Coach Bill O'Brien Teleconference
Sept. 11, 2012
Q. Bill, you mentioned the problems with the offense in the red zone after the Virginia game. How do you improve in that area?
Q. This is a question about Donovan Smith, your left tackle. How is he doing physically after two games? It seems like he hasn't been able to finish games, whether it's cramps or something else, and how important is it to get a full four quarters out of him?
Q. How has Sam Ficken handled these last few days, especially when a kid can get a lot of negative things thrown at him on social media?
Q. Bill, what does your running back situation look like this week with Bill Belton and Derek being at least partially injured?
Q. You mentioned about Paul Jones's move at least partially to tight end. How has Paul taken that move, and is there any thought that he might not be happy with it and could leave? I mean where are you guys at at this point with how he feels about it?
You know, we feel like right now the best thing for us to do with him is to try him at this "F" position. Now, the "F" position is not really a true tight end. It's somebody that can play out wide as a wide receiver. It's somebody that can play in a wing position in the formation. It's somebody that's a move guy, somebody that can line up in the backfield. And Paul came out yesterday and played that position.
He's also still a quarterback. So we're asking him to do a lot of different things. He's got a package of plays at quarterback, so if we needed him, he can do that, too. So we're just trying to get our best players on the field and he's certainly a guy that we've got to play and that's on me to get him into the game.
Q. I just was wondering about what your thoughts were on the return game through two games. And does that get any more emphasis when you practice special teams than any other aspect of special teams?
Then in the kickoff return game we had a bunch of touchbacks on Saturday. We still will stay right now with Adrian Amos and Alex Kenney back there. Again, we think those two guys give us some speed and athleticism back there. We gotta do a better job of blocking, we gotta do a better job of the other nine guys knowing what their assignment is and making sure they're blocking the proper guy.
Q. Now that you've looked at the film a little bit, coaches always talk about making that big leap from week one to week two. Do you feel like there are areas in which you made that leap and the team did improve generally, and you know, in what areas do you feel like you improved?
I believe on defense we made a lot of improvement from week one to week two. We really swarmed the ball on the running game. We got a lot of pressure on the quarterback. (On the) Three step drop, he wasn't even able to really step forward and get something on the throw.
We've gotta do a better job in some of our split safety coverages in making sure we take care of the middle field and making sure nine-and-16 they don't get the first down and I think if we can improve on that, we'll play well defensive. Even better.
I think special teams wise it's obvious. I believe our kickoff team did an excellent job. There are guys on that that really went down there and really did an excellent job of covering kicks. I think our kickoff return team I've already talked about. Our punt return team I've spoken about, and I think our punt team did some nice things. We gotta get a little bit better punting. We faked one and Glenn Carson did a nice job on. So there's always room for improvement there. We can't take four turnovers from our defense and come away with only three points. That's ridiculous and we all know that and it starts with coaching and we just gotta do a better job there.
Q. Can you talk about the kind of kid P.J. Byers is? What is he like in practice, what type of leader is he and do you get the sense this is a more special type of week for him?
Q. How close is Paul Jones to being game ready as far as playing tight end, and you said with the packages you have for him at quarterback, could he still see time there as well?
Q. Giving that these are college kids and Sam Ficken is 19 years old, there have really been a lot of vicious comments toward him on Twitter. Do you guys have to talk to the kids about staying away from that and how do you feel about people really making some pretty vicious attacks on these kids at points?
If people really knew these kids and understood the effort that they put forth and how hard they play and how hard they train and how much it means to them, you know, I don't know. I just I don't know what type of people do that. But I don't know any people that do that personally.
Q. You talked about working on the PAT and field goal units. Is that just a matter of repetition or do you work on technical things? How do you approach that?
Q. Explain the process you went through to make Ficken your No. 1 kicker and what separates him from (Matt) Marcincin and (Kevin) DiSanto.
If he could just be more consistent. If you watch his kick-off, the one he boomed into the endzone, I told him yesterday in the team meeting, if we could get that from you every time, boy, that's beautiful. And then the field goal that he made was a fairly pressure kick there, put us up 16 to 10. If he could do that more consistently, he's the best of what we've got there and that's no discredit to the other guys. He's just a little bit better.
Q. Can you talk about the challenge of playing Navy and their style of play?
It's very difficult to practice it because you're talking about cut blocks and triple option and triple option play action. What we do is we get our "dirty show" offense team out there a little earlier and they run through the plays they're going to run with our defense. So hopefully it's executed when they come out for practice and they can see a picture of what they're doing. It's a difficult team to play against. I didn't schedule Navy. Just kidding. (laughs)
Q. You mentioned about the red zone. Did you regret specifically not taking more shots into the end zone via the pass when you were down there as you went back over the film?
And then you're right, from the 20 to the 15 you've got a chance to take a shot in the end zone. Maybe we do that a little more, but there's some calls I would take back and some things I want to try to improve on this week, no question about it.
Q. How would you rate the morale of the team at this point? All the things they've been through... they've had a couple of tough losses. Where do you see the collective morale?
Football is the ultimate team sport and it's also a brutal sport. It teaches you a lot about getting knocked down and being able to get back up and go back to work on a Monday, after not being successful on a Saturday. These kids are tough kids. They've been through a lot, and they're really, really looking forward to practicing today and playing the game on Saturday.
Q. Could you please talk about what Military Appreciation Day means to you and what it means to the team to have an active member on the team and someone who's done a couple of tours with them?
And P.J. Byers and Brent Smith, those two guys are really important role guys on our football team. We're glad to have them and I think our guys look up to them for what they stand for and what they do. You're talking about a guy Brent Smith that's done two tours in Iraq. That's a little different than going out and practicing every day football. That's putting your life on the line, so we owe a lot to those guys and we owe a lot to the military.
Q. Did you give any thought to opening up the kicking position?
The long snapping duties are open every week, and we try to make it a competition and let the best guy win. So it's not like it's just been, Sam Ficken's been our kicker no matter what. We open it up every week and he's won the job every week. So, that's what we've been doing from day one.
Q. Also, how is Matt McGloin doing? Do you expect to limit him in practice this week because of the elbow?
Q. Coach, big turnaround this (past) week on creating turnovers. Can you talk about the importance of that, moving forward throughout the season?
Q. What were your thoughts about how Matt McGloin managed the team in the final two minutes (of the game) and what has he shown you leadership wise?
And so when you practice it like that, usually when you go into a game you got a chance to execute it because you've practiced it a lot. And so he did a good job of finding the open guys and stepping up in the pocket and understanding the urgency of the drive and there's a couple of things that we corrected with him yesterday that he'll get better at in that (next) drive.
And overall he's gotten much better as a leader. He's gotten much better. I would tell you that in many ways he's grown up in the eight months since I've had him. He's done a really good job of huddle command and being encouraging to his teammates and playing tough, playing through some injuries and I'm proud to be his coach.
Q. You guys have had to call some early timeouts in the first couple of games. Has it been sideline issues or has it been trying to change the play on the field?
And in the Virginia game there were a couple of times where I felt like the penalty was being explained to me and the play clock was starting, but maybe I was wrong on that; probably. I'm usually wrong. So had to take a timeout there.
So we've just got to get better at those. That's not like us. We're much better coached than that and we've got to do a better job making sure that doesn't happen anymore. But, that's on me.
Q. Coach, Navy's schedule has a pretty tough schedule year in and year out. This year is no exception with Notre Dame and now Penn State. Do you think the tough schedule allows them to play up to the level of some of their more superior opponents?
You're going to have to fight tooth and nail to win the football game, and Ken's (Niumatalolo) done a great job of coaching that team, and they've been good for a long time, for a long time. I've had experience playing Navy at Georgia Tech where we had decent success against them. I think we lost once, but we beat them a couple times. Then at Duke, we lost to them. So these are tough teams, and we've got to be ready to go on Saturday.
Q. In the second half your opponents have made 18 of 21 third down conversions. Is there something different there? Are you playing more conservatively? Why is there that disparity so far?
Q. Bill, you guys have been scored on to open the third quarter in both games. Is there when you watch the tape -- is there adjustments that Ohio and Virginia have made or is that just them executing a little better than they did in the first half?
Again, it's a team sport. We lost the game together, obviously as a team, but again, if your defense creates four turnovers, forces four turnovers and you only get three points out of those turnovers, you've got to make sure that you're doing a better job on offense. I think our defense played really, really well, and just again, we've got to keep working on third down.
Q. How would you assess your fourth down play calling so far?
I don't think many coaches have said that in a long time. You're also looking at the field position. So once we get really close to the 50, I'm pretty much not going to punt it. I'm just going to tell you that. Like we're going to go for it, unless it's fourth and forever -- probably punt it. But if it's a manageable fourth down, we're going to go for it and we have some third down/second down calls on fourth downs depending on the distances that we're prepared for. We prepare the kids for it. The kids know we're going to go for it. So I think it's been okay. I think we're five-for-seven on fourth down this year. We could probably be seven-for-seven. So the plays have been okay.
Q. Bill, Navy's had two weeks to prepare for you. When a team has a bye and they have that much time to prepare, how much more difficult does that make your job?
And then they had this week and watched us play Virginia. So they have two weeks on us. We have to have a sense of urgency on our team making sure we understand that and make sure we have a real good practice week and are ready to go.
Can't do anything about it. That's the schedule. That's the way it goes. So we've just got to make sure we have a good practice this week and we're ready to go.
Q. Is there something holding Garry Gilliam back? Seems like we haven't seen a lot of him the first two weeks.
Q. You mentioned Sam Ficken will be your kicker. Have you explored your options in that unit as far as long snapper and holder goes?
Q. Couple games into the season, where do you find given all the hats you wear you're spending the most or most demanding part of your job?
So a lot of my time at night and early in the morning is spent on offense, game planning and things like that. And then during the day I try to definitely every single day get with the defense, make sure that obviously I'm overseeing that. Special teams I'm in every single special teams meeting, staffing and player meeting. Very heavily involved in that. So it's really been all about football.
Probably at the end of the year when I look at all the things that I did in the last nine months or so, probably may be a few things that I won't do next year, but other than that, it's been mostly football since training camp started.
Q. Coach, you were talking about the running backs earlier. You didn't mention Akeel Lynch. Is he an option at all for Saturday?
So right now I'd like to redshirt Akeel, but at the end of the day if he's got to play, he knows he'll be ready to play.
Q. Bill, you mentioned before, Sam Ficken tried something like 300 kicks yesterday. Just how much hard work has he been putting in ever since he stepped off that plane Saturday?
You know, it's college football. I mean if you really look at the game, should it really have come down to that kick? We had four turnovers. We got the ball inside the 15 yard line, I think, three times inside the 20 yard line once and came away with a field goal.
Look, we should have scored touchdowns. It's a team sport. It's a team sport. We talk to our team about that every day, every week, every minute, about playing as a team. So Sam's a big part of our team, and I'm glad we have him. And he's going to try to get better, and we're all going to try to get better.