Assistants Discuss Newcomers, Opening Days of Practice

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    By: Daniel Lewis

    Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian

    Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian

    The assistant coaches met with the media for the first time on Sunday afternoon. It was an eventful session with all nine being peppered with questions, especially about all the newcomers.

    Here’s a “best of” collection from all of the assistant coaches. I’ll paraphrase in some cases to condense wordy quotes.

    Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian:

     • Sunday’s practice wasn’t quite up to par and the team didn’t come out with the level of intensity and focus he needs to see.

    • Pleased with new RBs Treyvon Paulk and Derrell Scott, though “the game is moving a little fast for both of them.”

    • “I need much more consistency at the quarterback position. We need to play pitch and catch. We’ve missed too many open receivers and we just have to have better accuracy and ball location.”

    • The conditioning level is very high and has been noticeable through the first few days of camp.

    • Had no problem with quarterbacks seeking out other coaches over the summer, such as George Whitfield. Said he’s good friends with Whitfield and often visits him when he’s recruiting in California.

    • Disappointed that there were 62 balls on the ground during the first practice, but noted they had 63 last year and had that number cut down to 45 by Saturday. Hopes to get that number into the 20s.

    • “Nobody (QBs) in particular has demonstrated [consistent accuracy yet in camp]”

    Wide Receivers Coach Zach Azzanni

     • “The sky is the limit” for Josh Smith and it really wasn’t fair that he had to play last year due to knee issues. Lack of depth in the program forced him on the field.

    • Very pleased with Marquez North – understanding the position better after coming in pretty raw last year. He’s not a vocal leader necessarily, but leads by example.

    • Vic Wharton, from the way he’s approached practice, has had some of the best first few days of practice he’s ever seen as a coach.

    • Pig Howard hasn’t had any problem re-acclimating himself after his absence. Likes where he is right now and hopes to have him running through the T for the opener with him

    Tight Ends Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Mark Elder

     • Likes the physical development of Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm. Helm has added muscle and Wolf has re-shaped his body.

    • Expecting a lot more from the group because of the addition of the newcomers and the overall depth they have now compared to last year.

    • We ask a lot of our tight ends – they have to block and catch passes in our offense

    • “Aaron’s [Medley] done a good job. He’s got a tremendous pop to his leg, he’s got the ability to do it.”

    Offensive Line Coach Don Mahoney

     • Cross-training is important for the offensive linemen. It’s important to teach them multiple spots, but there’s also a balance of not overloading the newcomers.

    • Dontavius Blair is playing with more confidence. He was in “survival mode” in the spring and made huge strides over the summer.

    • Mack Crowder is emerging as the leader on the offensive line and he’s gained respect. He called out the second-team line Sunday when it wasn’t working the way it needed to.

    Running Backs Coach Robert Gillespie

     • Marlin Lane is a success story on and off the field. He’s wanted to change and he’s done a great job – hopes it leads to a great season on the field. “Marlin Lane is why we coach.”

    • “I don’t really look at [Jalen Hurd] as a freshman because he knows what we expect. He knows the tempo.”

    • “Devrin Young has gained weight and is a competitor – he’s going to be an important part of the offense.”

    Defensive Coordinator John Jancek

     • Moving players to another position, such as linebacker to defensive end, gives the defense more speed. That’s why they made some of those moves over the summer and they’ll continue to look for more of those opportunities going forward.

    • On improved team speed: “I think it’s apparent at all the positions. We’ve got some guys that can run and transition, seeing some good things without the pads on.”

    • Looking to develop at least a two-deep they feel good about upfront plus a few “spares.”

    • Reserving judgment on a lot of the newcomers until they start tackling in full pads.

    Defensive Line Coach Steve Stripling

     • Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett have stood out early. Both can play defensive end even though they’re 270-plus pounds because they have the athleticism.

    • Joe Henderson is a step behind them right now.

    • Likes this group’s athleticism better and said he would take athleticism over size if he had to choose.

    Defensive Backs Coach Willie Martinez

     • On the newcomers: “They have a lot of energy. I think the entire team does. You can see the culture has changed. There’s a lot of competition now, more than we had a year ago and that’s a good thing. We’re faster. We may not know what we’re doing right now, but we’ve made up for some mistakes with our speed which is good to see.”

    • Prefers the newcomers to only work at one spot and then cross-train more as upperclassmen. Elliott Berry is working as a nickelback and Evan Berry is taking reps at safety, though he can play cornerback as well. Todd Kelly is strictly a safety.

    • Rashaan Gaulden is working at cornerback after playing some safety in high school. Likes his speed and athleticism.

    Linebackers Coach Tommy Thigpen

     • Dillon Bates has a ton of pride. He tries to do everything right and then comes to me after practice to see what he can do better. “He’s got a great football background.”

    • A.J. Johnson is holding everybody accountable. “I’m really pleased with his leadership and I’m really pleased with how the young guys are gravitating towards him.”

    • On Chris Weatherd: “He’s older than these guys. He’s played against better competition and a lot stronger guys. For him it’s learning the verbage and the techniques and really learning linebacker because he’s been rushing the passer the last couple years and now he’s standing up so it’s something that’s new to him. We’re going to keep challenging him to get up to par with some of the older guys in the room so he can help us on special teams or some kind of sub package.”