WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN COMING FROM CONNER IN THE WHIP SPOT AND HOW MUCH PROGRESS HAS HE MADE SINCE THE SPRING?
Made good progress. Chamarri is a guy, that initially, playing rover, we were kind of thinking a linebacker playing some DB. But he's been able to run and cover, which has been good. Had a little hammy in the spring, so he's gotten some good reps during training camp and he's been exactly who we thought he would be. Competitive, learns quickly. And is a guy that brings a type of dog mentality that I really like and the guys like.
WHAT ARE SOME PROS AND CONS THAT YOU'VE SEEN SINCE YOU'VE STARTED?
In terms of training camp? Well, the pros are that we get to go to work every day. The cons are that the kids have to go to work every day. They fight, they battle, but it's typical everywhere. You've got soreness and mental fatigue because it's football all the time. Which I've tried to tell them, hey if you want to play in the NFL, this is how it is. But I think pro wise, you see guys gelling together, learning to compete, learning to communicate, learning to function as one on our side. And then you see on the offensive side, you see guys making plays. And each unit having to react, having to answer adversity, respond after the other side makes a play or you give up something, and a coach is getting after you, or you see on the field that you give it up. I think it's probably typical year in and year out. But I really like the cohesion of this team offensively, defensively, and together.
WE HAVEN'T TALKED TO YOU AT ALL SINCE YOU'VE GOTTEN THE POSITION. WHAT WAS YOUR SPRING LIKE AND WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BRING IN WHEN YOU GOT THE JOB? WHAT WAS YOUR MENTALITY WITH THESE GUYS GIVEN THAT YOU HAD ALREADY WORKED WITH A LOT OF THEM? WHAT WAS THE PROCESS FOR YOU GOING BACK TO THE SPRING?
All the way back to the spring, it was exciting for me to get to coach them. But I think it was more so about trying to learn exactly what Coach [Bud] Foster wanted from, I obviously know what he wants from the position, but learning what he wants from the defensive staff room. Learning what he wants in terms of relating with the kids. And learn what Coach Fuente wants in that role. It was a good thing to have gone through last year, because I got the couple of tweaks since I've played here that Coach Foster has added. And was able to give that to the kids. And I'm able to speak to them through the lens of a guy who has been in the helmet or the cleats. Has gotten the calls, has had to be under the same expectation that Coach Foster puts on them now. And Coach Fuente. And I think it was a trial and error in terms of each guy how they respond to coaching, how they preferred to be coached. Learning that in the spring was really beneficial, carrying that forward in the summer in what time we could be around the guys. And now I think there's a level of trust that has been built up between them and between myself with them. And along with Coach Foster and Coach Fuente, which I think has given me some confidence, and I think and hope that that confidence has bled into our room. Because that's ultimately what I want to bring to our guys is confidence. And that comes from knowing exactly what you're supposed to do and doing it fast and aggressive.
THEY'VE HAD A LOT OF CHANGEOVER WITH COACHES AT THE POSITION. DID YOU FEEL THAT BEING ON THE STAFF, DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUR PREVIOUS RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM, HAVING A HEAD START, HAS HELPED THINGS?
I think it definitely did. Some of these guys, I had no idea who they were and they had no idea who I was when I first got in the building. It was a learning process where I could be the good guy last year, I didn't get to coach anybody so I could be the "good cop" so to speak. But now, having spent that year with them, they know who I am. They know that all I want is what's best for them and what's best for Virginia Tech. I think day in and day out, we get challenged to prove that. And our first real adversity is going to be when we have to go play somebody else. But I think that all the guys in the room know that they can trust and believe in each other and I think they all know they can all trust and believe in me. And that's going to be our mission going forward to get the best out of them.
YOU HAD SUCH A UNIQUE PLAYING EXPERIENCE, ABOUT THREE DIFFERENT POSITIONS. ORIGINALLY, DID YOU KIND OF SENSE THAT IT WAS TRAINING TO BE A COACH LATER? DID YOU ALWAYS THINK YOU WOULD YOU GET IN TO COACHING NATURALLY?
I always wanted to get into coaching. I never thought that I would. I don't know, I guess I always wanted to do it but I never really thought about doing it. And having played those three positions was a little frustrating when I was in school. And I've told our guys that. But on this side, it's certainly beneficial. There's no question about it. The fact of learning running back, learning receiver, and now, learning and coaching the secondary, has definitely been definitely beneficial. It's also an added knowledge for our guys, so I can kind of give them the mindset of the other side. And then when you have a guy particularly in the secondary here, that's maybe moving from corner to nickel, nickel to corner, rover to nickel, you can talk through that experience from first hand experience. Which I think our guys appreciate. And it's been good for me in that respect too.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT FINAL PUSH TO GET INTO COACHING, AND WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR MENTORS ALONG THE WAY? I IMAGINE BUD, BUT ANYBODY ELSE ALONG THE WAY?
Well, the final push was when the NFL said "Hey, we're done with you." So I had to do something. I think, I volunteered at a high school in Knoxville, TN and I lived there for a little bit. And all I coached was for spring ball. And every day I came home and thought, "This is what I want to do". Mentor wise, Coach Foster most definitely. Since I've been here, Coach Fuente has been a great mentor for me. Mel Tucker was a great mentor, I played for him in Cleveland. Cory Undlin, who's now in Philadelphia, was in Cleveland. Great mentor for me. My high school coach was a great mentor and, you know, it's just kind of, those are the guys that I probably sound the most like when I talk to the kids. Those are the guys that have had a great impact on my life. And all I want to do is what they did for me.
COACH FOSTER TALKED A LOT ABOUT J.R. WALKER AT THE END OF SPRING. JUST CURIOUS WHAT YOU'VE THOUGHT OF HIM AND HOW HE'S IMPRESSED YOU AND WHAT HAS HE DONE THROUGH THE SUMMER TO KIND OF BUILD ON THAT?
Well, J.R. was interesting because in the spring he came in in the winter and he's wise beyond his years. And then there would be a concept or two that he'd have to take some time to understand and it's like, "oh by the way, I'm also going to my prom, do you guys mind if I miss a day on Friday?". It's like, this kid is still finishing up going to high school and his prom. He has been exactly what we thought he would be from the standpoint of maturity, from the standpoint of personality, character. He has a very high ceiling and I think he understands that it takes time. But he has a good group of guys in front of him to lead the way and show him. I have very high hopes for J.R. And I think he has very high hopes for himself.
AND DIVINE DEABLO, A GUY THAT HAS KIND OF STRUGGLED TO STAY HEALTHY A LITTLE BIT, BUT WITH HIS FRAME AND UNIQUE BUILD, WHAT DO YOU THINK HE IS CAPABLE OF IF HE COULD STAY HEALTHY NOW? WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OUT OF HIM?
Divine is what I wish I would've looked like in college. Our numbers are the same in height and weight, but in terms of how we look, that's what I wish I would've looked like. But I have the utmost respect for him, for what he's gone through in his career. Switching positions, he understands that too. The hope for him is that every day we can go out and help him get better. That's really the hope. And that's all he wants to do. That's why I love the guy so much. Because he genuinely wants to put on the cleats and the helmet and go out and get better. I think if he will continue to do that, we will continue to help him do that, then wherever it ends up for him, is, I think it will be his maximum potential. And I think when it's all said and done, that people at Virginia Tech will look back very fondly about him. Because he's a warrior. He's a battler. And a guy that is also a leader. He's not a very vocal leader all the time, but when he speaks, guys listen. And I appreciate that about him too.
WITH COACH FOSTER'S DECISION, DOES THIS MAKE THIS A LITTLE MORE SPECIAL TIME BEING IN THIS ROLE AND GETTING THE CHANCE TO GO THROUGH THAT RIDE WITH HIM?
Absolutely. Coach Foster has had monumental influence on my life. And from being a player to being a coach and as a husband and father, the fact that one chance to go out there and send him off in style would be awesome. And that was kind of the first thing I thought was "Hey, I need to get out there and do my best to make sure our safeties play as well as they can possible play. For him."
JUST WALK US THROUGH RIGHT NOW, THAT SECOND CORNERBACK POSITION, THE COMPETITION HERE. IS IT A CASE WHERE YOU THINK YOU HAVE SOME OPTIONS? OR A CASE WHERE YOU'RE COACHING GUYS UP SO SOMEBODY IS AN OPTION
One, you said that second corner spot? You know, you're just assuming Farley is going to be the guy?
I mean, that's a good assumption. I went into fall camp, whoever comes out on top, comes out on top. I know Farley has a great skill set that some of the other guys don't have. He may have a head start because he had 12 games of starting last year. But Waller is doing a heck of a job this camp. Had a great spring. Every day he's come with that lunch pail and he's working. Quillen, you know, has got some experience as well. He's doing a great job as well. I've got some guys, Chatman, Thomopson, I finally got Webb back. So, I've got a room of guys that are hungry.
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT FARLEY LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR, WHAT WERE THE THINGS THAT YOU WANTED HIM TO IMPROVE ON? AND I KNOW WE'RE EARLY BUT HAVE YOU SEEN IMPROVEMENT IN THOSE AREAS?
There's a want to. And the want to is "how can I raise my football IQ at the corner position?" And that entails not just getting in the weight room, not just getting on the field, but taking, you know, film time to go learn the position. Because you took a young man that had never played the position before, didn't know our defense, was playing wide receiver. And then all of a sudden we put him in the limelight at corner. He's a young man that is willing. He's very willing.
YOU MENTIONED WEBB. OBVIOUSLY, FINALLY GET HIM BACK AFTER BACK-TO-BACK INJURIES PRETTY MUCH RIGHT ON TOP OF EACH OTHER. HOW HAS HE LOOKED SO FAR AND IS THERE A CERTAIN APPROACH TO EASING HIM? YOU KNOW, MAKE SURE HE DOESN'T GO TOO HARD TOO QUICKLY?
There's a two part. One, you want to make sure he's got his legs under him. You don't want to verstress that. And that's when Mike the trainer and Coach Fu and Coach Foster are going to have some input along with myself and along with Jeremy. And then secondly, he hasn't played football in two years. So he's got to go out there and learn the fundamentals and technique that we're using along with the scheme.
HOW MUCH HAS IT HELPED THAT THIS WIDE RECEIVER GROUP IS SO TALENTED? THE SKILLSET SO DYNAMIC RIGHT NOW, HOW MUCH DOES THAT HELP YOUR SIDE? THEY'VE GOT SOME VETERANS LEADING THE WAY. HOW MUCH DOES THAT HELP YOUR DEVELOPMENT.
It started in the spring. It's probably one of the most competitive springs I've been a part of. Coming into fall camp, no different. They're talented. I think I've got a group of talented guys. And it's competitive. Every rep, every day.
NADIR IS COMING BACK FROM AN INJURY AS WELL. HAS HE BEEN ABLE TO DO AS MUCH AS YOU'D LIKE? IS HE STILL LIMITED AT ALL?
No, he's going to have an opportunity. I mean, whether it be special teams, third corner, second corner, first corner, our dime package, he's going to have an opportunity to showcase his talents. Health wise, I think he is just as fast as he was before the injury.
WHAT IS THE COMPETITION LIKE? YOU'RE SORT OF ONE OF THE "OLDER GUYS". IS IT MORE INTENSE? IS IT A LOT OF SIMILAR FACES TO WHAT YOU'VE SEEN?
I mean, everybody competing every day. It's intense but everybody level headed and everybody trying to make each other better. The competition is good.
IS THERE MORE COMFORT IN GENERAL FROM THE GROUP? LAST YEAR IT SEEMED LIKE THE TRUE FRESHMAN THAT HADN'T REALLY PLAYED BEFORE, NOW THIS YEAR THEY'VE AT LEAST GONE THROUGH IT BEFORE?
Yeah, and then summer helped us out a lot. We trained with each other a lot during the summer. As me being the older guy now, I can help out the younger guys and bring them along as well. I learned the material now, so it's easier to help out other people. It's easier.
IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC THAT YOU REMEMBER DOING AS A FRESHMAN THAT GOT YOU IN TROUBLE WITH COACHES OR GOT YOU SCREWED UP IN PRACTICE? AND NOW THAT YOU'RE OUT THERE AND YOU'RE DOING IT RIGHT AND YOU CAN SEE THE ROOKIES DOING IT WRONG?
I mean, I was a freshman, so I didn't really get to see a lot. I ran with the 3's but when we did, it was fast. It was a lot of mental errors, so now that I know my mental errors, well I was in the safety room, I had to learn a whole new position, so now that I learned the corner spot it was way easier trying to play and stuff.
WERE THE VETERANS ROUGH ON YOU WHEN YOU MADE A MENTAL ERROR? WERE THEY GOOD WITH YOU? ARE YOU THE SAME WITH THE YOUNG GUYS? DO YOU DO IT DIFFERENTLY?
I don't know if I'm the exact same way. I'd say I'm probably even better. But, yeah, I mean, helping them out is the easy part. Now, when they get on the field, they've got the technique they learned, the stuff we're learning in the meeting room, they have to go put on the field now. When they mess up, I'll always be in their ear, letting them know, get them right. And as long as they don't make the same mistakes over and over again, they're going to be good.
I REMEMBER, EVEN AS A TRUE FRESHMAN, YOU WERE A THREE OR FOUR PHASE SPECIAL TEAMS GUY.
Yeah, pretty much all of them. Besides field goal, field goal block.
DO YOU TELL GUYS AT YOUR POSITION, YOUNGER GUYS, "DON'T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK ON SPECIAL TEAMS, THAT'S YOUR WAY TO GET ON THE FIELD"?
Yeah. Because special teams can change the game. You can get a fumble, game changed. Anything on special teams, if you can do good, it'll be a game changer for the team. I'll let them know that playing special teams is not going to hurt you, it'll only benefit you in the long run. Everybody is up for special teams. Everybody likes special teams.
DO YOU GET THE SENSE THAT YOU'LL STILL BE ON SPECIAL TEAMS?
Oh yeah. Now I'm going to be on punt block, so add an extra special teams. I'm pretty sure I'm going to play all of them. Hopefully on defense too. I'm ready for the road.
YOU GUYS ARE HUNGRY THIS YEAR. IT'S OBVIOUS. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENT VIBE BETWEEN LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR'S TEAM?
We're closer. Everybody, it's like a family. Last year, it was more you had individuals. But now, they got the individuals out and got the family together. We play as a family, we come in in the morning, I don't know, the brotherhood is just a brotherhood. I don't think anybody else can break it.
WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE FIRST SCRIMMAGE? HOW DID YOU GUYS DO?
Defense did good, but there's always room for improvement, you know? We just got to keep working every day. And then, Boston College, that's when everybody will get to see.
HOW MUCH, THIS RECEIVING GROUP IS REALLY TALENTED, WE GOT TO SEE SOME OF THE 1 ON 1'S A COUPLE DAYS AGO AT PRACTICE, HOW COMPETITIVE HAS IT BEEN? AND HOW MUCH HAS THEIR TALENT HELPED YOU GUYS DEVELOP?
Oh yeah, the receivers are going to come hard every day. They coming fast, they coming strong, their routes are extra crispy, so it's only going to get the corner game right. I mean, I just want them to keep pushing us so we can be the best in our room.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE BIGGEST ASSET OR STRENGTH THAT THE CORNERS HAVE RIGHT NOW SEVEN DAYS INTO CAMP?
Coach Mitchell and Coach Prioleau. They help us out whenever we ask a question, they're on it. Whenever we make a mistake, they're on it. So, I think that's going to be our biggest motivation, is our coaches pushing us along and then us watching film and pushing ourselves as well.
WITH THE EXPERIENCES YOU'VE GAINED, HOW DOES THAT HELP YOU? AND DO YOU KIND OF FEEL, OUT ON THE FIELD, YOU HAD MOMENTS YOU WOULD'VE BEEN TRIPPED UP WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER AND NOW YOU'RE COMFORTABLE?
Yes, learning the defense in the offseason helped me slow the game down and see things more faster and play more anticipated football like Coach Mitchell talks about.
IF WE SHOWED YOU YOUR FRESHMAN FILM, WHAT WOULD BE ONE OR TWO THINGS YOU KNOW YOU'D SEE YOURSELF DO WRONG?
Maybe a misalignment, maybe a missed assignment because I didn't fully understand the defense. But now I can gain a competitive edge on my opponent because I know the defense a little bit better.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS COMPETITION AND HOW WILL YOU EVALUATE HOW IT'S GOING? PERSONALLY FOR YOU, HOW DO YOU THINK IT'S GOING?
It's going good. We all, every day, are trying to just get better and compete and make the next person better. So it's not like last year, it was more so, we were all new to it. But now, we know more so we can also help the things that Coach Mitchell can't pick up.
HOW SURPRISING WAS IT TO GET THROWN IN SO QUICKLY LAST YEAR? DURING RECRUITING, EVERYONE WANTS TO PLAY EARLY AND THEN YOU'RE OUT THERE AS A TRUE FRESHMAN THAT FALL. IS IT SORT OF DAUNTING MOMENT TO BE OUT THERE?
Yes, it's definitely was surprising. But also a blessing. I got to get some experience early to help me with the next year.
COACHES HAVE SAID THAT YOU IMPRESSED THEM IN THE SPRING. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, THAT YOU THINK, TO IMPRESS THEM? IS IT THE WAY YOU CARRY YOURSELF? PLAY? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO BE A STANDOUT GUY?
Really, the little things, like stretching in between practices, drinking a lot of water, and studying the playbook. And also trying to help my teammates, and them helping me.
DOES DEJUAN ELLIS STILL TALK TO YOU AFTER THAT SPRING GAME HIT?
Yes, I knew him before this from back home.
WHAT'S THAT LIKE, WHEN YOU'RE PRACTICING AGAINST YOUR OWN TEAM OBVIOUSLY, YOU DON'T WANT TO HURT ANYBODY BUT YOU STILL WANT TO PLAY HARD.
Coach has always talked to us about being smart but also being very competitive. And trying to do things as hard as we can without trying to hurt anybody.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TRANSITIONING FROM ROVER TO WHIP? AND FROM DIFFERENT COACHES?
It wasn't that hard, the transition, because you know, I was always playing different positions in high school. So I was used to switching it up. Transitioning from another coach, it was a good move, because I like J-Ham a lot. He would sit down and ask to teach you everything step by step. Instead of trying to force you to learn anything, he'll take his time.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE PLAYING THE WHIP SPOT, YOU'RE CLOSER TO THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE, YOU'RE A BIG GUY, DO YOU ENJOY GETTING UP IN RUN SUPPORT?
I mean, yeah, I enjoy it a lot, but it doesn't really matter to me. I can do either one.
WHAT'S YOUR OWN PERSONAL GOAL FOR THIS SEASON?
My own personal goal? I mean I haven't really set any personal goals yet, but I've set team goals. For the team, bringing the LPD defense back and really just that.
DOES THAT HURT THE DEFENSE'S PRIDE, AFTER SO MANY GREAT YEARS, HAVING A SEASON LIKE LAST YEAR? MAKE YOU WANT TO BOUNCE BACK EVEN MORE AFTER HAVING A TOUGH YEAR LIKE LAST YEAR?
It doesn't hurt our pride, it just makes us want to go harder than we did last year. That's it.
WHAT'S BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING PART ABOUT CAMP SO FAR?
Surprising? I mean, I don't think anything has been surprising. I mean, I like how the team has come together, but I already knew that was going to happen.
YOU'RE ONE OF QUITE A FEW JACKSONVILLE GUYS TO COME UP HERE. HOW WELL HAS VIRGINIA TECH DONE AROUND THERE? WHAT WAS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS ON COMING UP HERE TO GO TO SCHOOL?
I mean, virginia Tech, it's very well-known in Jacksonville. Because, you know, Isaiah [Ford] of course, and me, and a couple other guys. You know every time they offer the younger guys, you know they're hitting me up and they're asking me questions about it.