College football season is finally here! And what a way for Virginia Tech to kick off its 2013 campaign than with defending national champion, Alabama, Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Coach Frank Beamer took time today to talk about the Crimson Tide, position statuses and other topics with the media on this morning's teleconference. Below is the transcript, followed by the audio links.
Beamer: This first football game, you talk about a football team that you just...extremely talented, extremely tough. Every part of their game, they're very good at. You look at them defensively and they're strong. They've got very efficient offensive players. The Yeldon kid for them, went 1,000 yard for them last year and what a back he is. A.J. McCarron's won two national titles and a great receiver in the Cooper guy, explosive. Then you look at kicking and the punter, 44.3 average last year. This is the fourth year he's done that. They've just got it all. They do everything well. Penalty guys, but extremely well-coached guys and do it all. You play a team like this, the best football team in the country, you find out where we are as a football team. We'll see where we are. I say this every year, but it's time to play a ball game and get a starting point and see where we are as a football team.
Can you update us on J.C. Coleman? Do you have a sense of whether or not he's gonna be available?
Beamer: He's questionable right now.
Do you think it looks good? You guys said you felt good about the way he's moving around?
Beamer: Yeah, I'd say he's questionable right now.
I saw something the other day that I think there's gonna be 27 true freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the roster for this game. How do you prepare them for going into an environment like that and playing on a big stage for their first action?
Beamer: Again, you kinda get a reading of where you are. You see if people can handle the biggest of big situations and how they handle it and how they react to it. In college football, I always say this, but the first time you play for real, you're playing another opponent during your regular season. It's not pre-season scrimmages or pre-season games or whatever. That first ball game, you get a great evaluation and see how kids respond to those types of situations. Then, you put Alabama in there and now, you've got a tremendous team that you're seeing how they'll respond. We'll learn a lot here, Saturday.
As far as I could tell from looking at the depth chart Saturday night, the only remaining position and maybe I missed this somewhere, but the only remaining position I saw without a well-defined starter was the defensive end spot, with Collins and Nicholas. Do you have a starter at that spot?
Beamer: We've got several players there. That's the one thing we do have, that we've got several players that are very good and Coach Wiles will run them in there. I'm not sure if he's decided who will actually start or not, but all of those guys, they're gonna end up playing quite a bit. When we've been able to alternate people in there, that's when we've been a pretty good football team. We feel good about that spot.
Thinking back to that 2009 game, that was really kinda the start of what Alabama's done over the past four years. What do you remember about that game? Anything stand out?
Beamer: It was a good football game. I thought we played well. Certainly, they played well and went on to win the national championship. It was a good, tough, physical football game.
With Scot Loeffler) and Jeff Grimes) on staff now and their last game at Auburn being against Alabama, have you guys gained any advantage...or maybe advantage isn't the right word... but gained anything from the fact that the last game they game-planned for was Alabama and now they're game-planning for Alabama again?
Beamer: Well, they're certainly familiar with Alabama, but it still gets back to players. That's the concern you have, the quality of players they have. And like I said earlier, they're coached up. I'm really impressed with their program.
Obviously the risk/reward of this big, first game is something that's never seemed to bother you. Do you think there's gonna be a lot more of these games popping up, these big, neutral-site games as we get into the selection committee era?
Beamer: I think it's very clear that strength of schedule is gonna be a big criteria. I think from that standpoint. And I do believe this, when you're getting evaluated against the best team in the country, that's particularly good in all aspects, that you do get a great evaluation of where you are as a football team and know what you need to improve on. Sometimes, when you have run away wins to start the season, you don't really get to find what you really need to work on. Sometimes that's not as clear. I think playing a team like Alabama, you become a better football team. We understand what a task it is to go in there and beat Alabama, but it's not often you get a chance to play the best team in the country, the number one team in the country. I think there's pluses, It's certainly a challenge and we know what kind of game we'd have to play to have a chance. But I think there's some things you get out of it, too.
You've got (Jonathan McLaughlin starting at left tackle as a true freshman. That's a big assignment in any season-opener, especially against Alabama. Can you remember a time when you've had a true freshman at left tackle and what you do to help him or prepare him or just make sure he's ready for this?
Beamer: Well, I think the type of kid he is, he's a tough guy and he'll give you the best effort he's got. Scheme-wise, you try to help him a little bit, but I don't think we've ever had a freshman start for us at left tackle. It's kinda where we are. We've gotten a little bit thin in the offensive line and we're in the process of building that back and that's what we're gonna do.
I know you've worked a lot of guys at punt return and kick return in August. Have you decided the guys who are gonna start at those spots on Saturday?
Just going back to your opening remarks on how good Alabama is, they sound like they've got a chance to win the Super Bowl, not just the national championship. Who's idea was it to play them? And why are you playing Alabama?
Beamer: Well, [athletic director] Jim (Weaver) came a few years back and again, checked and we decided to play the game. You can look at it one of two ways. I think you get a very accurate assessment of your football team. Then again, there's not many times that you actually play THE number one team in the country, so there's a lot to play for. I think there's some pluses. There's always some minuses because they're such a tough team to beat and you have to play certainly, mistake-free and all those things. There's some pluses and minuses whichever way you go. We're gonna look at the pluses, see exactly where our football team is and go from there.
You've been on both sides of this now. Having new offensive coaches, is that an advantage to you, gameplan-wise, that Alabama maybe doesn't know exactly what's coming?
Beamer: Any time there's new people, last year's film doesn't mean very much. Yeah, I think that's a plus, but it still gets back to personnel on the field and they've got some excellent personnel. But we've got some good players, too. Don't get me wrong on that. I do think, when you've got new people, there's some question mark exactly what are you gonna see.
Like you've mentioned, you guys are underdogs. Do you like to play that up with your guys? Does that get this group kinda amped?
Beamer: Well, I think facts are facts and we are. I don't think you'll see many people, if any, picking us. Facts are facts.
You mentioned Cooper in your opening statement. What kind of matchups does he create, not just in the passing game but on defense as a whole?
Beamer: In our league, he reminds you of Sammy Watkins there at Clemson, a guy that's just athletic and can go. They've got a good group of wide receivers, but certainly Cooper is a guy that's just, hard to cover that guy.
What have you seen so far this off-season, during workouts and what-not, from Logan Thomas to suggest that perhaps he's ready to bounce back from a struggling year last year?
Beamer: I don't think it's as much Logan, as people around Logan and how we can stay even with the down markers. When you've got a lot of long-yardage situations, that's bad on any quarterback. But I think Logan's a year older. Sometimes he tried to force things and do too much and take the team on his shoulders. I think he's certainly learned from that. We've just gotta play to our strengths as a football team and I think Logan will help us do that.
You mentioned AJ in your opening statement and similar to the Amari question, when you're dealing with a fifth-year senior, gonna be a third-year starter, what does he bring that maybe you didn't face last time when you were facing a Greg McElroy in his first year as a starter?
Beamer: Any time you go into it, I think that quarterback is a key, key player. This one is good. He's got the experience, he's got the national championships, he gets the ball to the right people, he makes great decisions. I'd say he's an excellent quarterback, above excellent, probably. For a college quarterback to have that experience and have those people around him and have his talent and have his game, his intelligence, I'd say. That's probably about as good as you get.
In your opening, you mentioned just about every part of their team. Do you see any weakness on this team that you can exploit?
Beamer: I haven't found one yet. When your kickers are good, your offense and personnel are excellent, they're like us. They've got a couple of new guys in the offensive line, but a couple of those guys are pre-season all-Americans, I think. I don't think they have a weakness. I think they're just as solid as the day is long and really good.
Having said all this, are you hoping for a massive traffic jam that keeps Alabama from getting to the Georgia Dome?
Beamer: At least make them late?
Beamer: We know the challenge ahead of us, there's no question about it. We've had good pre-season practices and when you play the best and just, no particular area are they weak. As a matter of fact, they're strong and you do find out a lot about your own football team. It's a challenge, but you've gotta play the ball game. That's what we're gonna do.