Nov. 8, 2005
– Chan Gailey
What gives you confidence in your team right now?
“I know who they are. If you were around these guys every day, you’d have confidence in them too. They play and prepare very well week in and week out, and some of our younger players are maturing while others are getting healthy. Our older guys are playing to their potential so that’s a good group of things coming together.”
Have you seen any team like Virginia so far this year?
“I guess the answer to that would be yes and no. Virginia’s a big, physical football team and we’ve faced some of those this year. (Marques) Hagans is one of the most active quarterbacks if not the most active that we’ll play. He makes a lot of plays with his legs. Defensively, they’re finally getting healthy and playing better there as well. Every team is a little different, but it’s a hostile place to play at and we’ve had some experience there too.”
What are the challenges of playing a 3-4 defense?
“Your blocking rules are going to change and where people drop in pass coverage is a little bit unique because in a four-man front, you’re limited as to the number of guys that can drop for the most part but in a 3-4, there’s 3 guys that will drop on almost every snap and that creates challenges for your quarterback.”
Do you have more concerns about the mental or physical aspect of playing that type of defense?
“I think that when you look at their two inside linebackers, they’re probably the two most physical guys we’ve faced at that position this year. There is a physical match-up that we have to be able to go out and compete against. The scheme will be a little different because we’ve faced people that have been in three man spacing but not 3-4 responsibilities so we’re having to adjust a little bit in that respect.”
How much more confidence do you have from the fact that you’ve been able to create so many turnovers?
“In my opinion, the turnover ratio has a lot to do and is directly related with success. I’ve felt that way the whole time that I’ve been in coaching and a lot more over the past 15-20 years. We all know what turnovers can do to hurt you but they can do a great deal to help you as well. If you don’t turn it over and you make the other team go the length of the field, you’ve minimized the amount of times they should be able to score. I think it all goes together. If you don’t have a strong defense and you don’t plan to have one, you’ve got to be more wide open and do some things offensively that don’t necessarily go along with not turning the ball over.”
Is there a mindset that develops with a team that is successful in creating turnovers?
“I believe so. There’s a true mindset in getting turnovers and sacks.”
Is it true that it seems that once you start getting turnovers, you start to expect them?
“I think so and our guys have a done good job of that. In the last couple of years, when we had the opportunity, we dropped an interception or we didn’t get on the fumble. This year, when those opportunities present themselves, our defense has taken advantage of them. We’re catching the ball and getting on the loose ball, and that’s been a big boost for our football team. It helps to be ahead so the other team is forced to throw it to get back in the game, and that’s another way to get turnovers.”
Have you ever seen a kicker with Ben Arndt’s two-step delivery?
“There have been a few, but not a lot.”
When you see Ben and what you ask him to do, and then you see the Wake Forest punter from this past Saturday and what he can do, are there two different philosophies in approaching that part of the game?
“If you have him (Wake punter) on your team, you adjust to him and to what he can do. He can turn the field over in a heartbeat. Ben is very good at putting the ball inside the 20 and at keeping the ball away from the guys that are dangerous. From time to time, his average suffers for those reasons but his productivity in what we ask him to do has been very high in the past two years. He has a feel for it, you have to know where you are on the field and which way the wind is blowing. You have to give him credit for being able to put the ball down there and you also have to give credit to Jamal Lewis, Tony Clark, and those other guys that have been making those plays to down the ball.”
Nate McManus mentioned that the second half of the Duke game has been the turning point so far this season in regards to the play of the offensive line. Do you see it that way too?
“The only tangible thing that I can point too is last week where we had the highest average grade for our offensive line as a group that we’ve had all year. That’s great if you build on it. I think that our guys have continued to grow and some of those young guys aren’t young anymore because they’ve played eight games this season. They are four or five games from being a sophomore or junior, they’re maturing, and starting to get a feel for each other and get the calls down. That unit has to play with continuity more than any other group and for the most part, we’ve stayed healthy which has helped us. We’re starting to play some other guys and getting them reps and giving others a blow.”
Is your running game starting to flourish because of the offensive line, or is it the other way around?
“I don’t know which comes first. The more you run, the more confidence you gain, and the more confidence you gain, the better you run the ball. It just works together and I really can’t tell you which one comes first. I know it’s hard to gain confidence without success.”
It sounds like you’re making a conscious effort to play more guys on that side of the ball.
“We had a couple of guys nicked up and we had to have them practice, especially during the open week, and since they practiced pretty well, we decided to put them in the game. Once you put them in there and they play well, you can start putting them in the game with some regularity and have them involved in every game. There’s no set rotation in the game right now, only in practice. We tried to play Nate in different spots last year and Salih (Besirevic) was another guy that played in and out at all the positions last year.”
Is that something you try to do every year?
“You try to if you can, but those guys have to earn the right to play with work. If we find guys that have worked hard, have the talent, maturity, and the knowledge to play, we’ll start to work them in there so they can gain experience. That’s one way for your team to have some depth and experience at those positions.”
How much does Reggie (Ball) cutting back on interceptions help you with the fact that teams have to go the length of the field to score?
“That’s a really big part of it. If I’m not mistaken, and I’d have to go back and look at the stats, I can think of only a couple of times where we’ve turned it over on our own end of the field. When we have turned it over, that’s why our red zone production isn’t as good because we’ve been turning it over at the other end of the field where the other team still has to go the length of the field to get in the end zone.”
Did Rashaun (Grant) give you a boost last week?
“Big boost. We all know that it’s not all about the return because other guys have to do their jobs well. That being said, everyone else did better but he made good cuts, he made things happen, and he made a guy miss here and there. Let’s see if we can do it two weeks in a row.”
“Yes. Had we not had earlier success doing that, we probably would have hesitated a little bit more. If Mansfield had gone in his freshman year, not played well, and suffered a setback in his progress because of it, we probably would not have done it as much as we have. That gives you confidence.”
With the understanding that it’s hard to play anywhere as a freshman, is that one of the spots where it might be a little easier because you’re in a confined space and you’re not being asked to do certain things?
“In the defensive line, you gain so much with experience. If you pull Vance Walker in a year from now and talk to him, he will tell you that he knew nothing back them. He thinks he knows a lot right now and he thinks he’s doing well, which he is, but next year, he will tell you he didn’t know much compared to what he would know then after a year of playing. He’ll be so much better than he is this year, and he’s doing pretty well this year, he really is. His natural instincts, talent, and his knowledge of knowing where to go and doing things the right way are helping him. Next year, he’ll add experience and more technique which will increase his productivity amazingly.”
Do you keep things a little simpler than you normally would in this case?
“No, we never do that. We force them to come up to the level of our defense.”
Is it true that it’s tougher to play the closer you are to the ball?
“The offensive and defensive line along with quarterback are the toughest positions to play a true freshman in my opinion. First of all, if they come here, they’re fairly intelligent, they’ll see that we might need some depth at those positions and they might get the chance to play fairly early. They come here expecting to play.”
What does the play of those guys say about the job recruiting analysts do?
“I don’t know. If you start getting into that, you’d have to start reminding yourself of all the mistakes you’ve made on guys that you didn’t pick that end up being great players. To me, it should even out somewhere down the line. Each university has to recruit the guys that they think are right for their program. Not everybody fits in every program. Vance wasn’t on the radar screen until the last half of his senior year. Coach Jean-Mary did a good of finding him and recruiting him.”
There’s been a big push in recent years in getting big signing classes after a player’s junior year. Will you be tempered by that?
“No, I think that a lot of times, a lot of good football players get left out by the way things are going now (in recruiting). I want to make sure that we don’t overlook somebody just because we might be done recruiting at that position.”
Do you ever see Chris Reis in a bad mood because it seems like he’s always smiling and is that contagious to the program?
“The only time I’ve seen him a bad mood is when he comes off the field when the other team has scored. Other than, I haven’t seen him in a bad mood when his uniform isn’t on. He’s up for several post-season honors in that area of being an overall student, athlete, community member, and involved in outside activities, and rightfully so. He’s a great student-athlete that is representative of Georgia Tech.”
Chris talked about the vocal leadership in the senior class. In what ways does he exert that as a senior and captain?
“I’m not on the field out there with them and don’t really know what’s they say before snaps or after a play. I do hear some communication from time to time and I know he’s a great communicator of what the formations and tendencies are. Most of the great leaders lead on non-gamedays. It’s the people that can lead during practice and off the field during windsprints and off-season workouts that are the real leaders. I think we’ve had a lot of those guys like that this year and Chris is one of those.”
Is he special to you because he was the first guy to reaffirm his commitment when you came to the program?
“I have a hard time picking favorites. He’s the first senior captain that we recruited, and he was one of the first guys I talked to when I got here along with Brad Brezina. The confirmed their commitment to us that weekend. He’s great young man and will always be special, but not for the reason you mentioned.”
Since Chris and Eric Henderson have talked about it, can you talk about faith and how it seems to be an important part of your team?
“Well, I think that when you have great leaders, they lead in whatever direction their faith is. It’s nothing that’s forced on anybody or encouraged, it’s just available. Eric, Chris, and P.J. Daniels, those guys are contagious. I think people want to know what they’re about so yes, it is a part of our team and that’s because of the way they’ve presented it to people.”
What did North Carolina do against Virginia that was so effective?
“They kept Hagans under control for the most part, didn’t allow the big play, and made them have to drive down the field. North Carolina’s offense had a chance to score two other times but they dropped a pass and overthrew one so it really could have been worse than a 7-5 game. They basically moved the football and kept them out of the end zone.”
You haven’t won up there since 1990. Is that something you’ll bring up to the team?
“I don’t think so.”
About being good at kicking the pooch-punt.
“It’s an exciting situation to get in there, and you want to have the ball. It’s like playing paper football, where you want to have it hanging just over the edge, but you don’t want to have it go all the way off the table. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my coverage, because they get down there, Jamal Lewis is a guy that time-and-time again gets down there downing the ball inside the 20. Coach Wilson just says to give them a chance, and I try to give them a chance and they don’t let me down.”
When you look at punter’s stats, is there one stat you look at the most that is the best indicator for how well you’re doing?
“I would say net punting, because of the way that it affects the team. I believe that whatever I can do to help the team, whether it’s putting 50 balls inside the 20 or if it’s averaging 50 yards when you’re backed up in the endzone, it’s a combination of things, but I think that net punting really is the main goal of your season, helping your team out.”
“Not having any punts blocked in my career here at Georgia Tech. Any time that you have a punt blocked, it changes the whole flow of the game, especially the momentum. That’s more on my protection, the other 10 guys on the field with me, than it is about my quick release, taking two steps, and it’s a combination of those two things. Those guys have done an unbelievable job, I’ve never been hit, and just a fantastic job.”
On if he takes fewer steps than most punters.
“Yes, I take two steps, really a step-and-a-half. Normal punters take three full steps, so I move my stance up to 13 yards, instead of 14 1/2, and still get the ball off at about the 10-yard mark there.”
On how much his fewer steps contributes to not having a punt blocked.
“I feel like my get-off time, you usually want to shoot for about a 2.1, and I’m usually under two seconds in game speed. That’s a number that should allow you to get the punt off every single time, as long as the protection is there, and obviously it has been.”
On a bad kick in the last game.
“I hit a very poor ball in the last game, and I think I lost my concentration a little bit in the drop. When I dropped the ball, it wasn’t as steady, and obviously the spin was terrible on the ball. Because of that the ball bounced backwards 15 yards or so. It was disappointing because we needed a big play to keep the game going in the direction that we needed to. We needed to back them up for field position, and I felt bad that I let the team down by not having a good punt on that play.”
How did you end up at Georgia Tech?
“I’m originally from Blairsville, Ga., and Young Harris is my address, where I went to high school. I was recruited here and was basically offered an opportunity to walk on. I ended up signing a scholarship at Tusculum College, which is a Division II program in Greenville, Tennessee. I red-shirted the first year there, and played the second year, kind of splitting time with another guy that had transferred in from the Citadel. In the back of my mind, I had always considered what would have happened if I would have gone to Tech out of high school. I looked into it and I had a contact here in Robbie Brown, who was a backup quarterback last year and my holder in high school. I started talking to him about it, took care of academics, and gave it a shot and here I am.”
On coming in as a placekicker.
“I was doing kickoffs when Coach Gailey jogged over to me and got some information. It was a little later on, after the spring, that I decided to focus my energies on punting since there didn’t seem to be a dominant punter at the time.”
On where he picked up his two-step punt.
“That came from Tusculum. The kicking coach there, his name is George Wolf, he helped out. His brother either played or plays in the NFL now. He’s on the school board at Tusculum as well, but he was just volunteering his time, helping the kickers out.”
How difficult was the two-step to figure out?
“When you pick up a soccer ball, usually you just pick up two steps to punt it. I played some goalkeeper in high school and classic soccer leagues, and it just seemed natural. I felt like the third step was a waste of energy, and I could get the ball as far as I needed to with just two.”
On who he goes to for help.
“Well there are always those that have done well before you. For example, when Travis Bell found himself in a bit of a slump, Scott Sisson came in and mentored him a little bit. Guys that have been out there with me in the past year-and-a-half include Chris Morehouse and Dan Dyke, both of whom did very well here. They want to come out from time-to-time, when you’re having a problem, and the coaches are very good about making people like that available to you if they feel there is a need. When you get to this point in my senior year, you would hope that I would be able to reach within and find the answers that I need.”
On feeling a part of the team as a kicker.
“You always have jokes about the lonesome kicker and whatnot, but we have a large group of kickers, I think there are eight of us right now on the team. At the same time, there is a special place for kickers in not hitting and maybe not spending as much energy while you’re out at practice, but also that our team is a very, very close family, and we take everyone as equal as having a role to play and respect there. I definitely feel like I’m not left out in any way.
On the different receptions from teammates when you’ve hit a good punt and when you haven’t.
“You don’t want to jump on someone’s back when you’re down, I suppose. But it’s great to get congratulated when I’ve helped the team out. But when I haven’t, then I need to go over there and they know that I need to figure out what I did wrong, maybe talk to Travis (Bell) or some of the coaches, maybe Coach Wilson or Coach Gailey about what they saw. Obviously I would offer my apologies and promise to do a better job next time, but that’s part of it.
On having to sit out a year.
“I had to sit out a year, which was a good thing because I had to take care of academics. Obviously it was a bit of a shock transferring from a program where you take one class at a time for three-and-a-half weeks and then you’re done with it, and there are only four college in the nation that do that, to Georgia Tech, which is an academic powerhouse and having to adjust to taking five classes at a time so that you can become eligible to play in the following year.”
Why are you guys (the offensive line) doing better?
“We’re finally just clicking. We were in a groove the first few games, and we lost it against Virginia Tech. We finally got it back, and hopefully we’ll hold on to it.”
How difficult was it to regain that footing, that confidence?
“We’re believing in ourselves again. We know we have the coaching. We just had to get back in the groove. We went back to practice after we lost a heartbreaker to NC State, and we just put our noses to the grindstone and kept going, and it’s brought us results.”
How much of that was defenses being able to see you guys?
“I’m sure it does help. We watch film on them just as much as they watch film on us. If we can’t pick it up, then we make sidelines adjustments, and we’ve been doing a pretty good job so far of adjusting to anything they throw at us.”
Most offensive linemen like the running game. It’s a confidence builder. Is that the same for you guys, too?
“Being able to move the ball on the ground is always a confidence builder. We love the bombs to Calvin and all the great catches he makes. But being able to move the ball on the ground, making the holes for our running backs, even 5 or 10 yards at a time, is a great confidence builder. You drive the ball, and you get another first down, being able to move the ball, and it’s good.”
Was there a game where you felt you started to get that back?
“Second half of the Duke game. In the first half, we moved the ball, but we didn’t put points on the board. In the second half, we took advantage of what our defense gave us with field position, and we put up a lot of points within a span of about 10 minutes. After that, it was a major confidence boost.”
Can you give a percentage of how many plays you’re pulling or Matt Rhodes is pulling?
“It’s different each game. It depends on the play and what hash mark the ball is on, or if they want to run it at a certain linebacker. It seemed like me and Brad Honeycutt were more of the down blockers until this last game, where I felt like it was me pulling around.”
Are you guys getting better at being in the right place, or doing what you do once you’re in the right place?
“I think, as far as getting to the right place, we’ve always done a pretty good job of technique and doing what we have to do when we get there. Technique and how to make the blocks once we get to them, I think are what we’ve improved on the most the last couple of weeks.”
Has substituting more allowed you to stay fresher?
“Definitely. Coach D’Allesandris has been thinking about that for a while. In the NC State game, I believe it was 96 snaps or something like that. I know they were rolling their defensive linemen. You see some teams will rotate eight guys. We’re trying to find the best way to keep our offensive line fresh for the fourth quarter against a defensive line that’s rolling eight different guys through. The rotation definitely does help. You try and get a few series in with the starters. Coach will ask, ‘Do you need a break, how do you feel?’ so we can be fresh in the fourth quarter.”
What is it like playing against a 3-4 (defensive alignment)? Have you played against a 3-4 this year?
“No. Virginia plays a 3-4 as their dominant defense, as opposed to other teams that switch to it in third-and-long and two-minute, kind of a prevent-the-pass type of defense. So we haven’t seen it as much, but we have seen it some. They’re able to move linebackers around in the 3-4, which makes it more difficult for the offensive line to read and know who to go to. I assume that’s why they do it because they can confuse the offensive line and get someone in the backfield unblocked. It is something we have seen. We should be able to pick it up in practice, no problem.”
“He’s learning fast. He’s very aggressive and physical. Joe (Anoai) is constantly teaching him from the sideline. He’s going to be a great player.”
How difficult is that position to play as a freshman?
“It’s very difficult. There’s no way he can have the knowledge and the strength of the guys he is going against. He’s doing an incredible job.”
“They’re both playmakers. They can both do it. I don’t even worry about who is behind me. I just know if we can block it right and give them some room, either one of them can make it happen.”
Why do you think you can finish strong after two years of not finishing strong?
“We can’t look at the past. We have different players, different leaders, senior leaders that make your team special. The reason we’re coming on strong at the end is because of our senior leadership, because of our willingness to never quit, never give up. That’s what give me confidence, our senior leadership. They’re guys we can rally around.”
“What do you think about punters and kickers, being a part of the team, getting to leave practice early?
“They do their job. They’re on the team. They get the job done just like everyone else. I can’t bash kickers. They’re specialists. I guess when you’re a specialist, you can do that (leave practice early).”
What’s the difference between having an opportunistic defense and having a “stuff-it” defense?
“I don’t know that there is much of a difference. Being able to make plays is the bottom line. Last year, we had some opportunities, and maybe we didn’t make the catch, or didn’t make the fumble recovery. We’ve been doing that this year. We’ve been making the recoveries, knocking down the passes, and making plays in general. It’s just two different defenses, even though we have a lot of the same players back, it’s just a different outlook on the game itself.”
Has this year worked out as well as you had hoped?
“Yes. I really didn’t have any expectations going in. I just tried to do the best I can at whatever I do. There wasn’t any apprehension at all. I knew that I was moving back (to free safety), and I knew that was going to be the best move. It’s worked out well. I’m having an awesome year, and I’m having fun. Hopefully, we can just finish off strong.”
Does the defense develop a mindset as the year goes on as far as the turnovers keep happening?
“We want to be the ones making the plays. We want to be the aggressor. We don’t want to sit back and let the other team dictate to us what to do. We like to create our own plays, and create our own destiny, so to speak. It just gives us more confidence. We know if we don’t get turnovers, we don’t win. If you look at the games we’ve lost, we don’t get a lot of turnovers. In the games that we have won, we’ve gotten multiple, big-time turnovers.”
Do the seniors talk about goals, what can be accomplished, and look at the big picture?
“We’re not a big team on looking at the big picture. We had our goals at the beginning of the season, winning the ACC championship being one of them. That hasn’t been ruled out just yet. There’s a lot of things that can happen, and there’s a lot of things that need to happen. That’s still one of our goals. Now that we’re bowl eligible and the pressure’s off (about getting to a bowl), we just want to go out and play and see where we end up at the end of the year.”
What’s different about this senior leadership?
“I think we’re a little more vocal. We like to take charge a little more than the seniors in the past. People are just different. We’ve been blessed enough to have different kinds of people. Gerris (Wilkinson) is not real vocal, whereas I am. Gerris likes to lead by example. We have different roles that all the seniors play, and that helps in the chemistry. We’re not all trying to lead at the same time. We understand everybody has to play their part.”
Who are some of the other vocal guys?
Talk about Kenny Scott’s emergence.
“He has that confidence. He know what he’s doing out there. Instead of trying to hang on there, he understands the game more. He’s anticipating what play is coming up. He knows formations and understands the defense. Once you get that and know what the other team is doing, then you can play fast and get turnovers. That’s what he’s doing. He’s always had the ability.”
How much has going against Calvin Johnson in practice help the defensive backs?
“It’s frustrating sometimes. He’s so good and makes such unbelievable plays. You can always throw the best coverage you have on him and still not get the interception and make the play. But we know we’re going against one of the best in the country, and it only makes us better.”
Have you seen a direct translation on Saturdays?
“I think so. I think that’s where Kenny gets some of his confidence, too. If you can go against Calvin every day, you can go against anybody. He’s gotten better against Calvin, too, and you can see that correlation in the games.”
Has there been much talk about recent history at Virginia?
“We haven’t won there since 1990. That’s a motivation factor for us, that we can go up there and make history. But it’s not a big factor in doing what we need to do to win the game.”
Wali Lundy got going against Temple last week. Does that make a big difference in working against Virginia’s running game?
“He’s getting healthy. He’s coming on strong, and he’ll be big for them in these upcoming games.”
You haven’t played against a quarterback quite like Hagans yet this year. What’s that going to be like?
“Probably the last game (Cory Randolph of Wake Forest). We play against Reggie (Ball) in practice every day. That should help some. Hagans is his own quarterback. He loves to scramble and make plays. We’re just going to have to try and eliminate that and contain them.”
What made North Carolina so effective against him?
“I don’t think it was as much what North Carolina did as much as what Virginia did to itself. They tried to run the ball a lot this year and they haven’t been too successful against some teams. When they’ve tried to pass, they’ve been successful. That’s how they beat Florida State. That’s a good question.”