McNeill's Spring Practice Press Conference
March 21, 2011
GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media Monday about the start of spring practice. The following are selected comments:
"It's our second year of residence here. For us, that's a very comfortable feeling. Last year at this time, we were just trying to figure out who was where and who was what on the staff and with the players. It's a more comfortable feeling with it being our second year. We've been around the program and young men for an entire year now."
On The 2010 Seniors
"They helped us lay the blueprint I'm very proud of. The team concept is the primary focus here. Shaping our work ethic and hard-working mentality was also something that group helped with. They helped us establish our Pirate football philosophies: a tough, physical football team that has a never-say-die mentality. I'm very pleased with those guys. I'll miss them, but I'm also texting them and wishing them well on Wednesday during Pro Timing Day."
On The 2011 Team
On The Arrival Of Jeff Connors
On The Goals Of Spring Football
"We have a chance to develop that team personality and identify its leaders. We have some guys who did a great job showing leadership last year. They were key parts to the progress of our team in 2010. During the spring, we have a chance to identify some new leaders. They may be seniors, juniors, sophomores or even freshmen. We're always looking for those leaders and bell cows of the team.
"One of the emphases that will always be a part of our spring, and really everyday development, is fundamental emphasis, group and position specific. We'll start that today and be in a helmet and shorts for the first two days. Our third shorts day will be the week of the spring game, that Wednesday. We'll make sure we develop the group fundamentals we've identified through film study. We will also work on individual and position-specific fundamentals.
"Another thing we want to make sure to develop is the competitiveness, in mindset and skill set, of what it'll take to win football games. We know we'll face one of, if not the toughest, nonconference schedule in the country. We know the conference teams and what we have in this league. With our nonconference and Conference USA schedule, it'll take a great competitive mindset and skill set to meet our expectations for the team.
"Within the entire team, we need to develop the trust that's necessary to be successful. It's a new team with some players in new positions. We have to establish some starters, too. We have to mold that trust and belief within a player that the guy next to him will do his job. The guys need to take pride in doing the routine plays and performing the routine situations we'll be presented with.
"The last thing we'll focus on is the team being accountable for individual as well as group improvement. We as coaches have established ourselves within the team and the players have established themselves with us. The players, as well as the coaches, will accept the responsibility for the individual improvement that's needed."
On The Offense Going Into The Spring
"We have some guys who we think are ready to step up. We're also going to develop depth along the offensive line. I think that's going to be very important, getting guys who can get it done. There will be some redshirt guys like Drew Gentry, Taylor Hudson and Mack Helms whose names you will see. We're trying to see how far they've come. We saw the development during bowl practice, but now I want to see how they do with major reps and specific reps this spring.
"The wide receiver position has the most individuals. Those guys who are going to be in that top eight or 10 that we'll travel each game and use in this offense need to step out. We have to find their certain skill sets. We don't just replace a Dwayne Harris. We hope to have a group of guys who accumulate his importance to the team in terms of yardage and performance. Making sure we establish those eight to 10 guys we'll count on is another of the things we're searching for offensively.
"At the running back position we lost our two top guys due to graduation. We were only planning on having three guys there anyway this spring, but then Damonte Terry was doing a community service event and broke his wrist. He'll be out for the spring. We thought he might be back, but he should return for summer and fall.
"The running back position is one where we have to find out who will step up and swing the bat. That position has a lot of different responsibilities with blocking, receiving and running. The two guys we'll have for the spring are Michael Dobson and Alex Owah. We'll also move Torrance Hunt there this spring. That position is one where we'll be waiting on our incoming signees, who we feel very good about. They'll have a chance to contribute right away. We're counting on those guys to be a part of that rotation.
"The quarterback situation is one we feel very good about with the five guys we have. Dominique Davis I feel has established himself as one of the best in the country and league. He has done a great job in the offseason working. I've talked to Coach Connors and he says Dominique has been a guy who has really stepped up. Coach Connors has to back Dominique off, which is what you want from your quarterback.
On The Defense Going Into The Spring
"We'll go to a 3-4 package because of personnel issues. We have a lot of guys like Justin Dixon and Marke Powell who can stand up on two legs and run around a little bit better. Also during recruiting, we were able to find those guys that fit 3-4 needs.
"It's going to start up front like it does with any defense. We have to establish those guys. We'll have ends and noses. We'll start with three men on the line. If we have a four-man front, the fourth might stand up, or have his hand on the ground. Regardless, the defensive line is still the major focus.
"The next group is the linebackers. In a 3-4 defense, having a group of eight linebackers is essential. You need two outside, two inside and four backups. We have some guys on campus who fit the need at linebacker.
"With both the linebacker and defensive line positions, there will be some experimentation. You'll have to be very patient. We're not going to have a two-deep lineup during the spring. We're counting on some guys who are coming in for the fall up front. We have some guys we signed at linebacker who are going to be given the chance to play right away, too.
"We feel with those two positions this spring and summer will be very big. Duane Price will coach the outside linebackers and John Wiley will be with the inside linebackers. Marc Yellock will lead the three down linemen and Brian Mitchell will still have the four secondary guys.
"In the secondary, we've moved Derek Blacknall to corner. That's what he was when he first came in and we're trying to find a guy there who can do what we need. Everybody else is in the same spot within the group. That's the only move we made at the back end. Damon Magazu and Bradley Jacobs are going to be guys we count on. Detric Allen, Desi Brown and Lamar Ivey are guys you haven't seen yet, but we're anxious to get around. We want to see how they've grown and developed. Those guys really gave notice during bowl practices of what they can do. Those three showed that they have a chance to be great and productive for us."
On The Influence Of Coach Connors During The Spring
"Also, this summer, all of those days are going to be of the utmost importance with what we want to accomplish as a team. We're facing one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country, as well as a challenging C-USA slate. We look forward to the workload, challenge and process. I'm really excited about the next 15 days and am really looking forward to it."
On The Quarterback Situation
"He's a film rat. He knows there are a lot of things he needs to improve on and will improve on. Some of it will be a natural result of being around the offense, but he's a competitor, too. He has the mindset we want as a leader of our football team. He sees and recognizes a lot of things he can become better at within the quarterback position.
"It's a comfortable feeling knowing we have a guy there who has taken significant reps and been successful. He's one of the best in the conference and country."
On The Defensive Changes
On The Goals For The Defense
On The 3-4 Implementation
"It's not as big of a deal as you might think. We have film that we'll take during the spring and watch throughout the summer. We also have our defensive book ready to go. We already mapped out a lot of adjustments as we've been preparing to make this switch for two or three months. We're ready for the spring and the new players to arrive."
On Advantages Of The 3-4
On His Personal Health
"I feel better. My diet is very limited and strict. I'm so stubborn and hard headed that I'll stay by it. It will not be a flash in the pan for me. I'm very serious about the change. I won't waver. It has been an adjustment and challenge. It's probably been one of the most challenging things of my life. At the same time, I knew it was something I needed to do.
"The players will feel it today I imagine. I'm able to move around a lot better and my mind is much sharper and clearer. I'm really looking forward to being around the guys. We meet with them during the offseason, but getting on the field and getting after them again is going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it.
"I'm still planning on getting the hip work done in about six weeks."
On Wednesday's Pro Day
On The Spring Game
"Danny has done a great job during the offseason. I was talking with him the other day. He has the fire in his eyes. He's looking forward to the challenge. He'll be competing for playing time and a starting spot. I told him that."
On Torrance Hunt Playing Running Back
"In this offense, you can get away with a smaller back with his speed and our split and spread thought processes. The biggest thing with him will be being able to pick up the blitz protection. Our running backs are involved in our block protection up front. That'll be the biggest adjustment for him. I don't think catching or running the football will be a big deal, it'll be the block protection. We've had small running backs in this offense before. The communication between Torrance and the offensive line will be key. Running backs coach Clay McGuire knows it inside and out and he'll get Torrance coached up and ready to go."
On Starting The 2011 Season In Charlotte
"We're playing a great football team that is likely to be one of the best in the country. South Carolina had one of the top recruiting classes this February. It'll be a great challenge for us. We have a lot of work to do between now and then. It'll be exciting. Charlotte was a great venue. We played there against Virginia Tech in 2008 and we'll face a great team again this fall."
On Going Into His Second Season
"Being around the staff another year and keeping those guys together was vital. The players and getting Coach Connors in here have been very important. It wasn't a big adjustment because Jeff is a Pirate. He has been here before and understands what we're about and stand for. He hit the ground not running, but sprinting. Those things have all been very vital."