Press Conference: UVA football coach Mike London

mike london accUVA football coach Mike London talks with reporters on Monday in advance of Virginia’s season opener Saturday at #13 UCLA.

 

Q. Speaking of secretive and no depth charts, is there much, if any, video out there of Rosen, and if so, what have you seen and how do you prepare for a true freshman quarterback making his first start?
COACH LONDON: Only the video from his high school career. I’m sure like them, they look at our VirginiaSportsTV.com as we will look at their videos, as well. But nothing substantive about what he is or what he does.
We know it’s a system that they run. We know he’s very talented and we know several players that can make him efficient surround him. That’s the challenge for us. We get in the game and start playing against him is to actually find out what his strengths are and try to find his deficiencies, as well.

Q. Without getting specific, is your depth chart finalized or are there still position that is you’re wavering on?
COACH LONDON: You know, we’ll probably go through this week it’s going to be a short week for us. Obviously we don’t practice on Monday because it’s the players’ mandatory day off. We’ll go Tuesday. We’ll go Wednesday and we’ll do something on Thursday and then head out on Thursday afternoon.
But as we stand right now, there are opportunities for depth chart changes, but at the same time, our scheme, our systems, whether we’re playing nickel, dime, whatever the packages may be, they are all set.

Q. Going back to last year’s UCLA game, can you remember the scenario when Matt went into the game, and what you may have told him, how did he react to that, and sort of a two parter, can you just kind of update us on his progress through the training camp?
COACH LONDON: I told you guys the story before, that was the game where I grabbed him by his arm and said, “Are you ready for this?”
And he grabbed me back and said, “I’ve been ready for this my whole life.”
It’s kind of that his moxie, whatever you want to call it, that really impressed me at that moment. Obviously you go back, look at the game, they had three defensive touchdowns, and we had a costly turnover there that allowed them to go ahead. But that was a game that Matt kind of showed that he had a little bit of stuff in him, and that he could be eventually be a good player here.
And now it’s his chance. It’s his chance to go out to their place and hopefully play a game that will allow us to be victorious.

Q. You mentioned the three touchdowns they scored. You guys last year, you couldn’t help that when they return them for touchdowns, but other than that, sudden change defensively, you did a lot better last year, as opposed to the year before. How key is that to kind of stop some momentum and do you feel that you were good at that this year, and how do you like this year with a lot of new faces on the defensive side of the ball?
COACH LONDON: It’s always key, it’s always critical. We talk about those sudden change moments where the whole game can change. A lot of times, offenses, you look at them and they like to take a shot. They like to go to the end zone and like to capitalize on what just happened. I believe our defense did a great job of particularly on the sideline, when it first happens, the defensive coaches gather the players around and we talk about the place that they have shown in the past about going to the end zone or trying to reverse play whatever it might be. We did a really good job of handling that part of it or being poised at that situation and not let the high get you too high or the low too low.
We have to continue to keep doing that. That’s one aspect of playing defense. But overall, I thought we played well defensively. We are going to have to in that game, defense set up at least ten points for our offense, the score, so we’ll have to do that again. We’ll have to play better offensively, but again, this is a great challenge for us.

Q. Since it’s probably something that UCLA doesn’t have film on, have you picked a punter yet?
COACH LONDON: I would say that Nicholas Conte, going into it right now, is the guy that will punt the football for us. He and James Coleman have been very competitive in practice, but again, you’re asking today on Monday, Nic is ahead of him right now.

Q. Is it safe to say we’ll see three running backs or four running backs then on Saturday?
COACH LONDON: You know, you may see whatever it takes as far as the running backs are concerned. Really, really pleased with Smoke Mizzell. He’s done a tremendous job here of lately in terms of learning how to be a running back, and I really look forward to him having kind of a breakout season.
Albert Reid has done a nice job, as well. Albert transferred in, came in and became a great teammate. There are some roles he’ll have in the return game, kicking game.
Daniel Hamm will have an opportunity to play, as well.
Jordan Ellis, the running back from Georgia, short yardage guy or a guy that can be back there and run the ball. We’re going to try to do what’s best for the team, but also know that there are some very capable running backs that we have and all of them have performed well during August camp.

Q. Beyond the quarterback, they have got I think one of the leading rushers in the Pac 12 coming back and an offensive line with a lot of returners. What are some things that you need to prepare for offensively?
COACH LONDON: You’re right – Perkins is their running back. He’s a phenomenal player. They have an offensive line. Early on, they had guys that were injured but it appears that they are back now. That’s a strong part of their football team. They have an offensive line that’s experienced and with guys that have played a lot of games.
Sort of like ours (offensive line) – guys have played in a lot of football games. They have a receiving corps that I’m quite sure with their quarterback they are going to try to get the ball out quickly, get the ball out to the receivers and make us defend space.
But when you have a young guy and you want to make sure you can distribute the ball to those playmakers you just talked about, the running back and the receivers with an experienced offensive line, so that’s what I would expect.

Q. Without going too much into your game plan would it be safe to assume you’re going to try to put a lot of pressure on a freshman quarterback?
COACH LONDON: It would be safe to assume that.

Q. When you guys faced these guys last year, their offensive line situation was kind of all over the place and you guys took advantage of it, had five sacks. Toward the second half of last year, they got a lot better and made some personnel changes. What do you expect from their offensive line as opposed to what you saw last year?
COACH LONDON: It’s a veteran group. Not trying to be too funny the way I answered that question but at the same time, you want to protect your quarterback, a freshman quarterback and I’m quite sure they will be doing some things if they haven’t already been doing it, that will give him the maximum amount of opportunities to get rid of the ball and protect the football.
We always see those opportunities. You try to exploit those opportunities but it remains to be seen. We didn’t give up any sacks against him last year – so that was one of the things offensively for us that we were in the plus category for. We’ll have to continue to keep doing that and then try to find ways, again, that we can attack protections or whatever it might be.

Q. Judging from some of the quotes Brad had, Eric Smith has really turned it on in the fall or the preseason. What was up with him in the spring and what have you seen in the fall?
COACH LONDON: A lot of it has to do sometimes with just the overall approach, maybe focus, of young men that want to get better. Eric, his career here, he’s played and he’s started some games. Sometimes you get the attention of a player when he is moved to a second or third team – or on that scout team and he looks at something that he had before and that he lost.
With Eric, I’m happy for him and the fact that after practices here, he would stay after practice. He would do extra work on blocking dummies. He would do extra work on hand drills or whatever it might be. So it got his attention, and he responded appropriately by saying I’m going to work harder than what I had been doing. I got complacent and he took care of that by his work ethic.
That’s available for all the players to do that, and I think Eric took his situation to heart and has really responded well.
Q. With the quarterbacks not being live, it’s hard to really simulate a game situation in practice. Do you have a sense of where the pass rush is right now or is that something you won’t really know until you get out there Saturday?
COACH LONDON: You try to simulate as much as you can with tackling dummies, where the ball is, stripping the ball out all those things like that.
What’s very significant this year is now the spearing rule, where if you use the top of the crown of your head and you could get ejected from the game; or any contact from the neck and above with any part of your body.
So you’re constantly coaching and teaching that. But you don’t want to do it against your players, your own players. But it will be something if you watch, not only college football as a whole, making sure how offensive runners or players are being tackled, whether you’re using your neck or whether you’re making contact above the neck area.
We try to do drills that would allow us to simulate tackling the quarterback, but game time is the real activity that you’ll have to make sure that all the drills you taught, all the things, the rules you’ve discussed, the players understand and then play accordingly.

Q. Where is Jay Whitmire in terms of positioning? Is he kind of I know he played a couple positions earlier in his career. Where is he now and how much show be expected to play on Saturday?
COACH LONDON: The depth of the offensive line is the strength of ours and obviously Jay has played right tackle. He could play inside and he still has that opportunity to do that. I wouldn’t be surprised if he experiences opportunities to play tackle and guard position.

Q. On Media Day a lot of guys talked about how all summer long they talked about finishing games, because you had a couple games last year that you let get away in the fourth quarter. What have the coaches done to reinforce that and how has that resolved, where does that stand do you think with these guys?
COACH LONDON: Even with coaches, with drills, with things that we keep talking about, finishing, crossing the line of scrimmage, the last rep, running extra yards, once you get to the first down marker, finishing and going beyond. And so it’s kind of been a mantra for us as we went through spring practice and this early part of camp about being good enough and being better than your previous self; reflecting the type of habits that affect the mission.
And the habit is, over and over and over, doing the things that give you an opportunity to win. And the habit is winning. And so when you create those habits, then you have opportunities for guys to start realizing that things can be changed or make a difference.
Same action – same outcome. We want different actions for different outcomes this year and a lot of our guys have embraced that.

Q. Looking back on that game, do you feel there were a lot of positives to come out of it, one way or another, looking for the same kind of result this year?
COACH LONDON: Well, obviously the end goal is to win the game. You get pats on the back for playing well, but we want to win football games and we talked about before, the four games that you were not on the winning ledger for whatever reason.
That’s been also a focal point of ours, just tied into what Hank just said about finishing games and the situations we were in could chart our own destiny so to speak.
With UCLA being the first game of the year for us, we know what happened last year. That’s last year. Now we’re focusing on this year’s football team, 2015 with the players that we have with a new mind set and a new attitude.
Again, we are excited about taking a trip out to California. No stranger to going out west and having an opportunity to play a really good football team that played in a bowl game last year and they ended up playing well [as the year went on].

Q. You guys moved the ball on them pretty well last year. Can you talk about their defense and what you’ve seen studying the second half of last season?
COACH LONDON: They are solid up front. Their front seven, they are big, athletic. Their linebackers are very productive. They have done a nice job of saying, we are going to stop the run, and that’s going to be something that we are going to have to be able to exploit, not only with the play action pass running game, passing game, all those things, but they are athletic. You know, again, they have put their players in position to win.
Coach Mora, I know, is a defensive guy. I know he’s the head coach but he’s a guy that’s coached defenses for a while, and you can tell, because they are very well coached.

Q. How did the tight end position progress during camp? Did Charlie Hopkins emerge maybe as that guy you took out of Stanford as to be more that complete tight end?
COACH LONDON: Charlie has improved tremendously. I would say right now, Charlie and Evan Butts, the guys have kind of showed that they have the wherewithal and the capabilities not only to be on line blockers but also pass catchers and that’s what we talked about.
Again, you got Rob Burns there and Brendan Marshall, still in the mix, but those two particularly have kind of emerged as guys that are frontrunners.

Q. Matt doesn’t have like all the physical tools that blue chip quarterbacks have with a big arm and all that stuff. What is it about him that engenders so much confidence and optimism?
COACH LONDON: Wow, Matt’s behind you right there. You just made that statement there. I’m a big Matt Johns fan and I’ve been at his house and I’ve seen him play on Friday nights. I believe in Matt Johns.
One of the things as I said before, his ability to be a leader, out in front leader, not only with the offensive guys but defensive tackles, the linebackers. Our guys genuinely like him and they like his leadership abilities and skills.
So when you have a guy that believes in himself, again, I told the UCLA story, that he had been waiting for this moment. Matt’s been waiting for this moment, and this moment will be realized for him here in a few days.
I got your back, Matt, don’t you worry about that.

Q. You’ve seen a lot of things but have you ever experienced anything like that last year in that second quarter stretch where it was just turnover after turnover, they kept turning into points? How frustrating, shocked, were you, and how much did that take a toll on the team?
COACH LONDON: I’ve been in a lot of football games and seen a lot of great finishes, tough losses, great victories. That was a tough loss because they (turnovers) resulted in touchdowns (on the play).
But again, we’ve talked about it, the players know about it. But the focus has been on this year’s plan, this year’s approach, this year’s personnel and this year’s plan of action, and that’s what we’re focused on.

Q. I promise I won’t ask this question every week but yeah, I do promise. What are the early reports on T.J. Thorpe?
COACH LONDON: He is doing everything the doctors have asked him to do. Again, I don’t know when he will be cleared but – I’m quite sure if he could play Saturday, he would want to be out there and play Saturday. But he won’t be ready.
But again, every week we’ll see how his progress is, but right now, he’s still being rehabbed.

Q. Are there any other injury concerns that you have going into this?
COACH LONDON: There are a few that happened to get banged up through the course of practice. Guys will get ankle injuries or shoulder strains or whatever it is. But as I said, today is our day off and what I will get tonight is a medical report from Kelli Pugh, our athletic trainer, and she gives me a forecast of guys that may be limited.
Connor Wingo Reeves had an ankle injury that precluded him from practicing – but he should be back. Again, that opportunity will be given to me tonight and we’ll plan our personnel accordingly with a Tuesday and Wednesday practice.

Q. Is there a concern about depth at receiver? Anybody out besides Thorpe for this week? Dowling I guess?
COACH LONDON: Besides the two that you guys already know about, we’re playing David Eldridge. He will play – and Olamide Zaccheaus, he’s going to play. He’ll be receiver, slot, he’ll be wherever we need him, basically. But those two guys offensively again, we talked Keeon [Johnson], we talked about Kyle Dockins, Andre Levrone, those guys that have played in games. I believe the addition of those two skills players will help this football team.

Q. Olamide, obviously he was recruited as a running back.
COACH LONDON: He’s very nifty. I tell you what, he’s very athletic. I don’t know if you’ve seen any practices or whatever, he’s made some phenomenal catches in practice. He’s a part of the return game and special teams because we want that dynamic returner type guy. I keep joking because he wears number 33, so I call him Perry Jones, Junior.
He’s embraced his role. Right now he’s learning, like all these other true freshmen, first year guys. But also he’s anticipating a lot of excitement of what’s getting ready to happen for him.

Q. You mentioned true freshmen and their need to learn. How difficult is it just in your experience over the years for a true freshman to play quarterback? You saw Brad Kaaya (Miami) last year and you obviously had success pressuring him, only got one offensive touchdown and think that was in the first quarter. Your experience as they try to navigate that position?
COACH LONDON: Obviously there’s a skill level when the young men come in and they have risen to the level of being put in that position to be the starting quarterback.
But there are so many things. The college game is so much faster. The concepts and things that these young players have to be subjected to, you have great defensive coordinators out there that are always attacking protections, players, making them try to make them vulnerable to the things that you see as perhaps a deficiency or weakness, and then the mental part of it; being able to handle just the entirety of the bigness of the game. He’ll be the only one out there when the fans are out there, how are you going to handle those moments. You only find that out when you’re playing your first game or you only find out when you’re playing in those games.
Obviously there’s a belief that Coach Mora has in this young player, and as I said before, I believe with the surrounding cast of guys UCLA has, that Coach Mora feels they can take some of the load off of him and as long as he facilitates getting the ball to those players and run their system, obviously they believe that he can do that. But any freshman, true freshman quarterback, there’s always several challenges and some of them, like with Kaaya, you mentioned, have risen to the level to achieve. That’s always the challenge.

Q. Has Andrew Brown continued to progress to the point where you think he’s ready to make an impact on the game?
COACH LONDON: Andrew, his play has improved significantly. He’s a guy that’s has great get off. He definitely can put pressure on the quarterback in terms of a pass rush situation. He’s taking care of his body.
Again, he’s another guy that because of whatever happened injury wise in the past that I believe can emerge and help this team, help us up front, particularly. And so I’m sure Andrew is as excited as anybody else. This is his first full time season he’s about to embark on and he’s feeling really healthy now.

Q. About Andrew, also, he was a guy who admitted that when he came in here, he was kind of rolling in like he was King. Something happened somewhere along the way, someone pulled him aside and told him how the cow ate the cabbage and changed his mindset. Do you know what it was, his little come to Jesus, and when his mind set changed?
COACH LONDON: You know, when you’ve been healthy your whole high school career and all of a sudden you experience some adversity, with him, it was the turf toe and then it was the shoulder; that being able to mentally overcome that when you’ve been the guy all the time, sometimes it’s hard to do.
It takes maturity. It takes guys that are in his circle of influence. I know his dad is very close to him. They talk all the time. That’s important that you have the support when he left in the spring, he went back home and hired a trainer. He was doing some boxing drills and techniques. He was doing a lot of things. He cut his body fat percentage down and his mind set came back, said, listen, ‘I want to be the best player that I can be.’
It’s always hard for young players, first year players, handling that adversity, because you’re also a student-athlete, you’re a student and there’s so many things that are going on. But Andrew has matured, and this is his opportunity and this is his moment, also, to play and help us.



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