Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Inside the Players' Studio | by Pete

Tom Zbikowski, Travis Thomas, John Carlson, and Maurice Crum all gave interviews yesterday that are available on UND.com. I just listened to all four of them, and here are a few things worth noting:

Tom Zbikowski

  • He might as well have delivered his interview in full gear, as he looked to be a guy ready to go the second they got the mics out of his face. Definitely looked intense, eager, and with something to prove.
  • Feeling good in the neighborhood: "I'm 100%. I feel the best I've felt since I've been in college."
  • He said he weighs in at 205 now, whereas he tipped the scales at 215+ last season.
  • A bit more focused on tackling people: When asked about the quarterbacks, because everybody has to be asked about the quarterbacks, including the ladies at Grab 'n Go, he said, "They're talented and they want to play."
  • Mentioned a couple times that he didn't have the season he wanted to have last year.
  • Mark May is unimportant: "A lot of people, as usual, are saying that we're going to win one game in the first eight. That's old news." Several diehard ND fans could use a heavy dose of this perspective. If we all stop believing Mark May exists, he just fades away.
  • Q: Do you have something to prove? To whom? A: Myself
Methinks Zbikowski is going to be cracking some skulls this year. Whether or not he happens to have a ball in his hands at the time is going to be immaterial to said skull-cracking.

Travis Thomas
  • Said he wanted to be a "coach out there" for the younger running backs. Good to see unity across the platoon.
  • A couple more socket wrenches in the toolbox: "We've got a lot of different running backs." It's amazing what a little thing called "depth" will do to a team.
  • Thomas studied his Charlie Weis Talking Points Memo: "We're not rebuilding."
  • We don't get no respect: "We're going into this camp trying to earn respect because nobody's giving it to us right now." He also said the mood is similar to Weis' first year, in terms of no respect. "Absolutely," the chip on the shoulder is back.
  • Also doesn't care about Mark May: "We're always overrated or not going to be good anyways, so what difference does it make? It's nothing new."
  • Said he's looking forward to the opportunity to show more of what he can do as a back now that Darius Walker is gone.
This interview makes me think that the "no-respect" card is going to be played early and often this year, and that's definitely a good thing. I think we'd all rather see a hungry team that one that's somewhat bloated and rotund from preseason accolades, ala last season.

John Carlson
  • Let's have some fun out there: "I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think it was going to be fun."
  • A team guy: "It's not that I'm looking to break the game open with a big play, I'm looking to do my job." (While we appreciate the "not looking for highlights/team player" mentality, John, we also appreciate you breaking last year's Michigan State game open.)
  • On the QB's: "I know that whoever's out there, they're not going to have to do it on their own." I think Carlson is going to be the essential glue that holds this offense together in the beginning weeks.
  • And on academics: "Academics have always been a priority for me. When you come to a school like this, they have to be a priority." (Steve Spurrier, by the way, doesn't have room for academics as a priority. He only has room for 1) Fun, and 2) Gun.)
Like I said, I think we're going to be very thankful that Carlson is around. He could potentially be a huge safety valve to stem the tide of inexperience until it manages to gel.

Maurice Crum
  • Lives for the pressure: "Week in and week out, you're going to get everybody's best shot . . . it makes it more fun to finally get to game day."
  • Macho Men: "I'm a tough guy, Zibby's a tough guy, and Trevor's a tough guy. Starting with those three, we'll set the tempo, and the rest of those guys will follow."
  • Burn, baby, burn (on attitude): "It can't be any other way . . . getting the message and passing it on to the younger guys. The fire is starting to burn."
  • Attitude solution: "I was watching the spring game the other day and watching guys fly around, and I don't want to say it's speed. I think it's that attitude that everybody wants to be there to make that play. We're pushing each other to go faster."
  • Once again, Mark May is immaterial: "To me, I laugh at it. I shrug it off. My biggest concern is the 10 other guys out there with me. If they're ready to go, and I'm ready to go, that's all I care about."
  • On Mr. Brown: "He is a jacked-up guy. He's ready to go everyday, and if we're not ready to go, we'll hear it from him . . . He just wants the best from us."
  • On Brown's credibility: "Just seeing his passion, and you don't have that passion in something you don't believe in. To see a passion that strong, you have to think, 'OK, this is going to work,' and you want to get on board."
It sounds like the players didn't need a formation change so much as they needed an attitude change. While he hasn't been tested yet, it's obvious that Corwin Brown's intensity is trickling down to his players, and that's nearly as essential to a defensive coordinator as any blitz package.

And you need look no further than feared Irish defenses of yore (sometimes it feels like very yore). About two months ago, Frank Stams and Wes Pritchett appeared on Mike Frank's Power Hour, and had this to say about defensive intensity:
Wes Pritchett: You know, the guys who play offense, they comb their hair, they're neat, they're very organized--

Frank Stams: They take showers.

Pritchett: They take showers. Defensive guys are like hockey players. They've got beards, and they're nasty. Defense is emotional, and if you're going to be a great defensive player, you've gotta be out of your mind. I don't know how to describe it, unless you've played the game, but you've gotta have a screw missing.
There's always schemes and packages and zones and reads, but sometimes the most dramatic impact a coach can have on a defense is injecting some intensity -- and loosening a couple screws. It seems like Brown has the tools for the job, both flathead and Phillips.

If these four leaders are any indication, it looks like this is a squad that can't wait to get out and prove what they're worth. The defense's desire to adopt some intensity and change their reputation is palpable, and it's obvious that the offensive players are still strong subscribers to the Book of Weis. You can also tell that the players can sense a surge in young talent pushing the team forward that wasn't there in the same capacity before, which can only help drive everyone to play better.