Thursday, March 31, 2016

Transcript: UK Football Defensive Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach DJ Eliot discuss Spring Progress

“Today was a competitive practice, which you like to see that. We went into the indoor because of the rain and didn’t lose focus. Sometimes when you change the scenery you get concerned the guys are going to lose focus. Different spots, different locations, got to be at different places, but we didn’t lose focus. We practiced very hard. We weren’t perfect. A lot of fundamental things that we need to get better at, but what I liked seeing was the competitiveness. Guys were competing. Offense won their share of battles, we won our share of battles, but I was very pleased with the kid’s energy, the effort, the attention to detail and the focus in today’s practice.”

On if energy lets him now defense is not just exploiting offense’s errors: “That’s a very good question, and that’s something that we harp on as coaches. You’re not concerned if you’re successful because they messed up. That’s not good defense. If they made a mistake and you got an interception, that’s not good defense. That’s them making a mistake. You want to see clean play on both sides of the ball, and when there is clean play who makes the play. Everybody executes their assignment, everybody plays proper technique. Now, who finishes and makes the play? And you’re exactly right. That’s what we look for.”

On if they cleaned up the issues from scrimmage: “They did. The biggest thing for us – we’re young at some spots – is to learn to compete and to play with urgency at those spots. Those are the things I’ve been harping on this spring: Playing fast, playing physical, playing with energy, playing with enthusiasm. The fundamental things, they’ll catch up with reps, but controlling the controllables is the main thing. I did see an improvement in that from Saturday.”

On what he likes about De’Niro Laster at different positions: “He’s big enough and very fast off the edge, so that makes him a good outside linebacker. But he’s athletic enough to go inside and cover in space and play sideline to sideline as an inside linebacker. So he has the skills to be successful at both. Some people don’t. Some people, I think their talents are more specific. They’re either just an inside linebacker or just and outside linebacker. I think that Laster has the skills to be successful at both.”

On what will determine which spot he sticks at: “Well, our best 11 will play. We’ll put our best 11 on the field.”

On if he can practice at either position and still play both: “No, you need reps at both. You definitely need reps at both, but some things you can catch on quicker than others and some things you need to rep. So wherever we decide is the best spot for him, we’ll get him caught up.”

On if finally has enough depth for what they need: “No, I don’t. I think that we’ve got to continue to develop depth. We lost some critical guys last year, especially up front. You lost Melvin Lewis, you lost Farrington (Huguenin), you lost Cory Johnson. We’ve got some guys that are working with the ones right now that had playing time, but everybody behind them has never stepped on the field at the defensive line position. I think that we have to continue to develop depth there. I think we’re actually more veteran – I say veteran, but we have sophomores – in the secondary. I think that we need to continue to develop our defensive line depth.”

On if he can ever see the point where he has enough depth: “Yes. (Laughter). I can see it. I can see it, and I tell you what we’ll all be celebrating at my house. But I can see it.”

On how important it is for seniors like Blake McClain and Marcus McWilson to step up with so many new faces on defense: “It’s critical. I think in any sport the more juniors and seniors you have, the more schematics, the more fundamentally sound players are. Our team at certain positions are starting to have some juniors and seniors that have played for quite a bit. Some of those being some of the safeties like you talked about. I think that’s critical.”

On how the secondary is adapting to Steve Clinkscale: “Very well, very well. He’s an excellent coach. He coaches with a lot of energy, he’s very knowledgeable. The players have responded to him. It’s been a very smooth transition.”

On having to coach Laster to use his hands rather than just rely on his physicality: “You never take the physicality out of it, but you want him to be physical in the right way. Anytime that a better player faces a worse player, the better player doesn’t have to use technique to win. As soon as you play somebody who is just as good as you then the technician is going to win. So it’s critical that every one of our players play with fundamentals and use technique. With De’Niro specifically, he had not played outside linebacker before. His entire career at Minnesota was inside, so some of those techniques are unique to that position. So we’re really working with him to become fundamentally sound at outside linebacker.”

On how Laster is picking those fundamentals up: “Good. I’ve already seen improvements. I can remember day one there was some major mistakes and then day two and day three on the exact same play he played it correct.”

On starters responding to his challenge Saturday: “The guys going with the ones – I don’t call any of them starters, but the guys going with the ones and the guys going with the twos, I challenged them in the fact that I saw more energy in different groups. I want to see it as a whole. I want everybody to play with energy and intensity.”

On if he anticipates changing the defense any this season: “I think that you’re always gonna tweak what you do. We’ve never been the exact same defense year from year. My entire coaching career, everywhere I’ve ever worked, I’ve never said, ‘Hey, just sit back in my chair and we’re just going to do what we did last year.’ You know what I mean? It’s always a growth somewhere. Now, where you tweak it and how you tweak it, you need to make sure you can execute it. You’ll see some new things from us, but our base defense will still be a 3-4.”

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