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Al Groh’s Press Conference
November 8, 2005

When you first saw D’Brickashaw Ferguson in high school, what makes you look at a player and say left tackle, opposed to right tackle?
In his case, when you say, “When I first saw him…,” I can remember that first sighting very well, watching his high school tape, and it was, “Wow, what terrific skills that this player has and unusual skills for that position.” And that certainly is the way he’s being evaluated now by the NFL people. A tackle of this style comes along very infrequently. And, you don’t usually play with one with his style and overall athletic ability. When you do, if you’re playing with right-handed quarterbacks, then that’s the place for him.

Tackle statistics from a game like the Temple game are usually dismissed. LB Ahmad Brooks’ numbers have not gotten back to the level they were last year. Where do you sense he his in his return from injury?
I don’t think he’s at quite the same level that he was last year at this stage. You know, he’s only played in three games and basically only had three weeks of hard practice. There were a few plays against Maryland and there were a few plays at practice in the preceding weeks, but basically his season’s been about fourteen days of practice and three games. It’s pretty difficult for any linebacker to suddenly jump in and perform at the previous level, much less a developing linebacker, that is he’s not an eight-year veteran, his game is still developing.

DE Vince Redd came back from that concussion, or head shot that he took, and he played a fair amount against Temple. Has he steadily improved over the course of the season, and what do you expect out of him the rest of the way?
We’re getting some playing time now from him, which is significant because, while we’re getting playing time from some players like Vince, Allen Billyk, and some of those kids, that means some of the other guys can get some rest-Chris Long and Brennan Schmidt in particular. That’s very helpful to the overall team effort during the course of a full game. Now that we’re getting some playing time there, obviously the next step would be to get some real positive production, in terms of plays being made.

We’ve talked a lot about Brennan Schmidt since Saturday. Although I’m not sure if he’s ever made 1st or 2nd team All-Conference, in your eyes, is he an All-Conference player this year?
I haven’t seen too many more effective linemen for their teams this year. There’s a lot of good linemen out there, but certainly his body of work speaks very loudly to what kind of player he is. He could play on our team for a long time if they changed the rules. We’ve become pretty accustomed to looking out there and seeing Brennan.

How important is energy and willpower and motor to his game?
Well, he’s pretty strong. He might not be the tallest, but he’s pretty strong. You can’t play in there without being pretty strong. He’s got good power. This is a game for high motor people. And, without it, you don’t have much chance of being a good player, and he’s got it.

What do you expect out of Georgia Tech this weekend?
I expect they’re going to be pretty darn good. I mean, they’re good. They’ve got a good defense that pressures the quarterback, that’s good on third down, that doesn’t give up very many rushing yards. That usually makes for a pretty good defense. They’ve got a good running game, with a really good back. They’ve got a good quarterback. They’ve got a really good receiver, and they’ve got a really good punter. So, I think if you passed around a blank piece of paper to most coaches on Aug. 1 and asked them to create a little bit of a shopping list of things they’d like to be good at, that would pretty much check all of the boxes off. And, so that’s why I say they’re good, and they’re blanket good-they’re good in all phases.

Last year, you said their defense is like a New York subway station at times. Is that true every year with Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s defense, in how aggressive they are?
Well, there’s a lot of action that goes on with them. If you’ve ever been in the New York subways at 7:30 in the morning, there aren’t many things that approximate that. But, they are very active in some defensive schemes. They’ve got good schemes. They’ve got active players. They’ve got a really good pass rusher. They’ve got a really good linebacker. They’re pretty solid across the board. There’s no area that you pick out and say that you can go after these guys.

How much of your secondary play this season, their improved play, do you think can be attributed to defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Al Golden’s work there? What do you think his biggest influence or contribution has been?
Al’s done a really good job with that group. A lot of those kids kind of entering into the second half of their career have matured well and are playing the best they have for us. Some of those young kids have come on nicely for first-year players. That’s a big assignment back there. There’s been some good, and there’s been some a little rough spots there. They’ve all stayed really positive throughout the whole process. He’s been very thorough. He’s very demanding with them. He’s constantly teaching. While he’s demanding of them, they know that he’s on their side too. The combination of that is usually what elicits performance.

There are no seniors back there at all. Is that a group that you think, if they make reasonable progress, could be a lot better next year?
Obviously, that’s a little ways down the road talking about next year, but we would certainly go into next season probably in the most solid situation back there that we’ve been. The only changes that we would have would be as a result of competition, rather than anything out of attrition or guys graduating or lack of performance. Because there’s been an unusually high number of players playing very early back there, every position has been getting a lot of teaching. There hasn’t been a guy or a position back there, where the coaches have been able to say, “That one will take care of itself, let’s concentrate on this guy over here.” It’s been a pretty demanding job for Al and (defensive graduate assistant) Chad Wilt, who helps him out a lot, and they certainly have done a terrific job with it.

In your scheme, how difficult or easy is it to take away the Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson vs. Mike Brown six- or seven-inch disparity?
It’s easy enough-make sure they both always go to opposite sides of the field. I don’t know what kind of success that will ensure, but at least it will get us off to a little less anxiety from the start.

You talk about match-ups. You’d want to have a bigger guy on him for most the time?
Well, you would try, obviously, but nobody’s got one as big as him. That’s why he has the success that he does. He just can play over the top of a lot of defenders. He’s done a terrific job of that, and obviously, Reggie Ball understands where to put the ball to enable him to do that. I’ve seen him make a lot of plays in his two years, where there wasn’t much to tell the defensive back other than to console him and tell him, “Hey, really, that was a pretty good effort, but the ball was just up there some place….” I mean, it’s part of the reason why, in basketball, the 6-7, 6-8, 6-9 guys get more rebounds than the 6-2 guys. The ball’s just up there at a place where they can get it and nobody else can. And, he does a terrific job of that.

It looks like Georgia Tech Reggie Ball is playing better. In the two games they lost, he threw four or five picks. In the last three games, he’s cut down on the picks. He looks like he’s playing maybe the best ball of the year.
Well, he’s playing very well for them. Obviously, the results speak for themselves. He’s got his team 6-2, here at this stage of the season ,with a significant road win [at Auburn] to start the season. And, as I said earlier, he knows how to get the ball to one of the more difficult guys to guard in college football. He’s got a really good sense of that. It’s kind of like a point guard knowing how to get the ball to his best scorer. He knows how to get the ball to him.

Do you see a team, in Georgia Tech, playing maybe their best ball of the year right now? They’ve won three in a row after that N.C. State loss and Virginia Tech loss. They seem to have turned things around.
Right, as I said earlier, they’re really good in all phases, and they’re playing really well right now. They’ve had their three best rushing games the last three weeks. They took the leading rushing team in the conference last week and held them to about 100 yards rushing. Hardly anybody over the course of the last three or four years has done that to Wake Forest. Since one of the axioms of playing good ball is run the ball well and stop the run-Clemson didn’t run the ball very well against them, they ran the ball against Clemson, Wake Forest didn’t run the ball well against them, they ran the ball well against Wake Forest-so, they seem to be rolling pretty good right now.

You talked about running the ball and stopping the run as keys. Is there any coincidence that with LB Ahmad Brooks’ move back to the middle, the defense has played much better against the run?
Well, certainly, it has been a help. That’s his spot. He’s a run-stopping player. And, he’s not just an in-the-middle player. He’s got the range to get to the outside on both sides of the ball. That’s what he really brings to the position, and that’s why he’s so good in the middle. He’s got skills that he could be an outside guy, if that’s where you wanted to put him, but that kind of reduces the field by 50% to what he can get to. So, there are some guys that can be suited to one or the other, but he could be suited to either, but I think, obviously, we think he’s best suited to where he is, because you can just get maximum plays out of him.

How much of a boost do you guys get from having run the ball the way you guys did last week and have that finally come back as a component of the offense that you can feel good about?
I’d say “feel good about” more than a “boost.” I think we all recognize… it was very apparent yesterday that, throughout the team, that everybody recognizes… that everybody feels better about it than if it hadn’t happened, but everybody fully recognizes that it will be quite a challenge to be able to do half as much this week. We’re really going to have to prove on a play-by-play basis whether we can run the ball really well against these guys or not.

Did Jason Snelling get most of his yardage out of the 1-back, and does his success make it any more enticing to have him and Wali Lundy in there together?
Actually, both of them got most of their yardage in the 1-back sets, primarily because that’s what we were in a great majority of the time. Jason’s versatility, because of his turns at fullback, do give us the opportunity to do that, but we’re viewing him… right now, we’re planning to utilize him more as a carry-the-ball guy. I think that’ll be his primary function here for a while, provided we can maintain the practice preparation that has been the case here for the last week and a half.

You guys are one win away from being bowl eligible. Does that play in the back of your mind at all, or are you more focused on one game?
All we’re trying to do… this is our mindset on this game as well as on any succeeding games. It started yesterday that when we walk in the building, all we’re trying to do is figure out how we have a chance to beat these guys. Once we do that, then we’re not really going to look too deeply at the ramifications of that either, then we’re just going to say, “How can we figure out how to beat the next guys?” To do anything else allows individuals on the team and lets your entire team get really distracted from what the bulls-eye of the target is, which is it’s hard enough to beat teams when you give them the full focus much less when you’re distracted by outside things.

Obviously, Georgia Tech offensively presents quite a bit of a challenge. If you have to choose, what do you take away first?
In that kind of situation, you just fall back on tried and true philosophy. Because two of the three primary threats are right in there tight to the formation, that is the quarterback, as a runner as well as a passer, and the two tailbacks that they have, you better make sure you’re not light on the run, that’s for sure. But, quite clearly, that’s a little bit of a roll of the dice deal, as was proven last week, in that Calvin Johnson only got four catches for 100 yards. So, it would take a lot of running plays probably to churn out 100 yards, but it only took four catches to do it.

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