Press Conference: Miami at the 2017 #ACCKickoff
Miami coach Mark Richt and players Shaquille Quarterman and Mark Walton talk with reporters at the 2017 ACC Kickoff.
It’s good to be here. I’m excited about continuing to be the head coach at my alma mater, the University of Miami. It’s been a great trip so far. Get a chance to coach some wonderful players. Get a chance to live in paradise. Get a chance to recruit in one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in America, and got a great staff. My wife and I are empty-nesters, so life is good for me right now, I can promise you.
But we’re looking forward to this season. Put a lot of work into it, just like everybody else, and we’re just anxious to see what we’ve got. There’s a lot of time between now and the game, but it’s getting shorter and shorter. We’ll be practicing before you know it and finding out who’s going to play where, who’s going to earn snaps, who’s going to be the quarterback, all those things will be coming down the road, and I’ll get a chance to answer those as we go.
But I’ve got the pleasure to bring Shaq Quarterman and Mark Walton, the two players I actually chose to come. I think I invited them because they’re a great representation of our program on and off the field. They’re special people. They’re special players, and I’m honored to be their coach. With that, I’ll turn it back over.
Q. Syracuse and Miami used to have a little bit of a rivalry back in the Big East days. That gets renewed this year. Talk about as a defensive guy playing a team like Syracuse. I’m sure you’ve seen some of what they did last year, a lot of up tempo, fast-paced offense. What’s that game going to be like?
SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN: Well, honestly we haven’t really watched Syracuse yet, but I have heard that they’re a very fast-moving offense. So when that time comes, we’re definitely going to prepare for them to put us in the best position to succeed. I’m just ready to see how they play.
Q. Shaq, can you talk about you look back here and there’s a lot of tripods but no cameras. We talked about this with the Syracuse guys yesterday, about respect, and not a lot of people coming out to see the U apparently here at Media Day. Do you guys take that personally and maybe as a division, too, Coastal Division versus the Atlantic, that seems to get a lot of the pub?
SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN: Well, honestly I feel for our team when it comes to the media, we don’t really — I’m not going to say we don’t care, but we’re not really bothered by how the media feels or if they respect us enough to come and see us. We’re just here to play ball and compete like we’re supposed to do at Miami.
Q. Last year as a true freshman you seemed to have a pretty good handle for the game of college football; during the off-season have you seen things in your game that you would still like to improve for 2017?
SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN: You said are there things I’d like to improve on? Of course. I feel like I can improve in all aspects of my game. I’ve been working on getting slimmer, more in shape so that I can be more efficient and run as fast as I can for as long as I can so I don’t have to come off the field for any reason. I’ve been focusing on my football IQ. I’ve been focused on my pre-snap analysis to understand what the offense is trying to do to me and my defense. So once you understand things like that, you’re one step ahead of the offense when the offense usually starts out one step ahead of you because they know what they’re doing.
Q. When you talk about football IQ, are there certain areas of the game where you want that IQ to be stronger?
SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN: I mean, I wouldn’t say certain areas. It’s just in general, from reading the stance of a lineman to looking at how a quarterback ID’s the defense to looking at the splits of receivers. It all plays a part in being successful.
Q. You’re fairly new still to the program as a true sophomore. Can you tell us about the kids coming into the program as freshmen? Is there any one individual that we need to be looking out for for this season?
SHAQUILLE QUARTERMAN: I would say that you would need to look out for all of them. I think Coach Richt does a great job recruiting. We’ve got a lot of exciting guys coming in, people that are hungry, ready to put in the work, ready to work hard as they’ve been doing in the weight room, and we have those who just arrived who are just getting accustomed to how we do things. But I feel as though when they come into form, when they come into shape, it’s going to be awesome.
Q. Mark, similar line of questioning that I gave to your teammate. Atlantic Division might have Clemson and Florida State, but Coastal Division seems to have a little style. We had a velvet jacket by a Virginia Tech player, we’ve got bowties. Are you guys trying to make a statement in that regard?
MARK WALTON: Actually I didn’t try to come in and make a statement today. I was dressing and I just picked out a suit and just came here. I didn’t try to come in or make no statement or nothing, I just come in to try to be dressed professional for the event today.
Q. Talk about Coach Richt’s emphasis on running the ball and how that has helped you.
MARK WALTON: You know, when Coach Richt came the year before, the old coaching staff that we had, we never ran 21. Just when Coach Richt came over, running 21 with a fullback and bringing an extra block for you, instead of out of the gun, just bringing different styles of running the ball. You can run it in the gun, variations, 21, 11, 12. And Coach Richt brings different types of styles of defense into kind of wear you down and actually slow you down a little bit, so it kind of hurts you on any part of it because you never know what we can do out of the run game. That’s helped me a lot, trying to wear down the defense, just hitting carries on different sides.
Q. Just what you can say not only about yourself but how you would describe the backfield for Miami, the weapons that you have back there, some of the guys that maybe have stuck out to you at this point.
MARK WALTON: You’ve got myself, you’ve got Travis Homer, you’ve got Trayone Gray coming back after his ACL injury. Besides myself, you’ve got a great youngster, Travis Homer, a true sophomore. He’s going to do a great — I think he’s going to be a great player, do a great job this year. You’ve got Trayone that’s grown, more power back. I think he’s going to do a great job coming back off his ACL injury, he’s looking pretty good, running well. I think our whole room is bright.
Q. Let’s talk about replacing quarterbacks. Seems like every team in this division almost is replacing one, and how much you and some of your other offensive teammates want to kind of step up to help the new quarterback whoever he turns out to be.
MARK WALTON: You know, as a leader on the offensive side of the ball, you’ve just got to make sure everybody is on one accord. Just don’t matter who`s going to come out and win the starting job at the quarterback. You just want to let them know that me as a running back, I’m going to make sure I do my job picking up any blitz and making sure I hold my own blocking protection to give him enough time to make the right throws so he can be comfortable back there throwing the ball so he won`t have rush a decision and make a bad play. Just making sure he knows that I’m a trustworthy guy for him.
Q. You’ve described the quarterback competition going into the fall as wide open. Just what you can say about the guys that you have back there right now and maybe how they’ve looked through the spring and what your anticipation is for the fall in that competition.
MARK RICHT: Right. Well, we’ve got two veteran players, and that’s Malik Rosier and Evan Shirreffs. Both of those guys have had a ton of reps. They’ve been getting a lot reps since I got there on campus, not this spring but the spring prior. So they’ve had about a year and a half of opportunities to show what they can do, and, quite frankly, I’m very comfortable with both of them and their knowledge of the game and of our system and being able to get in the right play and the right protection or changing a play from a run to a pass or vice versa. They can do that. They’ve got plenty of arm strength. They’ve got some athleticism. They’ve got some toughness about them. We’re just going to see who can become the most consistent in the group at large.
And then you’ve got two true freshmen, Cade Weldon, and then you’ve got N’Kosi Perry, and both of those guys can move well. They can throw well. They’re smart. They’re tough. At least they were in high school. We’ll find out what they can do when we start practicing. And I think it’s at the point now where we’ve just got to get them out there and give them reps.
When we scrimmage, I want to see who can handle the pressure of that job. I need a guy I can trust. Can you hit your target, can you make good decisions, can you handle the pressure of being the starting quarterback at Miami. Those are the things I’ve got to find out, and the last one I won’t know until they actually become the starting quarterback.
Q. Can you talk about Dino Babers and Syracuse, they’re on your schedule this year?
MARK RICHT: Oh, yeah.
Q. I know you haven’t looked at them carefully, but I’m sure you saw what they did last year.
MARK RICHT: Well, first thing that I remember about them from a year ago is they beat Virginia Tech and we didn’t play very well against them at all. But they spread it out. We know that. They get the ball out quick for the most part. They’ve got a quarterback or they had a quarterback that was — I guess he’s back — very athletic guy, a guy that can throw and run. You know, I didn’t study much of their defense because I’m an offensive coach watching Virginia Tech’s defense in preparation for that game, I’m watching Syracuse’s offense, so I really saw that for the most part. We play them a little bit down the road, so we don’t go that far into the season during our summer study, so to speak. But he’s been a proven winner everywhere he’s been, and it’s going to be a great challenge for us.
Q. Just talk about how much in your second year your players know you, you know them.
MARK RICHT: Right. Well, it is different for sure. Last summer was so critical. We are allowed to meet with our players a couple hours a week, and it was just crucial that we spend a lot of time just installing our offense, installing our defense, with the entire football team. A year later, we’re still going through the installation, but it’s just not as crazy as it was a year ago. There wasn’t that big of a learning curve across the board.
Now we have — we have a few guys that weren’t there in the spring, and they’re the ones that really are trying to figure out what’s going on. But when you’ve got 80, 90 percent of your team already knowing and understanding what you’re trying to get accomplished, it’s just a different feeling.
You know, these kids are allowed to really focus on getting their bodies right and getting their minds right. I’m enjoying them. I think they understand what’s expected of them and I think our coaches understand how I want things done, and everybody is bought in. We’re moving right along at a very good pace, I think.
Q. Coach Cutcliffe this morning talked about the physicality of the Coastal Division. What part do you think your revamped running game plays in the increasing physicality of this division, and which teams do you feel like are the most physical in the division? Who stands out?
MARK RICHT: Well, first of all, Mark Walton was talking a little bit about adding a fullback to the offense and all that kind of thing, and we’re probably not going to have as much of that this year as we had a year ago. But if you`re going to run the ball well, you’ve got to block obviously. You’ve got to block well. People want to talk about the offensive line but must block and provide space for your backs, which is true. You’ve got to get movement on the defensive players, but you need tight ends to block, you need receivers to block, you need the quarterback to get us to the right running play. If the running play has got no chance, we`ve got to check to a pass possibly. There’s a lot of things that have to be done to make your running game effective.
And the other thing, which is some hidden yardage in the running game, is your quarterback’s ability to use his wheels and get some 1st downs, and sometimes it’s a by-design QB run and sometimes you drop back and no one’s open and you take off running and you find some grass and you get some extra yardage there.
But you’ve got to be physical to run the football. Who’s the most physical team? I don’t know. If I say one team, the other guys get mad. I think they’re all physical. I mean, it’s a physical sport. That’s why they put the pads on. That’s why guys — that’s why there’s rules against targeting, because guys are trying to play as physical as they can. It’s an impressive league for sure.
Q. With David Njoku moving forward to the NFL, what you can say about the personnel at the tight end position.
MARK RICHT: Well, Chris Herndon, I’ve got a lot of faith in. I think he’s one of the better tight ends I’ve been around. Very physical at the point of attack, good route runner, good ball skills, probably runs a 4.6, at 255 pounds. He’s very smart, and he of all of our players has to adjust more than anybody we have. We’ll call certain plays and formations, and he’s got to know — he’s the guy that moves the most and has to understand where to be because if we want to go at the temp that we want to go at, we don`t want to have to tell him exactly where to line up. He’s got to understand the play. When he hears the play, he’s got to know where to go after he hears the play, and we put a lot of burden on the tight end position to do that, and he does it extremely well.
Behind him, we’re young. We’re inexperienced, and I don’t know if we’re ready to play championship football. There’s some time between now and then, where Michael Irvin, Jr. can get there and Polendey is a young freshman coming in. But I’d be very concerned if something happened to Chris, I can tell you that.
Q. Talk about the linebacking corps. You’ve got a lot of snaps out of three freshmen last year, and what we should expect from them having a year under their belt.
MARK RICHT: Well, I think you heard Shaq talk a little bit about really understanding what it takes to be in condition to play a full season. He knew about halfway through that thing that he was probably a little heavy, he was probably not able to run as hard and as fast as he wanted to at all times, so he’s in much better condition. He’s lighter. He’s leaner. And he’s smarter. He didn’t get smarter — I mean, his IQ didn’t change, but his football IQ changed because he understands the game better. And he’s also a tremendous leader for our defense and for our team, and that’s hard to do as early as it is in his career.
Q. There’s been some rhetoric over the last day and a half about how for a new coach, year No. 2, game No. 4, seems to be a marker in which things start to make sense, they start to click. What are your thoughts about your own blueprint in comparison to that thought?
MARK RICHT: To my year two?
Q. Yes, sir.
MARK RICHT: Yeah, I think year two is certainly a different type of season. Year one, it’s not just football. You’ve got to look at your strength program. You’ve got to look at your nutrition program. You’ve got to look at your academics. You’ve got to look at your recruiting. You’ve got to look at everything that you do and how you do it and teach everybody how you want things done. The very first practice, you practice the practice without the players. You get the managers and trainers and coaches and you get the clocks running and you get everybody to understand where they’ve got to be and when they’ve got to be there. You’re ground zero in so many areas year one.
Year two, we understand how to do the little things right, and we understand how we want to go about our business, and the players, like I said, 80, 90 percent of them know exactly what we want to do and how we want to do it, so now it’s a matter of them perfecting their trade.
And so it’s a different feel for sure.
Q. Five of the seven teams have to replace their quarterback. Obviously this is not the first time you’ve been through the process of bringing in a new quarterback. Talk about replacing a talented guy like Brad Kaaya.
MARK RICHT: Right. Well, it’s inevitable you’re going to have change in college football. We knew Kaaya was going to move on. Was it going to be this year or not, we didn’t know that. So you’re always preparing for the moment. I mean, Brad, God forbid, could have got hurt game 2. Somebody has got to play. You’ve got to be preparing guys to play. The big thing for me is to — I just need a guy that I know is going to have a great respect for the football. They all have arm talent. They all can move. They all are going to know what to do or they wouldn’t be in the game. But what are you going to do when the protection breaks down? Are you going to throw it up for grabs? Are you going to start running wild and get the ball stripped and they scoop and score? When the drive is over, I want a punt, I want a field goal, or I want an extra point. If you end up in a turnover, it’s usually the quarterback that made a decision that caused that turnover or maybe he didn’t handle the snap right or maybe he didn’t hand the ball off well to the back. Most turnovers are attributed to the quarterback position, and turnovers are deadly to a championship run.
Close games are won and lost so much by who protects the ball the best. I don’t want to be so conservative that we never do anything to take risk, but on the other hand, every risk is calculated and you can’t just launch that thing up for grabs.
Q. You opened up by talking about being part of a program that is also your alma mater. Take us through the emotion of last year, and what did it all mean to you and what does it mean moving forward?
MARK RICHT: Okay. Well, I’ve said this before, but I didn’t take the Miami job because it was my alma mater. I took it because I knew we could win at Miami. That’s why I took the job.
Now, it happens to be my alma mater, and the fact that it is my school has grown exponentially as I’ve been going through the process of being the head coach here at Miami. I truly love the place, and I love it probably a little bit more because it is my school, and I’m taking pride in that, and I’m taking pride in my fellow football alumni to help them see this program become what they want it to be, and to help our fan base help this place become what they want it to be, and the administration and the players and coaches themselves. It’s been a wonderful experience. My wife and I have really enjoyed living in Coconut Grove and having a ball as we’re empty-nesters, like I mentioned before.