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Aug 26, 2013

Mike London’s Weekly Press Conference Transcript – BYU Game

Q. Since we’ve all been talking about it for the last half hour, I noticed Jake McGee is third on the depth chart. Could you talk about that a little bit?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, I wouldn’t put too much into that. I think what we’re doing is with the three tight ends that we have, obviously its about personnel – two tight ends in the game, 11 personnel, one tight end in the game, the tight end that’s in the game is not counted as a receiver. So I think you’ll see multiple sets with multiple personnel units in there, and trust me, Jake will play and play a lot. He’s one of our best players.

Q. You guys face two spread and hurry up offenses the first two weeks, and last year you faced a number of those and had some difficulties. What did you learn from facing those last year and how are you preparing for them this time around?
COACH LONDON: I think that the way you prepare for spread teams is obviously sometimes you can’t dictate the tempo that they obviously practice for and that they’re known for, but you have coaches that have had opportunities to play against those types of offenses in Coach Tenuta, Coach Lewis to a certain respect. When you have special teams you’ve got to play up-tempo to what they’re doing, as well.

But it’s planning and practice. It’s through the planning of guys that have had opportunities to play against teams like that, and we did some of it ourselves this camp. Actually we did a lot of it.

You never can duplicate the speed of the game in terms of the amount of reps that you can get in, but you can always try to put yourself in the position of your calls being simple, your adjustments being very simple, and playing in the simplest of ways.

We practice those aspects of a spread hurry-up offense, and our offense has done it, as well.

Q. BYU’s defense obviously comes in – I think finished fourth in the country last year – maybe third. Kyle Van Noy is the star there. How do you go against him and whom do you have play that role on the scout team? How do you go about preparing for him?
COACH LONDON: Well, he’s definitely one of the best college football players that is out there and deservedly so, a lot of accolades. You watch tape, he not only plays on defense everywhere but on special teams. He’s a guy that plays a lot of spots at special teams – plays well there too.

Definitely we talk about the who and the what. You have to know where he is at all times because I’m sure they’re going to feature him in a lot of things. We just have to be aware of where he is. I don’t know if you can duplicate him through practice, but I think it’s more of an awareness. The players watching film and how he can wreck plays and try to do some things that hopefully minimize his effectiveness on defense, whether it’s running away from him or doing some other things, but he definitely has a talent and he is one of the best players in the country.

Q. How much do you feel like your defense is all in, your offense is all in, you know everything? And how much do you just go into game prep and how much will you still be incorporating new things as we go along through the season?
COACH LONDON: I think if you ask the coordinators we put in everything that they wanted to see put in, and what’s important is then curtailing what we do and then trying to fit that to the game plan of what we anticipate BYU to do. Everything was in, and then now a lot of it is just based on what we can do well, take our personnel and put them in positions to help us do well, and then kind of cater to — we have to cater to what BYU does. They have a new offensive coordinator, as well, so there will be some things that they’ll do that we’ve never seen. Hopefully there will be some things that we do that they’ve never seen. So it’s about the adjustment and how we can proceed from there.

Q. How do you foresee the running back situation playing out? Obviously Kevin is sort of your featured back, but how will you rotate Khalek and Taquan in a game? Will there be a set rotation or a feel thing? How do you expect that to play out?
COACH LONDON: I think what you’ll see early on is trying to find plays and substitution groups that will have those guys in the game. The great thing about Khalek and Taquan is they are our punt returners, kickoff returners; they can also play slot receivers in different formations.

The goal and the key is to try to get your talented players as many touches as possible, and that’s a talented group of three running backs, and so we’ll try — we’ll do some things to make sure that everybody gets the kind of touches that they need to help us be successful.

Q. What have you seen from Ross Burbank coming out of the spring? I know there are some injuries in that competition that played a factor, but what did he do to stay in the mix?
COACH LONDON: I think Ross has had the benefit of having strength and conditioning coach in his life and a nutritionist in his life and having been a college student athlete, having gone through a couple spring practices. I think there’s a maturity level that he’s experienced, and he just kind of emerged as a guy that has proven that he can make out the calls in terms of identifying the Mike linebacker. He can make the line calls and protection calls. So his knowledge of the game has increased, as well.

But Ross has been a very pleasant surprise for us in that his development has put him in a position to be a starting center for a college football team.

Q. This is Coach Robert Anae’s second stint at BYU. Do you go back and look at his previous incarnation, or since they’ve kind of change alignments do you not look at that and concentrate on what he did at Arizona he was there last season?
COACH LONDON: I think you have to probably look at a little bit of both. Particularly where there’s been a coordinator change, there’s always the thought they are going to do what they did where they came from, or are they going to hold true to the personnel and the style that they played last year. You wouldn’t be surprised to see a little mixture of both.

I think the guys and staff have done a good job of putting together a game plan that has hopefully answers for either style, but I think just going into the game knowing that there’ll be something that probably we haven’t practiced for. But the accumulated amount of reps in our own practice going against our offense will make up for that, and we’ll see what happens. There could be wildcat, there could be all kind of things, and we’ll see what happens.

Q. You’ve got two true freshmen listed at the backup offensive tackle spots. Does that mean you’ve committed to play them this year, and how does it look in terms of how many of these true freshmen will play right away?
COACH LONDON: Well, as you look at the depth chart, obviously you see Sadiq [Olanrewaju] and Eric Smith in those backup positions, and that’s the plan going into this season. Will they have to play? We’ll see. But I think that’s why they’re there. They’re listed there. You look at our two deep. There’s about seven freshmen that I think have put themselves in position to play in terms of depth or in terms of skill level, and we’ll try to get them as much time as needed to bring them along. It’s a long season, but at the same time we all know that things happen to players, and you’re always an injury away from being the next guy in. We’re very aware of that, but I would say that they’re a talented enough group of freshmen. The challenges are particularly that BYU present is they’ll line up, they’ll put a big guy over at center and they’ll cover up the tackles and have two stand-up outside linebackers. When you’re running plays, obviously the blocking schemes and the line calls are different because of the alignments of the 3-4 system players.

It’ll be important. We’ve been practicing BYU plays and schemes, 3-4 schemes the last week, and it’ll be important for us to block what we see and do it well, because you’re right, they’re a big front seven. They’re all in the — in the back end they’re 200 something pounds. Up front they’re big. Nose tackle is big, and we all talked about their linebackers as phenomenal players. It is a challenge, and we have to find ways to make sure we move the ball.

Q. How much of a benefit is it that they don’t really know what you’re going to run on offense, and how challenging has it been sort of defensively for you guys not really knowing exactly what their game plan is going to be? How does that play out this week?
COACH LONDON: I think the first couple games, particularly the first game when there’s been coordinator changes, I’m quite sure that they’re looking at film of places where Jon and Steve and Larry have been, and trying to formulate a game plan based on that, and then just look at our games from last year and try to gauge personnel, ability type.

I don’t know if there’s as much a benefit as it is when you’re changing coordinators as it is that when you practice early on you’ve got to take care of yourself, what you do, and I think that’s been the main focus. Obviously there’s BYU focus, but I think more so it’s taking care of what we do, protect the football, and play smart, tough and aggressive has kind of been the mantra going into this season.

Q. Regardless of what offense BYU comes out with, in your study – what has impressed you about their offensive personnel?
COACH LONDON: Well, when you look at them you look at the depth, and it says what year they are, you could add maybe two more years into what year that says that they are. But they’re very disciplined players. They’ve played under a head coach for a while that has a system and a style of play that they’re very physical on offense and defense. They have a tradition of winning, and so with that comes, I’m quite sure, a lot of confidence. Even though this is an on the road game for them and quite a bit of travel, they have a team that I think is full of experienced guys that have played big games at their own place, have played big games on the road.

The challenge for us will be with the players that we have to make sure that we handle our business and take care of what we need to take care of, because like I said, they’re a much experienced team.

Q. In years past you’ve listed a guy on the two deep who was a true freshman who you would say he’s going to be ready to play, but maybe in that situation we’ll try to keep his redshirt. Should we assume that the guys you have listed as true freshmen on your depth chart are actually going to play this season, or are you going to be looking for way to make sure that it’s an as-needed situation?
COACH LONDON: I think you always go into it that the best players have an opportunity to play, and what we’re saying is as those backups are listed, we’ve identified them as being the next best to go in.

Obviously if games are close and they’re tight and guys have not gone in, as you get into the season, then perhaps you may reevaluate that. But going into the season now, as is listed, whoever can help us win, and then we’ll run the depth chart as you see it. But like I said, there’s seven talented guys, and we hope to give them as many reps as needed to bring them along.

Q. Before he went down with his knee injury last season, is there enough tape out there on Taysom Hill for you guys to make a pretty fair evaluation of the type of quarterback he is for BYU?
COACH LONDON: You know, in this new style that we think we may see, obviously a quarterback and being able to run is something that’s significant. I mean, look at our guy; there’s some things that we’ll try to do with him, as well. You see some athleticism and you’re definitely concerned about not only the spread read play where the quarterback pulls it but any play action play where the quarterback can get on the perimeter. There’s an emphasis of going, with the linebacker, knowing where this guy is because he is very talented, and I know he’s had the injury situation.

We’re playing everybody like they’re a thousand percent, and I think that with that in mind, he’s definitely one that we’ve identified as being a guy that we’ve got to know where he’s at all times.

Q. I think the last practice open to the media Jake [McGee] was still nursing that injury. Curious whether he got back to normal pretty quickly, and also, what do you see from his blocking, seeing as that was one of his missions in the off-season, to become more of an all-around player?
COACH LONDON: It was unfortunate that the injury issue occurred. Obviously when you’re trying to get stronger and work on your blocking that he would have an injury issue, and that kind of puts a damper on things. But it’s been progressively getting better and better. Jake has participated in the last three, four practices with full pads. His development continues to keep getting stronger, and as I said before, he’ll play. He’ll play in the game because he has a skill set that we definitely need.

But we’ve got to require our tight ends to block, and I think that Jake will get better at that. I think Zach [Swanson] and Rob Burns have done nice jobs when they’ve gone in, when their numbers have been called. But we’ll expect all three of those guys, that they’ll have an opportunity to play and help us.

Q. Steve [Fairchild] talked a lot about toughness and instilling toughness, and a lot of the guys, linemen, running backs from last year said you guys were maybe lacking in that area. What kind of things have you done this spring to build that up and to toughen the team up?
COACH LONDON: I think you start with the mindset about how you approach things. It starts in the weight room about just the type of — the aggressive, tough attitude that you have to have in order to play a physical brand of football. You have to put yourself in positions or in a culture, in an environment that requires you to do that. I think Evan [Marcus] has done a great job with that, and we mentioned before bringing in the Navy Seals and the certain mental aspect to being tough, and then practices. If you ask our guys, we haven’t practiced as long, but we’ve probably had more contact, more physical contact, more scrimmages that we’ve had in the past, and I think that’s led to a certain amount of being physically tough and having to play when you’re tired and make plays in the fourth quarter or the latter part of practice.

So I think those things, just a few things that speak to the mentality of playing tough and being tough. I think the fellows responded well to it this particular year.

Q. Cody Hoffman, receiver there, is 6’4″, 210, a Biletnikoff candidate. Is that a match-up that Tra’ [Nicholson] is going to take on, and how do you go about challenging him because he could be a pretty easy option for that quarterback.
COACH LONDON: Hoffman is another talented player, and obviously we think Tra’ is talented, as well. But sometimes you just may look up and look at a match-up that you want to create and throw the ball out that way. Again, with coverages and how we assist Tra’ or whoever, even if it’s Hoskey or Maurice Canady, how we assist him is a game plan that Jon and the game coaches have for this talented player.

We’re still going to do what we do. If the quarterback has a lot of time to throw it to him, then that’s an issue with guys up front. It’s a collaborative effort, and trust me, we’ll make sure that we know where that 6’5″ plus guy is at all times.

Q. What do you like or what have you seen from your pass rush? I know that was something you really wanted to improve in the off-season. And does it kind of make you stop and say wow at any point in the preseason?
COACH LONDON: Yeah, I think when you look at obviously a guy that’s talented like Eli Harold, I mean, he’s fast — first quick step off the ball is really, really good. A guy like Brent Urban, who’s gotten bigger and stronger, go back to the spring game and what he’s done in practices is he’s gotten really, really good at pushing the pocket and making a combination move off of that. And there’s a guy like David Dean, small, compact but explosive.

I think it lends itself to their skills but also the style that Jon calls that allows for a lot of movement, guys to try to exploit match-ups, whether it’s over guard or tackle or whatever it may be. So I think you see more of that, but obviously sometimes you’ll just have one-on-one rushes, and you’ve just got to beat your guy, and we’ve seen a lot of that during the course of spring practice and the early part of August camp. It has to continue for sure.

Q. You’ve got it looks like nine guys listed at the various wide receiver spots. I know you mentioned earlier in camp that some of these guys are going to have to play special teams. I just wondered, are all nine of those guys, will they have an opportunity to get on the field on offense? Is that why they’re listed, or will some of them be exclusively special teams players?
COACH LONDON: Some of them will be exclusively special teams players. Again, the question was brought up about tight ends. Some of them, they’re in packages, where it’s 10 personnel or an empty personnel or whatever it may be. But they’re listed because they had value, and some of the plays and personnel groupings that we have and in which we call.

Also the first couple games you kind of see where your team is from a conditioning standpoint, as well, and you’d like to play enough guys that maybe can speak to that. That’s maybe why you see a lot of guys listed right now. But definitely in the wide receiver position, the special teams value is critical.

Q. David Watford, as a redshirt sophomore and really getting his first opportunity to kind of be the guy, do you look at him to be more of a game manager or do you feel like he has enough possession of the entire offense that you can — what you see some upperclassmen and quarterbacks do; they have more liberty within the offense?
COACH LONDON: Well, I think, one, David has to make sure he gets our players lined up correctly and calls the plays that Coach Fairchild sends in; and then two, the ability that he’s gained over the last couple years, some of that is that innate ability to know when to pull the ball and run, to know when to slide shuffle to avoid a sack. I think David is at that point of his career where he’s been around enough to do those things.

We’re not going to ask him to do more than what he’s capable of doing. Obviously he’s a gifted and talented young man, but if he does what’s being asked of him to do in distributing the ball and using his legs and his arm and his brain, then I think that’s going to be critical to our success.

Everyone is excited to see how David is going to play because it will be very important, and particularly with this experienced defense. It’ll be an early test. We’ll see.

Q. When you’re coming off a losing season and you’re trying to build momentum for your program and you have a team like Oregon coming in week two, does that make this opening game any more important for the program?
COACH LONDON: I think any opening game or any opportunity to gauge yourself and use a barometer is always important, and obviously these two that are coming in are — they’re some of the best teams in the country. One is in the top 5, top 10. The other one has perennially been a bowl team. They’re as good as they get.

I think if you want to push the envelope and try to get yourself better, you have to prepare from that standpoint we found out we were playing them. Everything gets ramped up, spring practice, how they train during the summer, how we practice during August camp. Everything gets turned up. Having two great teams coming in to Charlottesville, Scott Stadium, is a challenge, but I think it’s a challenge the players have embraced and are looking forward to meeting.

Q. You said Coach Lewis would have his pick of the roster for special teams. How many starting players do you anticipate being on special teams?
COACH LONDON: Well, if you look at in the course of — you’ll only know after the game, but if you look at the depth chart and the two deep now, there’s every — outside of an offensive lineman — let me back up. There are some offensive linemen that are involved in our punting game, shield protection, but there’s every player in the two deep that has an opportunity to go on the field as a special teams player. I think, again, it speaks to the commitment of making sure that that third of the game, or everyone talks about the hit-and-run or the catch-and-return part of the game is something that we try to create an advantage over, on, and I think we’ve addressed that.

Q. How do you feel about the offensive line and where they are heading into the opener?
COACH LONDON: I’ll tell you, I feel pretty good about the first five because they’ve been in college games, outside of Ross. Obviously when you look at two true freshmen as backups, that’s a little bit of a concern because birth date and weight room is what you look for guys like that in the trenches.

Losing Sean Cascarano, that hurt, and he’s still walking around on a crutch right now, so I wish him the best getting his hip healthy. But you’ve got to have those guys in the trenches to play well for you, and I think depth may be an issue for us, but I think we’re talented in that area. You look on the other side, too, we talk about the guys up front with Brent Urban, David Dean, explosive, and even a guy like Mike Moore where trying to find roles for him could also move to the inside to provide depth. Donte Wilkins is another true freshman that will play this year, so it’ll be interesting to see firsthand how these guys respond when they’re out on the field by themselves, no coaching, playing against other college offensive and defensive linemen.

Q. We know special teams are something you want to continue to see progress and improvement from last year. Will we an emphasis on better execution or will we see bigger differences in the scheme itself when it comes to special teams this year?
COACH LONDON: I think you look at the overall philosophy of it, hopefully what you see is guys getting out of the huddle quickly, guys getting lined up quickly. You’ll see different techniques used that have not been used in the past. We work hard on our return game and trying to get guys in the open field, get blocks on them to allow guys like Khalek Shepherd or Smoke or whomever it may be to return, and I think that’s important.

Dominique Terrell in the punt game. Hopefully we’ll improve our return game for sure. I think the style of coverage, the run-and-hit squads as we talk about, there’s an aggressive side to that that Larry has brought to us. Again, that’s something to be talked about as we start playing.

Q. Is there somebody who given the opportunity to play special teams kind of surprised you with how much they took to it, like maybe what kind of hit man they are? Is there somebody that really sticks out there?
COACH LONDON: There are two individuals that stand out. One is Miles Gooch. When Miles first got here he was a quarterback and then made the switch to wide receiver. Probably he didn’t know whether he wanted to be here or not, but I just give the kid all the credit in the world that he just put his head down to the grindstone, he listened to the coaching, learned the techniques, and I’ll tell you what, he’s become a four-phase special teams guy that has really done a really nice job.

The other guy is one of those wide receivers that we talked about earlier – Kyle Dawkins. Kyle has put himself into being a four-phase special teams guy, as well. Also he’s put himself into being in the two deep because of his effort. You know, competition, you’ve got to raise your level of competition. If you don’t raise it then somebody is going to pass you up, and Kyle has shown that he’s hungry when it comes to special teams. That gets him on the field. And because he brought that type of attitude, he brought it to the receiving rank, which has got him in the two deep as we speak.

I would say those two guys are names that kind of jump out at you.

Q. You touched on this a little bit last week, but captains wise, I know you have that leadership council. How will you do individual games?
COACH LONDON: We’ll have the three captains go out and represent: Luke [Bowanko], Rijo [Walker] and Jake [Snyder], and then one of the leadership council guys would also be the fourth representative that will walk out, and that will be on a game-by-game basis.

Q. A few days ago you were talking about there have been some epic battles between Moses and Eli over on the corner there. Have those reminded you of any you’ve seen in the past, and what’s it been like watching that? Who’s got the upper hand?
COACH LONDON: Well, I have to be careful about saying this, but I was here when Chris Long was here and D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Eugene [Monroe] and there were some definite battles there. But I would say Eli and Morgan going against each other has definitely made each player a better player. And again, you can’t go by what other people are writing or saying, and Morgan knows this, whether he’s an All-American or whatever it may be. He’s going to have to play like that. Eli, all the accolades, all the good things we say about him, he’s going to have to play big.

But if those two can do the things that we’ve seen them do on the practice field, and in Morgan’s case at times on the field and even Eli on the field, then I would expect them to have really good years, or a good season, excuse me, so it’s important to see a rusher rush the passer, and then a protector, particularly the left tackle, protect the quarterback’s blind side, and that’s what those two guys can do.

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