March 30 Press Conference - DiNardo (3-30-04)
GD: "I finished my staff yesterday. Don Wnek is our new Director of Football Operations. Don worked for me in the XFL as a defensive line coach. He's a Northern Illinois graduate and coached at Northern Illinois and Nevada. Most of his coaching career he has been in the Canadian Football League. We are all done with our staff.
"Three things jump out at me about this spring practice and our roster. We have 21 seniors, which is obviously a drastic difference from a year ago. We have 14 fifth-year seniors and seven fourth-year seniors, for a total of 21. There's a chance that can change. Adam Braucher is a sixth-year guy, if in fact he is granted a sixth year. He has not been granted that yet, but by NCAA rule he is allowed to practice in the spring, so that number could change. We have a big senior class, so that is significant.
"The next significant thing is personnel-wise. 21 seniors, 23 juniors, 22 sophomores, 29 redshirt freshman and 24 incoming guys on scholarship in August and obviously we will have some walk-ons. Our roster is balanced. We are in position where we can continue to build the program, and this is a significant step. We are better than we have been in the previous two years, especially when it comes to depth. That's something we're excited about.
"The last point I would make about our roster is there is not a position we go into without pretty significant experience. We have taken 1,896 snaps at "Z" receiver. At the "X" position we have 947 snaps. At right guard, we have 2,000 snaps. Every position on our offense has a significant number of snaps. At left end - 1,541, nose guard - 1,366, three-technique - 1,723, right end - 1,096. Every position on defense has significant snaps. I would say to you the fact we have a big senior group, the fact we have finally balanced our roster by class, and the fact we have experience at every position going into spring practice makes the makeup of this team drastically different than the previous two."
On the significance of the spring for the new coaches on the staff:
GD: "I think it's always significant. Guys fitting into a staff and a system are important. The average assistant stays on campus 3.1 years, so this is going to happen again. The quicker guys come in and fit in, yes, I think it is significant. We have a little bit more contact with the players during the offseason than we used to by rule. We're allowed to meet with them in the offseason, so we're probably a little further along in that regard than we used to be."
On the balanced work between the offense and defense at practice:
GD: "I think it will be a balanced approach. I think if you look at it statistically, the thing that jumps out at you is our passing efficiency and our passing efficiency defense. We have to throw the ball much more efficiently, especially on first-and-10. Defensively, we have to defend the pass on first-and-10 much better, and we have to get off the field on third down. I don't think that alleviates any of the pressure that is on us to continue to be able to run the football and continue to defend the run better. You can't just abandon the little progress we made in the run game on both sides of the ball and just attend to the passing game."
On improving the passing game:
GD: "Any time you have a problem with what you're doing or if you're having problems winning, it's our responsibility to look at what we are doing. Are we teaching the right things and if so, are we teaching them the most efficient way? They don't grade on a curve when you coach. Everyone has to do well in your class. They don't get rid of the students, they get rid of the professor. We looked at what we are doing and have absolutely made some changes in what we are doing. We would be fool-hearted to think we have all the answers. We look at the way we are teaching it and have adjusted the way we are teaching it, because we think we can teach it in a more efficient way. Now the third step is the players have to take some responsibility and ownership to improving those parts of our game that have to be improved. The ball has to be thrown more accurately, it has to be caught more consistently, and we have to protect more consistently. It starts with the coaches. Are we doing the right things and are we teaching them effectively? That's been our approach on both sides of the ball."
On the number of players in the spring compared to past years:
GD: "We have 95 right now in practice. I can't tell you what our number was a year ago. I don't remember ever having 95 at any of the places I have coached. I would say to you we definitely have more, yet there are still a couple of positions that really aren't where they should be. But that's just a matter of distributing the roster a little bit. I want to say we might be in the low 70s in the scholarships this time of year. We have been 65 August of 2002 and 69 in August of 2003, so right now we have more guys on scholarship this spring than we have had the previous two falls."
On the significance of having a larger number of players:
GD: "It allows you to develop your depth for the future. I don't know if it will have an impact on Herana-Daze Jones. I don't know that Herana-Daze Jones will take any more or any less snaps than he did a year ago. I think it will have an impact on Paul Hearn, by way of example. We have several quarterbacks it will have an impact on. Now on a scrimmage day or typical practice day you can work your threes without fatiguing your ones or twos. When we call for the third offense or third defense, there is no one from the second offense or second defense that should be out there, save for a couple of exceptions. In the past, if we wanted to work a third offensive tackle, by way of example, the only way to make that offensive line whole was to put that second right guard in there as well. At what point does it become diminishing returns when that right guard has taken way too many snaps in practice? If we can stay healthy, that is the benefit. I don't know that the one offense and one defense will be any different than they have been. We may keep the younger guys out at practice a little bit longer. It's drastically different as it relates to your third group and your future."
On experimenting more because of the larger numbers:
GD: "Maybe position-switches if you're unbalanced. By way of example, fullback. We don't have enough fullbacks in spring practice, so I may look for someone today to move there tomorrow. Our linebacker numbers are not manageable. There are too many of them, so maybe there is movement at that position. You might experiment with positions, but not necessarily schemes because the more you work down the depth chart, the simpler you tend to be."
On position changes:
GD: "The only ones you guys wouldn't know about is Brian Faires, and we moved him from tight end to linebacker. Jahkeen (Gilmore) has his hand in a cast, so I'm not sure how well he's going to be able to catch the ball."
On new philosophies with the new coordinators:
GD: "The change is the style change. As I mentioned, coaches leave every 3.1 years, and you have to maintain a consistency for the good of the program and the good of the players. I maintain the consistency. We basically proceed offensively, defensively and in the kick game, the direction I want to proceed. We're going to make changes every year because I think that is good business. The changes we have made this year and we will make are the same changes we would have made if there were no coaching changes. It's my belief that over the long haul there has to be a consistent voice in all three phases of the game and you don't want to be so fragile with the coordinators coming in. I decided to run this offense prior to hiring Al (Borges). I didn't hire Al and say 'put this offense in'. Joe (Cullen) and Steve (Addazio) knew that when I made them coordinators they have a lot of style liberties, but there are certain things we are going to do no matter who runs the units."
On whether the team had trouble grasping philosophies last year:
GD: "I would say that is a philosophical feeling of mine you should always look at new ways of teaching, and there should always be new concepts. We ought to be looking for more efficient ways of teaching every year, and we try to do that, and there are a couple of adjustments. Hopefully, we'll be more effective teachers. The insinuation wasn't meant to be we were not effective last year, we would like to be more effective this year."
On Adam Braucher's situation:
GD: "Our strategy is going to be to see after spring ball to see if he is healthy enough to participate next year. If he is, then we will fill out the paperwork. Evidently, which I didn't know, you are eligible to practice in the spring even if your eligibility is up. You just don't get a lot of volunteers. I didn't know you were allowed to practice. Right now, his eligibility has expired. He has to be granted another year. I don't know the timeline to file all the paperwork."
On the quarterback situation:
GD: "I think all good offenses have good quarterback play. I don't know how you can have a good offense without good quarterback play unless you are just a totally dominant, physical team and can get away with it. I think it's true at any level. We need good quarterback play on our offense. I would say to you that Matt (LoVecchio) is our starting quarterback as much as Adam Hines is our starting left guard. That's how they ended the season, and that's how they'll start the season. So that's where it is as far as the depth is concerned. Our quarterback play has to improve just like our wide receiver play and just like our offensive line protection has to improve in the pass game. He's a fifth-year senior, and we'd expect things you would expect from a fifth-year senior. It's his second year starting, our pass efficiency has to improve, and he's a fifth-year senior."
On this week's practice schedule:
GD: "We have to be in just helmets today, just helmets on Thursday and then on Saturday we are in full gear. You are allowed 15 practices within 29 days. You are only allowed three days for scrimmages, and that will be the spring game. Within those other days you're only allowed seven days where you can have full contact under 50 percent of the snaps."
Check back soon