You’ve got a lot of decisions to make. A lot of wide open competitions and a lot of players to fit those roles."Yeah. It’s been fun. It’s been a great competition. The guys, that group in the room, they’re all good guys. There’s 90 good men there and they all understand they’re competing, but they’re also trying to help each other get better. As a coach, I can’t ask for anything more from them. I hear, even though they’re competing with a guy for a spot, I hear them talking and saying, let’s try this, or let’s do this. They’re helping each other out to get better as a defensive unit and they’re helping each other out to get better as an individual player as they compete. To me, that’s huge. It helps us as a team."
The two most tantalizing guys are Aaron Curry and Keith Rivers, what they can do if they’re healthy.A: I think all of them are, tantalizing is the word you used. I think it’s all of them. There’s competitions all along the board. To me, that’s really good. If they’re all getting better, we’re going to be better. You know in this game of football, playing linebacker is not easy and there are injuries that happen. If the next guy that steps in is just as talented as the guy that had to take a week off and then you go and play on a Sunday, you’re much better as a football team. Opposed to a guy going in with less talent, then you have problems. I’ve always told my guys, the expectation is for the position. If you’re the linebacker in the game on Sunday, the expectations are for that position. Not the guy, not the person, not the individual, but for the position. This is what the … linebacker does at the New York Giants. This is what the … linebacker does at the New York Giants. Not just a guy, his name, but the position. To me the better we get as a unit, all three units, the better we’re going to be. Now, we all know that nine of them are probably going to be on the squad, so that means I’ve got to have multiple talented guys who can play multiple positions. Guys that are smart enough to be able to go in and play …. This group is very intelligent. To me, that’s huge. That will benefit us Week 10, when somebody’s nicked up and somebody has to go in and play a new spot. That’s going to help us, as a football team.
So what did you see from Curry? Is he showing any of the old flashes?A: I think he’s coming along. He had a long way to go because of where he came from, but he had a pick out here the other day. He’s a big strong man who can play blockers. I think every day he goes out, he gets better. Just like all of them.
Saw you guys doing some third down stuff yesterday. Is it safe to say that even if someone is not designated a starter, you’re going to find a spot to put a lot of these guys inA: I think that’s one of the things we do as a defensive staff and Perry does a good job. To me, the ball game is broken up into two phases. First and second down and then, to me, third down is a completely different game because the majority of teams in this league are going to throw the ball every play on third down. Your mindset’s different. The guys you put on the field are different. When you look at our third down defense, there’s a lot of speed on the field. Both at the D-line spot, the linebacker spot, and the DB spot. I think we do a good job of putting guys in positions to be successful and to help us win, whether we’re in man or zone coverage, whether we’re in five defensive linemen rushing, or two defensive linemen rushing, or all linebackers, that causes problems for the offense. They have to come up and identify all of that stuff. We have a lot of things that we do and we have a lot of guys who fit into different little roles, which is exciting for them because they may not be a starter in first or second down, but come third down, they can be a starter because of their talents.
What have you seen from Sabino?A: Well, being a Michigan guy, like I am, it’s kind of hard to coach a Buckeye. I like him. He’s a good young player. He’s smart. He’s into the game, he knows the game and I think right now I can’t wait until he gets out there and plays against Pittsburgh. I want to see him in live game action and to me, always with a first-year guy, a rookie guy, you have to find out if the gig’s too big for him. It doesn’t look like it, he’s played in the horseshoe at Ohio State, so he knows what the big … are. I think it will be fun for him to get out there. It will be fun for me to watch him in a live game. I think the other guys in our room are also kind of excited for him.
Spencer Paysinger has come a long way as an undrafted free agent, a lot of special teams, and now he’s first team linebacker in practice. Can you talk about how far he’s come and the things he’s gotten better at that has allowed him to get to where he is today.A: One, physically he has changed his body. He has gotten stronger. I don’t think necessarily coming out of college he was the strongest or biggest guy, which I think is why he probably got overlooked. And now that you look at it, you’re like, wow, why did anybody overlook him? Physically he has changed. He’s a mature man now. If you look at him, you’re like who is that? So that has helped him. Spencer is a very cerebral guy. He understands the game, he understands situations. He’s worked hard on becoming a voice on the football field, whereas before, his rookie year, he didn’t say a word. He didn’t say … He just went out and did what everybody told him to do. Now, if you watch, he’s actually becoming… And directing traffic and getting guys lined up. To me, that’s a big step in a linebacker’s role. It’s fun to watch him in that role.
Jacquian Williams the other day said, he’s running obviously behind Spencer right now, with the early practices, he said let’s look forward to the games. That will be my chance, that will be his chance. It looks like there was a very good competition building between those two guys. Is that kind of what you envisioned, what you wanted?A: I mean in this game you want competition. They are competing, but then they could both be out there in Nickel together. To me, I think the thing that Jacquian is talking about is, he can’t wait to get to the games as a group of linebackers. Whoever is out there. Yes, he wants to compete because he missed a lot last year and he wants to compete. He loves competing just like all of the other guys do. It will be fun to watch them gel as a unit because there is going to be some new components in there. There’s guys that left so it will be a new look.
How far back did Jacquian set himself by missing so much time last year? Do you have any doubts or thoughts about what he can and cannot do as a player right now?A: I don’t think he set himself back mentally. Physically I think it took a while to get back out with the injury and that takes its toll after a while because he came back a little bit and then got hurt again. Mentally he’s always been into the game. The physical part of the actual techniques, the man to man, and this and that, you’ve got to get back into that. That’s where these reps are going to help.