ATHENS, Ohio -- Ohio Football head coach Frank Solich, defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow, offensive coordinator Tim Albin and special teams coordinator Brian Haines all met with the press on Friday (Aug. 10) at Ohio's annual media day. The press conference took place on the second floor of Peden Stadium, where select coaches and players also had a chance to talk with the media. Here is the complete transcript of the press conference.
Head Coach Frank Solich:
"Defensively, we lost a lot of good guys on the defensive side of the football like Quentin [Poling] and Chad [Moore], those are two special guys in a lot of ways, but I think we have a lot of good young people at those positions. It'll take some time to get them into a gear where they feel comfortable and fly around the football field. From what we've seen from them, in terms of last season, winter conditioning, summer conditioning and the early part of fall camp, we have guys that can fill that void. The defensive line, we lost two guys that were really important to us, so we're going to have to fill that void, but we have some guys returning too who are proven football players."
"Offensively, we have a lot of really good guys coming back. We lost Jake [Pruehs], it seemed like he was here six, seven or eight years, I'm not sure but it was great to have him here for as long as he was here. He maybe took as many snaps as anyone I've been associated with at the offensive line position. It was tough to get him out of a football game, and he basically remained injury free in terms of the big injuries that would automatically take him out. He played through a lot of stuff, he did a great job for us last year and his spot will need to be filled. We basically have the rest of the guys returning for us on the offensive line along with some really key running backs and quarterbacks returning. I like our wide receiver bunch, I think as a group they might be the best we've had since we've been here."
"As far as special teams, I think Brian [Haines], who's in charge of our special teams, has done a great job with that. We have a coach that's assigned to each of those teams, but Brian overall is in charge of each of those teams. He's done a great job and I'm excited that we have our snapper coming back, our punter and kicker coming back and our return guys coming back. We have some great talented young guys that will serve us well there also. Special teams when you talk about it is really the ability to cover a kick-off, punt returns and establish field position which is critical when you're trying to win football games. Then the return game, that's obviously the same thing. You're trying to establish field position."
"We have somewhat of an experienced football team at a lot of spots, but not all spots. As usual, you'd like to try and remain as injury free as you possibly can as you go throughout the season. That's probably the way it is at most schools across the boards. I like the makeup of our team, I like the athletes that we have, I like their energy, I like the leadership that they've shown so far. It's been a great group in that regard, and that helps you win football games. I think we're going to get off to a start in terms of what we're all about with leadership, energy and some talent at a number of spots. We'll see how it all plays out."
"Our schedule as we get into the MAC is always challenging. The latter part of the MAC season that seems to determine an awful lot. So, we have to make sure that we play our best football as we get into the MAC and play throughout the MAC."
Q: You've never been this big of a favorite to win your side of the MAC or the championship, in what ways has that impacted the way you get ready for fall camp if any at all?
"I think it's on the mind of our players. They want to win a MAC championship. I think the coaches are the same way. We're out to win MAC Championships. We've not been able to get that done. We've gotten to the game, what? Four times, in my mind. Should've won it twice, maybe three times, but we didn't. We're excited about the opportunity, I think our players believe in one another. This is a good group of athletes, they want to maximize their abilities and we're going to see where that takes us. If we play well, and coach well, we'll be in the thick of it as we come down the stretch."
Q: Coach, players come here to win championships and everything, but this is year 14 for you. Does it have a different meaning to you? You've been there four times, people have asked you about it, do you ever just catch yourself wondering what it'd be like to win it?
A: "No. To be honest, all I'm after is that our guys play the best that they can play, and for us to coach as best as we can coach. For me as best as I can coach. I don't' have to win a MAC championship to feel like I'm a good coach. I know that's the case. I don't need a MAC championship to know that these guys are good coaches. I know that. What we would like to do is win a MAC championship for everybody involved. For the families, for the fans, administration, everyone associated with Ohio, and obviously the players. We're wanting that to happen as much as anything. So, there's something about us as a football that can make a chance like that happen. I've been in this business long enough to know that so many things have to happen in order to get that done. The times you have to overcome injuries to get that done and overcome calls by officials to get that done. There are a lot of things. I think if we play at the top of our game we have a good chance of being a good football team."
Q: More on expectations coach, and I'm looking at big things, anyone that's picked to win the group of five leagues, you can get to the bigger bowls. Do you want your guys to think about that or not even think about that at all?
A: "You know, that's what we're all about in terms of our program, that's what we want to get accomplished. We want to go to MAC championship games and we want to win them. We want to be in the top 25 regularly. We want to get in that special bowl. Those are all goals. You have to take steps in order to get that done, that's what we're trying to do. Sometimes we've marched in place instead of taking the step forward, but this is where we're at. We've got a great group of guys and I'm excited for them. I look forward to seeing where this goes, and to see the best that they can play, and for us to coach the best that we can coach. We'll let it play out from there."
Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Burrow
"The good news is, we have a very talented group on defense. I guess the bad news would be is that we're going to have seven of them start for the first time. So, a lack of experience is always a concern, but we feel that we have very athletic guys that will be stepping up, they can run, tackle and they're smart guys. Just a lack of experience is a factor in going into your first games. We have a couple veterans, they may have not started a lot, but a few have played a lot. For example, at corner you have Jalen Fox, who started a ton of games. You have two returning guys who have played about 20 snaps in Jamal Hudson and Marlin Brooks. They've never started, but they've played in big time games and in big time moments."
"The defensive ends Will Evans has played a lot, Austin Conrad played some, Sam McKnight and Chuckwudi Chukwu has played some. That might be one of our least experienced groups. Again, they've played and they had great springs and they continue to get better every day during this time."
"At linebacker we have Evan Crouch, who we feel is one of the better linebackers in the league, little overshadowed last year by Quinton and Chad, but we felt that he played at an All-Conference level for us last year. Dylan Conner, he's played some football, Jared Dorsa, Eric Popp and Tyler Gullett who was a safety and moved to linebacker. All guys have played, in fact, Tyler started a game for us as a safety and Dylan may have started a game too. There's a lot of speed there and a lot of athletic ability and we feel good about that group going into the fall."
"The safeties have the two guys who have maybe played the most, Javon Hagan and Kylan Nelson. They've started a lot of games. Kylan way back as a freshman at corner, now he's a full-time safety. Along with Javon we feel as if they're one of the strongest units in the MAC. "
"The defensive tackles you know we've had four-man rotations for a while here. Kent Berger and Andrew Payne have played a lot of football, Brian Arp has played some. Those are our veteran guys and are returning. Then we have Zach Burks and Cole Baker, two junior college transfers. Zach has had some injury problems, but Cole had a great spring and will provide depth and will compete for a spot. Two redshirt freshmen, Kaieem Caesar and Marcus Coleman, both can play and are competing for our backups."
Q: You're never going to have a defense that has had 11 experienced guys to start a season, in your experience is it better to have that experience more on the back-end like this year or the front-side which was the case last year?
A: "We always say the defense starts up front, so I guess if you're goanna make a choice you'd say like to have four all-conference guys coming back up front. It is what it is and at least in the back-end we're really working on improving our pass defense, in that regard we're lucky to have two seasoned veterans that can make calls and checks and create some stability in the back-end and hopefully that'll carry over to the inexperienced guys and the rest of the team."
Q: It's the first fall with the tenth coach added, has it made an impact in your opinion?
A: "Yeah, we think so. Anytime you can take good coaches and instead of coaching four, you coach two, that creates a lot of things that coaches can do on their own and not have to worry about four guys. With evaluating, our coaches work together well. There's a carry-over in communication between both of them and I feel that it's a good mix."
Q: Is there a pressure for veteran guys like Javon and Evan to step up their leadership and how do you feel like they have?
A: "I think there is a pressure there and they're good with that. If they lead by example, they know what's worked for us in the past, both inside and outside the locker room. The reason we have four captains is that they all deserve to be captains. They got a lot of votes. We feel that they all represent great leadership on the football field. Those four guys lead by example and even though they may have never been captains before, they've always been leaders in the locker room. So that's a good thing."
Offensive Coordinator Tim Albin
"The experience we have returning on offense is probably the most we've had since 2013 I would think. We return everybody but two NFL tight ends. With that experience is going to come with high expectations, and we're going to try and exceed all those expectations. The senior class has really taken it to a whole new level, I didn't really think it would be possible. I mean, every senior class has made their mark. Dak, Sonny and staff have done a fantastic job getting our guys ready."
"The guys upfront are huge. I'll start with some experienced guys. Joe Lowry has basically been a four-year starter and Joe Anderson is a three-year starter. Right guard Durrell Wood, he started here in 2013 as a true freshman, and he's still here. I say it and I believe it, we have virtually two tackles who are draftable I think. I know being a MAC school you don't say those types of things, but we have a lot of experience there. They're bigger, faster, stronger and they know the game. If we can stay healthy up front, then it should be a lot of fun."
"Running back wise, we have three seniors. I've got six in our room and I guarantee six will all play. There's not any question in my mind. A.J. Ouellette had an unbelievable offseason. He's bigger, faster and stronger than he's ever been. He's clocking 4.4's electronically. Julian Ross ran a 4.37 in the 40 electronically, he had a tremendous off. Maleek Irons is back too, I'm really excited about that room."
"I don't think anybody in the league that's got two quarterbacks like we got. We've got 20 or 22 starts at quarterback between Nathan and Quinton. They're both going to play. Nathan is our starter and he's coming off shoulder surgery. He and Quinton have set the bar."
"It's unfortunate about Elijah, the young man has worked his tail off to get back, we'll miss him this season. We've got two seniors in Papi White and Andrew Meyer. Cam Odom too, he's had some huge moments for us. Those three guys have a lot of experience as wideouts. The next guy in line getting reps will be D.L. Knock. Behind that, you've got 10 to 12 guys who are all sophomores and freshmen."
"At tight end, we're going to miss our two seniors. Connor Brown has kind of played in their shadows. He had a good offseason and was bothered back a back injury but he's tough and is our kind of guy. Ryan Luehrman is at the other position. His brother, Adam will also be in there along with Noah Hoffman. They'll all battle to be in that position."
Q: Coach when you've been so successful and have so much coming back from last year, how do you balance, the introduce new stuff with the mindset of, hey it worked so well last year, why don't we keep doing what we're doing?
A: "I think the senior guys establish that team make-up. I mean, you've got, A.J., Julian and Maleek, to two quarterbacks to two good receivers and I think we're going to have to do what we do, and I really believe the unselfishness of the team and our motto of what we're all about this year, we're chasing a MAC championship and that's been the goal, it always is… These guys have a sticker under their saddle. We're going to call the things that need to be called to win the game, and I think those things will take care of itself."
Special Teams Coordinator Brian Haines:
"Like Frank said, we feel good about the special units and the guys that are coming back. Michael Farkas punts the ball now 40-something yards and is good about what we ask him to do, field position wise with his punts. Of course, Jake Hale, a four-year starter back as well. Starting off, we got punt in, with that covers, kick-off portion, and started with kick-off return yesterday. Like you heard with Coach Albin and Burrow, there's a lot of athleticism and physicality there with our special teams."
Q: Brian, you've got all the boxes checked. You've got specialists back and young talent to swap in on special teams, with that in mind, is this a year where you try more chances and try to be more aggressive in making plays happen on special teams and take a gamble?
A: "I feel that we did last year. I mean we blocked two punts last year and we got two safeties. There's a lot of things that go with the flow of the game. To answer your question, yes, there are things that go into it."
Q: Special teams is a very emotional unit. You have to buy in to be good at it. How have the young guys been buying into it? They came here to play offense and defense, but how well have they bought into the system?
A: "We have fun in our room, and it's easy to do that with the veterans and the leaders in our room. I mean, they leave their egos at the door. You look at last year, Quinton Poling, he was on punt and kick-off, Troy Mangen was on punt, Blair Brown playing for the Jaguars, he ran on special teams. Those were seniors and were on special teams, you know, that speaks for itself. Our guys now are doing a great job of bringing in the younger guys along and it's not rolling the eyes on special teams, it's more for us, like the coaches have said, it's establishing field position. That's what we do."
Ohio will open the 2018 season on Sept. 1 with a 2 p.m. ET matchup against Howard at Peden Stadium. The contest will be broadcast on ESPN+. Click here for ticket information or call 1-800-575-CATS (2287).