STEVE ADDAZIO: Congratulations to the US Women’s Ice Hockey team, winning a gold, five Eagles on that team, that’s really wild, really exciting. Again, great congratulations to all involved.
We’re excited here to kick off spring ball coming up next week. As many of you are aware, we have the announcement of Antoine Smith joining our staff, working with the defensive tackles, and also the addition of Bill Sheridan coming in and working with the inside linebackers. Both guys have built a great resume.
Antoine was with our program last year off the field and is a Northeast guy. Grew up and played at Maine and went on and coached at a lot of different levels. Has a great familiarity, hit the ground running as well as Bill Sheridan who has got an impeccable resume. Has been defensive coordinator in the NFL at two different spots and multiple years in the NFL. I worked with him at Notre Dame.
Scot Loeffler worked with him at Michigan. He’s been at Michigan State, he’s been everywhere. So, guy with a really deep resume. Really excited about Bill.
Coach Reid, obviously, a defensive coordinator but also will be working with the defensive ends, so that’s exciting. He built a great reputation in the NFL as developing great pass-rushers off the edge. So, I like that round up heading into spring ball.
Going into spring ball, we’re very excited. You know, we still have a fair number of guys on the sideline in terms of that won’t be available for practice, but we’ve got so many exciting young guys right now and older guys alike that we’re going to have a chance to develop and grow and really continue to build this football program.
Great level of experience had by many young guys. Some young guys this is a great opportunity to get on the field and continue to grow and develop and show their growth.
So I think it’s all a very good opportunity for us over the next six weeks or so to continue with the growth that we had off the season and to establish our program moving forward as a program that can compete at the very, very highest level. So, we’re thrilled about that. Any questions?
Q. What is Anthony Brown’s status? Did he have surgery, and where is he at this point?
STEVE ADDAZIO: Anthony’s great. Had surgery. Doing great, looks great. He’s right on schedule, probably ahead of schedule. So, he’ll be fine. He’ll be ready to roll, obviously, as we go into the summer he’ll still be rehabbing through the spring, and each week doing more and more things. So, he’s doing fantastic.
Q. How do you deploy your available quarterbacks right now as far as spreading out?
STEVE ADDAZIO: EJ Perry isn’t going to have a chance to come in here and take all those reps, and we’re very excited about EJ. He has a very bright future. I think he’s going to be an extremely exciting player to watch throughout spring ball. He’s a guy that can throw it, he can run it. He’s an unbelievable competitor. So, I think EJ is ready to take his opportunity here. We’re all excited to watch him.
Q. Some of the other kids still?
STEVE ADDAZIO: You’ve got John Fadule. You’ve got Matt McDonald. Those are really the guys taking the bulk of the reps in there. And Grosel will be in there taking some reps. But I think great eyes are going to be on EJ. I think what a great blessing to have him take these snaps. I can’t wait to watch him.
Q. Darius, was that just a unilateral decision on his part? Did you converse with Darius Wade before he left?
STEVE ADDAZIO: I think what happens is guys look at what their opportunities are, and they want to be able to go on and be able to have playing time. I think it was obvious where we are. Wish guys well like that and help them in any way we can to find a spot to land that will be suitable for them.
Just really wish him well and follow him and all that good stuff. Darius did a great job for us at the end of the year, and we’re very thankful to him for what he got done. So, I’m going to wish him all the best as he moves on. But I think like anything else, it’s a playing-time issue.
Q. Is the most important thing going into this is having an intact offensive line with five returning starters?
STEVE ADDAZIO: Got seven guys with ten starts under their belt, and another guy that’s ready to take off and really roll. So, we’ve got depth and we’ve got experience. Barring any unforeseen real devastating injuries, we should have one of the better offensive lines in the ACC Conference, and it does start up front. I’m excited about that.
Q. Who are some of the other players that you said were banged up in the fall that might not be ready now?
STEVE ADDAZIO: Well, guys that, you know, status for the spring is probably somewhat still undeterminable. It would be Zach Allen who is a guy that’s really established himself as a player here. I’m not sure that he needs to be taking that many shots. I think he’s still getting himself back in shape here. Chris Garrison is a guy, I think, Elijah Johnson, still a guy. Max Richardson, we’ll see exactly the level of contact that we’ll have, along with Connor Strachan, I think those are the guys. So, you know so we’re going to be really careful and prudent there.
Q. On the status of Elijah Johnson, how has he come along in his rehab?
STEVE ADDAZIO: Great. It’s been a while. He’s doing great. The attitude is slow and steady. This is the time of year where you have that opportunity to do that. So, I think that’s what’s going to happen here. But he’s coming along good. But I don’t expect you’ll see him in spring practice.
Q. You said there were seven guys that have starts on the offensive line and an eighth who is ready. Who is one of them?
STEVE ADDAZIO: I think Alec Lindstrom is a guy that’s really coming on strong. Of course, you have Wyatt Knopfke who has had a great off-season. Anthony Palazzolo and those are guys. We’ve made a few position -- taking a look at a couple position changes as well on both sides of the ball, Nate Emer and Adam Korutz are working with the offensive line this winter and this spring.
Drew McQuarrie is working over on defense. Tate Haynes is over working as a corner. I’m trying to think if I missed somebody. I feel like I’m missing one guy. Ben Glines has taken some dual role stuff, which I’m really excited about. It’s kind of what we did at Florida where we take that inside slot receiver and work him a little bit at running back. He played that natural position in high school, so it gives us a chance with more flexibility with him to do more things. He’s had a great off-season. I think those would be some of the changes.
I think on the offensive line we’re going to shuffle guys around. I’d like to shuffle guys in the spring just a little bit to enhance your versatility. I think you’ll see the ability for Petrula to work some at center, some at tackle. I think you’ll see the ability for Chris Lindstrom to work some at tackle, some at guard. Sam small to work some at guard, some at tackle. I think we’ll do those kinds of things throughout spring. I just always felt that was something I liked. So, a lot of that stuff will go on.
Q. How do you anticipate bringing Jon Baker back?
STEVE ADDAZIO: Slow.
Q. Especially with how much success Ben had at center, where do you see that?
STEVE ADDAZIO: Yeah, I mean, listen, John’s an elite player though. Ben’s an elite player. Our original plan for Ben was to be a tackle, right? So as hard as it was to get done early, as good as it is to build your depth. But with John, we’re going to take is slow. He’s a veteran guy, fifth-year guy. He’s doing unbelievable. He’s ready to roll, but don’t expect we’ll do a whole lot with him in the spring. I mean, those are the kind of guys, we’re good. Just keep them slow and steady, kind of continuing to get bigger, faster, stronger.
He looks fantastic, and you go back and watch the film, and before he -- it just reminds you how devastating that was. That first game he played at a high, high level.
But the good news is look at the versatility and depth now. Not only do we have seven guys with ten starts. But we have seven guys that are fairly interchangeable. Left side, right side, guard to tackle, center to guard, guard to center, that’s what you want. I always used to talk about you want eight -- perfect world you want eight, nine is fantastic. You want at least seven. We’ll probably have nine guys that we can play with at a fairly high level. Guaranteed eight. I don’t want to talk too much about it. I feel like I’m going to jinx it. You got to stay healthy, that’s half the battle. Those guys are in it every play. When you’re playing offensive lineman, every play is live.
Q. How do you plan to balance AJ’s workload this spring after last year’s carries?
STEVE ADDAZIO: I think you’re conscious of all of that. I think you’ve got to get better, improve, it’s all about improvement. But I don’t think you need to be foolish in it. I don’t see us doing a whole lot of tackling to the ground in spring football. But AJ will get some good work. But there will be a good balance in there.
I think you guys know how excited we are about Travis Levy, right? He played as a true freshman last year. We think that he is really a dynamic player. He came in here like 187, he’s like almost 210. So, I mean, he has gotten much bigger and stronger. We want to allow him to really have an opportunity to grow and blossom here. He’s very talented.
Q. Besides experience, what else does Coach Sheridan bring to the table that you’re excited about this season?
STEVE ADDAZIO: He’s regarded as one of the best linebacker coaches in the country at any level. I worked with him before so did Scott Loeffler. Scott worked with him at Michigan. I worked with him at Notre Dame. But whether it be -- I don’t care what head coach. I didn’t need any calls on Bill Sheridan, but the calls that I got, people that I know and trust, pretty impressive. I mean, he is a developer at the highest level. He’s coached the D-line in the secondary as well. But he is one of the high-end guys at linebacker, and he loves football.
He’s experienced both the pros and the collegiate at the highest level, and it doesn’t matter who you speak to him. They all say the same thing, great teacher, and a really deep understanding of the whole front end, back end, tie in together.
Q. You have Wyatt Ray and Zach back, but what about in the interior? Is that where you’re going to be looking to rebuild?
STEVE ADDAZIO: Well, you’ve got Ray Smith. Ray was a cement block for us in there, right? And you’re replacing Noah, and I think we’ve got two young guys Jaleel Berry and T.J. that are big, strong guys. Tanner Karafa is a guy that’s getting bigger, and he had a great year last year. He’s getting to the point where he can play some in there now. I just think Marcus Valdez is another guy on the edge. Gives you more flexibility.
So I think if we continue to develop, we’ll be deeper there this year than we were last year. Essentially we have the same group coming back. We lost Harold early on and never came back again. So, we’re really just talking about Noah who had a great senior year, but we’re going to have more numbers and more experience going in there. So, I think our depth will be better.
Of course you guys know at the linebacker position, our misfortune led to our fortune, right? We’ve got five guys that can all start for a lot of people. So, we’re excited about that.
I thought Hamp Cheevers on the back end and Taj really came on at the end of the year. We lost two really good players in Kam. But we lost Kam three quarters of the way through the year. Ike had a good year, but Taj and Hamp, Hamp both those guys played -- Taj played a ton, and Hamp played a bunch at the end and came on strong and made a lot of plays.
Of course, we have Luke and Will at the safeties with Mehdi, and I love the young additions that we have. Brandon Sebastian and Tate Haynes, those are two six-foot corners that are like greased lightning. They can flat run now. Those are fast guys that are big, tall guys. They have all the makings of being sensational players.
So I think the back end, the linebackers are athletic, can run. We have some depth on the front. We have two not average. We have two premier pass-rushers. Zach Allen is one of the best players in college football, period. Wyatt Ray is going to have a breakout year on the other edge, and Ray Smith is a pro interior defensive linemen. And we have some young guys. Our defense is going to be strong. Offensively has recovered.
We’ve got what we said on the offensive line, which is unbelievable. We’ve got all our tight ends back, and they’re all talented guys. Tom Sweeney had a breakout year and he’s going to do nothing now. Right around mid-point of the year, you started seeing him all of a sudden not just catching it, but breaking tackles and running through contact. You have Tom, Christian, you have Ray, you have Karafa, Jake Burt. We’re deep at tight end and they’re talented. Then you go to the quarterback position, and I think we now have depth and we have proven players.
One guy proven, one guy will have enough reps this spring and had enough last year that he’ll be ready to fly. We all have duly documented the tailback position. I mean, you know, couple things. The wide receiver I didn’t talk about yet. You have Mike and Jeff, right, and Ben who has the hybrid role, and Jeff to a degree has a hybrid role. Then you roll out there CJ Lewis, Kobay White, and now Noah Jordan-Williams will crack into that thing, and you have Nolan Borgersen and Elijah Robinson, we’ve got guys.
I mean, they’re talented guys Christian McStravick, I mean, McStravick and CJ Lewis are big, fast receivers. They’re big. CJ’s 6’4”, 4.5 guys 6’4”. McStravick is a 4.5 guy, he’s 6’3.5”. You’ve got fast guys, we have thick, strong-handed guys, we’ve got tall, fast guys. I mean, it’s been a long time, maybe if ever, if we’ve had the depth that we’ve had at that wide receiver position that can fly like that and quarterbacks that can get it to them.
Q. Any jet sweep potential with any of those guys?
STEVE ADDAZIO: Oh, yeah, Jeff Smith? Mike Walker, Ben Glines, guys can all fly and they’ve all done it. Jeff’s done at a high level. Two years ago we won the N.C. State game with a jet sweeper on the edge and down there. We had several runs this year watching the cut-up scene, phenomenal. The play average was a high average for us and he was a big part of that.
And Mike Walker, same thing. Mike Walker is excellent. I mean, that’s alive and well. You know, Fad did a phenomenal job, but we got a little situational with that. Now we don’t have to be that way at all. There will be no flags on how we’re running a jet sweep, are we doing this. Our tailbacks this year will be able to beat every down backs. Third down, second down, there will be no flags about what are we doing. Oh, this guy’s more of a guy we throw too -- none of that. We’ve got more maturity now and experience where we can really, truly stay in one grouping and have a plethora of options that they have to defend.