Narduzzi on Ford, Clark, Moss, Syracuse, defense and a lot more

Chris Peak, Publisher

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Pat Narduzzi covered a lot of topics in his Thursday press briefing, and here's a full rundown of what he said.

Narduz: Three good days of practice. We’re ready to roll. I think, really, we haven’t had three more intense days of practice. I think our guys are locked in. I think we’ve got a good game plan. As I told them after practice, physically you put the work in; now it comes down to mentally preparing for the next two days, really getting your mind where it needs to be and watching more tape and knowing what your opponent’s doing in front of you.

The Dome, obviously there’s the noise factor, but as far as indoors, turf, does it affect things? Does it benefit the offense or defense?
I don’t think there’s much of a difference. It’s not something we’re talking about. Noise is noise, it doesn’t matter if you’re indoors or outdoors. Fans are fans. Booing is booing. We like all of that. That’s all fun. That’s all part of the game, I think, and hopefully you embrace that and you’re not scared of it. I don’t think our guys are scared or intimidated by any of that. I think they embrace it like I do.

But I think, for a team that’s offensively like they are, I think that’s kind of their - sometimes you talk about that “rug team,” the team that likes to make different cuts and all this. They’re playing basketball on artificial turf; basically, what they’re doing is, they have some nice passes and pitch it to this guy and go there. But, you know, it’s a game, it’s a hundred-yard field and they have two goal posts at either end and it’s not really much of a difference.

Do you feel like having the Oklahoma State game has helped you in prep this week? Have you noticed that maybe you’re more advanced or more along?
I think so. I think it definitely helps you. I might have mentioned it in Monday’s press conference, but I think anytime you get in that atmosphere and it’s new guys, you learn from what you’ve done prior to. I’m sure they looked heavily at that game and said, ‘Hey, we can do this,’ but we can also look at that game of ourselves; we did a lot of things wrong. We got so amped up with the tempo that we forgot our technique, I think. So I think we’ll come into this more experienced and you have to learn from your mistakes. I think that’s part of having success is learning from your failures.

Speaking of that game, I asked you that week if Maddox had a little more pep in his step to face Washington; is that kind of the same deal this week with him getting the challenge from Ishmael?
No doubt. He’s a great football player but I think every week - I mean, it’s not like we play in a poor conference. I mean, you play in this conference, every week you have a challenge. In the non-conference you have a challenge. Every week, there’s a challenge; that guy across from you can beat your tail. They had a great one last week that we got fired up for - Cephus, I believe - but he didn’t end up playing. I guess we had a shoulder or something. I had to ask one of the coaches after the game.

But every week there’s good receivers, and if you don’t bring you’re A-game, anybody can beat you. We have scout receivers that will run by our guys if we don’t play with good technique. It happens.

So this is your first real test for your secondary since the Oklahoma State game?
Every Saturday is a test. Like I just told you, we get tests every day out there. Michael Smith can run, okay? Dontavius Butler can run. We’ve gotten a great look. Mark Bernsdorff can run and run good routes; I think he’s a good little player. They don’t necessarily know what they’re doing at times, but they run off of cards, and you stick that card up, some guys run really fast so they don’t have to worry about converting their routes.

So you can get beat in practice bad, just like you can - I mean, I think Rice had some good players, too. I’m not saying that Cephus was their only player. But every week is a challenge.

Chris Clark has been through so much the last three years with the knee injuries and the transfer; you knew him when you were recruiting him at Michigan State. How much have you seen him grow as a person these last few years?
Chris grows every day. He’s always a work-in-progress, whether it’s academically, going to study table, paying attention, keeping his chin up, the whole deal. He’s one of those classic guys that you love to coach because you can see the improvement every day. Some guys, you can’t see improvement; you wait two weeks and you don’t see improvement. But Chris is a guy with a lot of ability that sometimes forgets the details, and he’ll just run. He’s like a Forrest Gump; he’ll just keep running and running and running and never stop and forget that you’ve got to look back for the ball.

But he’s a great kid. We love him. And he’s showed progress every game, every week, I think. Every day.

Guys always celebrate when guys score a touchdown, but it seemed like his - was there a little more excitement from the other guys to see him finally get in the end zone?
I don’t know. It’s hard to score touchdowns. I’m just glad he caught a ball one time. But they know Chris is one of those guys that gets frustrated, and if things don’t go right, he’s a very emotional guy. So I think they were happy for him to get his first catch because he would whine about, ‘Man, I can’t catch.’ You know, he dropped a ball early in the year and he texted me and said, ‘Coach, maybe I can’t play at this level.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’

But that’s how he is. He’s his biggest critic. But I think the guys are happy for him because he lives for success and when you don’t get it, he’s a guy that, you know, wants it and needs it. So I think the guys were probably - I didn’t really notice that that they were happier for him. But…I wish his route was a little deeper. He cut his route short on the TD.

He was committed to Syracuse at one time, right?
Yeah, for a minute. He was committed a lot of places.

How tough can the recruiting process be for a guy like that? He was so highly-recruited, he had all the social media stuff - as a coach, what’s it like seeing -
I wanted to kill him when I was at Michigan State. I wanted to kill him. He came to Michigan State for a visit and we spent, I mean, every minute with him and his mom and dad. Great people. Spent every minute. We showed him everything. He loved it when he left. And then by noon the next day, he was committed to Michigan. I was like…

That’s how it goes. That’s fact.

You have to read kids, right? Because there are kids who - it’s not a poor reflection on them, it’s an exciting process and kids get caught up in that stuff. You have to try to read that, right?
It’s hard to read, you know? It’s hard to read a lot of things.

How impressed have you been with Chawntez as you guys have given him more work, even ahead of Qadree in the backfield recently?
Some days you’re impressed and some days you’re not. He had a great catch and run; he didn’t really tuck the ball much. But we haven’t run the ball like we need to, but he caught that - and again, that was not a designated wheel route. He did a great job in a scramble drill where, if you’re short, you go deep and if you’re deep, you come short, and he did a great job. That was the best thing he did. But his route prior to that wasn’t great, but he did finish the right way. It was a heck of a catch and it was a great throw by Max, not giving up on him and he didn’t give up.

Has he been doing enough to remain that number-one guy in the backfield mix?
We’ll find out Saturday, huh? He’s been okay. You know, Qadree’s a good player. AJ Davis continues to get better every week. And he’s been impressive. So we’ll see. Remember I said that.

When it comes to your secondary, you’re going to have Avonte and Jordan, who you didn’t have when you played them last year. And Dane Jackson was playing his first game, Damar Hamlin -
Didn’t play. Damar didn’t play. Ryan Lewis got hurt.

Not just having those guys that you didn’t have, but how much of a factor is having guys with experience back there when you talked about the cat-and-mouse game - when you see things, how much easier is it for you as a coach on the sideline to make adjustments when you have a guy that has a lot of experience in there?
It’s a lot easier. I won’t give you the details but it’s a lot easier when you have guys that know how to adjust to different stuff. Some guys, you just don’t even change; you just have to keep it the same, otherwise it can get worse. It can always get worse. We tell our guys that all the time: we can make adjustments and make it worse. But you need guys that know what they’re doing to make adjustments. It’s critical.

Is it safe to assume you found your old pal Scott Shaffer in your phone this week and had a little conversation?
I haven’t talked to Scott. You know, he’s the defensive coordinator - where is he at? Memphis? Oh, Middle Tennessee.

They beat Syracuse. You know that.
I actually - we really did not talk this week. He’s busy.

You did watch that film, though?
Yeah, of course we did. We watched all five games.

Did they do something special in that game?
Scott always does something special. Scott’s a good football coach. It was up in the Dome and there were a lot of dropped balls that day. Put it that way. Syracuse probably didn’t play their best game, from what I saw.

What can you say about Herndon? He came into training camp in the D-line competition, then he’s on the O-line, plays a little D in Atlanta and now he might start at right guard this week?
He’s been good. He’s a great kid. He’s quiet. He doesn’t say boo. I don’t know if you guys have talked to him but it’s hard to get any words out of him. But he just does his job. He plays D-tackle. He may play some D-tackle this week as well and start at offensive guard; how often does that happen? He’s just a great kid that does whatever you ask him to do and he keeps getting better.

He had been away from the O-line for an entire year and he just keeps getting better every week.

He probably doesn’t complain very much either.
He doesn’t complain about the food. He doesn’t complain about practice. He doesn’t complain about guard or D-tackle. He doesn’t complain. He likes study hall. He’s a great kid.

What’s the dynamic like defensively when you have that spread-type team and then they bring in a 280-pound back?
I don’t know what they’re doing with that guy. We have to tackle him. He’s 280 pounds from Chicago, and he’s a big dude. You can’t tell what number he is; his hair goes down to his butt. He looks like KK Mosley-Smith in the backfield. That’s what he looks like. KK’s going to carry the ball and block for quarterback draws.

Do you have a special guy being him on the scout team this week?
Yeah, we let Carter Warren be that guy. We don’t have many big guys like that. Who’s got a big guy like that? I didn’t want to hand it to Charles Reeves. That would be dangerous.

I noticed Paris dressed for the first time Saturday against Rice. Is there any chance he travels to this game?
There might be. You know, I love Paris Ford. He deserved to dress. He missed all of camp, so we don’t get guys out there dressing early if they missed camp or came when school starts, which is just about what he did.

But Paris Ford, every week we get closer to saying, ‘Let’s just put him in - what the heck? What do we have to lose?’ He does a great job on scout field. He loves the game. I mean, he’s a guy you love to coach. I don’t think we could put him in on defense right now, just because we haven’t had time to coach. It’s not that he can’t learn; there’s just no time to teach. It’s just hard. I asked him a couple weeks, maybe on the way to Georgia Tech, I said, ‘Hey, if we called this coverage - if we called cover-four and the receivers are really close together, what would you call?’ ‘I don’t know.’ Which I didn’t think he would, but I wanted to find out where he was, if he’s paying attention.

So he’s a great kid. He’s going to be a phenomenal player and I would play him at receiver tomorrow or tailback for that matter, because I think he can do it. You should see him as a punt returner. He causes our offense problems on scout field. He had two picks in the team period just last week. Stole one away from Ffrench and just made Ffrench look silly. I mean, he’s going to be a great player. He’s going to be really, really good - as good a freshman as I’ve seen.

And he loves the game. He’s always out there having fun. Every week you want to play him, and then every week I said, ‘That guy’s going to be great, but only a half-season compared to a whole season, we gotta be crazy; we don’t want to use the guy.’ He’s going to be something special.

So that’s why you wouldn’t throw him out on punt return or something?
Yeah, I want to use that - if I get to use him, I want to use him all the time, not just to - you know, yeah, he can be a punt returner right now, but you want to see him play one time a game and he doesn’t know what he’s doing the other times? I want to get him out there. It’s just - it’s not good for the kid. I’d be selfish if I did that, I think. If it was my son, you know, you don’t want to waste a kid’s redshirt for a few plays a game. Sometimes I feel that way with Tyler Sear and AJ Davis, that we’ve played them and we’re not playing them enough. And I don’t like doing that. The fewer kids that we can do that with, for their benefit, not for ours - you know, if I played him for punt return, that’d be great, that’s for my benefit. It’s not about me. It’s about the team and about those kids and their careers, too.

And you have an okay punt returner.
He’s okay, too. If we didn’t have a punt returner, we’d get him slowly in there. He could help us on - he could run down on kickoff, he could play on all special teams, but it’s not like we’re dying to have guys do that. We don’t need that right now. But we could use another wideout, you know?

Adding Motley, what’s that done to the competition at cornerback the last week or so?
It gives us depth, which we didn’t have a year ago when we played these guys, so I think it really helps us. I don’t know if it’s done much for the competition, because he’s a good player and I see Philllipie as a starter anyway. But it gives you some depth because we’re going to have to rotate. Last year, we couldn’t rotate, so by the 105th play, I think our guys were spent. I’ve never played in a game with a hundred-plus plays.

You guys played Ffrench at corner in that game last year, didn’t you?
Yes, we did. We were subbing Ffrench in, so that tells you. I forgot about that.

You’ve evolved enough that you don’t have to do those things anymore.
I don’t know if we evolved. But our depth - you know, Therran Coleman’s starting to get better. You might see a little dose of Therran at corner as well. Therran’s healthy, Damar’s healthy; I mean, you guys see them in their separate lines in [stretching] out there, right? You guys see them in a separate line all camp, every single day. So it’s just nice to have those guys back.

Are you guys sort of back to square one in terms of planning on not having George in the offense?
Yes and no. I mean…George is not out, we don’t know when George is going to be back out. But it’s not as bad as we thought, it’s not as ugly as it looked, which is a good thing.

Would you like to get Tyler Sear more involved?
I would. I would like to see him physically get more involved, but he’s one of those freshmen that tease you a little bit, that you go, ‘Oh yeah,’ and then the next play, you’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ Like kickoff return; I think he was supposed to start last week, but when you don’t block the guy you’re supposed to, then you don’t get as many reps. You have to do it in practice. It’s young guys; that’s why you play those guys early and then you kind of go,’ Where’d they go? Where’d they disappear to?’ But he’s a great kid, he’s trying and he’s going to be a good player for us, too.

Did you ever step in and try to simplify shifts with Matt Canada last year?
Did I ever do what?

Did you ever talk to him about what he does offensively from a head coach perspective?
No. I’d never do that to an offensive coordinator. I let our coaches coach. I let the players play. Sometimes I yell at the officials and get into those guys. But no. We let Coach Watson go and do what he likes to do. I give little suggestions here and there, but never control what they do. That’s the worst thing you can do is tell a guy he can’t do something that works.

So you can’t veto a play once it’s called? Or you could but -
I could but we’d get a delay of game. If you get a lot of delay of games, that’s when there’s a lot of conversation on the headphones - ‘Nooo! Not now!’

Bill Cowher used to do that.
Is that right? No, there’s no vetoes. I might just kind of like, ‘Not again.’ On both sides of the ball, you’re like, ‘I wouldn’t have called that, but go ahead.’ Everybody’s got their opinions. You guys have all got your opinion, Trump’s got his opinion; we can all be armchair quarterbacks and armchair policemen.

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