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Kansas Football Media Day: Turner Gill Recap

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Head Coach Turner Gill

Opening Statement:

"Good afternoon. I appreciate everyone coming today. I have a good opportunity to share with you how our football team is doing here after five practices. First of all, I feel really good about the cohesiveness. I feel good about the work ethic. I also feel really good about coming together as a unit offensively, defensively and our coaching staff.

The first thing I want to talk about goes back to what I said last year as far as coming out and what we want to get after. That was speed, competitiveness and we've got that so far out of five practices. Number one, what I've seen out of our offense. We talk about tempo and we talk about getting to the line of scrimmage and getting plays called, getting plays going. I love the body language of our quarterbacks, Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham, who are both doing some things to get our tempo the way we want, getting in and out of the huddle. That tells me they have confidence in what we're trying to get done offensively. They have really studied their playbooks and got things going in the right direction.

Defensively, no question speed and being more physical. In the five practices we've had, I've seen those two things for sure. We've gotten faster and now we just have to continue to fine tune some things and make sure we stay together as an offense and defense and also in special teams.

I also want to talk about starting to believe. I know you hear some of those comments about `is your team buying into what you're trying to accomplish?' I really have sensed that from the first day. There was a different mood, a lot better approach as far as our football team and I think that came from the leadership, as far as our strength staff in the offseason, and I have to give a lot of credit to the seniors. I spoke to them a little bit after spring ball about some of the things they need to try and get done and accomplished. They're the ones who are going to move this football program forward in a faster way as far as doing things on a leadership side of it and on the football field. We only have 15 of them, as far as seniors, including walk-ons. Those people are going to be very instrumental in what we're trying to get accomplished.

To finish up and then I'll open it up to some questions. A few guys who have really stood out. First, on the defensive side of the ball, Steve Johnson. He has really shown some good physical play. He's running well from sideline to sideline. He's showing good leadership and I have to give some credit to Coach (Vic) Shealy, our defensive coordinator, but also Vantz Singletary our linebackers coach. He's definitely come on strong. Brad McDougald, playing safety. We're always trying to find guys to make plays and so far out of the five practices he has shown up. His name has been seen and mentioned. His jersey is around the ball and not just from being able to intercept passes, but also being able to tackle well and doing all those things you need a safety to do.

The offensive side of the ball, Tanner Hawkinson. He moved over to right tackle and has done a really good job of being stabilized there and doing a good job of run blocking and pass protecting. He's definitely a leader as far as on the offensive line. Obviously, we have Jeremiah Hatch and some other guys, but he has really stood out the most.

The last guy, as far as on the offensive side, is DJ Beshears. Last year we had him playing a little bit at receiver in what we call the H position and then also a little bit in the Z position. We've now moved him over to the X position and he's competing with Christian Matthews and he has really stood out. He's done some good things running routes. He runs routes really well, good hands, very fast and obviously strong.

Last little thing here. We added another person to the roster. A guy by the name of Dominic Foreman. He's a junior college corner from Coffeyville Junior College and he's going to come on and take the place on the roster for DJ Marshall. Let's open it up for questions."

- The fact that Tanner Hawkinson has taken a leadership role is another promising indicator on the offensive line.  To date we've heard Hatch, Zlatnik and Hawkinson all mentioned as players taking a much more prominent player leadership role over the past year.  I think this is something we've been missing for a couple of seasons now.

 

On the youth this year's team has:

"Each and every day we're having a lot of discussions as far as personnel. We're going to continue to do that and I'm probably going to say after Saturday we'll have a little better sense of some guys who we anticipate to have a better chance to play for us this season. That's not to say they'll come in and start right away, but they are going to be instrumental in playing early in the year, so I want to get one more scrimmage in on Saturday and then we'll evaluate from there. We're going to continue to evaluate them, but at that time we'll have a better idea of who some guys are that stand out.

There's going to be a lot of guys. We have 25 guys from this class coming in and what that number's going to be eventually, as far as how many will play, there will be some guys playing. If I had to say a number, which can never be etched in stone because of moving parts, probably somewhere around that eight or nine range of guys that have a good chance to play. I think after Saturday I'll have a better idea of who we'll have a good chance to look at."

Gill lowering that initial 15ish number he mentioned from signing day.  As a whole this is a VERY young team so it's probably difficult to say, but honestly I'd say the more redshirts the better when we start talking about years 3,4 and 5 for Gill.

 

On whether the team bonded well during the summer:

"All I can go by is talking to some of the players occasionally and getting some things from the strength staff. I really saw an impact on the first day of practice. I didn't have to talk to anybody. I could just see when they got back it had really paid off, particularly our offensive guys. They got a better understanding for our offense. They were sharp. They were coming out here doing things. We haven't had a whole lot of turnovers and that's a good sign to me. Usually, early on the defense may be ahead of the offense, but they really weren't that far off. That showed me there is some leadership and it also showed me they were dedicated to get some work done and focused on what they want to get accomplished. Again, getting better every single day and they've done that. On the defensive side, I think our guys also did a good job in being able to just line up and not have any miscues early on. We're going to be implementing a lot more things as we go on, but early on it showed me that they had done some things in the summer and they were in good shape. It was very hot early on and the guys held up very, very well."

 

On how James Sims has handled the role of returning leading rusher and number one on the depth chart:

"Very good. He's focused and again we're always talking to our guys about being competitive. He's going to be a guy that is in the mix of things. He is our best guy at this point in time, but we're always going to find two guys. He has a good approach every day about coming to work, getting better, talking to (Running backs) Coach (Reggie) Mitchell, talking to myself and the things he needs to do to be the best running back, not only at the University of Kansas, but hopefully in the Big 12 Conference."

Here's the quote on the RB situation.  Definitely doesn't make it sound like Sims is head and shoulders above but you do have to believe he's going to figure heavily into the gameplan to start the season based on what he was able to accomplish last year.

 

On what the biggest difference between year one and year two for the coaching staff and players is:

"A lot more relaxed. Coaching staff, number one, they all now understand my approach on things. I can look back at things from last year. A lot of our coaches were waiting to see how I was going to respond. Coaching style was number one. Number two, how I would handle different things that would go on, whether it was depth chart or personnel, scheme, but now they know how I'm going to respond in certain ways. I think now they can all be more relaxed as we all know when you have an unknown it adds a little bit more anxiety and a little bit more tension. I feel less tension in the room with our staff and I think that's a huge thing in being able to move on and I also see that in our players.

They know what the expectation is on what I've laid out for them. Now they can teach the younger guys as they come in and so again I think the unknown has been knocked off because now being here a year we've had certain things come up in the program that I've had to handle. I think they've seen how I handle that whether it's right, wrong or indifferent, but they know how I'm going to handle it and we can all just move forward."

Just like last year the storyline seemed to be adjustment, this year it seems to be a theme of "settling in".  The adjustment excuse is being taken of the table it would appear.

 

On how Kale Pick is making the transition to wide receiver:

"Very good. I love his dedication. I love his work ethic. He's very good receiver and blocker. He loves the game. If I had to say one guy that understands the word passion, I point towards Kale Pick. He understands how to play the game with passion and he's not a vocal guy so it doesn't mean to have passion you have to be verbal and talking a lot. It just means when you come in this room, he's focused, he goes on the football field and ready to play, he's ready to get after it and he doesn't lose any reps as far as that goes. He takes every rep like it's going to be his last and he's definitely a very good example of what you define passion for a football player."

 

On if any positives carried over from last season:

"I think the last few games of the year I saw our guys show a lot more confidence in what we were trying to get accomplished. I think it's carrying over to our guys being more in tune with the coaching staff. That's talking about belonging, believing or whatever term or phrase you want to use that's what we're talking about. I've seen our guys have done that so we're going to carry over those things and keep moving forward. Our team is very close and getting more connected. That's probably the biggest thing I've seen as far as continuing from the last part of the season and even today those guys are a lot closer. I'm not just talking on the football field, but also off the football field."

 

On what the next step for Jordan Webb is:

"Being consistent. That's what we're striving for our quarterbacks to be able to do. Body language is excellent and again coming more from our players, not necessarily verbally, but I can just watch quarterbacks and see how our players respond to him as he walks on to the field even as we come to practice. As we get up to the line of scrimmage and how the players respond when things are going well and then when things are going not so well for him. He just needs to be more consistent. I like the way he has come in to this camp. I definitely see him more relaxed and he has a lot better sense of what's going on and then how he's supposed to go about his business. He's definitely made some great strides. I have to take my hat off to (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterback) Coach (Chuck) Long and Quinn Mecham too. I've seen a great response from him too. He's gotten bigger, faster and stronger. I've seen him come along as far as anticipating where he's going to throw the football. We've definitely gotten better, now we just have to continue to get better with our execution."

 

On how the players have responded to Jordan Webb and whether it is different from last season:

"I think it's more about responding to what Jordan does first and then that's how a player is going to respond. I think there's been a bigger difference in Jordan Webb and how he goes about his business. Our players have sprung in a great way too. They're more open. He's more approachable. Last year I didn't see him as a very approachable guy to our team. Part of that is because he didn't understand much of our offense. He didn't understand what we were really trying to get across; therefore, it was a little tougher for him to communicate with the rest of his teammates, particularly on the offense and getting it to go the right way. Our guys are really responding well to him and that's great to see. Again, Quinn Mecham is not that far either."

 

On how big a gap there is between the returning quarterbacks and the newcomers:

"There's a gap. They have a long way to go if they're going to make something happen as far as a chance to compete for the starting job. Again, we're going to have to have something forward within in the next week, week and a half. If an underclassman is going to have a chance to play and we'll make that decision at the time. I like the way the top two guys are moving forward."

Writing is on the wall in terms of the starter.  It's going to be Webb.  Hopefully things go well and it doesn't have to be revisited but I think we'll all be keeping an eye out for what transpires through the first 3-5 weeks.

 

On what difference he's seen in Jeremiah Hatch:

"I think the biggest thing is being able to get to the second level. Trying to have a center get to the linebackers and last year he wasn't able to do that very well. You're going to have to have some time where your center gets to the second level. When you get up to the second level that's when you have a better opportunity to have bigger plays. I think that's the opportunity we're looking for is to have bigger plays, particularly in the run game as far as our running backs being able to have more of those 20 to 50 yard type runs. You got to have a center that can get up to the second level."

Hard not to wish Hatch the best in his final year.  I can remember him playing a drive at the insight bowl with his helmet broken and consistently getting knocked off as a redshirt freshman.  He was playing left tackle and held his own all season.  I remember thinking that he was going to be a good one once he settled into his spot.  Things haven't necessarily been smooth since but he has a chance to rectify that this year and by all accounts he's prepared himself to do so.

 

On when a player re-sculps his body like Hatch, what it does for his teammates:

"It gives some other guys confidence. We don't have a whole lot of those guys in that situation to say they have to lose a lot of weight or anything in that nature, but to see someone accomplish it, that just gives somebody else the confidence to do it if they're in that same situation. Again, I think he's seen it and his teammates have seen it too as far as seeing him do some more things on a football level that he couldn't do last year. We're all proud of him and again it's not just about football either. It's also about his life and his health for the rest of his life from that standpoint."

 

On if there is a certain urgency in the first game after losing the opener last season:

"I don't think there's more urgency necessarily. I just think we're ready to go out and play well. We just can't play like we did last year. We just have to play better. I'll take full responsibility for any of those losses and that's just the way it goes. As a coach I have to get our guys ready to play and get them ready to execute. We are a little bit better football team. Hopefully things are going to work out in a better way, which I anticipate it will because of the way our guys have approached the offseason program and spring ball. As we are today if we keep making progress like we are. If we aren't turning the ball over and our defense is creating turnovers then positive things are going to happen for the University of Kansas in 2011."

 

On how often he looks back at last season:

"It's behind. Yes, you have to look at some things on tape, but I say all the time it's 2011. It's 2011 and you have to learn from it. That's part of life. You have to take some things that have happened to you in the past and then how's that going to improve you for the future. That's the only reason we kind of look at the past is what are we going to look at and how are we going to improve it and make sure it doesn't happen again."

 

On the potential of Keeston Terry:

"We're very excited about him. He has four years left now. If we had to play today, he and (Bradley) McDougald would be the starting guys, but Lubbock Smith has really come on strong. Keeston is a guy that is very tough. He has good man-to-man coverage. He plays the run well. He's a very talented young man and I think every game and every year he's just going to be an outstanding player. I anticipate before his career is over that he'll be one of the top guys in the Big 12 Conference at safety."

I was going to mention Smith myself.  Terry and McDougald are getting the hype but Smith started late in the season as a redshirt freshman and showed some promise.  At the end of the day Terry and McDougald might be the starters but Smith could be an important piece as well on some level.

 

On if the new Big 12 schedule will make the process more difficult:

"It doesn't affect us. You're going to play your opponent, whoever they are and whatever the situation is, in your conference. Yes, you kind of look at the big picture, but really the only thing I see from playing the round robin is now you get a chance to know those teams a lot more thorough as you continue on the next three, four, five years. We're going to know them really, really well versus you had three or four teams that you played every two years. This way it becomes even greater detail and you have to make a few more adjustments as you play a team every year."

 

On the role he sees Darrian Miller playing:

"He's right in the thick of it. He's a very talented young man on what he's shown us so far. We're just going to have to find out if he's a guy that can take hits and still come up and bounce back and be ready to go. He's definitely a guy that has big play potential as far as taking a handoff and going 80 or 90 yards. That's something he can bring to the table. We have a lot of good competition there. We're definitely going to play at least two guys there and could be even more than that, but we're trying to find two running backs that can really make a difference on our football team and Darrian Miller is in the mix."

 

On if he can get leadership from the underclassmen:

"Yes, and again that has to be earned. In most cases, not always, you're going to have to have someone on the football field that's playing quite a bit and I don't know if he has to be a starter necessarily, but a guy who has an instrumental role and making an impact. If you're making an impact on the football team then your other teammates are going to look at you. They're going to respect you and listen to what you have to say. You do have to have some success on the football field as far as to say you are a leader and you're teammates are going to respond to you."