Alabama football: Kirby Smart & Jim McElwain

It isn’t everyday that Alabama Crimson Tide football coordinators speak, but today was one of those days. Alabama assistant coaches Kirby Smart and Jim McElwain answered a number of questions Sunday. You can read all they had to say in the official transcript below.

Alabama Football Media Day Transcript via UA Media Relations
Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart
Opening Statement:

“We’re really excited about this year defensively. We have a lot of new faces, a lot of guys with some inexperience, and we’re really excited about the work that they’ve done so far. They are really energetic out there and hungry to learn. It is kind of different for me. From my perspective, I’m looking from the linebackers now, and I look back and see all those young guys in the secondary and it reminds me a lot of when we first got here. That first spring and first fall so many guys were learning our system. They have to grow up, but they’re up to the challenge. They have accepted it for at least these first three days. It is still a little early, but we’re excited about it.”

“Up front it seems like we have a lot of depth, but we’re not as talented right now from an experience perspective with the inside three. As you can tell, we lost a lot of guys, but we’re excited about the challenge in front of us. They’re working every day and are excited about it, and so am I.”

On the difference between his style of coaching at linebacker from former coach James Willis:
“I think anytime you’re coaching a group for the first time, there are going to be differences in the way you coach and how the last guy coached. Coach Willis and I are good friends. My perspective comes more from a back-end perspective. I think it is really important, especially in this defense, Coach Saban’s defense; it really helps to know what is going on behind you. For them to get that perspective, I know it has helped Dont’a (Hightower) some, and it has helped some other guys to understand why they were doing what they were doing and they feel more comfortable that way.”

On his self gratification of preparing student-athletes to go on to be NFL first round draft picks:
“It only makes you feel good if you play well. You can certainly do too much (prep for the NFL) and not be successful. Fortunately we had some smart kids that accepted the challenge and did well with it, and Kareem (Jackson) was one of those guys. You’re talking about a guy who when he first got here was much like the young guys we have now. He had never really played corner, was a high school running back and he accepted the challenge and was a great kid. He calls me now all the time and even (Houston Texans) secondary coach David Gibbs told me that we do a lot on defense, and he can evaluate Kareem and know that he can play every technique that they ask him to play, plus some that he would like to use that maybe some of our other guys don’t use.”

On whether there will be any difference in the complexity of the defense this year with so many defensive newcomers:
“We certainly have to take that into consideration. Looking at last year’s implementation we could do things a lot faster because we had more experience, but we are not going to not challenge these guys. We have to challenge them mentally and let them understand it and teach them, and that is always the approach we have taken. I’ve been with Coach (Saban) now going on six years and we always take the approach of throw it up there and see what sticks and if they don’t get it, we’re going to throw it up there again and see what sticks. We did it this spring. Fortunately we had two of these young guys in the spring to work with and they’re a little further along than the other freshmen. We can’t change what we do because of the youth, but we can certainly take that into consideration when we get ready to game plan.”

On safety Mark Barron:

“Mark Barron is an exciting kid, and he is almost like a changed man this year. It is funny because I can remember the first couple of times we were out there with Mark Barron as a freshman we knew he was going to be a talented player. It was pretty obvious early on that he was going to be a talented player, but he did not understand the intricacies of the defense. He was learning and there were days out there that he was frustrated, and the older guys would get on him about getting into the playbook and wanting him to do well. Now two years later, he’s that guy. He knows pretty much all the defense, and he’s coaching the other guys and it is fun to see him grow up and become the player that he is. He is such a mature kid. He’s not a silly guy. He’s all about business, and he does a good job of leading the other guys. He makes me feel real comfortable about being back there.”

On linebacker Dont’a Hightower:
“Dont’a has already taken on a leadership role. He had already kind of started to do that last year with Rolando (McClain), and obviously the injury ended that. He certainly looks better this fall, I’ll say that, but he still has a ways to go. He looks better than he did this spring. Dont’a is really challenging younger players to learn the defense. He is challenging younger players to compete out at practice. As long as he continues that he can take on that role that we need him to.”

Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain
Opening Statement:

“This is going to be one of those years where our guys really need to make a new identity for ourselves. One of the things that we’re really stressing with our offensive unit is that all the things we did last year, that’s last year and this year’s team is 0-0. The creation of what we need to do as a team and development through competition and through some attrition at some spots, we really need some guys to step up and do a good job for us.

We’re excited about having some returning skill players. We’re excited about our left tackle, our center and guys like that who have obviously done a good job and got their feet wet last year and are now taking the next step up with a leadership role and communication along the front is something that we’re really excited about and something that we’re really stressing.”

On how he plans on utilizing multiple tight ends with different skill sets:
“Tight ends are obviously very important in this offense. The ‘H’ position is one that has to be able to both play on the line and move off the line. They have to be able to handle things out in space and I think a guy who is kind of an unsung hero in that regard from last year is Preston Dial. I think he has done an outstanding job for us and has done a lot of the dirty work that Travis McCall did the year before. He’s really accepted that role and done a good job. Brad Smelley has done a great job in the last two years recreating his body a little bit and becoming a more physical player, which we can use him out of the backfield as well as in the passing game. On the line with our blocking tight ends both (Dial and Smelley) have to be able to do that, but Michael Williams has really jumped up and had a great summer and did some things for us last year that we’re excited about. Underwood is another guy who has had a great offseason; he did a really good job in the spring. We look forward to good things from him as an on the line guy too. We feel we have developed some depth at that spot and we’re excited about what those guys have done, especially the versatility that they bring being able to not only be on the line, but be able to get out in empty.”

On his working relationship with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart:
“I think the one great thing we’ve had here is some continuity (as a staff). On the offensive side this is the third year with this group and what that does is a lot of times we can kind of feel the unspoken a little bit. We kind of know what to expect. The working relationship with Kirby is outstanding. He is a fantastic coach. He’s been with Coach (Saban) longer, so he can kind of head off some things that may be coming for me and that is huge. I think one of the things we have done here as a staff is we’ve ripped egos out. There aren’t any. We’re in it together. We all are in the trenches together; we’re in the staff meetings together. The guys really try to cover each others’ back when things aren’t going well and that is something in staff cohesiveness that I think is really kind of a lost art sometimes. There are a lot of guys in this profession that are kind of out for themselves and not quite out for the team.”

On the difference of this offense’s personality compared to last year’s:
The big thing for us is understanding there are different parts every year. We do know some of the parts that are back and obviously what they can do. We need to exploit some of the other things that hopefully those guys will be able to accept and do. As far as being different, I look at it and realize that you guys (the media) have been around as long as I’ve been around and whatever we can do to win and exploit the other team, to get a win at the end of the day – that‘s where it’s at. We obviously have some returning talent. There’s no doubt about that and its unselfish talent it. That’s the great thing about this football team. The guys are going to do whatever it takes of them, to help us be successful. Whatever the defense’s deal is, we’ll pick them up, and they’ll pick us up. Are we different? You know we set a school record on offense for total yards in Alabama history last year. So, I don’t know. We’ll figure it out from there.”

On offensive lineman D.J. Fluker’s progress and what his ability allows the offense to do:
“We lost a guy who started a whole bunch of games for us (at right tackle). Drew Davis was a great guy and did a lot of things and really solidified that position. I think the thing that is going to help D.J. most is the experience that we have coming back at right guard (Barrett Jones). What I mean by that is that offensive football is about communication. Offensive football is making sure all 11 are on the same page – guys making calls together, making sure everybody understands where they’re at. I think having Barrett Jones next to that position is huge for us, because he is a guy that played all the games, is a very smart guy and will be able to help and communicate the different things we need to do to be successful at that position. The other thing we need to do is just make sure that the right tackle position develops. There is no need to expose when we don’t need to expose. In other words, let’s make sure we’re doing the things that he does well or that position does well and not try to ask them to do things that he’s not ready for yet.”

On the possibility of seeing Mark Ingram and Tent Richardson in the backfield together:
“They actually were last year. If it dictates it (they will be). The one thing I do know, the last time I checked we do only get go play with one football out there. There is something pretty nice about having a fresh Trent Richardson or a fresh Mark Ingram in the game, rather than running them ragged. I think one of the things we did a very good job of – the first year I was here was we had an opportunity to finish in the 4th quarter a couple of times and didn’t – I think as the season wore on, those two guys being fresh and, not to talk too much about last year, but Roy Upchurch gave us a huge lift at times. We also need to develop that position. Who’s going to be that third down guy? The third and fourth backs. With those two guys kind of feeding off each other and keeping them fresh throughout the season, not beating the heck out of them, I think that really helps us in the long run, especially in a long season like this. As I have found out in the last couple of years, this is a pretty decent conference we play in.”

On the depth at the quarterback position:
“I think last year with our backup (quarterback) we got him in a situation early in the season where he actually got some valuable time. I think we ran a two minute drill a couple of times in some games when we were able to. I think at that position, one thing to note, I’ve been very fortunate in the couple of years I’ve been here. We not only have A.J. (McCarron), but we also have a very talented guy by the name of Phillip Sims. Those two guys were two of the highly-recruited guys in the country, and rightfully so. I know sitting in that meeting room everyday that I sit in there with those guys, it is very comforting to know that I feel we have a lot of talent at that position. It’s great for those two guys to have Greg (McElroy) in that room because he is the consummate guy that studies everything that we do. They’re learning how to be a successful quarterback from a guy that’s won a few games in his career. From a preparation standpoint, I feel very comfortable with both of those guys and where we’re heading at the quarterback position.

On the difference in D.J. Fluker since he arrived on campus last year:
“I think you guys will see that he’s totally reshaped his body. It’s unbelievable what he’s done to help himself from that standpoint. Obviously he is a big guy. I think he has a size 22 and one half shoe. It always amazes me when I see those shoes and think how many cows just got hurt when puts those Nikes on. What he has done is really work hard. I think all our guys respect that. That’s a little bit of a product of the system. We’ve gotten to the point now, from a standpoint that everybody pushes each other. That’s an invaluable lesson right there, to have your team not only recognize a good performance, but strive to see how he did that and this is what I need to do. Legacies passed on from guys that are in the program now to the younger guys are what builds the continuity, and those are the things that make you successful as a program. It’s just that part when all those guys feed in together that’s great.”

On what they emphasize to help minimize fumbles:
“We’ve done a good job of taking care of the ball both in the air and on the ground. I would say that the turnover part has more to do with what our defense does in a daily practice to try to create turnovers, and it forces us to maybe, because of their intensity and how they approach the turnover game, it actually helps us in practice. I think that has been a big thing for us offensively, because going against our guys and Coach Saban’s and Kirby (Smart’s) defense on a daily basis actually helps our guys understand ball security a little bit.”

On Julio Jones:
“I will say one thing about Julio Jones. This guy is an unbelievable talent, but the things he does, not only just with catches, but the things he does as a complete player – I’m talking about practice, blocking down field, knowing the different things about the defense – that’s what makes a great player. You’ve heard me say it before; statistics are great as long as they create wins. The one thing that these guys have done is figure out what it is to be a team player and what it is to understand what it takes to win the game. He had a great last half of the season. He was nicked up in the early part of the season. I think what he did in one of those games toward the end of the year, you can see when a guy has an opportunity to take over a game when needed. That shows you what kind of person he is. I can’t say enough good things about the guy.”

On staying at Alabama as offensive coordinator rather than taking a head coaching position:
“I think probably the biggest thing is nobody wanted me anywhere else. There are a lot of places, and I said this when I came, to be at The University of Alabama and to be in this conference, to work for a guy like Coach Saban, to work with the staff that we have and the continuity, I’m not sure where is any better or what is any better. I can’t tell you how happy I am and our family is. I have a daughter that is in college here, another that will be a senior in high school that I’m kind of pushing her that way too. My son is starting football as a freshman at Northridge and from a family standpoint, you guys that have spent any time in Tuscaloosa in general, it is an outstanding place for family, an outstanding place to raise a family and be happy about it. And to be coaching at the top level of where we’re at, I count my lucky stars. As a kid from Montana, you never thought you would be up here speaking at a press conference like this. All those parts are good. Hopefully someday we’ll get the opportunity to captain our own ship and see if I can screw that up.”