Blue Raiders open preseason with press conference

MT looks forward to inaugural season in Conference USA

July 31, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee kicked off the preseason with its' annual football press conference on Wednesday. Below is a transcript of the annual event which included head coach Rick Stockstill, coordinators Tyrone Nix and Buster Faulkner and four Blue Raider student-athletes.

Head Coach Rick Stockstill

Opening Comments:

This is an exciting time for all college fans, coaches and players across the nation. It's an exceptionally exciting time for us to get the season started. It's a great opportunity for us being in a new conference we haven't been in. It's also a big challenge with our schedule and the new teams that we play. Any competitor will tell you at any level of any sport that this is what really stokes their fire and that is what motivates them. I like the attitude of our team right now. We have a great sense of urgency. I think it is critical that we keep the edge and the chip on our shoulder that the team last year played with. I thought that edge was still there through January and February and through spring practice and into the summer. I'm really excited about it and when August gets here and you get on the grass and you are around the guys it seems like forever since you could be around the guys. We are excited.

Football Press Conference: Stockstill
On how not knowing your opponents (new conference) affects the way you prepare:

It doesn't change a whole lot. By the time we get into our conference schedule with FAU being the first one, we already have a feel for them having played them the last seven or eight years. By the time we get into the rest of them, they will have played several games and we will have a good idea of what to expect. I think all the unknown right now is a little premature because we don't play all of them until later in the year. Our main focus is Western Carolina and I know that is cliché, I know that is coach talk, but these next 29 practices will be focused on Western Carolina. I think the unknown will take care of itself by the time we get to them.

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On what the "something to prove" is for this year's team:

I think every year you have to have the mindset that you have something to prove not only to yourself, but also as a team. We had something to prove in 2010 and the other years too. We probably just didn't talk about it in the media. This isn't something just from the last two years. It has always been there and it has to be there every year in whatever sport you play. I think the motivation has to be self-motivated. You have to have goals and be self-motivated to be the best you can and it is our job as coaches to get that little extra out of you that you may not know you have. To me, it is something you have every day. You need that mindset of being great and want to prove to this team that I deserve to be the first team player. You create competition among the team and the number two guy is trying to prove he is better than the number one guy. The bowl snub and the new conference, is stuff on the outside that people will talk about, but I know inside we want to prove that we are good enough to win this conference.

On if MT is a contender in this first year in C-USA:

If you ask me that today I will say yes because that is our goal. I don't want to wait and see halfway through the schedule. Our mindset going in is to win every game we play. We want to be 12-0 and win every game we play. We want to play for the conference championship and that is our mindset. Are we good enough to do that? We will see.

On his interpretation of his coaching legacy:

My legacy is about these players and it is about these coaches. I'm proud of what we have accomplished, but I am not satisfied. I still have a strong desire to get better and to continue to move this program forward. It's not just me, it is everyone involved. More so than anyone, it is the players and I have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for what they have done. You think about where we are now and I am proud of what we have done, but there is a lot more out there on that plate and I am going to keep striving to get better every day.

On what kind of piece to the puzzle Jeremiah Bryson will be this season:

Jeremiah can help us. I thought he was better this spring than he was in the fall. Last fall was the first time he had played since high school. He redshirted and there are always adjustments to be made. He gets better every day. I think there is a greater sense of maturity and dependability and consistency in him so far. If he will continue to improve in those areas I think he can have a huge role in this offense. I think he can help us in the backfield and in the kicking game.

On how much it helps having starters back on offense to help replace Benny Cunningham:

I think it is critical. When Benny got hurt last year we also lost Marcus Henry to a broken ankle. We lost three receivers from probably the fifth or sixth game on and that had an impact on our offense. I think Tavarres (Jefferson) is in the best shape he's been in since he has been here. (Kyle) Griswould has played now and he will be a three year starter for us. Christian Collis was a redshirt freshman and played and started last year and he is back. I think we have more weapons at receiver than we had from the halfway point of last year. I think Logan (Kilgore) has matured going into his senior year. It gives you a comfort level as a coach that you have some senior wide receivers and a senior quarterback. You have Jordan Parker, who at this time last year we were planning on redshirting, and he rushed for 850 yards. As a coach, it gives you a great comfort level.

On what the perception of Middle Tennessee is to C-USA and vice versa:

I think within the league and the coaches there is great respect for us as a football program. They picked us third or fourth. Somebody in there thought we would win it. I think there is great respect from within the coaches towards us. Outside of that I don't know what the perception is. I know C-USA is nationally perceived in a positive light. If it wasn't you wouldn't have six guaranteed bowl slots or the TV packages with FOX and CBS. You wouldn't have the financial revenue if there wasn't great respect nationally. It has helped recruiting tremendously. I think you are seeing a bigger impact now when you throw C-USA behind your name.

On his interpretations of having media days in Texas for C-USA:

I thought it was highly organized and very professional. The people you dealt with from the radio stations to the TV stations were first class. It was just highly organized and very professional and I am glad to be a part of it.

On how difficult it is to prepare for teams you haven't seen every year:

If we were playing them first or second game of the year I think that would be an issue, but we don't. Florida Atlantic is the first conference game and we have played them. Then we get into the meat of our conference schedule and we would have played three or four games by then. The first two games of the year are historically two teams we have never played before in Western Carolina and North Carolina. We did our research on them all summer. Our third game is Memphis and we have played them three or four years in a row now. I think the unknown again is more for the fans.

On how the early enrollees progressed during the spring:

We had two receivers, Chris Perkins and Devin Clarke. I thought Chris got better each day in spring. I thought he really improved. Devin Clarke unfortunately got hurt early in the spring. He might have only practiced three or four days so he didn't get a lot of work. This August will be critical for him in seeing how much he can help and contribute. I am excited about those guys and seeing what their future will be here.

Offensive Coordinator Buster Faulkner

On the differences between last year's schedule and this year's schedule:

It's a highly competitive league. We played Memphis last year and they ended up finishing 4-4 in Conference USA. A lot of the teams we'll play I'm sure are very similar to them. But we're going to do whatever it takes to win, just like we do for every opponent we play.

On what to look for in camp and the beginning of the season:

Going in to camp we want to put a big emphasis on coming together as a team. Obviously, this will be the first time that all of us will be together since spring. This team is different than the team from last year, but we want to improve every day. We want to coach the details and improve on those first. We have great leadership on this team and we want to make sure the young guys learn from those older guys how we do things. And we'll build off that and see what happens.

On the passing game vs. the running game this season:

We definitely want to be more balanced and that's the goal every year. So you always have a vision of how you want the offense to go, but you also have to adjust to your personnel and what they allow you to do. So if we have some injuries or whatever the case may be we'll move on and then it's our job as coaches to put these kids in a position to win. But going into the season our number one goal is to run the ball, and then be able to do some play-action pass and move the ball down the field. And we'll do that based off our personnel and I'm excited to get out there and get this season going.

On how the offense will recover losing the two biggest offensive weapons:

I think the biggest thing this year is having four starters on the offensive line coming back, and that's where everything starts. I think this year we'll be deeper at those skill positions. Will anyone be Anthony Amos? I don't know. Someone might be better we'll just have to see. I don't worry myself with those things. But as we sit here today I think we have more weapons and that's probably just because we're deeper at all of those skill positions more so than we were last year.

On the backup quarterback situation: 

Right now Austin Grammer will be the backup. In the spring, he improved every day. He's a smart kid and a good decision maker so that allows you as a coach to not worry as much about the situation because you know he'll be fine if called upon. We just have to make sure we're putting him in situations that he can succeed.

Co-Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix

On the differences between last year's schedule and this year's schedule:

I don't see a lot of differences in the film that I've seen so far. The biggest difference is getting the players mentally prepared. The offenses are explosive in this league with multiple looks. There is still a lot of spread so you will see a lot of similarities between Conference USA and the Sun Belt. And basically any team can beat you on any given Saturday. The biggest thing I've noticed about Conference USA is these teams come to play.

On what to look for in camp and the beginning of the season:

Our biggest thing defensively is consistency. So we need to improve and emphasize the little things. I think if we put our eyes in the right place and give tremendous effort we'll be able to succeed more often than not. In just hearing what went on this summer with some of the guys, they've made a tremendous commitment on being better than they ever have before. Two guys that come to mind are Sammy Seamster and Kenneth Gilstrap. Those two young men have worked harder than any two men I've ever coached before and hopefully they can reap some benefits. This defense has to improve in every area and secondary is a place we expect a lot improvement from.

On getting more of a pass rush this season:

Our kids need to develop better, we need to coach better and they have a better understanding of what we want on every play. Our line takes a lot of heat at times for not having a dominant pass rush, but a lot of times that's because the coverage isn't there. The better your coverage is, the more hesitant the quarterback is in making a decision which gives the line a better opportunity to rush the passer. It's a team effort. Some things have to change schematically, we have to bring more pressure on the quarterback in certain situations, and I think all of that together elevates your numbers. What we did last year was try to give ourselves the best chance at winning, which we did more times than not. I liked how are kids worked this spring, and I think we'll have more pass rush this season. The kids we'll put in the game will give us better results than last year. Sometimes the game and score dictate what you can do, but we think our numbers will improve in every area.

On moving to Conference USA:

Some of the teams have changed since [I was at Southern Miss], but what hasn't changed is that there are quality football teams in that league. There are teams who can beat you on any Saturday and some hostile environments we'll have to deal with. Coach Stock said we were a really good road team last year. That says a lot about your team's character and how they respond to adverse situations. We just have to be prepared to make sure we do the little things and come out victorious.

Redshirt Senior WR Tavarres Jefferson

On filling the role vacated by Anthony Amos

I don't think there is another Anthony Amos. He had a special set of skills, but we do have a lot of playmakers on the team, and a lot of depth, and Coach (Buster) Faulkner has put in a lot of different looks for us to show opposing teams. We are going to be fun to watch.

On Conference USA's reputation for being an offense-focused conference:

There is going to be a lot of exciting, high-scoring games this season, and we will be a part of it. Our games are going to be exciting as well. Logan Kilgore has really developed into a heck of a quarterback and he's going to have a great year. Coach Faulkner has put us in position to make plays in the open field, and I think we are going to have a great year ourselves.

Redshirt Senior OL Josh Walker

On not having Benny Cunningham at RB this season: 

Losing Benny to graduation was huge, but we have Jordan Parker coming back and he's going be a great one. He really stepped up last year when Benny got hurt halfway thru the season. He is a great runner and is also good in the passing game. Our offensive line is also very good, so we will be just fine.

On center Micah James to graduation: 

Losing Micah will hurt because he was really good, but Nick Nunez has stepped in during spring drills to fill his shoes, and I think he will do a good job.

Redshirt Senior CB Kenneth Gilstrap

On his focus going into his senior season as a defensive back and team leader:

The key is to work hard, and to come to practice ready to do that each day. It also helps to have some fun while you are doing that.

Redshirt DE Jimmy Staten

On improving Blue Raider pass rush:

We improved it some last year, but we are continuing to work on it. We have to come off the ball better. We will also have some different looks to give our opponent's offenses.

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