On Monday, head coach Gary Crowton addressed members of the local media at the weekly Tucanos BYU Football Media Luncheon. What follows are his comments made at the luncheon concerning the upcoming season and game against Syracuse.
Crowton - Well, here we go again. Another season is just around the corner. I could hardly stand all the free time. We've got a lot of new faces so we are a little inexperienced. But I think we have some good talent and we are looking forward to seeing how they play on game day. The guys have been working hard and our practices have been coming together as of late. I feel like we are ready to go. I am very excited about this game with Syracuse. We have a lot of respect for them and their program. I know head coach Paul Pasqualoni from when I was in the Big East Conference at Boston College in the early 90's. He has done a great job over the last decade. I know they will be ready to play.
Q - Is it difficult to prepare for Syracuse knowing that they have only two returning starters?
Crowton - The hardest thing is the offensive line. Their offensive line, with only the center coming back, is very new, so it is hard to evaluate those guys. With the receiving corp., they say they only have two guys coming back. Their leading receiver from last year, Johnnie Morant, who they said didn't start, is a very good player. The running back is another position that we are unsure of because he didn't play last year. They probably will be playing a true freshman from what we are thinking. They had a really good recruiting class last year at the running back position. So it is hard to get a feel for their personnel, but their scheme is very consistent. The coaching staff has been there for a while. Their offensive coordinator, George DeLeone, has been there for a few years and he always does a great job. So I think we will have a pretty good feel for their base but we won't know about their trickery.
Q - This is Engemann's first game back since the last time BYU played Syracuse. Have you seen anything in his preparation that has made you think that this game has extra meaning for him?
Crowton - Last year, when I first came here, Bret's concern was mainly about the health of his arm. He was trying to figure out where his arm was, how it felt and whether or not he could go. He tried to be optimistic about learning the defenses and doing those kinds of things, but he had such a big concern for his arm that he wasn't always focused on that, which is rightly so. This year, his arm has been pretty healthy and he was able to get through camp. He said his arm gets tired every once in awhile, but right now it is feeling pretty good, according to what he tells me. So his focus has been better on the tempo and the defenses, where it needs to be.
I think the four starts he had two years ago will really help him out in the early part of this season. I haven't seen him experience any extra anxiety because he got hurt against Syracuse the last time we played them. I don't think that will be an issue. He is a little more mature than he was the last time he played. Hopefully, he will be able to successfully run the system we have now. I think he has prepared very well.
Q - You have mentioned in the past that your team has been pretty good at being able to protect the quarterback. Can you address that?
Crowton - Since I have been coaching at this level, we have had some guys get knocked around but I can't remember losing anyone for the whole season. Maybe just a game or two. One of the things we have always done is get the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly. Hopefully we will be able to continue to do so. Also, with the conditioning program, the players have put themselves in a position where they are healthy and moving better. The quarterbacks have done a lot of conditioning and running, so hopefully that will help them in avoiding tough situations.
Bret (Engemann) is a lot more mobile than people think. He's not as mobile as Brandon Doman, but he is as fast as him. I think he has worked hard on that area. Hopefully, with the combination of those two things we will be able to protect the quarterbacks and keep them healthy.
Q - How much does emotion play into things on game day?
Crowton - It is very interesting because emotion and momentum are very important in a game. But the one thing that the staff and I try to do is make the guys focus on each play individually and not on the overall bigness of the game, because if you do that, you tend to make more errors. If you focus on what you are suppose to do once you get into the game, they just become another opponent and we seem to more relaxed and they play better. I want them to have a lot of energy and urgency in their preparation, but once they get out there, I want them to be able to read and react and play how they practiced. That is how they will play their best.
Q - If Jernaro (Gilford) doesn't start, who will be starting and playing in his place?
Crowton - We'll see if Jernaro practices today. I'm hoping that he will. If he practices today, he'll probably play. I don't know if he will play the whole game. He seems pretty healthy. I've said all along that he is in pretty good condition so I don't think he will get tired. He has just been taking care of his leg.
But if he can't go, we will probably have a combination of Brandon Heaney and Mike Sumko. Heaney will be playing on the one side and Sumko, Chad Barney and Kip Nielsen will be covering the other side. We are going to be playing a lot of guys. I feel that between those guys, we are in pretty good shape. James Allen is also healthy and he is playing real well right now. I feel we have about six guys that can go in and play at that position.
Q - What about the back-up quarterback, have you made a decision on that yet?
Crowton - Right now, I am just going to play it by ear and see how the game goes. Todd Mortensen is probably the most ready if everything stays as planned. If we need to do some things with a little more mobility, I may go in a different direction. Overall, I think all the quarterbacks have gotten better. But as of right now, Engemann is the starter and the backup will depend on the situation, but I am leaning toward Mortensen at this point.
Q - What about the J.V. game?
Crowton - Right now, as soon as the game is over on Thursday, we will come in and work on the J.V. game. I don't want to do anything right now that would distract us from the Syracuse game. I do know this though, that those that don't play against Syracuse will play in the J.V. game. We just want everyone to get some experience and see if there is anyone that could come up and help us more than what we already have.
Q - What about Ben Olsen?
Crowton - Right now, with Olsen, I am not going to use him in this first J.V. game. I am going to see how the other guys do. There are some red-shirt possibilities and I don't want to waste a red-shirt opportunity on him at this point.
Q - Tell us about your offensive line. How are they coming together?
Crowton - I think they are coming together very well. The thing about our offensive line is that even though we have lost four starters from last year's line, we do have four seniors on the line. Isaac Herring played a lot last year at guard and at tackle, so he will start at tackle, which I think is his best position. Dustin Rykert is having a great camp. I think he is better this year than he was last year and I thought he was excellent last year. Scott Jackson is a great player. Last year, during the San Diego St. game, when Jason Scukanec went down with a knee, Jackson came in and did an excellent job. I actually think he played better than Scukanec in that game. Quinn Christensen, who was heavily recruited and actually committed to the University of Oregon and then decided to come here, will play the left guard. He has great potential and is playing really well right now, he just lacks the game experience. On the right guard, we ran into some problems because Ryan Keele had his knee scoped. Vincent Santos was also out with a concussion. So we were playing Hanale Vincent, who is normally a tackle. But both Keele and Santos are back at 100 percent and Vincent is better because he had the opportunity to get some experience. We did move Jake Kuresa over to the guard spot. Brandon Stephens, who is getting better every day, is giving us some depth at the tackle position. I really think our line is starting to come together. We are really excited about them. They are a little inexperienced but they are playing well. They have worked hard through camp so hopefully it will show up in the games as they work together. There are a lot of seniors there so there is a lot of experience even though there haven't been a lot of starts.
Q - What is this experience like for a true freshman like Jake Kuresa and Curtis Brown?
Crowton - Sometimes it goes good and sometimes it doesn't. Those guys are both young players but they are very intelligent and they both have a lot of poise. We feel like they are ready to play. They have showed a lot in practice. They have been picking up things, they're upbeat, they're asking a lot of questions, but I don't think they are lost. On game day though, when it comes to the fans and all that stuff, I am sure they will make some mistakes, but I feel very confident that they can do well.
Q - Have you decided who will be returning kickoffs and punts?
Crowton - Reno (Mahe) will start returning punts. Kickoffs will be returned by James Allen and David Christensen.
Q - Can you tell us a little bit about the Syracuse players that could pose a threat on both sides of the ball?
Crowton - On offense, their quarterback is back. He is not a real flashy type of quarterback, and I don't mean that in a disrespectful way at all. He is very efficient and he does what needs to be done. He goes to work, he doesn't make a lot of errors and he keeps them in the games. They have fast receivers that are big. They are able to catch the ball in the crowd and make catches even when they are covered. They didn't throw it a lot last year. They were fairly balanced and were mostly run oriented because of the option. This year that might change a little bit because their running backs are younger. We will just have to wait and see on that.
From the defensive perspective, their linebackers are the strength. They run so well. They are very good tacklers, they cover well and they are good blitzers. So that is the biggest issue we will be dealing with is making sure we can handle the blitz.
Q - Do you feel any pressure to have the same success that you had last season?
Crowton - Every year, I go into the season believing we can win every game. That's the way I've always been. It doesn't always happen that way though. But if I don't believe we can win them all, how can I expect the players to believe it.
As far as repeating last seasons success, last year's team was last year's team and that season is over. This is a whole new team and a whole new chemistry. What I want to do is focus on this year's team and use the players talents to the best of their abilities and not worry about last year.
Q - Do you feel more anxiety or more relaxed than last year?
Crowton - Things are going a lot smoother as far as operations because everyone knows what to expect. I always feel anxiety, but I just love it. I love getting ready for the game. I can hardly wait to get out there and coach and let the players play.
Q - How is Marcus Whalen coming along?
Crowton - I think Marcus has really improved a lot. He is running hard and picking up protection really well. He is an excellent pass blocker. He is catching the ball well out of the backfield so he has a lot of ability to put things together in the game. I think he is going to be very physical too.
Q - Who else will we see at running back?
Crowton - Curtis Brown, Logan Deans and Jared Harper. I think these are the guys we will be going with to start out the season.
Bottom line is that it is exciting to be back and getting ready to go. It is a new season and everyone is ready to go.