By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
The following is a transcript from Paul Rhoads’ Big 12 media teleconference that was held on Monday, April 23.
Q: Luckily you don’t have to go to Morgantown this year but can you tell others what it is like to play there considering your time at Auburn and Pittsburgh?
PR: It’s a great football atmosphere. The Mountaineer fans love to come out with great support. It’s a stadium that’s very similar to ours minus a bowled-in end. A two-tier stadium built in the same type of design and everybody knows what kind of reputation the program has and the great success they’ve enjoyed over the years but it’s a great environment that will add to the Big 12 Conference.
Q: You had a lot of starters out during the spring and were able to get a lot of other guys some reps. What did you learn about your defense this spring?
PR: That we’re deeper than we’ve been, certainly along the front. With Rosie (Roosevelt) Maggitt being out and Willie Scott and David Irving being elevated and running with the ones most of the time, I think we’ve discovered that we’ve got close to 10 guys that we can play at the tackle and end positions along that front. Jevohn Miller got a bunch of reps with Jake Knott being out that were invaluable. Jeremiah George was probably our most improved player throughout the spring defensively and offensively. He got those reps with A.J. Klein playing out at the SAM linebacker spot. I think that the cornerback position, even though we’ll have some young players, they’re younger players that we wouldn’t be afraid to put out there and we were able to learn that with Jeremy Reeves on the sideline. All and all, we’ll have the best depth, maybe other than at the safety position that we’ve had since our arrival.
Q: Speaking of safety, T.J. Mutcherson is a guy who you have there who hasn’t played the game in a couple of years. How has the process gone for him getting back into the game after spending so much time away?
PR: The rust is definitely there. Playing at this level and learning the defense will be his biggest obstacle. The safety position arguably because of its connection to the run and pass on every single play, you take some time to study it, learn it, be able to make the adjustments and having T.J. there for the spring certainly gave him a leg up. We’ll just see how far along he can come by September.
Q: I’m wondering about your quarterback situation and the philosophy of not naming a starter and bringing that competition into July and August.
PR: I don’t know if springtime…even without having a couple of guys like we have, that have that experience that you know what each one brings, I don’t know if the springtime ever gives you enough time in situations more accurately, to put your guys in and say ‘this is our guy.’ You want to give them reps with the ones and then you split time with the twos and so forth. You’re limited on scrimmage situations. You don’t have the full playbook in or as much as you’ll have in August. With that being said, we were very pleased with those two front-runners as we were pleased with Sam Richardson’s development this spring. I think that Jared Barnett really controls the other 10 guys when he’s on the field. I think that Steele Jantz has the ability to make more plays because of his escapability and ability to improvise on the run. I think all of those things showed with both of those guys. Our football team recognizes the competition. I think everybody sees it as something that is healthy. We’ll look forward to August and what that will provide for us.
Q: Now that we’re entering the summer, can you take us through the things that Shontrelle Johnson is hoping to do as you chart his progress through the summer?
PR: He’ll do everything that everybody else does except 7-on-7 drills when the kids sort of organize those, captains and so forth. He is totally cleared for running, lifting, doing everything else with the team. He is not cleared yet to do anything football wise. So anything right now that could create a collision or something like that, they will wait until July when they take the final round of pictures and his surgeon sees those and decides whether he is going to sign off and let Shontrelle and his family make a decision whether he is going to play football again. Speculation is probably that he will get cleared but until that final round of x-rays is taken and viewed, we’ll just probably wait back and see and let the young man train like he is going to play.
Q: Are there any other injuries from the spring that need cleared up?
PR: The training staff is hopeful that Shaban Dika (ACL) will get back. I’m less optimistic about that. It’s something that if he doesn’t we’ll will certainly appeal to the NCAA for back-to-back injury forced seasons where he cannot play at all. Aaron Horne (collarbone), you know they won’t give me a bright picture on that, whether he will definitely be here, they won’t commit to that but they guarantee that he will be practicing in August when we start. Having a son that’s been through two collarbones himself, although not as jagged and as severe as Aaron’s, I’m confident that we’ll have Aaron back and that’s about it. Rosie Maggitt finished out the spring and played in the spring game. We’re a pretty healthy team other than that.
Q: How did the transition go with the new offensive coordinator? One thing I read was that you guys kind of trimmed down the playbook and tried to maybe simplify things a little bit?
PR: We did. I don’t think it was seamless but it was about as close as it can be with Courtney Messingham taking over. He’s a guy that has coordinated a couple of our special teams units for three years. He’s coached the tight ends. He’s coached the wide receivers so he’s had full involvement with our roster and full exposure to our kids so moving into that leadership role was easy for him. He’s very intelligent. He’s an exceptional teacher. We did condense some things in the playbook. It will make it easier on our quarterbacks and make us more efficient. We are going to be a little bit different with some things that we do, run and pass. Everybody will get a chance to see that in the fall of 2012.
Q: I’ve also seen where one of the keys to this offense is being up around 60 percent completion percentage. What did you see this spring and how crucial will that be for next year?
PR: It’s always been crucial and that’s not something with this offense that Coach Messingham is in control of. It’s always been the case with our spread or anybody’s spread. You better be at a high completion percentage to be successful. All of the quarterbacks were. We charted everything 7-on-7 and team, whether it was scrimmage or not and the guys were all above 60 percent. We were very pleased with that.