Aug. 26, 2008
"Yesterday you could definitely feel the anticipation in the air at practice and the intensity level really picked up. There was a very good energy around our football team. This time of year you start getting those butterflies and wondering if you've covered everything that needs to be covered.
"It's a really exciting time for a coach, but I know it's a really exciting time for our football team, particularly the opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl and play against an outstanding team like UCLA. We've worked like heck to get ourselves ready everyday in practice and from this point forward, we want to challenge ourselves and challenge our football team to have the energy to prepare and go play well against an outstanding UCLA team.
"One of our goals along the way has been to build our depth as an offensive and defensive football team and also in the kicking game. We've made significant progress that way to be able to go and play as many people as we can, particularly early in the season here in the Southeastern Conference or going to L.A. One of the hottest games I've ever coached in was the '97 UCLA game. I've tried to prepare our team for that. We've done a lot of extra conditioning as team to prepare. We want to have as many guys ready as we possibly can.
"The new offense, I'm excited to see it unveiled and to play in a real football game. We've made progress and we're working to get the ball to our playmakers. It's obvious that you've got some guys like Arian Foster, and I think a group of tailbacks that are very capable of being guys that make plays for us. A couple of guys that we're going to be excited about getting the ball to are Luke Stocker, a kind of a new name there. He played a little for us last year and had a heck of a camp. We're looking at getting the ball to Brandon Warren in different ways. Obviously, Gerald Jones is an option who missed a good portion of the season with injuries last year to go with the old stand-bys in Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe. I'm pretty excited that to anchor that offensive team, I've really challenged the (offensive) front to get themselves SEC ready. In our last scrimmage and at yesterday's practice, we took great strides in doing the little things that make up a good offensive front.
"Opening games are always tough, particularly when you have coaching changes. I think a little of that goes both ways. Coach Neuheisel has done an exceptional job everywhere he's been. Their offensive attack will be similar to what we're planning to do. There is some newness, but not anything that's going to be totally foreign to either defense. We've prepared for UCLA, but we've also tried to prepare for the season during the course of the year. Right now, our focus is turned strictly toward UCLA.
"The fact that we are breaking in a new quarterback makes it even more interesting, I think. Jon (Crompton) had some experience at this level with the two games he's played significant roles in and a lot of practice snaps. I'm anxious to see how he does. He's practiced well and really improved taking care of the football.
"Defensively, having the experience returning in the secondary is a real plus for us. It allows us to do more things. I think our defensive tackles, last year was the first time that Demonte (Bolden) and Walter Fisher and Dan Williams had played any significant snaps. I think those three guys are ready to have really good years for us. The concern is still building depth so you can rest those guys, especially if we get into a hot-weather game.
"Also pleasing is the progress we've made at defensive end. Wes Brown and Robert Ayers are established starters that have played a lot for us in the past. Really pleasing is how Chris Walker and Ben Martin have progressed. Willie Bohannon is a fifth guy that can go in and give us some snaps during the game. I'm anxious to see those guys play.
"Always important is the kicking game. I don't think any of us under appreciate the year that Daniel Lincoln had last year. Two guys that you might not notice unless something goes wrong are Morgan Cox and Bram Cannon. They're really to be complimented about how hard they worked this summer with Daniel and with Chad (Cunningham). There is chemistry with that group in our kicking game that I like. We've had that for a number of years and this group has picked up where the others left off. Chad has improved his times and his consistency and I'm anxious to see him play.
"In the return game and the coverage game, you don't really know until you get to go against somebody else. I certainly think we have some potential there on both sides that should very much make a difference in our season. I think there is a mentality that gives us a chance to really have something special in the kicking game.
"Going on the road, and I've talked about it with the team, there is a mental and physical toughness you have to have to go and play and win in those settings. I'm very encouraged because of the maturity returning on this team."