Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones held his first media luncheon of the 2011 season. Here is what he had to say about his club prior to the opening game against Austin Peay.
“Good afternoon. Thanks to everyone for coming out. Before we get started today though I would like to just tell everyone from a football program and a football family, our thoughts and prayers are with Mark Dantonio and his family as they go through the passing of his father. Been there, done that a couple of years ago and so just wanted to let them know that we’re thinking of them and he’s in our thoughts and prayers.”
“Moving on, obviously, we’re very excited for the start of the season and looking forward to Saturday night at Nippert Stadium. There are a number of reasons why we’re excited and I’ll outline a couple and then go from there. But the first one is obviously that it’s been a long time coming. It’s been a long time since last December. A lot of hard work and effort has been put in by our players and our staff. So obviously, were looking forward to getting back and competing and building our identity which I’ll talk about in a minute.
“The second thing is that our players are tired of each other. They’re tired of hitting the same color helmets. They’re tired of seeing the same faces each and every day. And that’s the process as you go on throughout training camp. They’re looking forward to playing another different color jersey and helmet.
“Then I think just being able to compete – that’s what we are as competitors and the great competitive spirit that we talk about playing with each and every day. To get back and compete is the beauty about college football – every game counts. There is no playoff system, there is no tournament. All 12 games are for a championship. You’re working to get to that thirteenth game.
“Lastly, and probably most importantly, is creating an identity. What are we going to stand for? What are we going to be? That’s the challenge that most football teams face – ‘what’s your identity?’ We’ve been building it but now when you go into a game, you’re really creating that identity. And like I’ve spoken about throughout the course of training camp is that no two football teams are ever the same.
Each year is a different year, and there are a number of reasons. It’s a makeup of your leadership. Your leadership changes, it graduates, players that hadn’t played last year that are in new roles. I’m excited as we continue to form our identity of the 124th addition of Bearcat football.
“The other thing in our football program, we talk about a term called ‘IRU’ – Indisputable Role Understanding. You look at the great teams, everyone knows the players that get the publicity and the notoriety. Everyone understands Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead and D.J. Woods and Derek Wolfe. But it’s really your role players that really determine whether you win or lose or play winning football at every position. It’s our role players and it’s the consistency that’s needed each and every day. We’re going to play a number of true freshmen Saturday night. You try to simulate as much controlled chaos and game situations as you can in practice, but you can really never know until you get into game situations and the pressure. Practice is like a golf driving range. The swing can look pretty but all of sudden you go into a game and there’s people in the stands and it means something. It changes a little bit and you’re blood pressure goes up a little bit so to speak. So I’m looking forward, as we continue to work on our identity, and players that haven’t played before are having different roles – seeing how they respond. Obviously, going into a first game, first games are always a great challenge. They are a great challenge for a number of reasons. I think the biggest one is the unknowns, the uncertainty. You look at our football team and you look at all the true freshmen that are playing. This team coming together, how you persevere, how you finish plays, how you play winning football at each position. All those things, but then you get back also to your opponent. You know we’re studying Austin Peay right now; we’re looking at last year’s team on film. So obviously there are new wrinkles. There is change in schemes, just like us.
You know, they’re a new football team. So you look at all those unknowns and you look at them with a lot of experience and a lot of returning veterans players. They are used to playing in the large venues.
The fourth game of the year, they had to go to Camp Randall to play a very talented University of Wisconsin football team, so their players have been in those types of situations in those venues and I think they have taken a lot from that experience. You’re looking at a three year starter at quarterback. You’re looking at a running back who is the fifth leading rusher in the school’s history. They have a very talented wide receiver, defensively, a lot of returning experience. So it is going to be a great test for us.
The thing that we can control is that we can take care of business. We have to control everything that we can control and that is our preparation. We have focused a lot on our mental intensity, our energy, and our mental focus, that prepares us each and every day to play the best we can possibly play and I am looking forward to that. On that note, I will move on and answer any questions that you may have at this time.
On how different this week is than last year:
“It’s a big difference and it gets back to familiarity. Our players understand the expectations. They understand the standard. They understand the different things that go in to preparing for an opponent. How you respect an opponent. How you study film. How you deserve victory. We’ll win when we deserve to win and we’ll put the time in and it’s the team chemistry. It’s how you travel, even though we’re not on the road. It’s how we go to the hotel, it’s everything. There are no unknowns. The great thing is that I have put the ownership on our older players to teach our younger players. What is expected? This is how you study film. These are the expectations. I asked every single one of our players, every time we conclude a practice; we are going to evaluate playing winning football at that position and the standard at which we play. Not just on offense and defense, but from a special teams standpoint too. So it is monumental, and I know Bill touched on it earlier in the week, but also being able to have the comfort level of playing at home and opening up on the road. But also when you play at home as opposed to opening up on the road, there is a certain amount of distractions when you play at home as opposed to on the road. From the requesting of tickets, to family coming in, so there is a different set of circumstances that you face when you play at home that we are continuing to address throughout the course of this week.”
On the team similarities between Cincinnati and Austin Peay:
“There are a lot of similarities. You know everyone talks about experience. You have the same amount of experience and I think that Rick (Christophel) is saying the same thing to his team. It is one thing to be older, but you have to be better. But along with experience, with our players it can’t be “well we have experience” and they forget the work ethic and they forget all things, all the learning things that came along with that experience. It is that you have to work a little bit harder. You have to prepare a little bit better. You have to be better fundamentally. So there is a lot of going in than just throwing around the term experience but I think they are very similar coming in. I know they are a hungry football team. They are well coached. They play with great effort so it is going to be a great barometer, a great measuring stick to see where exactly where we are at starting the season off.”
On how much of a measuring stick he is hoping they will be:
“I’ve learned at a very early time as a head football coach, you respect every opponent. You know, our first year at Central Michigan, we played a North Dakota State football team that probably would have been Mid-American Conference Champions, and they came into Mount Pleasant and got after us pretty good. And again I can rely on my experience of being in the MAC and playing what they quote “upper level” and you never take anything for granted. That is why they play the game. All I can go is by video evidence of what I see on film and I see a team that has some talent, plays with an edge, and that is why we have to control what we can control. And that is our preparation, our effort, and the other thing like I said is defining our role players. And really who is going to be our playmakers. You know you need more than D.J. Woods and you need more than Isaiah Pead. You know everyone throws around a ‘very talented wide receiver corp.’ Well it is what it is, D.J. Woods is really our only true individual that has true experience. Anthony McClung played sparingly last year. O.J. Woodard has been predominantly a special teams player. Kenbrell Thompkins has yet to play in a college football game, he has only played at the junior college level. Shaq Washington was playing high school football last year. Alex Chisum was playing high school football last year. So there is a lot that goes into it. Damon Julian was playing at the junior college level. So for a lot of these individuals it is going to be the first college football game action that they will have ever received in their career. And that is why you never take anything for granted. We respect all of our opponents and we are expecting a tough football game and that’s the way we are preparing.”
On whether he has seen in practice what has gotten him so high on the potential of junior wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins?
“I see flashes. I am his worst critic and above all else, on top of me, he is his own worst critic. And I think at time he demands so much of himself that he doesn’t ‘snap and clear.’ He lets five plays ago effect how he plays because he is disappointed. And I think that comes with maturity. I think that comes with learning the ‘snap and clear.’ And I think the biggest thing for him Bill, is overall consistency. Play in and play out. Snap and clear. Move on. Move on. One of the greatest things we did this training camp is we had a Navy SEAL come and speak to our football team. And one of the questions is how do you stay focused for a very long period of time. And he talked about an evolution and that is what he has to grow along to. Along with a lot of our other players, ‘snap and clear,’ Play the next play. Don’t let the last play beat you on the next play. And that’s what we are working toward with him. He is as competitive of an individual as anyone that we have. It helps that Antonio Brown is his cousin. I think Antonio keeps him pretty grounded. They stay in contact all the time. So the big thing with Kenbrell is just overall consistency.”
On the backup quarterback situation:
“Munchie (Legaux) will be listed as our No. 2 quarterback with Jordan Luallen, No. 3, but throughout the course of the season, you’re going to see both players play. I believe we have two No. 2s because of the different skill sets that each possesses. We have a built in wildcat package with Jordan Luallen, which is great because a lot of times, when you run the wildcat, you don’t have the threat of pass. Jordan Luallen is very dynamic with the ball in his hands, he’ll add another dimension with some speed options and triple options and different things that way, plus our tempo. I think Munchie is just a little bit ahead of him in terms of overall knowledge of our system and the volume Munchie can play with. I think you’ll see both individuals with a package and we’ll give both reps as much as we can.
On junior tight end Travis Kelce:
“Travis Kelce is progressing. He will not play in this game as he continues to rehab an ankle. But we fully expect to have him in the next week.”
On sophomore defensive back Deven Drane:
“I think Deven is extremely competitive. He is very quick. He’s another individual who was thrown into the fire – maybe wasn’t quite ready last year, but it was what it was. But it’s going back to the experience. Now he’s gained some valuable experience and lessons. Now how do you take it to the field this year and how does it make you a better player? We’re asking a lot of him, not just for our defense, but on special teams as well. He’s an individual who has a very large role in our program and he’s going to see the volume of the different amount of roles he can handle and how he can progress. He’s still relatively young.
“We knew he has the talent and the skill set, but it’s a matter of progressing and not staying the same. He’s been in a great everyday battle with Dominique Battle. Every day, they’ve competed along with Cam Cheatham and Adrian Witty. We need to continue to improve our fundamentals, our techniques, our trade. Every corner, every receiver has his toolbox of what he works with and continues to work with it to get better any better. He has come a long way and we expect him to continue to improve.”
On the placekicker situation:
“That’s another thing of the unknown. Tony Miliano is a redshirt freshman from Elder who will go into the season and handle the kicking duties starting off. It’s great to have Shane Popham backing him up, who has actually kicked in games at the highest level at Wake Forest. We did our due diligence and they were evaluated on a day to day basis. We just thought Tony was a little bit ahead. He’s been really consistent; he’s done a great job with his hang time and his kickoffs. He’s been very accurate, so we’re excited to see what he can do when the lights go on in live game action. So, he’ll handle the kicking duties starting the game Saturday night.”
On the kicking range:
“Shane is accurate and a little more in the 30-in. Tony’s range varies a little more. He’s kicked upwards to 50 to 52 inward. I think Tony has a little bit more of a range. You judge a kicker by his consistency. When we get into the red area and red zone, we need to make sure we come away with points. That’s one thing with Jake Rodgers last year. We knew if we got to a certain yard-line, we were guaranteed points. I thi9nk that’s critical and it gets back to the consistency of winning at the place kick situation. I expect him to be very successful. He’s had a great couple weeks of preparation.”
“The biggest thing is going into the first game and the first thing you worry about is tackling. There are only so many live tackling situations you’re afforded throughout the course of training camp. For many reasons – the health of your football team, trying to get them to the game. It’s tackling, it’s playing team defense. Usually big plays occur and two things usually happen: mental errors, assignment breakdowns or loss leverage on the football. For us, to take a step to being a great defense is creating turnovers, having negative yardage football plays, eliminating mental errors and not losing contain of the football. We’re going to be challenged because Austin Peay is a physical football team. They go 300-plus across the board and they’re a power football team. Then all of the sudden, if you lose your eye discipline in the back end, here comes a deep play, a reverse pass – they’re going to force us to play sound and discipline defense in the first game.”
On how much improving the pass rush will take some of the pressure off the secondary:
“That’s critical. We didn’t get enough quarterback hurries in the past. We didn’t have enough sacks. Everyone sees the secondary, but there’s so much more that goes into playing great defensive football. It’s your linebackers being in pass drops and pass coverage and it’s applying pressure, being able to generate pass rush with four when you’re in a three-down situation. Everything starts at the line of scrimmage, both offensively and defensively. That’s where our defensive line has to take great strides, in our ability to rush the passer. First and foremost, we have to be able to stop the run. We’ll be challenged Saturday because they’re going to want to line up the ball and run the football at us.”
On how the offense can improve:
“We also led the league in turnovers. For us to take a step as a great offense, we have to take care of the football first and foremost. We have to be a team that doesn’t let the offense beat itself with untimely penalties. With some of the rule changes this year, it’s going to challenge how disciplined a football team is. You’re going to see a couple games be swayed one way or the other with the rule changes – with the celebration rules. Now all of the sudden, you celebrate before you score, that touchdown is taken off the board and it’s a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul. If you have an individual who is running in the end zone and somebody is blocking behind the ball and it’s a personal foul penalty, that touchdown is taken off the board. It’s going to be monumental in the landscape of college football. It’s going to be all about playing discipline football. We found out we won every statistical category last year on offense and we were 4-8 and we turned the football over too much. You know where our point of emphasis has been and it’s been on taking care of the football.”
On how much quarterback Zach Collaros has been a part of learning to take care of the football:
“Zach is a part of it because the quarterback and the center are the only two players who touch the ball on every snap. His struggles came early in the season of pushing the pocket and having one hand off the ball, so defenders are taught to try to rake the ball out. So it’s two hands on the ball and making good decisions. It’s third-and-nine and they drop eight and throw the ball away and punts a great play because you play field position. That’s what he’s really done. That’s part of what I was talking about last year of going through that maturation stage of really being a full-time starting quarterback. Sometimes he may adlib and scramble and make a great play and he makes a touchdown, but for every one of those plays, by the law of percentage, six other times it’s going to hurt you. It’s that consistent level. It’s wide receivers taking care of the football because it’s always the guy you never see that causes the fumble. Taking care of the football is a great emphasis for us.”
On whether quarterback Zach Collaros been taking care of the football during training camp:
“He has taken care of the football, but I think it’s the overall management. We talk so much in our offense about reception areas and where that reception should occur. He has such great knowledge of our offense. He’s ahead in every aspect of where he was last year.”
On the young kickoff team and whether there is a concern:
“It is a concern with turning the football over. We go back and evaluate why the turnovers happen and try to get back. The individual you’re talking about is Ralph David Abernathy IV, who we will put back at kickoff return. Kickoff return is like a run play. It takes a certain amount of discipline to be able to run the kickoff return. Ralph David adds another dimension to our kickoff return game. He has great speed, he understands what we’re doing and we want to throw him into the fire a little bit. It’s also great security knowing you have D.J. Woods back there. We have Anthony McClung who has handled those duties. We won’t be very tolerable back there, but everything in the game of football is about field position and changing the game. You put the ball on the ground one time on a kickoff return and he was actually down, which is inexcusable. We have the ball rule, you always stand up and give the ball to the official. We also want to see what he can do because he does add another dimension. That’s part of throwing people into the fire and obviously before you can do it in-game, you have to prove that you can do it in practice. For that last week and a half, we’ve started every practice off with a live kickoff versus a live kickoff return because one of those two will start the season off. We’ll continue to evaluate that. Today’s a Tuesday practice and we’ll be in full pads. We’re doing some live kicking, so we’ll continue to evaluate and progress on that leading up to kickoff.”
On how his coaching style has changed throughout the past year:
“I know exactly where we’re at with our personnel. I know our strengths and what we need to do to improve – to understand our strengths as a team, what makes each individual tick, how you motivate every individual, how you prepare each individual on a different level. There is so much that you know. Last year, we had 14 practices to figure out our personnel. You talk to any coach going through a transition and it’s on-the-job training of learning about your personnel and finding out how you need to better your football program. I know a lot more about our players and the different things they can have – their strengths, their weaknesses. It’s night and day as opposed to last year.”
On J.K. Schaffer and Zach Collaros being named projected as top defensive and offensive players in Ohio by OhioCollegeFootball.com:
“Both of those individuals are very deserving of every honor they receive. They are both co-captains and have been elected by their peers. Not only are they great football players, but they are great ambassadors to the University of Cincinnati in everything they do. I think they’d be the first to tell you that individual accolades don’t come with 10 other individuals around them. It comes back to what I said before about the role players. J.K. may have a lot of tackles, but it’s what John Hughes, Derek Wolfe and Cameron Beard are doing to force a double team and free him up to have free run at the tackle. It’s the same thing with Zach. It’s the five, six, seven individuals up front. Whether it’s the offensive line, the tight ends or the running backs providing protection then is the receiver running the right route, the right depth, catching and advancing it? Maybe throwing a five-yard pass becomes a 65-yard pass. There’s so much that goes into it, that’s why this is the greatest team sport in America. I think the other thing they’ll tell you is it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. That speaks volumes about the respect that they’ve garnered across the state of Ohio and the country. I’m excited because this is their final year, they’ve prepared, and I wish they had about four more years left. They’re very deserving of every award or watch list they’re put on.”
On new tight ends coach Dave Johnson:
“Coach (Jahmile) Addae is going through some health issues and we wish him the best. He’s still very close to our football program, but we’ve tried to give him the respect that he and his family needs. Dave Johnson is coaching the tight ends. We’re very fortunate to welcome an individual of his experience and his caliber. He served as a tight ends coach at the University of Georgia for seven or eight years, he was the offensive line coach at West Virginia. He understands the BIG EAST conference. He’s a great teacher, so I think he’ll add a lot to our staff. Mark Elder is the running back coach as of right now. Mark was originally our running backs coach, he has coached running backs in the past, so that transition has been great and a welcome addition. Obviously our thoughts and prayers are with Coach Addae and his family. He’ll be fine as he continues to go along and progress.”