Aug. 30, 2011
Watch Press Conference Highlights
WEST POINT, N.Y. -
The following quotes have been excerpted from Army head football coach Rich Ellerson's press conference, held Tuesday, August 30, 2011, in the Randall Hall auditorium.
Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson
(Ref.: opening statement)
"We're anxious to play. It's been a long preseason. It's been a long time leading up to this. We'll have another full practice this afternoon and then start tapering. We want to make sure that we take a fresh, healthy outfit to Northern Illinois. This is the most difficult opening game since I've been here. We're playing an opponent that is as good or better than anybody we faced last year. They've got an awful lot of people back on offense who were tremendously productive. They're coming off a streak where they've been winning once a week. And yet there's still some uncertainty going in to face an opponent that has a new head coach. I think they're going to leverage what they've done well in the past, but there's certainly going to be some differences. We prepare for that routinely because we're always going to face something maybe a little bit different than what we got from someone last week, given the style of play. We have the worst of both worlds. We have an opponent that's veteran and accomplished with a new leadership and style of play, although I don't think their offense will change dramatically, as productive as they've been and as veteran as they are. We have a tremendous challenge, and we're very focused internally. We talk about how we're a young football team, and we are. We're fortunate to have some veteran leadership that's sprinkled in at key positions. We're really going to have to lean on those guys as we come out of the gate and find out who we are. I can't wait to get started."
(Ref.: how he feels about the team heading into the season opener at Northern Illinois)
"I think we need to go play, and I think we're ready to do that. We've been at this for a while, going back to January. It's time to find out where we are. We've made certain decisions about both system and personnel that are related, and we have to find out how smart we were. We have to believe what we see when we get started and adjust, because that's a huge part of this. We know we're going to get better from week to week, we just have to find out where the starting point is."
(Ref.: the maturation of junior QB Trent Steelman)
"Well, we have some things going for us offensively. Trent has 25 starts going into his junior year in this style of play. To have that kind of experience in this offense, to have that kind of physical resiliency is really remarkable. And then to have Jared (Hassin) back. He was really productive last year in really his first football in a couple of years. The relationship between the quarterback and the fullback in this offense is really important, and these guys have been around the block completely together. We should benefit from that."
(Ref.: how he feels about the offensive line heading into the season)
"I feel good about those guys. We're generally talking about guys who were in the wings last year. They were preparing to play, and they did play. They're not rookies. On defense, on the other hand, we have some guys who weren't in that role a year ago. We're going to lean on some guys who didn't play much last year, at least not with the `A' squad. Most of the guys that we're talking about on the offensive line were preparing to play each week last year. They're now in their junior and senior years. They're physically mature. They're experienced with the system. Obviously, playing a lot of plays on Saturday will be a little bit new and we're all going to have to go through that. But, they're better positioned to take that on, and we can all have higher expectations about how that group will play."
(Ref.: the play of sophomore WR Jared McFarlin)
"We're proud of Jared. Last year was a chance for him to try to get caught up physically, going through the rigors of his plebe year at West Point and Camp Buckner over the summer. He's still trying to catch up a little bit physically, but we think he's a guy who has the potential to change the equation on the perimeter for us, in time. He's not the only guy like that, but he's one of those guys that we're scratching our heads about. We have a bunch of guys in that category on both sides of the ball, but especially on the defensive side of the ball. We have high expectations for those guys. We believe in their athleticism. We know they're on the right path, we just need to find where on the path they really are against a quality opponent like we're going to face on Saturday."
(Ref.: the state of the Army football program heading into the season)
"We're maturing as a program. Obviously the senior leadership in the program now were freshmen when I got here, so they've embraced the team's culture. They frankly own it, and they've done a great job of taking that leadership and ownership and passing it on to the younger players. Last year's football team raised expectations; they raised the bar for everybody. We understand that where that bar is is a real challenge for this group, but they're excited to take it on. They didn't come here because it was going to be easy, and they expect it to be challenging. They've prepared well for this. They prepared physically well coming into training camp. They've had a good training camp. They can't wait to find out as well. There's a lot of football to play this year, and we're going to try to get our heads down and take the next snap on and then adjust to what just happened and focus on the next one. These veterans went around the block with us last year. They know how this goes, and they can share that with that young group."
(Ref.: working with the young secondary to prepare for Northern Illinois' offense)
"We're working with those guys as long as we're practicing, and they know they've got their work cut out for them. With the nature of the (Northern Illinois) offense, the ball is always going through the quarterback's hands. He throws the ball especially well, but his legs come into play as well. He can hurt you both ways. Last year, he had the better part of 3,000 yards running and throwing. He's obviously a huge part of the equation, but he's not the lone ranger. He's surrounded by a veteran offensive line, some veteran receivers. He'll have some young, but gifted running backs. It's really a formidable challenge for everyone on that side of the ball. The secondary doesn't live in a vacuum. They've got to be involved defending the run, especially when the quarterback's legs are involved like they are. And if the quarterback is comfortable throwing the ball, it won't matter how well that second row plays. They'll get open and he'll throw it. That defense plays as a unit, and if we feel pretty good about our secondary coming out of this game it will mean that our defensive front played especially well."
(Ref.: playing freshmen Trenton Turrentine and Larry Dixon)
"The nature of the offense will give them the opportunity. How much they play, frankly, will be determined by how well they handle their opportunities as they come out of the gate. Trenton, especially, because Malcolm Brown wasn't 100 percent early in training camp, so Trenton got to handle a lot of the load early on and is probably a little further ahead than maybe we'd hoped at this point. We won't be able to prove that until we play a game. They're both going to play. Larry Dixon is going to play. They're both going to play a significant role. How much they'll play down the road will depend on how they manage the reps they get in the early contests."
(Ref.: assessing Army's wide receiver corps, and whether this will allow him to open up the offense in 2011)
"Well, we're never going to be an aerial circus, but we do think there are opportunities on the perimeter. Austin Barr's now practicing closer to full speed. Davyd Brooks has been doing this for a long time. We have some talented youth out there. We can keep a fresh pair of legs out at wide receiver that carry a threat with them. We need to be a little bit more balanced, but nobody's going to mistake us for SMU."
(Ref.: importance of Army's offense possessing the ball to help the young defense)
"I think it's a potential boon for us. There's something happening in college football and I think it will become evident maybe this year with the success that we saw at Oregon with their style of play and the way they attack the clock. They're trying to get the ball snapped 90 times a game. What we're hearing is that Northern Illinois is trying to do something along those lines, and I don't think they're the lone rangers. They're a lot of teams out there that are trying to snap the ball more and more to where the tempo of the game starts feeling rugby-esque. That can be especially challenging for a young defense. The good news is that it's a young defense, but it's an athletic defense and a well-conditioned defense. That's where I think the game is moving toward us a little bit at the academy. What we think an athlete looks like, how we think he should be conditioned, how he should handle fatigue and adversity, all those things should play to our strengths in time. The style of offense, obviously, if we need to make the game a little shorter we can. We have to get some first downs to do it, but we can counter that style if our defense needs that. We'll just have to see how this plays out, but I do think there's something interesting happening in the game, in general. The style of play is changing, and I think it's going to mean that we have to change what we value in our systems and what we expect from our players."
(Ref.: whether being a triple option based offense will help the offensive line develop faster)
"I don't know that, to be honest. What helps us, I think, is the fact that we've been consistent. They're doing the same things as juniors as they were being introduced to as freshmen, and that helps a guy. When you do the same thing in practice, you value the same things in the offseason. What drives you crazy and sets you back is when the system changes on you, so I think that consistency should help this bunch. I think that's probably universal, though. I don't think that's unique to us."
(Ref.: whether the double eagle flex defense is conducive to younger players)
"I do think it's an advantage, but basically we just think it's a fun defense to play in. We think we can get guys dialed in relatively early on. We can get their eyes and feet where they belong and allow them to play, as opposed to struggling to be right, or struggling to get their eyes and feet where they belong. We feel like the defense lends itself to that. That's not the end of it though. That comfort within the system allows you to grow and become more situationally present. You get to study your opponent. We're not doing all those things as well as we will do them in time, but in terms of being able to go out there and be right with our eyes and feet and play hard and have fun, I think we've set our guys up for success in that regard."
(Ref.: using starters on special teams)
"There's so much field position in play when you're kicking the ball off or punting the ball. We'll use our best people."
(Ref.: key players on Northern Illinois that Army has to game plan for)
"We have a lot of respect for their defensive ends, but you can't avoid them. They're going to be in the way. Obviously, the quarterback is the center of the storm. He's not the whole storm, but he's obviously the center of the storm. The ball goes through his hands and his legs are involved. We don't want to get too zeroed in on a single player because he has a veteran supporting cast out there, but the ball goes through his hands."
(Ref.: assessing the Northern Illinois offense and the play of their quarterback)
"He's been in the shotgun, and they run a style of play with a lot of formations, motions and shifts. Add that with the tempo that they're talking about coming out in and will have well-rehearsed. They've been doing it since the spring. What I'm hearing is that the system has essentially remained intact. The zone read stuff; you see him doing some reads. You also see some things designed for him to run the football. You've got to defend more than just his legs. You've got to defend the running backs, you've got to defend the receivers and you've got to defend the quarterback. He rushed for 700 yards last year. He's a real threat with the football with a veteran group up front. I don't think they're asking him to do anything they haven't done before. That would be my guess and that's what we've prepared for. We've tried to look at what they've done in the past. We've looked at what these guys are good at. We've prepared as best we can, and now we bend our knees and adjust as we get started."
(Ref.: how the defense will adjust to playing Northern Illinois' up-tempo offense)
"We're not a substitution-dependent outfit. We're set up for success from a style of play standpoint, but having sid that, it's so difficult. Frankly, we thought we would be better at it than we are. We thought we would adapt to that tempo maybe more easily than we have. There's some chaos out there, and we really appreciate this part of it because it's hard to simulate. If it's not something that you do, it's really had to simulate it in the practice environment. In the absence of that, how prepared are you for what they're going to do. They talk about snapping the ball every 12-15 seconds. Wow. That will really stretch you. We've tried to create that kind of stressful environment in practice, but it's difficult. It's going to be something else when we get to Saturday. We've prepared well, but we've also told our guys to relax. We're not just going to see it this week. I think it's something that we're going to see routinely. Being comfortable with the chaos is one of those catch phrases that we've portrayed. That's a General Patreaus quote, so it belongs to us."
(Ref.: making sure guys are not too over anxious to play the season opener)
"We're not going to fall off the edge here, but they are anxious to play. We won't have to worry about motivating anybody in the locker room prior to the game. They're excited to play; they're looking forward to playing. The challenge will be to stay in the moment and adjust. It's going to be something other than what we're expecting. I've got a picture in my head of how this is going to go and how these guys are going to be and who may struggle and who's going to play especially well, and I'm wrong. I've got to believe what we see as we get started and help the guys adjust and settle in. Everybody's facing that; that's not unique to this football team. There's a little bit more that because of the relative youth, but that'll be true of our guys who have started. Steven Erzinger, who's started a bazillion games, is still going to have to fight through that just like everybody does at the beginning of the season."
(Ref.: the importance of minimizing turnovers and penalties)
"People think of our offense as taking risks with the football, and when you do something that exposes the football the way we do, you have to be especially proficient with those fundamentals associated with the football. We take tremendous pride in that. Conversely, on defense we attack that sucker. We want it. When we share a practice environment together, both sides really have to work on it. We think that sets us up for success. Penalties is the measure for the mental game that you can look at objectively. Being poised, present and precise is something we believe our culture here, everything from cadet life, our summers, everything we experience here should help us in that regard. We're preparing to win that part of the contest from the moment we wake up till we go to bed at night. It's not just something we work on for a couple of hours in the afternoon up here. So, we're counting on that part of the game working in our favor."
(Ref.: importance of winning the season opener)
"I think anytime you talk about a season, you think about that first contest. Winning the first game is a tremendous lift. That's going to be hard to do. We're playing a really gifted opponent, but we know what it feels like. We've got enough guys who have been in a game like this and found a way to be successful in a game like this that we know what the tempo looks like. Unfortunately, like everybody, we're going to have some new guys out there that are learning on the run. But this is a great opportunity, but it's also a great challenge."
(Ref.: how junior QB Trent Steelman has improved from last season)
"When our guys get into their junior and senior years, that physical maturity that maybe we had to sacrifice as freshmen and sophomores because of some of the other challenges that we were dealing with comes together. Some of our younger players are absolutely dealing with Beast Barracks and plebe year can cost you and what Camp Buckner and the academic grind of the sophomore year here can do. Now your junior year, you're starting to gain some of that physical maturity and Trent is absolutely in that ballpark. He is a physically mature competitor. He's got those starts, he's got that physical toughness and resilience, but now he's a stronger, faster version of the same guy. Those trials and tribulations that they've gone through in their first couple years here now add to the equation. We talk about our calluses; we talk about these things we know about ourselves and our teammates that our contemporaries don't know and will never know. Now that's where you start to tap into that. I don't know if you just start when you're a junior, but I know that's when you're no longer paying a physical price. I think the younger guys have some of those beliefs and attributes, but they're not going to be maybe as far along from a physical development standpoint maybe as their comtemporaries who are completely focused on just the game, or that's the whole point of their physical exercise. Our guys are tested in other ways. Having said that, I like where we are physically. Top to bottom, we're a more athletic outfit. Trent's as mentally and physically as tough a football player as there is in the country with 25 starts under his belt, with all those other experiences at his back. We should expect to see him continue to be more and more productive and more and more precise in his play."
Senior LB Steven Erzinger
(Ref.: this year's athleticism versus last year's)
"It's hard to tell. We had a lot of athletic guys last year, and I think we have a lot of athletic guys this year. They're younger, but they don't have their views of what college football should be like, so hopefully we can just get them to fly to the ball and have some fun."
(Ref.: secondary strength and pressure on the quarterback)
"Pressure is always key in our defense. We want to get as much pressure as we can. If we can make a quarterback uncomfortable, we would love to do that. We have complete confidence in our secondary."
Junior QB Trent Steelman
(Ref.: passing game)
"I'd say timing, just getting out there and getting the repetitions. That's the big thing in the passing game, especially in our passing game because everything is based off of our timing and our footwork. You don't get many opportunities in this offense to throw the ball, but when you do they need to hit it big and hurt the defense.
"(Davyd) Brooks, (Anthony) Stephens, (Jared) McFarlin, E.J. Tucker and I made a promise that we'd get out there and get those extra reps and it shows. The receiving corps we have has done an excellent job of taking that mentality into the offseason and carrying it into camp. We're looking forward to where we need to go."
(Ref.: limitations of the offense's goals)
"I don't there is [a limit]. It just starts with our offensive line. I think we're going to be as good as they take us. We have some good quality, explosive guys that know the offense, know the system, and have a good understanding at what they need to do to be successful. Right now we're sitting back, we're still learning, but at the same time we're moving. We're looking forward to getting out there on Saturday and showing what we've got."
Sophomore LB Justin Trimble
(Ref.: older brothers' influence)
"My brothers definitely helped because they've been through it. They explained to me that it's time to step up and take more responsibilities, be better and more precise."