Sept. 1, 2004
Georgia Tech Head Coach Chan Gailey
August 31, 2004 – Samford
Are there continuity concerns going into Saturday, on offensive line in particular?
Yes, there is. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. It doesn’t matter who you are playing, when you are playing. If you have this much disruption in your offensive line you’re going to have issues. Our guys are working hard. They are doing a good job, but it’s not the same when you don’t have the same five out there for any successive days in a row. I don’t think we’ve had the same five out there more than three days in a row all preseason.
We found some people, like Brad Brezina, who has been a very pleasant surprise. That’s helped us. Matt Rhodes has gotten a lot of work, and that has helped us. Nathan McManus, out of necessity, has come on. Andrew Gardner has gotten more work than he ever would have gotten without the situation. That is the silver lining to the cloud. It has been a challenge to Joe D’Alessandris and the entire offensive line.
Can you comment on the value that center Andy Tidwell-Neal has to this team?
“He is probably the one piece of the puzzle that locks it all together, so to speak. He directs people. He gets people lined up. When Kevin [Tuminello] went down, that was our next choice to get him in there. He can now direct everything. And that has been a big plus and that will stay a big plus for our offensive line. When we are in this state of flux on our offensive line, he keeps everything on an even keel. I don’t think you can understate what he does.
How is the lack of continuity on the offensive line affecting the other players?
“I don’t think anyone realizes it that much. The guy that probably realizes it the most is probably Reggie [Ball] because of the protection situations and making sure he is protected in the pocket. You can’t play if you don’t feel comfortable in the pocket. I think that will be an issue that we will have to look at and address during the ball game Saturday. But the other players are trying to learn what they are doing themselves. They are not worried about another position; they are trying to do their job. So they don’t pay attention to it that much.
How does your tight end factor in?
“He is a part of it. He is a big part of pass protection and the running game. Darius Williams has come on and solidified the number one spot there at this time. The other two guys (Cooper and Matthews) have been out with injuries and Darius is playing better. That’s probably given us a little bit more continuity with the tackles on either side when we go left or right. He is a senior and knows the calls, so he has given us a little bit more there. We need more than Darius there to get through the season, though.
What is the status of [Brad] Honeycutt, Leon [Robinson] and Kevin [Tuminello]?
“Kevin is probably the least likely to be ready for Saturday. Leon has the next best chance and Honeycutt will be back today. So we still won’t have the original offensive line on the field all week.”
Will Honeycutt be ready to play on Saturday?
Yes, he played all last year, and that’s not an issue for him. He’s fine. He’s been running and doing enough cardiovascular. The key is, “are you in playing shape?” There is a difference between running and breathing shape and moving, bending down, cut blocking shape. Getting up off the ground and hustling. There is a big difference from being able to run up and down the field and being able to play the game.
Is Reggie better equipped to handle injuries in the offensive line now, than last year?
No question. This is something I can sit down and talk to him about. `Hey look, we are going to go through it, but don’t worry about it we are going to handle it. We will figure a way to get done what needs to get done.’ He understands that and he knows we can do that. We have had to do that against different teams we played last year. We had to make sure we did certain things to get him out of the pocket and do whatever we needed to do to protect him.
You don’t want to expose too much too early, does an injured offensive line make you make the game plan even simpler?
We are putting together what we have to do to win the game. There is no holding back in the game plan this week. I can promise you that. We are using as many different formations, as many different sets, as many different personnel groupings as we always have. We haven’t cut back the game plan. We are going to make these guys come up to the task.
Are you ready to go as far as the defense is concerned?
We have some nicks there as well. Eric Henderson will not practice all week, and I’m not sure if he will make it for the game or not. It looks less and less likely as the days go by. We will have to mix and match to get enough pressure on the passer because this team we are playing can throw the football. We have to find ways to put pressure on the passer and stop the run. Those are the two biggest issues. We have had some pretty good continuity since we got Dawan Landry back in the lineup. He came back about a week ago. We have really been able to develop our continuity on the defensive side of the ball with a couple of exceptions on the defensive line.
With the game being in the afternoon, are you going to be substituting people in and out more frequently?
We are going to play our guys to win the game. It may take overtime. It may take the whole game. It will take, whatever it takes to win the game. I don’t think about playing time right now. I think about winning the game.
Have you changed some things defensively with the potential absence of both defensive ends?
Coach Tenuta will always adjust to get the right people in position to put pressure on the passer. Adamm Oliver and Chirod Williams and some of those other guys are going to play. Darrell Robertson will probably play some this week as a pass rusher. They are going to have to do their part. Those guys can play and do some things too. It’s up to them. They have to get in there and do some things in the scheme of the defense.
Is Eric’s injury something that could last longer than this week?
We don’t know. It’s not a season deal, but it could be one week, it could be three weeks I don’t know. We get an injury report every day. He hasn’t gotten better as fast as we would like. He hasn’t gotten worse.
How different is it opening the season at home?
This is a lot better. You would much rather play at home to open the season. Everybody would, but half the teams don’t get to.
Do you have to work harder to motivate the team to play?
Every team is different. Some teams you have to do that with. Some teams you might not have to do that. Tthe thing that I have talked about all off-season is learning to dominate every time you step out there. Learning to play at a high level no matter who the opponent is. Learning to treat every game as a playoff game. That’s where we are as a football team. We are not so good of a team where we have to try to get up to play a lesser team. We are not there yet. We would like to be there in a couple of years, but we are not there yet.
Do you think that this team plays to the level of its opponents?
After two years of being with this team and here with Georgia Tech football, I realized we play to the level of our opponent more than we should. That’s not what we need to do. We need to learn to dominate and play to our level every time we walk out there. My attention was drawn to it a little bit in the first year and then last year after going over the season it became very evident. I evaluated last season and looked at notes from first season. I started comparing notes, and realized it was one of the issues we needed to address here at Tech.
We are talking about going to a certain level. I think our guys in general respond to whatever you try to ask them to do. Our guys are high character guys. They understand and they trust. If you tell them something, they will believe it. I can give them examples of when they have done something and they will understand it. Now understanding and doing are two different things. We have to prove that we can do it and play at a high level every time.
How has Gerris Wilkinson evolved as a player?
First of all, Gerris is great football player. He didn’t play linebacker last year, so he has had to learn a whole new set of rules and a whole new set of responsibilities, a whole new way to see the game and that’s hard to simulate during practice. But, he knows the game. So he has the first part down. It’s just turning that level of play and that responsibility into this position, and that’s not easy to do from defensive end to middle linebacker with a stop in there at outside linebacker in between. He has done an excellent job. He will be an excellent middle linebacker at some point. He may already be there, it might take a while, and I don’t know when it is going to be. We will find out in the next couple of weeks. But he is going to be a really good linebacker before it is all over with. We knew he understood the game. We knew he had athletic ability. We knew he was big and strong and tough and he fit the mold of a middle linebacker. But he hadn’t done it. We looked around to see who could stop the run, take on the ISO, and run the defense and he has had all the attributes to be able to do that.
What would a win against an ACC team mean to Samford?
When I was there we played Auburn. We hung in there for a little while and then we wore down and got beat, but we hung in there. What a win like that would do for small program, you just can’t put it into words what it would mean. For Georgia Southern to go up to Athens, same thing. For any I-AA team to be an I-A team, that’s a big lick for that school.
How would you rank Samford’s talent?
That receiver over there (Efrem Hill), the quarterback over there (Ray Nelson), the safety over there (Cortland Finnegan), those guys can play. Where you struggle on that level most of the time is finding the big dominant linemen on both sides of the ball. You find guys that are fighters and tough guys and good players, but they are a little lighter and a little shorter than you find at the major colleges. But the skill positions, corners, defensive backs, safeties, linebackers, running backs, wide receivers, they are very comparable. [Efrem Hill] was a tall skinny quarterback coming out. So, nobody really knew. Then all of a sudden, he goes over there and they turn him into a great wide receiver and he comes on great.
What caused you to go to Samford?
They folded the World League. I was hunting a job. My son was getting ready to go into his senior year in high school and I would rather not move. So it worked out that Terry Bowden left and went to Auburn. They needed a coach and I was there. I was talking to several people, but that looked like a very good option at the time, and it ended up working out. We were blessed to be able to stay there for a year, and I would have stayed there a long time if Bill Cowher hadn’t called.
How has it helped to have a snapper like Andrew Economos?
That is one of the most overlooked, underrated positions in football. The only reason it ever gets noticed is if you don’t have one or he makes a bad snap. I think Andrew made the comment the other day, `I hope this is the only time I get interviewed all year,’ the other day he got interviewed. Normally, the only time they talk about you or to you is when something bad goes wrong as a snapper. He is excellent at his job and is good enough to maybe go to the next level as a long snapper.
Do you guys look for long snappers when you are out recruiting?
You bet we do. We certainly do. We are very fortunate Gavin Tarquinio is an excellent long snapper as well. We have him sitting there as a back up. Sometimes it’s hard to get one, but to be able to have two is really a blessing.
Have you made a decision about punter?
Not yet. We are getting there. We will know by Saturday. I think it’s hard going into a ball game knowing if I mess up one time I’m going to get ripped out of there. I put myself in his shoes. If I win the job, give me a game or two to prove I can or I can’t. Today, it would be a gut feel. I’m hoping by the end of the week we get some more statistics that give us a better idea who the punter will be. We tried to put them under the gun a little bit Saturday and we will try to do that today as well. See who performs.
Who will start at cornerback, Kenny Scott or Dennis Davis?
That really doesn’t matter. Both of them will be so tired at the end of the game, it won’t matter. They both will get plenty for reps against most of the teams we play.
Junior Linebacker Gerris Wilkinson:
Impressions of Samford:
“They play pretty spread out, mainly they try to attack you with passing game. But they do try to run the ball every now and then. We just need to shut down that receiver number 11 (Efrem Hill). He is a good player
Is there reason for concern with starters missing on the defensive line?
“You can’t overlook anybody, but we feel we have strong enough backups to be productive enough to get the job done. It’s definitely disappointing that you can’t have your best players out on there on the field, but we still feel confident.”
A year ago, did you ever imagine that you would be playing next to a guy who played safety last year (Chris Reis)?
“I never really thought about it. I was pretty sure that I would be back at linebacker, but I didn’t know what the specific situation was going to be. I’m real happy playing with Chris Reis. He is one of the best guys that I’ve ever been around. It’s fun to play with him because we communicate with each other really well. With me coming back to middle linebacker it felt like it was a new position for me since I haven’t been there for a year and since I’ve never played middle linebacker here. It was definitely a new position for him coming from safety. We both communicate to each other so we make sure we know what the other man is doing. We had to kind of learn each other positions so we can help each other.”
Are you ready to start the season?
“I’m definitely ready to get started. We worked hard this whole off-season and we’re definitely ready to get the season started this Saturday. We just want to set the tone for the rest of the season. Everybody is going to be looking to see how you come out the first game. We just want to come out and show that we’re trying to pick up right where we left off last year. We want to show that we still have a strong defence, we still have a strong offense and that we’re trying to improve coming off of last year. We just want to set the tone in this first game for the rest of the season. It really doesn’t matter who we open against. We would have the same goals in mind regardless of who we open up with.
What do you hope to get out of this game from your perspective?
“I just really want to set the tone for myself and how I’m going to play this year. There are a lot of questions about whether the new linebacker corps will be able to step up and be productive this year. I think myself and the other linebackers just look at it as a chance to start the season off right. We lost some pretty good players last year, but we’re pretty good this year also.”
How is KaMichael Hall coming along?
“KaMichael has been doing real well. He is learning his assignments real well and flying around to ball. Since Samford concentrates a lot on the passing we’re not going to have too many three linebacker sets. He may not see too much action in this game because of the type of offense Samford plays, but I’m sure he’ll get some reps in.”
Senior Center Andy Tidwell-Neal:
How is the offensive line coming together?
“We’re coming together. It’s a long process getting people back and getting people healthy, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job. Some guys have stepped up. Brad Brezina especially has stepped in and has done a good job at left guard. I know that Salih Besirevic is back at right tackle and doing a great job for us there. I am excited about the offensive line right now and how it is coming together.
What are you hoping to see in that first game with reasonable expectations?
“With the line we go into every game talking about blocking 75% for your grade, obviously three-forths of your plays you do well on. I think against any opponent that’s what the goal is. A lot of guys don’t have that much experience so if we can do that (75%) then I think we will have had a good game.
How difficult was it to go all the way through camp this year in regards to injuries?
“It was hard at times going into practice and not knowing who you’re going to be playing next to. It’s trying at times but I think we’ll be stronger for it. Hopefully we’ve learned to develop some depth and maybe in a couple weeks or down the road it will help us out a lot and maybe some of the other younger guys will come around a bit more.”
With the injuries how comfortable do you with playing center?
“I’ve known all the guys that I’m playing around for a long time. Brad Brezina is the youngest guy that’s playing right now and he is a third-year guy. We’re all comfortable with each other personally; the key is to develop some cohesiveness on the field. That will come. I feel comfortable right now but I hope everyone else feels the same.”
Have you seen Samford’s defense on tape? What are you expecting?
“They play a pretty aggressive style defense. Their D-linemen come off the ball hard, good pad level. They play orthodox fronts, things we’ll see a lot through out the year. That’s good to see stuff that we’ve seen before. I think it will be a good game with good match ups.
Are there players you can pick out when you watch film on them that you could say, “hey this guy could be a division 1A player?”
” Yes. Definitely. A lot of the differences people talk about between division 1A and 1AA a very small. I think a lot of the guys that play for Samford could be 1A players. The difference is just size. They have good athletes on their defense. They have a lot of guys who are equally as good of players as Georgia Tech.
Would you rather play Samford for the first game or have a big game like USC?
“I’m excited for Samford. I’m always excited for the first game of the season. It’s what you’ve been talking about all summer and its a lot of fun to prepare for anyone rather than going against your teammates all of camp.
How comfortable are you with shotgun snaps?
“We practice it so much that I would have to be completely inept not to be any good at it. We do it everyday after practice. I’ve gotten to be pretty good. I think all of our centers have come a long way with their shotgun snaps. Last year we didn’t do it at all and I think it brings another dimension to our offense this year.
Do you expect to play guard at all this game?
“I haven’t practiced at guard since the first week of camp. Since Kevin got hurt I’ve worked at center exclusively. I’m still fresh at guard so I know all the assignments. So nothing would surprise me at this point with that. I’ve told Coach that wherever he wants to play me that’s fine. If he wants me to play guard that’s fine with me. I really don’t have a preference.
How did you end up at Georgia Tech from Minnesota?
“It kind of just happened. I came down for a senior camp and I had a great time with the school and the area. I thought it was a great fit for me. It was the first offer I got and I committed. I committed very early because I just knew I really wanted to come here from day one. I got the offer in June or July and I committed by September.”