Mullen: He's done a great job. He matured right from day one. A lot of the guys who go out and play as freshmen can start to pat themselves on the back and say 'hey, coach why are you yelling at me? I was a star as a freshman. Get off my case'. John's not that way. He's continually worked hard and continued to improve himself since he has been here. That is what you want.
"The benefit is that he has a lot of experience at that position around him. When you are sitting there and a group of DB's are doing drills and put a Charles Mitchell in that group, you'd better play at a high, high level because he has that leadership. Even though (Banks) has played a lot there is still some leadership in front of him to help him out."
Q: Dan it looks like left tackle James Carmon is a little more aware and more confident. Just from what you've seen so far, do you feel like he's improving at left tackle?
Mullen: "I do. It's one of those that he hasn't played a lot at the position so not only is he learning the offense, he's learning the fundamentals of the position. I think coming out of spring, I'm very happy with where he picked up this summer. He didn't take a step back. I think he picked up right where he left off and maybe even ahead working on his own doing offensive line drills and studying the system so that he was ready to start training camp.
"I'm pleased with how he's working. He's got a long ways still to go in consistency but you see flashes of great things then you see something horrific. At our left tackle spot we're used to consistent greatness and he needs to try and step up and fill those shoes."
Q: You talked about Chris Relf going from graduate level to doctorate at quarterback. What kind of progress has he made over the last year?
Mullen: "Starting this time last year he was way in the undergrad years. As you look at quarterback play, one you have to learn the system and really understand the system. Then you have to get used to the speed of the game on the field and then you really start applying the system to what you see. If you're worried about or thinking about what am I doing on this play or what are my reads on this play you have problems. You have to know all that and apply it to every defense you see.
"When you get to that high level, you're thinking about 'I knew my linebacker blitzed in the A-gap that told me that on the other side of the field it's going to be this coverage. I know that blitz and this coverage matches that blitz and I have a receiver running a certain route over there in about 1.2 seconds so I want to get the ball off with the blitz coming'. All that is happening in about 1.2 seconds then you're starting to hit doctorate level. I don't know if those are things you can teach. It just comes with time. It takes a long time for you to really understand those things."
Q: You talked about John Banks, (Chad) Bumphis, (Fletcher) Cox, (Josh) Boydand others, your 2009 guys when you first got here. Even though they had to play as true freshmen and took their lumps that year do you see the benefits now being thrown in so early?
Mullen: Yeah, there were some benefits of it for them. I'd have loved for them to have some older guys for them to look up to and learn what it is to be a college football player. But hopefully our guys coming in now can look up to that. The defensive linemen coming in now are looking up to Fletcher Cox and saying 'wow, that's a big time guy. See how he works, that's what I want to do'. One of the things that would be great on the development of the offensive line guys go to practice and Derek Sherrod and watching how he works and how he practices. He's a first round draft pick. I think when you have those older guys it helps.
"Some of those positions where those guys had to play immediately, even though they have experience on the field, they were hurt in their development by not having those guys to learn from. Now as we are starting to balance out and get more experience across the board at positions, as these guys come in then they can really learn from those position players."
Q: Coach talk about your special teams - kickers and your return team. How do you see them?
Mullen: "They're going to be alright. They're going to be okay. They weren't very good at all today with our kickers. It was the first day we did live kicking and they were terrible. Derek Depasquale has been in big games and made big kicks in big situations. You feel comfortable with him.
"The return game, we have a chance to be pretty good. Guys who were our returners last year are coming back. I don't know if they'll keep that job with the young talent really pushing them with the ball in their hands to make plays. I think that can really help our return game, having some guys that can do things with the ball in their hands.
"The punter situation, the benefit of having a big crowd at the spring game Baker Swedenburg, who's never kicked before in a game, went out in the spring game in a live situation and performed. That's what you want to see. Until he gets into a live game situation we're going to have to wait and see. He's good at practice but there's a big difference between practice and games."
Q: Has there been a drill where you and the coaching staff have said 'this is meant to be fun'?
Mullen: "To me the whole practice is meant to be fun. If you're not having fun out there you're in the wrong game. If you're sitting there saying 'I wish I was running up hills with Coach (Matt) Balis or sprinting up stadium steps or squatting 500-pounds or puking on the leg press machine' you've got problems. If you're not loving this and having fun from the first second to the end of practice you've got a problem
"This is the greatest time of year for our kids. I can imagine how much fun NFL players have. All they worry about is playing football. Our kids have no school, no other issues. From the minute they wake up to the minute they go to sleep and hopefully dream of it while they are sleeping is football. It's the greatest time of year."
Q: Was a field trip in order this summer to go to schools and see what you can implement or was that not necessary this summer?
Mullen: "I don't really do it in the summer. I'll always just talk to other coaches and bounce off different ideas from January all the way up until we get started when you just see different people and talk about how they do things. I don't know if you visit somewhere and say 'okay, that is perfect. We are going to do it exactly the same'. I like what they are trying to accomplish with that idea. How can we implement something similar that fits into our program.
"We made a bunch of different trips and talked a lot with different people. We've tweaked things from last year to this year for sure in everything from how we practice to offense, defense and special teams to try to make use a better football team this year."
Mullen: "I like some of the stuff that they do. I thought we practiced just as fast as they did before. It wasn't the pace of practice but there were some things we implemented from going out there. Every year we talk with guys from Northwestern, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma and everywhere around the country. We might take a little part of an idea from three different schools and combine it into our own idea. You see more of that than anything else when we change."
Q: Along that same line, how much of your stuff do you give to other coaches?
Mullen: "There are guys you give more than others. There are guys you've just known for longer periods of time and that you talk to. If they can and say 'hey, how are you doing something?' or especially to me as a head coach managerial-wise like what we do in period one of practice or if we finish each practice with a certain drill. I give all of that stuff up. I don't mind sharing those ideas with anybody.
Q: Do you give up more things than you get?
Mullen: "Me? I'm an information gatherer than a releaser. I'm a gatherer more than I'm giving up. I'm a taker."