Press Conference: UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall Week 2

bronco mendenhallCOACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, the real season begins in terms of game week preparation. The first game, the format and the time frame, isn’t the same as normal college football. You have a few extra days, you have a few extra minutes, and you have some luxury to possibly head down a road, maybe schematically make adjustments, and still have time for your first opponent.

That’s no longer the case. All around the country right now coaches, including ours, are arriving early and staying late and operating within the same time frame to make the adjustments from week one to week two and now apply it in a regular week versus a second opponent.

So we’re right in the middle of that and looking forward to continuing to grow our team and program.

I’m glad to take questions.

Q. You were able to rotate a number of players on defensive line. What does that luxury allow you to do, and is that something you would like to do in every game if you can?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I would love to play as many defensive lineman as are prepared to play. That can be five; it might be six maximum. Run-front defense has a lot to do with fresh bodies, physical bodies and bodies that know what to do. The more that we can play to fit that criteria the better because it gives us a chance to play harder, longer.

I don’t think you really can control a game defensively unless you can keep the opponent behind the chains and get to third down with hopefully not manageable numbers on their part in terms of the yardage.

So I think first and second down have a lot to do with that, which have a lot to do with defensive line play, which have a lot to do with who you have playing it and how many you have playing it.

Q. When you play an FCS school things seem to go either of two ways: what happened here two years ago and people never seem to forget that, or what happened Saturday night when people say, ‘Oh, well, that’s the way it was supposed to be’. At what point do you think you’ll have an idea how good your team is?
COACH MENDENHALL: December. I believe in a developmental mindset and a growth mindset, and you have a chance to improve until you are out of games. I really like the reference point. If you go back to how you framed where it can go one of two ways, where you are upset or you are viewed that you weren’t ready or the program has a long ways to go.

Or it’s the expected where you have a solid win verus an opponent that is supposed to be a lesser caliber based on division. That is expected. I would just a soon have the result be in relation to exceeding expectations, which I think we’re off to a good start through week one.

Lots and lots to improve. How good we are, or anyone else, to be honest, it’s hard to say. But we’ll find out.

Q. What’s stood out to you in Indiana’s win over Florida International this past week?
COACH MENDENHALL: You know, I think there is just a little bit more certainty as to who they are. Under a new head coach, year two always seems to bring some momentum, brings a little bit more clarity.

So I would just say their identity is cleaner than it was a year ago, which there was — we saw two different quarterbacks in our game and there was different styles there. Their defense is more consistent in terms of their identity.

I just think it’s becoming clearer who they want to be and why.

Q. Just to follow on that, Peyton Ramsey, their quarterback, last year kind of came sort of out of nowhere and had a great game against you guys. What have you seen from him?
COACH MENDENHALL: Similar. So quarterback that can extend plays, and like much of college football now, the quarterback position is the catalyst for not only yards through the air but yards on the ground.

Just, again — I remember a year ago we spent so much time preparing for the starting quarterback, and when Ramsey came in it was a completely different style.

So the alteration of the plan — and I remember exactly what that was like and adjusting midstream.

Q. Do you see Bryce’s [Perkins] abilities similarly effective as a runner or a passer, or is he ahead in one of the areas?
COACH MENDENHALL: If I were to assess now I would say he’s ahead in the run game, but the most improvement since he’s arrived has been in the pass game.

So the growth and development at a really rapid level has come in that area in relation to where he started, and so I think it’s fair to say that he’s ahead in the run game but the pass game has made the most growth.

Q. Coach, you’ve been around a lot of players and a lot of runners, a lot of backs. I’m wondering how close does Jordan Ellis come to meeting the full potential that a player has and can achieve?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I would say that Jordan Ellis, not in comparison to anyone else, but the way that he trains and the way that he concentrates and the way that he prepares is exceptional. Meaning that he’s one of the closest players to reaching their potential that I’ve coached by his habits. So he maximizes what he’s been giving, what his capabilities are through mindset, through training and development to play the position, which he was off to a good start.

Q. You mentioned Peyton Ramey, but if I’m not mistaken, he’s playing behind the offensive line that returns all five of last year’s starters, and a grad transfer center from Miami, I believe. What additional chances to playing a veteran front like that offer?
COACH MENDENHALL: You know, usually just fewer mishaps and negative plays. It’s always nice to keep the offense behind the changes. If the offensive front is cohesive and consistent, makes that harder.

Q. Just from a taking hits, staying healthy, that kind of perspective, how do you think Bryce managed the game?
COACH MENDENHALL: I think he did really well. He ran with a really strong presence. There were two runs where he didn’t intend to go down. He was breaking tackles, he was fighting for yards, and it inspired the team.

There are occasions where that’s necessary. The fewer the better as far as I’m concerned in managing his health for the long term of the season.

But I thought it was a good start for where we are.

Q. If I can go back to Jordan Ellis for a moment, when he’s reaching or close to reaching his full potential, what is he giving you on the field and off the field?
COACH MENDENHALL: On the field he runs with power and he runs with confidence, and he does it over and over again. So his consistency, his reliability, and the physical nature in how he performs. It takes a lot for a body to — to develop your body to handle that kind of consistency and that many touches.

And with the running style that he has, as he wouldn’t be what’s considered a speed back. He’s more of a slasher. Those players take lots of hits and they drag tacklers. There are multiple tacklers on most plays, and he’s breaking more tackles each and every year; he’s more physical. But his preparation is leading to that.

And then off the field he just sets the standard. Our team knows exactly what we expect and what we want, and they know they have someone to look to that provides that reference point.

Jordan does that, and really epitomizes one of our other guiding principles of less drama, more work. There is zero drama with Jordan. He’s always where supposed to be, doing what he’s supposed to do as hard as he can do it, and feels lucky and grateful to do it.

Q. Where do you stand with your reserve quarterbacks right now? What was the strategy the other night?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s still — Lindell Stone still has the slight edge, I would say, if you’re talking significant number of snaps and leading the team, for instance if Bryce went down. Maturity, decision making, and just really how he moved the team in fall camp, it was slightly better.

In game one it made more sense for Brennan Armstrong to get reps as it is game one and it didn’t require much change for sure anyone else. So rather than the likelihood of miss cues or maybe moving to some different emphasis within our plan, it seemed better just to keep the same plan and let Brennan play.

Q. The redshirt rule has changed, did that enter into your thinking?
COACH MENDENHALL: It enters into all of our thinking. First of all, really happy to have been in a situation where we could let and have some players play. Yeah, it’s a unique dilemma now as to how to predict when and if you’ll need players later, versus encouraging them and seeing and evaluating them enough early to kind of count on and establish your depth for later.

So all that was going through not only my mind, but our staff’s mind. I think we managed it well. Time will tell.

Q. Sort of off the beaten path question: What are some thing you maybe didn’t see from your team? A lot of us have talked about Bryce this and Olamide that and Jordan this. What didn’t you see from your team Saturday that you maybe wanted to see or you still need to see as you go forward?
COACH MENDENHALL: Oh, just volume of plays. So there was a lot of different scenarios that played out in the game and a lot of different types of situations that I think we were able to evaluate. Consistency right now is really what we need to see; how much volume will it take to truly determine where our strengths are, where our deficiencies are, and in between.

So we certainly know in terms of consistency field goal kicking is still — while I thought that was a real significant improvement in fall camp, I am still trying to identify where that range is, and sorting out the difference of how to use both of our kickers. Again, we have AJ and then we also have Hunter, which is — there is a different range level there.

So I’ve got to push harder in practice to try to create scenarios to get that dialed in quicker so it doesn’t just show up at game time.

Q. Two big-time effort plays from Saturday that I think kind of underscore the increasing team speed you guys have. Brenton Nelson chasing down the Richmond receiver on the 54-yard completion; and then on the pick six, Tavares Kelly almost completely chased down that linebacker. How much do those plays resonate in the locker room and with the coaching staff?
COACH MENDENHALL: They resonate not only from an ability standpoint, but more a desire standpoint. So Brenton I think many of us knew from a year ago and coming from the track team maybe what was he was capable of. This year hopefully his durability and consistency will allow that same kind of production to happen from beginning to end.

It was no surprise for our team to see Tavares Kelly chasing down someone. Our team has had a hard time catching him all fall camp. Really he hasn’t had the exposure yet, at least for the fans and for others to watch us play that the team has.

Protection didn’t hold in a number of cases where the ball was and he was the target, but that was — for those that were watching, that was a play to note that he is quick, he is tough if you consider the game or the play where the ball was pitched to him and there was really a defender that had a clear shot and hit him really as hard as he could and he just bounced off and kept going and made positive yards.

Tavares is little but not small. He plays big. Big heart and he’s tough.

Q. One last quick follow up on the redshirt rule. Are there guys you’ve already identified as these guys are playing redshirt rule or not?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, there are a couple already. We’ve talked about defensive line, so Jordan Redmond already; Aaron Faumui for sure. Bobby Haskins at offensive tackle. Tavares Kelly. Those ones are kind of non-negotiables. The others are different levels of decision.

Q. First start for Darrius Bratton. How did he look?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, Darrius did a really nice job. According to our grading system there wasn’t a defensive player that graded higher. In fact, I made that a point in the team meeting today in showing a few clips of film. Darrius’ debut, if you remember was late and kind of clean-up play in our win over Boise State last year and he got beat over the top for a touchdown. It was just devastating to him. I remember seeing him in the locker room.

To have earned a starting role and to have played as well as he did was really gratifying. The team was really excited for him as well. He played really well.

Q. We’re going to be talking to Jordan Mack and Malcolm Cook in a few minutes. Can you just talk a little bit about where they stand and what has impressed you about them?
COACH MENDENHALL: Wow, two really unique and different stories. Jordan Mack is cut more in the mold of Jordan Ellis where he would prefer not to be in front of the camera, prefer not have to speak, and just work. He’s fiercely conditioned and requires no extra effort to have him on our team or manage him in anyway.

He’s Jordan at linebacker in a different build, and so just is really a joy to coach and has amazing speed and athleticism for playing that position.

Learned a lot under Micah and with Micah a year ago. Probably right after Chris Peace would be the next most respected player within the defense from a leadership-ish type role and consistency.

Not necessarily from playmaking and dynamic and vibrant personality, but just in term of consistent and durable, Jordan would probably be that player.

Then if you switch to Malcolm Cook, that’s a completely different story where there has been injury and inconsistencies and unique challenging personal choices a lot of time that he and I have spent together. He played well also. We moved him to the inside linebacker position. He’s adjusted to that.

He knew as well as I, and he actually came to me and just said, I understand for our best 11 players to be out there someone has got to change positions. I knew it was him and he knew it was him. I didn’t tell him. He kind of told me, This makes a lot of sense.

Always works better that way.

Q. After the final practice of the spring in April you talked at some length about Hasise Dubois, the penalty he got on the final play of the scrimmage and how he needed to kind of grow up off the field. Seems like that’s held him back more than anything on the field. Have you seen the growth you wanted from him over the summer and through the fall so far? Where is he as a receiver?
COACH MENDENHALL: Yeah, I would say I’ve seen growth. I think he’s made a conscious effort in his decision making. He has the support structure in Coach Hagans who works with him significantly. He was consistent in the game Saturday. He’s been consistent through the summer.

And so from that point of the last play of the spring game to now, he’s meeting expectations. So his hope and my hope is that it continues on and off the field. To this point since that play, it has. Yeah, I’m encouraged, he’s encouraged, and the team is encouraged.

He did a really nice job Saturday, and, again, has since that teachable moment.

Q. Delaney puts the ball through the end zone with regularity. Would you use him for a 55-yard field goal if you needed one?
COACH MENDENHALL: It’s not out of the question. Again, going back to the PAT and field goal kicking and just that area, I’m not concerned. I’m not settled yet as to where exactly we are.

I think after the game I talked about special teams kind of being neutral. Delaney’s performance was not neutral. I think six of the seven were out of the end zone, which is exceptional. The other one was one yard deep from what I saw. So he’s off to a really good start.


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