ball and you are trying to figure out what it's going to take to run the clock out, all those numbers change from years past and the same thing if you are behind and you need to stop the clock, when to use your timeouts, all that kind of stuff.  So that, plus you want to do a good job of saving timeouts, so you can have them for the end of the game in that situation plus for the ability to challenge.”

Q.  When you are preparing for a quarterback like Nickson who hasn't seen a lot of playing time, how much more difficult does that make your job or because you recruited him so much, you kind of know the style quarterback that he is?

COACH SHULA:  “We’ve seen him. Obviously we're going to go a lot on this past week but we know that he is a quarterback that can do both.  He's been very productive in high school.  Now he has had some time to sit and watch a very good quarterback, and now it's his turn. As we all know, guys, when they first start, they are going to improve usually dramatically from the next week and after they played for the first time.  So we’ve got to make sure we contain him.  He can beat you throwing the football.  He's got a good arm. He’s accurate. He can beat you running the football.  So we need to do a good job of containing him, not letting him make a bunch of plays on his own and then have to worry about him as well as everybody else that he's throwing to or handing the ball off. But I thought he handled himself with poise.  Michigan's defense is pretty good.  They hit him a few times, and he never backed down and he was the same guy in the fourth quarter as he was in the first quarter.”

Q.  I was hoping you can talk about Keith Brown a little bit.  Did he show you some levels of toughness, consistency in this first game maybe than he's shown in all of his first two years?

COACH SHULA:  “Yeah, I would agree with all that.  I think that the last two times we have been on the field he's really done a nice be job.  I think last week, especially, knock on wood, hopefully that's a sign of things to come where going up and making some tough catches when the ball wasn't quite exactly thrown where it needs to be thrown, and making some plays.  He's tall as we all know and he can jump. And all of a sudden when you are doing that over the middle of the field, that gives you a lot of confidence as a quarterback and as a coach so hopefully we're not going to lead him over the middle too much way up in the air, but I think that if he continues to do that he could have a real good season, really help us.

Q.  You talk about that improvement from week one to week two. How about with John Parker (Wilson); what did you see on film that you are really going to try to address during practice this week?

COACH SHULA:  “I think mainly with John Parker is just continuing the fundamentals in practice and how important they are to be consistent in the game with his footwork.  A couple of his throws were a little bit off, a little bit high, even the ones that he completed, and we know he's an accurate passer. Sometimes you kind of get in a little bit of a rush when you’re first in a scrimmage or first in a game and you throw it before you’ve got your feet set and you’re a little bit off balance,  things like that which, in my opinion, are very correctable.  Those are the things that we will continue to work on really throughout his career, but especially at this stage in his career.  I thought overall mentally, I think he played a very good game mentally, which might be the most important thing that's going into the right place with the football and did a nice job in that aspect.”

Q.  What did you think of the play of Jeffrey Dukes and what did he do to win the starting spot?

COACH SHULA:  “Well, he's pretty much wanted over the course of really the end of last year and in spring practice and training camp, he was guy when he first came in here, that if there was ever a guy, and I said this last year if anybody remembers, that, Boy, you could really see him get better every week.  When he when he first got here he could run but he really struggled tackling and then he started getting better as a tackler, but he didn't have a great understanding of our defense.  Now you start to see him moving around and reacting without thinking.  He's experienced, and he's very talented so he can cover the field and now that he's tackling better, that makes him a better football player and a better defensive team.”

Q.  Mike is Red Zone offense, plus territory, is that something you are going to focus on this week?   And if so, how exactly do you practice that?  What do you do to try and improve on that?

COACH SHULA:  “We spend a lot of time down there: in practice; we did in training camp; we did in the spring.  We'll continue to do that.     We need to score touchdowns, but if you just say that to your football team, ??Hey, we need to score more in the Red, plus territory.’  Okay, well how do we do that? Well, number one, we get the ball out a little bit faster to Keith Brown so now all of a sudden that's a touchdown.  You know, we protect just a little bit better on another pass to Keith Brown and that's a potential touchdown.  We don't drop a pass on a slant rout. Those are the things that you attack.  I am not criticizing our players but that's how you attack.  That's how you talk to them about the difference between scoring and not scoring.  It's an issue, so to speak, but it’s not a big issue. It’s like protecting the football.  We don't just scream, ??We’ve got to protect the football; you’ve got to protect the football.’ But we work on all kinds of things in practice and remind them about certain things, and then they go do it.  The guys that do it the best are on the field.  So those are the types of things, of how, what our approach is like.”

Q.  How much of a factor of not putting them away earlier in the game could be attributed to youth or is it just a matter of execution or something else?

COACH SHULA:  “However you look at it, we could have executed better.  Now is that because we had younger guys in there?  I don't know.  What we're going to talk to our guys about as we do every week is the premium on every play; how it can affect the next play.  Especially down in there.  I think the execution just in general, when you talk to your guys, if you get down inside, there's not as much room for the defensive backs to drop.  You have got to be aware of that as a receiver; you’ve got to be aware of that as a quarterback for a lot of different ways, so those are the things that we'll talk to our guys about.”

Q.  There appeared to be a lot of sand or dirt being kicked up on the field, especially early in the game.  Was the field in good condition?

COACH SHULA:  “Yeah. I think it's fairly similar to the last few years.  If you go back and watch in the last few years it is about the same.  Ours isn't the only field.   About every field I've been on, I think, they are more sand-based now, softer.”

Q. Other than Ken Darby just looking a little bit off, did he appear to run the ball the same as he has in the past?    Did anything look different to you?

COACH SHULA:  “No. I know he got a little bit nicked up with his hip.  But you know, he ran hard. Did he have his best day?  No.  But (he) had a couple of runs,  like I said I think after the game, that were called back that were for holding calls that were going to be real good runs, and then we had a couple of drives where John Parker was hitting some big passes where you hit a big pass, you are not running the football.  I’ll tell you the one thing he did, he probably played more so maybe than anybody else on our offense as unselfishly as anybody did because we knew going into the game that our backs were going to have to protect because when they blitzed, linebackers and safeties, you need someone to pick them up.  And he, Le'Ron (McClain) and Tim Castille did a nice job to allow John Parker to get the ball off to Keith Brown and some of these other guys.  And that stuff goes unnoticed, but if you don't have that, you don't have some of the plays we had in the passing game.  He never said a word about that.  I did a bad job of not giving him enough credit to you all in that regard (after the game).”

Q.  Can you talk about y’all’s recruitment of Earl Bennett and Reshard Langford, a couple of Vandy guys?

COACH SHULA: “They are both good players.  Bennett is going to be one of their go-to guys for sure.  He's a productive football player.  And Langford is a guy that is one of their keys to their secondary and to their defense, really.  He's a big guy that they like to play down in run support, and is going to get better and better.  He's been a pretty productive player.”

Q.  How involved were you with either of those guys coming out of high school?

COACH SHULA:  “Not really.  I know we knew of them, but we had other guys that we had had commitments from but we liked them both for sure.”

Q. to follow-up on a question on Keith Brown, I wondered, what do you feel like happened with him?  Is this a case of a player maybe seeing that it was his time to step up and prove he can be a dependable, every game player?  How have you seen him develop?

COACH SHULA:  “I think number one, it is one game.   But it was good to see from one game.  If you go back from last year, it's two games. But I think more so than anything else maybe his maturity.  He's older now.  He's wiser it seems to be.  Really from day one of training camp he's really worked hard since he's been in right at the start of training camp.  And he’s got talent.  So he's starting to understand more so now that he did before, how to use that talent and he's just got a good look in his eye.”

Q.  Now that the renovation has been completed, I’m wondering, you have this building, everything’s done, looking at it from this angle, how big of a difference is this going to make in your program?

COACH SHULA:  “You are talking about with all the facilities? I think it is going to make a big difference.  I think that especially, obviously to the recruits, but I think even the parents when you show them the academic center, when show them this facility (football facility).  The message when a recruit and his parents come up, to me, it’s a message is what is being sent, that the people that are supporting our university want the best for our kids. And that's hard to beat that message.  You see, stadium-wise, as you all saw the other day, anybody who watched anybody that was there when we got off the bus that was pretty unique.  This facility, everything. We’re trying to do whatever we can within the rules to give these guys the best experience and give them the best opportunity to be a champion.  I think that message is definitely going to help in recruiting.”

Q.  Talk about the availability of DJ Hall and also Jamie Christensen; and in regard to Christensen, how much more confidence do you have in Leigh Tiffin today than you had at this time last week?

COACH SHULA:  “DJ, like I said, he was hurt last week.  He practiced Sunday night, and I think he's going to be all set.  We'll see today how he is. Jamie, we won't know. We’ll know a little bit more today.  I know he's still a little bit sore.  We'll kind of take the same approach as we did last week, see where he's at.  And, yeah, we have got more confidence in Leigh Tiffin, just watching the way he went about things, even after he missed that one kick which he should have made, but he kind of bounced back after that, and didn't have any excuses or anything like that.  So he's another young man that's pretty mature as a true freshman.  I thought Andrew Friedman did a nice job coming in with the kickoffs.  You guys remember now, they changed the rules with the kickoffs.  They lowered the tee now, so it is harder to get that ball higher in the air and further into the end zone.  Probably going to see less touchbacks.  We need to get Jamie back.  He's been a productive player for us, but if not, we have got a couple of guys that have done a nice job that we think we can win with.”

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