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A Q&A with SBC Coach of the Year Stockstill

Second year coach answers questions entering spring drills

March 15, 2007 · MT Media Relations
What are your goals for this team during spring drills?
I think one is to develop our leaders to take us through the summer and into fall. With only 15 spring practices and three of them being in shorts you really don't have a lot of time on the field.

We have several positions that are wide open without a returning starter so we need to find out who can fill those spots while continuing to create competition as much as we can. No job is locked down, but some are a little safer than others.

I also think we have to create a little more toughness and make all our players realize you don't just show up and play. Some attitudes still need to be changed and we need to make sure none of us live in the past. Scheme-wise we need to add a few things offensively and change up a couple things defensively to better fit our players. Now that we have been through the conference we are a little more knowledgeable about the league.

Obviously, the biggest question mark is who will be under center in 2007. Can you give us a depth chart heading into spring practice and will you make a decision on who will be the starter when spring is over?
Going into spring practice Joe Craddock will be number 1, Patrick Jackson number 2, and Salin Simpson and Gene Delle Donne will be 3-A and 3-B. Brandon Gantt will be moving to quarterback and will be behind Simpson and Delle Donne.

I would be surprised if one guy truly separates himself coming out of spring practice. I might have a good idea who will be under center on September 1 but it will not be clear cut because none of them have ever really played at the collegiate level. I just don't think in 15 practices you can say one of these guys will definitely be your starter.

Defensively, you return a lot of starters but the ones you lost all seemed to be linebackers. How do you feel about that position entering spring practice?
From a depth standpoint the linebacker position and the secondary are our weakest spots. If Andrew Harrington and Ivon Hickmon don't change when the pads come on then we will be fine at linebacker. They have good athleticism, great attitudes, and really pass the eye test. They will really help us. Plus we return Chance Dunleavy and Danny Carmichael who will help us inside and Cam Robinson and Lonnie Clemons will be returners on the outside. Hickmon and Harrington are true outside guys.

Defensive end Erik Walden turned in a strong junior season in 2006. Tell us about the future of the Blue Raiders' all-time sack leader?
I think Erik has really worked hard in the offseason and already looks stronger. He has a great motor and I believe if he continues to work and push himself then he has a chance to have the same impact for us that he did last year. It may be hard to have the same numbers because teams will key on him more, but he can still have a major impact on our season.

It is something that has not been given a lot of attention, but one of your biggest jobs this spring is finding a placekicker and punter. Can you tell us the favorites for both positions? Do you prefer two different players handling the two positions?
Right now I really don't have any idea who will win the job or who I believe to be a front runner. We will determine most of that during the spring. We had a few transfers out there last year and they kicked and punted but they did not receive the time for us to truly evaluate them.

We have to hope right now that they can handle the job. We will work them hard in camp, chart them daily, and put them in various situations to see how they handle the job. We will have a much better idea after spring drills.

I don't know that I have ever had a guy like Colby who kicked off, punted, and handled field goals. Matt King kicked off some for us and did a pretty good job but was inconsistent at times. I prefer not to have the same guy doing all three jobs, but whoever is the best and can handle it will be the guy.

Will Phillip Tanner focus only on the running back position this spring?
Yes. He is a running back all the way. Phillip is a team player and really helped us out on the defensive side of the ball last year but that was a one-year situation. He has a bright future running the ball and that is where he will be.

Offensive tackle Franklin Dunbar has enjoyed an impressive offseason to date and is clearly the leader on the offensive line. What are your expectations for Dunbar's junior campaign?
I think Frank has to raise his standards. He has a lot of talent but he needs to change his body by taking some weight off. He has a body that can be tightened up some and can really make him a force. He is a tough guy who plays through pain which you like in a lineman. He needs to be a leader on and off the field through his actions and the way he handles himself.

You and your staff enjoyed a memorable first year at Middle Tennessee. What are the areas you feel this program needs to improve on the most entering the 2007 season?
From a football standpoint we have to continue to play hard and play smart which we did last year. It is hard to pinpoint one thing, but we have to understand that last year was the first time this team has had any success and we need for them to understand what it takes to win year-in and year-out.

The biggest thing right now is to not get complacent because last year was a one-time thing. We need to do it two times, three times, and so on. We will not let up as a coaching staff and we are not going to forget what it took to be champions. Our kids have worked harder this offseason than last offseason which is a good sign. We are all hungry for more success.

Are there any key position changes entering the spring season?
Not right now. The only one that might be is Anthony Glover who is kind of a between guy. We have him at safety right now and he could end up at linebacker. It's really premature to talk about it because we really don't know.

If some of those guys do not play on the defensive line then we might look at moving them to offense.

For a true freshman, Desmond Gee turned in an impressive season in 2006. What are your plans for Gee in 2007 and will he remain at wide receiver?
Desmond had a great first year. He is a great athlete who can do a lot of things and change games around for us. People saw that last year. We used him at receiver, running back, and as a kick returner so he is very versatile. We will move him around again in 2007 because he is a guy who can make plays. It would not be in the best interest of our team to lock Desmond down to one position.

Who do you look for to impact the wide receiver position? How critical is this area during spring drills?
I think it is very critical and I don't think there is one person out there who has to make an impact. It has to be the entire group. Taron Henry is a senior so it is time for him to step up and Jonathan Grigsby needs to continue improving but keep his consistency. Bobby Williams was a little inconsistent last year and had a few drops so he needs to improve in those areas. Michael Cannon needs to raise his game and Patrick Honeycutt needs to have a good spring and get back into the flow of football. Honeycutt was really having a good camp last year until he got hurt so having him back is a big plus to the position. He is a good route runner and catches the ball well.

Everything this group has done this offseason gives me the indication that they will be much improved in 2007.

You return the first All-American in the I-A era in Damon Nickson who burst onto the scene as a junior. How much of a difference maker is he and what intangibles does he bring?
He had five interceptions on the season and four of those came in one game. He also added two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Other than that he just had an average year. I told him he is getting a lot of attention off of one game and two returns but he needs to think about what he did the other 11 games. He is a solid player back there in the secondary, he is smart, and he competes but he has to bring leadership to the table this season. I like Damon's attitude because football is fun to him and he enjoys playing the game. Leadership is Damon's biggest thing this season because he has to communicate in the secondary every play and stay in charge of that group.

You gained additional practice time with the bowl appearance. How important was this extra practice for the program?
Honestly, what we did for the bowl game is a little overrated because we are so thin depth-wise. We were not going to give our two-deep guys extra practice time because of the threat of injury and we only had like 13 freshmen that we signed. We scrimmaged the young guys some but it only added up to about 50 plays or so during the bowl practices. We just could not afford to beat and bang on people because just about everybody we had was playing.

Russell Patterson, the team's strength coach, just came off his first winter conditioning period. Tell us about the progress he has made since joining your staff last May.
To me the summer time is when you get the guys ready for fall and fall is when you try to maintain your strength. In the offseason that is when you gain your strength, explosiveness, and take the extra weight off. January until May is when you don't worry about the conditioning because you want to concentrate on the other intangibles. I thought Russell did a great job last year when we reported to camp. The guys were in shape and during the season we maintained our strength. Now in the offseason we have guys increasing their vertical jumps, squats, power lifts, etc... Last year our big guys were not very explosive and I think they have all improved in that area this year. Russell's impact will really be felt more this August since he would have been here a full year. I need to comment on Jason Spray who helps Russell out a lot because he does an excellent job as well.

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