Here are Lane Kiffin’s comments at today’s end-of-spring press conference.
COACH KIFFIN: Well, I know this has been a very productive spring for us, because it being our first spring here and our staff almost all new and us not knowing the players very well, this has been a great 14 days of practice.
Very excited about the format we used as far as having a day off in between for more meeting time, never practicing backtoback days and spreading it out over an extra week has been very critical for our staff and getting to know our players. This is all new for most of our guys, and as we look at it, we have a number of injuries, so the depth chart, it’s just something to go off of and we’ll be constantly moving as we get to the fall.
As our current players know and as they have been told a number of times, this fall will be very critical for our new guys because they will get the first shot. Our older guys have had an opportunity this spring to show us where they are at in our system and our evaluation of them, and so this will be a very exciting fall. We have got a number of great players to add to this, and I know we still have one more day coming up here of practice, but we are already excited to get to the fall.
As far as tomorrow’s game, really is not going to be much different than our scrimmages on the other Saturdays have been. We don’t have enough bodies to be able to create two different teams as far as having ones versus twos, so it will be just an offense versus defensive format, which we will have a scoring system for and very little special teams. We’ll kick field goals and extra points with no rush.
Other than that, we won’t do any special teams, but it will be a great chance for our players to go into the Coliseum for the first time together and show us kind of their final test. That’s the way that we look at it. They have had a number of exams up to this point and this is their final chance to show us. We don’t get to have them again for, oh, I guess about three months, so this will be very critical for these guys and as close to the environment as we can as far as a game.
So I think when you do go into this, what is interesting is you see some players step up and maybe play better than they had in other scrimmages. Maybe based on that, it is a little more gamelike going into the Coliseum and maybe some guys don’t play as well. This will be the final test of their evaluation.
Q. Middle linebacker battle just too close to call?
COACH KIFFIN: It’s been a great battle at middle linebacker, and both guys have done different things. I think Chris (Galippo) has really improved from day one till now. He’s obviously played there a lot more than (Devon) Kennard. What you have to remember about Kennard, he’s a true freshman. He’s played linebacker for about six months, I guess, if you go back to last season and he’s played middle linebacker for 14 practices.
So we are excited about both those guys. I would imagine whoever ends up winning the battle will find a way for the other guy to play, because they both have a chance to be really good players for us.
Q. What’s your thinking on the offensive line with Kevin Graf and how that worked out?
COACH KIFFIN: Well, it was pretty easy. Nobody else there. As you can see with the starred guys, those are guys we don’t really have an evaluation on, they have been so injured, either not having participated at all or very limited throughout the 14 days.
So that really only leaves seven guys, seven and a half, Martin (Coleman) has been in and out. That’s where they sit now. As I said, it really doesn’t mean very much. We will find the best five guys once we get to the fall, figure out where to put them and make sure that we continue to develop our backups.
Q. The second corner spot, is it the same deal as the middle linebackers, you couldn’t put one guy ahead of the other at this point?
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, similar story as far as what we have at receivers. We have one guy we feel really good about, like we have Shareece (Wright) every there and other guys have been upanddown and we will add both those positions, we are going to add some potential dynamic high school players to that group in the fall, and let them compete and battle it out.
So I think those will be very interesting battles, as you look at corners and as you look at receivers as far as one elite player there that we feel good about, that’s a championshiptype player, and the rest of the group are going to have some young guys mixed in with some older guys and see who can be two and three and four.
Q. Is that the same with cornerback Brian Baucham?.
COACH KIFFIN: He has not been able to practice with us with his foot. So we really don’t have a status on him as far as an evaluation unfortunately. We have heard some good things about him. Same with Torin Harris, we finally got the chance to see him a little bit. This will be very critical for these guys to get healthy and be ready to go in the fall.
Q. Is the placekicking clearcut? Joe Houston, did he win that job or is that still open?
COACH KIFFIN: It’s still open. I would say he’s ahead in the battle. We are excited about what he’s done. We won’t know until we get a little bit more pressure situations where we put in the rush and as we will in the fall and really send guys at them. It’s been too easy on those guys right now because we have been working on fundamentals and specifics for special teams. We have not put the groups together as a whole.
Q. With this great group of quarterbacks supposedly in this conference, you see a lot of inaudible.
COACH KIFFIN: I do, especially (Matt Barkley’s) physical improvement as far as his body. As you look at as you watch him practice now compared to what we have even seen in practice tape from the fall, he’s lost some weight. His body has changed. His feet are a lot quicker. We are very excited about where he’s at and what he’s done. There’s a couple plays just yesterday’s practice where he’s really acting like a veteran as far as the plays he’s making. The way he’s moving around in the pocket and the things that he’s seeing, obviously it’s not a game situation, but we are very excited about what he’s done for us over these 14 practices and what he can do for us in the future.
Q. Seemed like Nick Perry was ahead for much of camp and Wes Horton just made the push or
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, both of those guys had very good camps. As I’ve said before, I think the defensive line is our best position group, really probably the only position group that looks like it did when we were here before as far as depthwise, so that position battle, both those guys really did some good things. Nick started out strong, faded a little bit and went back to pushing him and has finished very strong here in the end. Both those guys, him and Wes will play a bunch for us this fall. As long as they stay healthy, will be very productive players.
Q. Playing in general, is there anybody who really kind of came out and really improved their status over the course of this?
COACH KIFFIN: Well, I would say as far as coming out of nowhere, if you phrase it that way, I would say Jordan Cameron probably. Here is a guy who played receiver, I don’t think he’s ever caught a ball before. I joked the other day with him; there’s got to go an NCAA record, only person to play in a Division I basketball game and Division I football game and never catch a ball or make a point, or a stat. I think he wants to get rid of that record.
He has done some good things. Line blocking was obviously going to be the question. We were not able to function with him the first week there. He was just getting pushed around and really has improved on that and has made himself functionable.
Q. Does that mean he needs to get bigger?
COACH KIFFIN: Not necessarily bigger. It’s just technique. When you don’t play tight end and all of a sudden you’re at tight end, and we have some really big defensive ends, he’s trying to block Armond Armstead, who is 300 pounds; he’d really better have good technique to have a chance. He just didn’t have any idea what he was doing.
It’s been a process, and one I think he’s going to continue to get better at and it’s very critical for us, because that position has had a number of injuries there and is very unsettled.
Q. Butch Lewis has played some guard and tackle in the past, could he end up the utility offensive lineman because you don’t have great numbers of guys you can move around?
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, Butch is very unique in that; not only has he played guard tackle, he’s played on both sides. He’s a guy that you can move around and a guy that understands the sis tell really well.
Unfortunately haven’t been able to practice with him very much. So we have a lot of technique work to do with Butch but we are excited he can do so many things, but now we have to make sure he’s doing them really well.
Q. Nickel corner?
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, the nickel corner will be very interesting. Once again, same thing as the second corner, that will be the third corner, but who will go in there. And we have some guys in the fall that will be here that potentially could go inside of there, as well with three corners showing up this fall.
So there’s going to be competition at the second and at the third corner to see who goes in there and depending on that, and we have done it with safeties. Eric Barry was our nickel last year, so if we can’t find the right corner to do it, it may be a third safety.
Q. Kyle Prater got hurt a little bit, but can you just give your impressions of him?
COACH KIFFIN: I’ve been disappointed for Kyle, not in Kyle, because he was so excited to get here, all of the buildup for him: Here is the next great USC wide receiver, No. 3 player in the country. Then he got hurt about two and a half weeks before it started.
So our 16 week, he couldn’t really do much. He kind of pushed himself through, kind of set him back some, and then he gets the cast, too, with his thumb. So he’s got a cast on and his hamstring is not right. He’s really pushed through, which I’m glad to see that. The problem was I was really hoping to see him go through healthy to see what we really have. So I don’t think that we know what we have yet in Kyle.
Q. Are the designations of strong and free safety, do those really mean much, if anything? Most of us probably thought it would be other way around.
COACH KIFFIN: That’s a great question. In our system, it’s kind of backwards, because we do play a lot of weak side roll, so guys down to the flex side a lot. Our free safety is actually down more. So the old thing you’re used to seeing, the strong safety means he’s the box player really doesn’t fit in our system. If you go back, John Lynch was actually a free safety, but y’all probably thought of him as a strong safety in the system because we do bring the guy down weak more than strong. So that’s a good question.
Q. What suits T.J. McDonald?
COACH KIFFIN: T.J. seems to be a big hitter and more of a box player. It used to be that Lynch we played Barry roles last year with Eric and that could be what we do with him. Jawanza (Starling) has more range back there and more of a classic middle third player. We will continue to evaluate that. If they are very similar, then it doesn’t matter obviously but if there’s a big difference, like we think there could be what we see so far, Jawanza would be back more.
Q. Have you seen enough at this point to have any kind of feel about how good the team could be next season?
COACH KIFFIN: No, because we don’t have our team. I think in the spring it’s too hard to evaluate where you’re going to be when you start playing games because we don’t have our new guys here. A number of those new guys with depth issues need to come in and play and there’s so many variables not to know as far as injuries, as far as people improving.
We’ll see some guys come back completely different to us because of the offseason weight program that they go into. You know, that some guys, maybe they are down here buried on the depth chart will end up being at the top of this thing, and that’s why we’ll continue to keep the competition open with these guys. It’s too hard to say that right now. But I notice we are a long ways away from a championship team, and so we have got a lot of work to do.
Q. Can you speak a little to how it’s been to have the team start coming together, you have to work with new players that don’t know you, new coaching staff, players, media, everybody has to figure their way around; how has that been coming?
COACH KIFFIN: Really, really good. As you look at it, it’s kind of like you just knock things off when you look at a team.
So when you get here, you have this point and you have so many things to get to to get to a championship level that you just start knocking them off, so one player buys in and another player buys in. And as you get them bought in and doing things the right way and they understand how you want them to practice and they understand how you want them to prepare and understand how you want them to be off the field, as you get through those steps, it becomes easier and easier than it is at the beginning.
That’s what’s so great about having so much time with them in the spring as we did for the meetings and practices is that we start to get closer and closer. It’s very exciting because you can almost feel it’s overwhelming when you first get there because you have so much to do and you try to get it done so fast. I’m pleased at the progress they have made and really about where they are at mentally right now.
Q. Can you give an idea how well the defensive line has performed, individual guys on the offensive line, Matt (Kalil), Kristofer (O’Dowd), Tyron Smith, how have their springs gone? How have they gone?
COACH KIFFIN: The first guy you mentioned is Matt Kalil. Matt has played left for us the whole spring, and has done a really good job out there, has been banged up, really has played through a knee. His knee was swollen at one point where he shouldn’t have been practicing, and he’s done a good job out there. He could potentially be a premiere left tackle some day, he’s still young, and so we are excited about his progress and maybe for another reason, he could end up playing the right side.
As you look at Graf has played left guard for us and left tackle for us, also has been banged up and has played through, and you know, guard may end up being a better spot for him as we look at it and look at our whole roster.
O’Dowd has been one of the most improved guys in spring which may surprise people who think, well, he’s been all conference before. But the first week of practice, we were not very impressed with Kristofer. He wasn’t finishing the way we want, wasn’t as explosive as we want and not practicing as hard as we want, and he had to make a choice, which these seniors do when a new staff comes in and you have a senior that’s played a lot. Those are the hardest guys, because a lot of times they think they have the answers.
He had a decision to make: Either he was going to buy into the way he wanted done and start practicing like he did years ago to get him to that point or somebody was going to pass him up. So I’m very excited about the decision he made. The first sometime he posted the most loafs, more loafs than anybody on our whole team and has responded and ended up being one of the leaders of our team, and I mean leaders by the way that they practice, not by what they say.
Q. What’s a loaf?
COACH KIFFIN: In our scrimmage, we grade if you don’t finish. So you can get passed up by somebody, staying on the grounds, turning down a hit. As we evaluate, we really look for, we want great effort on every play, guys playing extremely hard and so we chart them and then post them in front the team. In front the team we put them on there’s flatscreen TVs down there and we post them in the locker room and then on the wall and also in the team meetings. So anybody walking by sees them, too.
Q. Do you have a chance to see if they look?
COACH KIFFIN: Oh, they look, trust me. Ask Kristofer about the difference between his first scrimmage and the second scrimmage.
Q. How about Tyron?
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, I think that he’s probably been the most consistent of all of the linemen. And when I say that, he’s the name we bring up the least, which is a good thing with offensive linemen as we are in meetings because he’s doing his job.
We are going to continue to want him to add some weight. I don’t know how well that’s going to go because he may just not have the frame to do it. But he’s playing the most consistent of all the guys, and then Holmes has done some things well. He’s been banged up also, but we like him, what he’s done at right guard there, and really can see him being the right guard for us a couple years here.
Q. The running back situation, what you see now compared to maybe what you expected going in?
COACH KIFFIN: Well, unfortunately I think it’s still cloudy. So we don’t have a lot of answers there and the good thing is, that means it’s still competitive and guys will still have to work hard. You know, you see some flashes at times, but we are not seeing the consistency we want out of a championship tailback.
Bradford will flash to us at times and all of the sudden stop his feet and not make the run the way we want it. C.J. (Gable) all of a sudden runs the wrong route after doing something really well…those guys as seniors to be more consistent. And Alan has had a very good week. He’s put together, I would say, the last four practices, he can feel the difference I know by the way he’s running, he’s being more disciplined in his running, which is what it takes. We cannot have big runs and guys trying to make the big play.
Curtis (McNeal) has been banged up, too, and flashed at times. We will work on his weight and top end speed and Dillon Baxter is kind of the wildcard, made some remarkable plays, hurt his knee but battled back through that, he will play tomorrow. This kid has got potential to be really, really special and then Marc Tyler, his toe has bothered him, so he’s been in and out but hopefully he can be a big, physical back for us.
Q. Are you definitely looking at Seantrel Henderson as a left tackle?
COACH KIFFIN: We don’t know enough to know right now. He could end up being a guard. He could end up being a tackle. The first place we’ll put him is left tackle, but like I said, we don’t know our team yet because we don’t know the variables, what weight is he going to come in, how good of shape is he going to be in, how hard has he worked. We are not allowed to do anything with him right now to be able to monitor that.
Q. How much do you see yourself using the Wildcat formation?
COACH KIFFIN: Oh, I don’t know. That would depend on who we are playing and that would depend on how much whoever we are using at it picks it up, whether that’s Dillon or someone else.
You know, I would never see it being a huge part of our package but it’s something to do here and there once in awhile maybe.
Does that mean every time we do that, that means Barkley doesn’t touch the ball, so we have to think about the other side of that, that.
Q. Have you seen enough from Dillon as a running back that you are comfortable using him as a satellite player, lining hum up at receiver and whatnot?
COACH KIFFIN: That’s a good question because we make sure we don’t try to do too much with guy like that like when we had Reggie before, all of a sudden we are doing all of this stuff with him outside and now all of a sudden he’s not a very good disciplined running back.
Dillon has picked things up extremely well. Spent a lot of time with him yesterday extra on route running because he doesn’t feel like he’s a freshman, he’s really a senior in high school, but he doesn’t feel like that and because he has taken it extremely serious. He’s studied hard and done a great job of grasping our offense, and things do come very easy for him.
Q. How has it gone for James Boyd?
COACH KIFFIN: I think it’s tough, it’s a tough transition. Yesterday we had him play tight end on our service team. That’s hard for a young kid to do, he’s been a defensive end, tight end and quarterback and now back to tight end. He’s a project and we’ll continue to try to find the best place for him and try to develop him. He’s a great kid and wants to do well, we just have to figure out what it is that he’s doing to go.
Q. He did the sevenonseven on Tuesday, could you see the flashes of why he was effective as a quarterback in high school?
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, I can. I can also see the flashes of why he wasn’t under center, too. When he takes one step, there are linemen there when we don’t play sevenonseven. But he’s fun to work with because he is very talented and he’s got a bigtime arm, but he’s a long ways away from being able to play within our system.
Q. Is it becoming harder to find high school quarterbacks to play in your center?
COACH KIFFIN: It is but you can still find them. There’s been a big turn to being in shotgun, especially if you try to get people in the south, that’s kind of the deal down there, everybody is doing it now and a lot of people put their best players there. So the quarterback isn’t necessarily playing there anymore.
So it has been hard to evaluate guys, and that’s why it’s critical as we continue to go down the road for years and years and years in this position is to make sure we have the young guys in our camps.
Q. You mentioned targeting linebackers, after going through a spring, was there any other position that stuck out?
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, we have got to get our depth at receiver fixed. We have got to get offensive line, we have got to go everywhere to get offensive linemen and linebackers. We have got a ton of work to do. And so our guys will hit the road this weekend and be out for four straight weeks and we’ll be going all around the country to find the best ones in the country.
Q. Pete Carroll was not a big fan of the rule change about head coaches travel during the season, what are your thoughts?
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, I’ve been very strong about that. Not that anybody listens but I have expressed myself to (SEC) Commissioner (Mike) Slive every meeting that we are in. I don’t think he appreciated it after the first two times I did and I brought it up and every time I bring it up, it would piss off Nick Saban, because he would bring it up again because he thinks the rule was changed because of him.
No, I think it’s a ridiculous rule. I think that head coaches remember, we are accountable for the kid that we sign when they come in here, so when they screw up and they make a mistake, we are held accountable as head coaches for it. But you don’t let us go out there until May to go to the school to find out about the kid, to ask the counselors about the kids, to ask the teachers about the kid.
So we may sign a kid, okay, and you have now let me as a head coach responsible for the guy, go to the school one time and that may not be till the week we sign the kid; the kid may already be committed and we have never gone to the school and researched from a head coach standpoint. The argument is your assistant coaches can go, but they are not held as accountable as we are. It makes absolutely no sense to me.
Q. Do you have a philosophy how to use the running backs, one or two guys or a committee or who is hot? What’s your thought?
COACH KIFFIN: We would rather not be in a big committee thing. And the reason I say that is I think that you get used to as a running back, you get better throughout the game because you get used to what’s going on, how is the defense playing, are we able to get the back side cuts, how are the dtackles playing the different blocks.
So I think that you have to get a rhythm and so I would rather find one or two guys and so that’s our job to figure out this fall who are those guys going to be. And it is very productive when they are different styles. If the two guys are really different, you know, it really allows to you do more things, obviously, like Reggie (Bush) and LenDale (White) were here before, that’s a perfect scenario.
Q. Did that come up when you interviewed for the job?
COACH KIFFIN: I don’t think so.
Q. You didn’t prefer one running back
COACH KIFFIN: There’s been five Heisman Trophy running backs here. It wasn’t because they were by committee.
Q. One guy you haven’t talked about on offense, as far as Stanley, seems to be super consistent and makes plays, what have you seen from him this spring?
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, Stanley, I really enjoy watching Stanley in his leadership role. The guy has been pulled out of practice before because of his shoulder injury and he just jumps back in there because he wants to practice so much and has really continued to expand his role of what he’s doing inside and outside of formations. He’s very unique, very unique fullback that can catch the ball, can run, can block, can go outside in formations.
He’s fun to have as you get to game planning.
Q. Is there only one freshman coming in that you’re particularly interested in seeing what they can do?
COACH KIFFIN: There’s a lot of them. There’s not one in particular, especially on offense, with this skilled, heavy class on offense, we have got to see if these receivers can play. We have got to find out if these tight ends with all of our tight end issues going on, there’s three of them coming in, two offensive linemen and obviously Seantrel Henderson is going to be a big focus of what’s going on with him. Defense, a couple linebackers including a JC linebacker coming to help that position group and three corners. We are going to have to get those guys in right away to figure out if those guys are better than the guys we have.
Q. You had talked about at the start of practice not letting positions where you didn’t have a lot of depth hold back the overall process. Can you talk about how well that went?
COACH KIFFIN: We did it. The evidence is we had 105 play scrimmages with only seven offensive linemen and so we didn’t let that hold us back. I don’t look at it as those guys suffered. Those seven, eight linemen, that’s a great opportunity for them to do something that they would never have done. Nobody does that many plays in a row, you just come off the field usually and the other side goes on. I think it was great for those guys conditioning and more opportunity within the system.
Q. Do you have any faster than (Robert) Woods?
COACH KIFFIN: In the class or on our team? I haven’t seem him in person, I just know the film of him and the times on the track and everything. I don’t put a lot into track times because I’ve seen a lot of guys have good track times and not play fast on the field, and I’ve seen the other way around. Until somebody comes out here and plays faster than Ronald (Johnson) does, he’s the fastest guy that we have.
Q. He looks faster than what we have seen before; is he in your mind just faster than we’ve ever seen?
COACH KIFFIN: I don’t know because I wasn’t here, so I just know he’s really fast.
As far as a productive receiver, not just some project that you bring in just to see, as far as a real receiver, he’s the fastest receiver we have played with while I was here. Obviously he’s faster than the big guys and the Z’s we carry and Steve Smith, he’s got a lot to do to catch those guys productionwise but we have got to keep him healthy because he could be really special.
Q. As someone who has been in the NFL and coached in the SEC, what do you think of Tim Tebow’s chances in the NFL?
COACH KIFFIN: Well, I would say this about Tim. Every step of the way, he’s been questioned. I remember going into his high school, going to see him and going out there to his ranch out there with his family and them coming out here and spending the whole weekend with him, and everybody at that time was saying the same thing. And he had gone to some quarterback camps and they said, well, he doesn’t throw a perfect spiral and he’s not very accurate, and they said all those things at that time. And the guy just went on to be maybe the most successful quarterback ever to play college football. Then it happens, now they are going to do it again, just what they did. And they are going to say, he can’t do this and he can’t do that.
I just think his personality is so unique and his competitiveness is so unlike anyone else; I just think no matter what it is, he’s going to find a way to succeed. I don’t know how fast it will happen but and there’s too many variable to know, who is the cast around you, how fast do they play you up there.
So a lot of those things he’ll have to deal with, but eventually I think that he’ll be a special player like he always has been ever since he was little.
Q. Walking into the Coliseum on Saturday, will there be any nostalgia for you?
COACH KIFFIN: I doubt it. That really doesn’t happen to me. I used to get those questions all the time before about wherever we went and I just really tried to block all that out and I just go into whatever that we are trying do that day which, you know, will be to try to have a successful scrimmage Saturday.
Q. When is the last time you were there?
COACH KIFFIN: I ran the steps last week there. They are steeper than I remember them four years ago. (Laughing) But I was younger.
Q. Is there one thing in particular that you’re looking for out of that scrimmage tomorrow? I know the process is pretty much done but is there one thing in particular that you want to see?
COACH KIFFIN: Consistency. I don’t want to see a bunch of penalties. I want to see guys doing things down in and down out and that’s one of the hardest things to do about being a really good player is being consistent. Anybody can flash and make a good play there but can you do it over a 12play drive or 80play scrimmage. That’s what I would really enjoy to see and it not offense versus defense. I get excited when our defense plays really well, too, even though I’m obviously involved with the offense. I just hope our guys play really consistent, physical and play really smart.
COACH KIFFIN: They will be in the press box and on the sidelines, just like game day.
Q. How are offensive plays
COACH KIFFIN: No, he said coaches. I said the coaches will be on the sidelines, I didn’t say the head coach will be on the sidelines. The head coach will be in the offensive huddle, and the defense isn’t allowed to blitz. But I’m still rooting for the defense. (Laughter).
Q. Good to have
COACH KIFFIN: Yeah, our players have picked up on it a little bit. They said, we used to wait until there is a turnover in practice, and now we have to wait until there’s a touchdown in practice.