September 1, 2011

Rick Minter Q&A, Part II

In the second part of Cats Illustrated's exclusive interview, Rick Minter discusses how recruiting will be impact by the new defense and his expectations for the defense this season.

How much will this new defense change recruiting?

I would hope that it does. Some of the guys we've already looked at for this upcoming year, we're looking at them with a mind as to where they would play in our system. We talk about it as a staff, so it's something that's already in progress.

More specifically, can you recruit a guy to play Winston Guy's position, or does a guy like that have to develop in the system before you can identify him?

What's made Winston a good player is, number one, he is a good player. But you're also looking at a kid who is a senior, been around the game a long time, developed. He's not like Alvin Dupree, who just got here, is green, doesn't know a whole lot, but he's going to be a very good player in his own right. But they're on the opposite ends of the food chain and on the spectrum of UK football. Unfortunately, they're both a one or a two (starter or second string). They have to grow up fast.

Winston is there because he's mature, he's older, he's smart enough to adapt to something new. He accepted the challenge of the change, ran with it, and I trust he's OK with it because he's really made us a whole lot better in certain areas. While it may have robbed us a little bit of a good athlete on the back end, we now have a good guy in space that can play down low, can come off the edge, can cover people. He's really the ideal guy I'd like to have in that particular role. He's kind of that nickel/safety/outside backer, whatever you want to call him and he does it quite well.

You've talked about your coaching history, and you've been around for quite some time. Where does Danny Trevathan rank among the guys you've coached?

Danny is a very good player in his own right. He'll be a good player in our system much like he was in anybody's system because he has the talent to be. He's gifted. The good Lord blessed him with a good body, he can run well, he's got great vision and awareness as an inside linebacker and that's rare. Not everybody has it. You can't teach it sometime. You have to have a guy who can feel. They certainly learn what you're teaching, but the word 'feel' comes into play as an inside linebacker because you have to see things different than an outside guy sees them. An outside guy can cut the field in half, see things coming at him from one angle, assess plays, diagnose, see angles, see play intentions and all those things.

The inside guy is always up on top of the ball area, behind defensive linemen. He has to see and feel, see guards pull, guys hitting you from both sides, play action passes that suck you into the line, you've got to get out. All that kind of stuff. He's got good awareness for all that. He's been well-schooled since he's been here with Chuck Smith. He's a great player because he's physically gifted. He's got a big heart about playing the game. He really loves to play and he brings passion to the game. So he'll have an opportunity down the road to keep playing.

You were a linebackers coach last year at Indiana State. Have you been focusing on working with any one group this year, or do you float around in practice a little?

Right now I've been zeroing in on the linebackers with Coach Smith. He's been very good about allowing me to help those guys the most. We split it up inside and outside, and that's really two jobs in this package anyway. It works out well that Chuck and I are both linebacker qualified. That's also where the heart of the entire package comes from, is the inside linebackers. So I personally spend a lot of time with those guys right now. Coach Smith and I both do.

We're a little short because we're only a four-man staff on defense. Sometimes people have five when they're in this kind of system, but we make do. Brownie (defensive backs coach Steve Brown) does a good job on the back end, DT (defensive line coach David Turner) on the front end, and we're all in it together. We're working well together.

How has the transition been with Steve Brown still on staff? Have you ever been in a situation like that before?
He's the secondary coach. I work alongside him, but we have no problems or issues.

Does it even help to have a guy like him who knows the personnel so well around?

Oh yeah, I bounce things off Brownie all the time. I said it when I got hired. Coach Phillips' election to retain a former coordinator and the assistant be willing to do that can only fare well if you say, let me draw on the strengths. The strengths are experience. Experience coaching our kids, experience being in the league for six, seven, eight years, so that's the positives is to draw on those things rather than not.

It sounds like a pretty complex system. Does it take a while for players, especially freshmen, to pick it up?

You know, the complexity is overrated. Like any system, it's new. A lot of times, it's not what we do, it might be how we do it and how we get to what we do. All in all, though, the kids are doing a good, solid job working at it, picking it up. Somebody will learn something every day. The first year that you're in something like this, it's always a challenge. My first year at Marshall versus my second year at Marshall wasn't even close. We had a lot of kids back the second year, went out and finished second, third or fourth in the conference in a whole lot of categories. Once they've all had a full year under it, there'll be no question. But it's like that with any system on offense or defense.

Since they've already had the bowl game and the spring, do the upperclassmen have a firm grasp of it, or will it take a few games for them to settle in?

That's all overrated. Kids line up and play, they have to make plays for us in order to be successful regardless of what front or what movement we're in. Those kids have got to play hard, be productive and make the plays or it won't matter. Xs and Os, we know they're important but to a degree they're overrated because generally the team with the best players has the best chance to win. That doesn't mean they always when, but they have the best opportunity to win.

Our goal is to match up with those teams, and then put our guys, if possible, in a little bit better advantageous position to be successful.

So that might be putting Taylor Wyndham one-on-one with a tight end or trying to get Winston to go around someone who's slower than him?

We have all kinds of little tweaks and twists and turns. We try to use our guys' abilities to the best of their assets.

I've asked some of the offensive players what they thought the first time they saw the new defense in 11 on 11 drills, and they said it was chaos with all the blitzing. Do you enjoy throwing something at an offense they've never seen before?

I give credit to our offensive coaches and players, and Coach Phillips. He allowed us to come in and install a new system and be aggressive with it and not once did I hear a whole lot of griping and moaning about what we're doing. The offensive staff kind of grinned and bared it. In the long run, it makes the offensive kids better. At least that's my experience wherever I've been.

It's a grind on them because we do a lot of different things. But in the long run, they're made better because there aren't many looks and types of things they should be surprised by. Down the road, if somebody threw something on them, they would have seen a lot of different things. So I give credit to our offensive players and coaches for working with us. I think we compliment each other well because our offense runs the ball well. They run a good traditional offense, and yet innovative. It bodes well for us, because when you have a philosophy to run the ball and be good on offense, we then have a chance to better ourselves in stopping the run and becoming tougher. That's mano a mano, particularly in spring and fall camp. That's how teams get tougher is when they decide they're going to battle each other in a physical style of football and that's what we've been trying to do.

Were there any players that came on strong in the spring that you didn't expect to see, or did anyone surprise you in fall camp?

Our defense has a little bit of a generation gap on it. We have a lot of older kids, most of those kids are in our top 12-15 kids. We have seven, eight, nine, seniors playing for us and four or five juniors and that's the meat of our defense to be honest with you. We keep infiltrating other guys to balance out the two-deep. But you really go down to a bunch of younger guys, redshirt freshmen, true freshmen, a couple sophomores, first and second year players make up a whole lot of our defense once you get past those first 12-15 kids.

So there's a generation gap. The older kids, while mentally it's been taxing, most of those guys are more and more prepared, are maxed out to their physical capabilities. They've been around the game for a while. Winston and Danny, Rock has done a great job with them in the weight room but they haven't gotten marked improvement physically because they're 21, 22 years old. Now what they've done is learned how to do some new things and that's maybe what's new about them.

To answer your question, the younger guys' learning curve and physical development curve is still straight up. They have a long way to go to close the gap.

So that's a better question for later in the season.

Yeah. The more they play, the better they'll get. Some of them have never played a game. We've got a bunch of guys that are going to be on that bus for the Western game that have not played football here for the Wildcats in a game. That's a scary feeling for a coach, but I'm sure it's exciting for them also.

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