A preseason Q&A with Rick Stockstill

Blue Raiders report today; practice Monday

August 5, 2007 · MT Media Relations

What is your impression of the team as it prepares to open practice Monday? How did the off-season workout program go?

I really like our mindset and attitude and I believe our team morale is very high. We had a great summer working out under the leadership of Russell Patterson and Jason Spray. We have increased our strength, some guys who needed to add weight have done so and others who needed to lose weight accomplished that as well. I think we are reporting in great shape and I am really excited about our focus, mindset, and attitude. I don't see any complacency in this team right now.

Who are some of the players that have made the biggest strides for your program since the Motor City Bowl?

Phillip Tanner has gained weight and strength, Erik Walden has added weight and looks stronger, Wes Hofacker played at 244 pounds last year and is up to 268 right now, Chris McCoy has made some strides and looks to be a factor, and Richard Bortner is a guy who needs to step up because he could be the key to the offensive line. Bortner is older, has some experience, and we just need him to raise his level of play and I think he will. Everybody has made improvements, but these are the guys who stand out the most.

Your offensive line is talented but inexperienced. Give us your thoughts on that unit?

It's a little scary right now when you look at the lack of experience, but I really feel good about Franklin Dunbar. He is a good player, a strong leader, and will report in good shape. Jamal Lewis is going to be a good player but what scares me about him is that on the first play at Florida Atlantic it will be his first collegiate snap. There will be some growing pains with Jamal but he has great character, work ethic, a wonderful personality which is what you want in your program. Jake Padrick could be our starting center and if that is the case he is another who has not played in a college game. Brandon Nix and Richard Bortner are good players and will play big roles in 2007. Mark Thompson is a good player for us who played a lot last year. Now we just need to see how well he overcomes that shoulder injury. We have some solid guys but just do not have a lot of depth which is a concern and it will remain a concern for the next couple of years until we can fully develop the position. We need to stay healthy and hope the young guys don't freeze up when the light comes on.

Desmond Gee proved to be very explosive and versatile during his freshman campaign. What do you expect from Gee in 2007?

Dez had a great year for us last season. He is a very unselfish player and one who will do just about everything for this team. We have to find ways to get the ball in his hands because he is one of our better playmakers. He has increased his strength, added weight, and is a year older. Dez is just a talented guy and I expect he will have another solid year.

The wide receivers were a point of concern in 2006. With a year under their belt, how do you assess the unit entering fall camp?

They are all back and that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. If they improve it will only make us a better team, but if they do not then we are right back to where we were a year ago. I think the big thing with the receivers is that they have to develop more consistency which is an area they improved a great deal in during the spring. Last year we simply had too many drops, were too inconsistent, lacked toughness, and did not perform well in the blocking department. I want to see this group be more physical in the running game this year while also doing a better job catching the ball. They have worked extremely hard this year and have exemplified a great attitude toward trying to improve. They have given me no reason to think they will not be much better in 2007.

Phillip Tanner and Desmond Gee will join DeMarco McNair to form what appears to be a strong trio at running back. How do these two complement each other?

Both DeMarco and Phillip are very similar. They don't have a lot of wiggle to them, they are more straight ahead runners with good speed and strength. DeMarco has had a great summer and added weight just like Phillip. I believe Phillip catches the ball better out of the backfield and DeMarco probably has a little more wiggle. Dez has the wiggle and speed on the outside to be a real breakaway threat. All three are really good kids and probably form the most talented position on the offensive side of the ball.

Your defensive line is talented and experienced and will play a big role in the team's success in 2007. Talk about the unit's progress over the past year?

I really have been pleased with those guys up front because they push each other, motivate each other, there is no complacency, they all have great motors, are unselfish, and they are just a fun bunch of guys to coach. They have to play their best football this year because when you look at the fact we lost all three starters at linebacker and two of the replacements are coming off knee surgeries then a lot of pressure will be put on those guys. They are a talented group and are coming off great summers.

You lost all three starting linebackers last year so who do you see filling those roles in 2007?

Lonnie Clemons needs to play with consistency because he has talent and can run but just needs to raise his level of play. I really like Andrew Harrington, the junior college transfer, because he is a guy who will definitely help us. Danny Carmichael is an inside guy who is respected by all his teammates because of how hard he works and how he goes about his business. Ivon Hickmon is another talented guy. If Ivon can come back from his knee injury then he will be able to help us just like Chance Dunleavy. Unfortunately, I have not been able to see a lot of Chance because he got hurt early in the season opener last year and then had to miss spring drills. Chance is a good player who works hard but his key will be staying healthy. I think Cam Robinson and Derek Shropshire will add depth but you are really only talking about five guys.

Can you tell Blue Raider fans which freshmen will be given strong looks for playing time in 2007?

I really think the skill guys have the best chance because it is always more difficult for the linemen because of a strength and knowledge factor. Dwight Smith, SaCoby Carter, and Emmanuel Perez are good players but they have a lot of players in front of them which makes it a little tougher. Skill guys in the secondary may have the best chance because we are so thin at that position, and also Dwight Dasher at quarterback might get in the mix if he picks things up quickly and adapts to the college game.

How is Joe Craddock?

Joe is doing well. The doctors just want us to be careful and watch him pretty good the first few days of practice. He has not experienced any pain so I think he will be fine. Joe was having a good summer until he was injured but he should be 100 percent and ready to go when the season kicks off.

How do you feel about the new rule of all kickoffs being moved five yards back and what do you think the results will be?

Obviously, you will get more returns which is why the rule was put into place and it will prevent people from shortening the game. You will probably see more sky kicks and trying to pin teams in the corner if a team does not have a kicker capable of hitting them deep consistently. I think you also have to worry about more injuries because they are getting an extra five yards and the collisions could be a little more violent.

Is there any certain area you will put special emphasis on during preseason camp in order to gain improvement from a year ago?

One, we have to find a kicker because we lost Colby Smith. Right now I do not feel good about our punter, place kicker, and kickoff man so we have to spend a lot of time in that area.

Overall, I think we have to be smart with the way we plan because we open against a conference opponent with 18 starters back and we will be breaking in a new quarterback, running back, two new offensive linemen, three new linebackers, and a kicker.

This team plays four games in the first 20 days of the season. How do you prepare them for that kind of start?

I talked this over with my staff and it is the first time any of us has ever played this many games in that short of time. We made sure we conditioned very hard this summer in order to prepare for this stretch. We have to be very smart because we can't lose the first game in August and we can't lose games two, three, and four in August. What I mean by this is making sure our guys get to the games fresh. This is not about just preparing for the first game, it is about preparing for the season.

Les Herrin's team won the Rick Stockstill staff golf tournament for the second year in a row. Can you talk about Herrin going back-to-back?

First of all, I want to thank Charles Travis out at Indian Hills for allowing us to play our tournament out there. Les is a great competitor and his team stayed humble and did not do a lot of pre-game talking. Everybody else's team went out and practiced just like last year and once again it did not help them very much. Les has done a good job of coaching his team and having them ready to play the tournament. Back-to-back titles are pretty impressive. (The Herrin team was comprised of Les Herrin, Chris Matusek, Justin Watts, and J.P. Shelly and they were seven under par)

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