THE MODERATOR: Opening comments from Coach Franklin.
COACH FRANKLIN: First of all, I wanted to apologize. I do not like tardiness, and I was four minutes late, so I apologize for that. We had a recruit and his dad and brother were at practice and were going to leave before the end of this press conference, so I wanted to spend a few minutes with them, and again, I apologize. I know your time is valuable as well, so I apologize.
We're at an interesting time of the year right now where we're trying to balance two full‑time jobs, and that's one supporting our guys to make sure they finish strong academically. That's practice, making sure we're doing a great job in developing the guys that we have in our program now, and then also being on the road recruiting and being all over the place. The administration has been really, really supportive. We've been able to get everywhere we need to get and having some success there, and also still being able to get back for practice and those types of things.
So it's been fun. It's been exciting. I want to thank the fans. We've sold out our allotment and then some. This morning I went out and thanked, I don't know how many students it was that was out there in line, in the cold buying tickets. So I went out and thanked them and interacted with them. We actually ended up calling and getting more tickets. So that's always a great sign. Like we talked about all the time, that's one of the things, I think, that makes us special.
Playing Boston College and Coach Addazio was a really good challenge for us. I think the location is great, especially starting out the season in Ireland. That's going to make it affordable and a great opportunity for our fans to travel and see that game.
Got a lot of respect for Boston College and Coach Addazio. You look at the records and there are some similarities there. You look at the statistics that we always look at, turnover margin they have the advantage. Penalties per game, they have the advantage. Total offense, they have the advantage. Total defense, we have the advantage. Scoring offense, they have the advantage. Scoring defense, we have the advantage. So about what you would think it is at this point.
Defensively, they do a great job. Don Brown, I've known him for a long time. We've worked together at a previous institution. Really, really successful guy. They return six starters. They're an interesting defense, and he's been this way for a long time. They don't match personnel. So what I mean by that is typically people will go to a three‑down front on a passing situation to get more DBs in the game. He'll do it all the time. So you may be in 12 personnel, two tight ends, two wide receivers and one back, and they'll go three down and just blitz you like crazy from it from all different angles.
He obviously has a plan, but it doesn't necessarily—it isn't the way a lot of people do it in terms of matching personnel up. They're No.4 in the nation in rushing defense, and No. 18 in the nation in scoring defense. Number 12 in the nation in total defense, so it's going to be a really, really good challenge for us. They average 7 tackles per loss per game, which I think is No. 22 in the nation. So excited about that opportunity.
Offensively, their offensive coordinator, Ryan Day, I've known him for a long time. They've returned four starters this year. They're a big formation team, so they're going to try to outformation you, outleverage you. A lot of unbalance, lot of quarterback running games. The quarterback and the running back are the guys that really make them go. They have a veteran, big, physical offensive line. I think they're 15th in the nation in rushing at 251 yards per game. They also do a great job, as you can imagine if they're running the ball so well with the big, physical, offensive line, they do a great job with time of possession. So those things are going to be important for us. Special teams with Sean McGowan does a great job as well. They're No. 9 in the nation in kickoff returns, and we're going to have some challenges.
So excited about it. We've obviously broken them down. Having gotten to the point where we started game planning or starting to talk to our players about them specifically. Right now we're in program development, which is really like a spring ball‑type mentality, where we're going good‑against‑good in practice and letting the young guys get reps as well, guys that have been red‑shirting. So we'll flip the switch and start working on those guys about a week and a half out.
So open it up to questions.
Q. I was wondering if you could tell us about how productive the first handful of practices have been, and maybe some specifics on what you're doing to try to get some of these young guys a little bit better.
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think they've been very productive. It's great to see these guys that have been on scout team basically for the entire year to now getting some legitimate reps in practice. So basically we'll go five reps with the first team on both offense and defense. We'll go four reps with the twos, and then we'll get three reps with the threes. So typically during the season you're just working the ones and the twos against the scout teams. So the fact that they're all getting a chance to work is really good.
We've also gone some young guy scrimmages. So what we'll do, say we're going helmets and shoulder pads. We'll go full pads for the non‑travel guys, and every once in a while we'll scrimmage them. We'll scrimmage them at the end of practice, just ten plays, talking ten minutes, 10‑12 plays. Today we did a skelly for those guys as well. You're working the punters in. You're working the back‑up kickers in and seeing what they can do and create some pressure environments for them at the end of practice as well. Just to give some of those young guys an opportunity.
So the way I kind of look at this period before we get into the specific bowl prep, it's 50‑50. It's 50% concluding the end of last season, and it's 50% getting a head start on spring ball is kind of the way we look at it.
So far, so good. I think the other thing probably that's important is we're getting some guys back. You look at that last game of the year, we played with 41 scholarship players, so the fact that we're getting some of those guys back healthy and into the game plan and into the depth chart has been really helpful as well.
Q. In 2013 you got a chance to see Tyler Murphy in action while he was at Florida. Is there anything you took away from his game that can help you prepare for this match‑up now? I know it was a couple years ago, but anything you saw that can help you prepare the team?
COACH FRANKLIN: No, we have enough film. You don't really need to go back to 2013. We have enough film based on this year and the entire season to be able to break it down, which we think are the best games to evaluate them. Similar offenses and defenses and stuff like that. There is no doubt he's been really important for them. He's been a big part of their success. A big part of their offense. He's a kid that went away, but came home and has done a nice job for them. He's going to be a major factor in the game and in the running game.
Q. You announced that Michael O'Connor was transferring. Do you expect any other transfers or where do you see things on that front?
COACH FRANKLIN: Michael O'Connor has transferred. We wish him the best of luck. He's doing extremely well academically. He just felt like this was an opportunity for him to start over again, and we support him and wish him the best of luck.
Besides that, we're getting ready for our bowl game against Boston College.
Q. How important are these practices for the offensive line that didn't come together late in the season and to get game experience playing together?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it's really important because you have those red‑shirt guys. Especially the red‑shirt guys that have been on scout team that you're able to start working those guys back in as well. It's even the meeting time. A lot of times those guys were in scout meetings trying to learn how to run the opposing offense or opposing defense. And now they're in those meeting sessions as well. They're getting a bunch of one‑on‑one reps. As we all know, the development of our offensive line is critical to our success moving forward. You'd love to be able to—coaches have always talked about trying to get a rule in place where the bowl game is kind of not really connected to the season, and you can play pretty much everybody in the bowl game and it not count against eligibility, that's never gone through, but it's always been a discussion point, because you'd love to be able to play some of these guys in that situation. But they've done a nice job. You think about the Brosnans and the Noah Behs, and the Chance Sorrells, and the Chasz Wrights of the world. We're excited about those guys and their future.
We've also talked about that in a lot of programs, established programs, offensive linemen typically don't play until their red‑shirt sophomore years. Though they've made great strides, they're still young guys.
Q. I know you can't speak specifically about recruiting, but what do you hope to accomplish over the next couple days before the dead period starts?
COACH FRANKLIN: It's interesting because they've changed the recruiting calendar. So the dead period is a lot longer. And you have to do a good job with that and understand how you're going to manage it. So I think there are some real positives. It gives you time with your family and to be able to go to the conventions from a professional development standpoint and those kinds of things. But you also have coaching changes going on right now which makes situations unstable, and those kids would like to have the opportunity to get their futures kind of locked in, and it's hard to do that with the dead period coming.
So finishing strong is important. We've done a great job. We've got a strong foundation in this recruiting class but we're going to have to finish strong. These last five spots are going to be really, really important to see how we finish.
Q. When you talk about the young guys you've gotten into practice so far. Have any of them jumped out specifically in terms of guys that you maybe wanted to get a better look at and have been impressed with what you saw?
COACH FRANKLIN: It's hard to pick out. It's hard to pick out guys but sitting here and thinking, because you've asked the question, I think Joe Julius has done a really good job. That's going to be an important piece moving forward with Ficken graduating and moving on, and he's done such a great job for us. But he's a guy that's been impressive. I think about offense. Getting DeAndre Thompkins involved. We know he's a guy that can run and has been explosive. So we've been doing things with him the last couple of practices. I had a meeting with him one‑on‑one, which was really good. I think there are a lot of guys. Antoine White is a guy that's been jumping out really all year long. It's interesting, there is a possibility that next year we could have three guys from the state of Alabama either starting or playing a lot for us. Which I don't know if that's happened before.
Parker has had a really good year for us and done some really nice things. You think about Christian Campbell as a true freshman and Torrence Brown, who is a guy we're excited about from scout team as well. I'm kind of careful doing this, because I don't want to leave guys out, but they're the guys that probably jump out to me right now.
Q. What was your opinion and overall evaluation of the year Deion Barnes had and where do you think he can improve going forward for the bowl game and next season?
COACH FRANKLIN: We haven't really done that yet. Basically from the time the last game ended we've been on the road recruiting and not going back and doing those types of evaluations. Those things will happen. We'll look at the grades, we'll watch the film, we'll make cut‑ups. I'll have one‑on‑one meetings with each of the players. The position coach will have one‑on‑ones with each of the players. I get a sheet that's been really valuable for us. What we do is the strength staff does an evaluation of all the players. The academic staff does an evaluation of all the players. The position coach does an evaluation of all the players. So when I sit down and meet with them, it's not just my opinion, it's a complete evaluation on them. So that's been really helpful.
So we're not at that point yet. We'll do that once the season ends. But overall, I can tell you this, his practice habits, his leadership, his maturity, I think we've all been really, really impressed with. He's been a really important piece of our defense. He's been a really important part of our team. And not just from a statistical standpoint, but all the other nice things as well. He's done a nice job of that. And a very, very mature player.
Q. You've mentioned a few times over the last handful of games about wide receiver separation. How would you evaluate the progress of the way the guys were able to do that or not do that over the last two games? What can this period do to maybe help learn route running, foot work, technique, whatever the case might be to help?
COACH FRANKLIN: We have to get better there. That is going to be in the off‑season speed development, improving in those areas. Top of the route is so important. We talk about it all the time. That's where wide receivers have a chance to be special. It's how they get into the route and out of the route to create separation. Let's be honest, all those things are magnified because of what we talked about earlier up front. The more time we have to hold the ball, the more time you have to work the route and work the defender. So one thing affects the other, so that's where eliminating any type of wasted movement at every position is critical. So wide receivers, that's false starts. It's false starts at any position. It could be as simple as you get in your stance and your back foot's like this, and your top foot is kind of bent in because maybe their stance is narrow and they're trying to give themselves a better chance to have balance. But then with the snap of the ball they straighten that foot out. Or they're standing too upright and they drop down to get started. It's all of those little things that may be the difference in catching the 50‑yard bomb in the air or just coming off your fingertips. It's making sure you get to the right depth in your routes.
It's getting open as quick as you possibly can to help our offensive line and our quarterbacks out. It's all of those things, and we try to do that at every single position. Eliminating the wasted movement. Eliminating the false steps, and that's at every single position, and definitely wide receivers as well.
Q. Can you talk about the season that Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman had? Did they go beyond your expectations? What do you see from them moving forward?
COACH FRANKLIN: Again, I'm not sure if we have a press conference after the last game or what, but it's hard, just like Deion, it's hard for me to really summarize the whole season, because we haven't had the time to do that yet. Probably the next time we'll have a chance to do that with you guys would be right before the start of spring practice.
But I've been pleased with those guys in general. I think it always helps when you've got a guy in the middle like Mike Hull, flanked by two guys that are talented but maybe a little less experienced. So not only do they have a lot of the things that we're looking for, and I think Coach Pry did a great job with them as well. But they also have a tremendous example. So I've been really pleased with them.
We didn't have Bell the last couple of weeks. We're expecting to have him back. I think that's going to be really important for us, especially against a team that runs the ball. We ended up having to play a lot more nickel and dime than we probably would have. But, again, I apologize. I'm not specifically answering your question, but we haven't really spent the time to do this season evaluation yet.
Q. Will there be an end‑of‑season press conference?
COACH FRANKLIN: I don't want to sign up for anything yet, but it will be a discussion with Jeff whether it's in the spring or there is another time to do that. We'll obviously be on the road recruiting. Maybe it will be something tied with the recruiting. I'm not sure. Jeff's giving me this look like, "shut up. Shut up, James." But, again, at this point we haven't done those.
Q. That's fair enough. But I was wondering coming out of right field on this one, but you've been doing a lot of in‑home visits. What is that process like for you when you go into somebody's house and they open their doors to you? What do you try to tell them?
COACH FRANKLIN: Good question. First of all, we've been all over the place. I think two days ago I was in Connecticut in the morning, going to schools. Flew back for practice. Practiced, got done with practice, flew back and did home visits. That's pretty much how it's been on practice days trying to do both, especially what we call the coordinator practices, where all the assistants are on the road. It's myself, offense, defense, special teams coordinators here kind of doing practice with the graduate assistants.
But the home visits are very, very important to me for a number of reasons. I want to be able to go into the school and pay respect to the high school coach, pay respect to the community. I think that's very, very important that you do that. I also think it helps you understand the young man. Same reason for the home. I want to go into the home and pay respect to the family. I think it also really helps you. You watch the film, you see the transcripts, you talk to the coaches. You talk to the custodians, you talk to the opposing coaches in the area. You're trying to get as much information as you can. But I think it's really helpful to break bread with people and see their background and where they come from. It gives you a better understanding of who the young man is and what his background is. Whatever challenges he's had to overcome. Whether it's a two‑parent home, a single parent home, whether it's a guardian, whatever it may be. All those things are important. Because as you know, the relationship aspect is so important to us. Our leadership is relationship based. Everything we do is about relationships.
So having a better understanding of who these guys are and having a relationship with their parents is really important, because this isn't going to go perfect. There are going to be bumps in the road along the ride. There is going to be homesickness. They go from being in high school to being the man, to coming here and starting at the bottom and having to work their way right back up. So being able to have that type of relationship with the high school coach, with the guardian, with the parents, with the young man to work through all of those things is really, really important.
At all costs, we try to get into every single high school and every single home of every single kid that we're recruiting, if possible.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
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THE MODERATOR: Opening comments from Coach Franklin.