Sam Webb: I want to start off before we start talking about individuals by just getting your take on how things have changed for you guys up front. How things changed philosophically, what changes can we expect on the offensive line based on the change in offense?
Coach Funk: "I think any time you have a change in coordinators, you have new terminology and that is a wholesale change. There are new words and a new system of calling it. That is the first thing that the kids had to memorize and we did. But once you learn Doug's (Nussmeier) system and how he wanted it implemented and passed on to the kids. That's the majority of learning is terminology. Then as far as the system and different things, there are so many ways to run zone plays and power plays and different things. There are different emphasis that every coordinator emphasizes a little more than others. Of course, the tape that we've been watching, a combination of Alabama tape and things like that we've seen. Some of the same plays that we ran last year that we'll have some carryover. It has been busy, been kind of crazy that way in terms of that the kids have transitioned into it well and have worked hard."
Sam Webb: Whenever you have a change in terminology with coaches, there is going to be a learning curve… but I'm wondering if that learning curve is lessened somewhat by refinement. The reason that I asked is that Coach Nussmeier said coming in and as we've spoken to him is that he is going to have some ‘hang your hat on' plays. Three or four run plays that ‘we're going to do this and we're going to do these things well.' Does that refinement make the learning curve a little less steep?
Coach Funk: "Absolutely. Your ‘A-list' plays that you're going to run every week versus anything, you get good at them and you rep those the most. The refinement of the skills, techniques and the different looks that we see, of course Greg (Mattison) gives you a lot of different looks. You get a chance to work against every type of defense possible in terms of fronts and everything. That has been the good part of what we've done. We've gotten better at those base plays. Some of the auxiliary plays and different things that you don't rep quite as much, we at least get introduced and use them when we need them. The kids have been real receptive, worked hard and they've spent time out of here out football office has learning, which you have to if you want to be a good player."
Sam Webb: Let us talk individuals. Coming into the spring the guys that were young corps last year are your veterans now… your guards. How has that threesome come along this spring?
Coach Funk: "It has been a work in progress and different things with those grizzled veterans of four and six starts or whatever type of thing. It is really true, because if you look at, you have five kids that were in redshirts coming out of it. So really truly, they didn't know the old system yet. Because they got a little bit in camp and then they became scout team members. Those kids, a lot of them with this terminology is the first thing they've really learned in depth here, so they don't know any different. The guys that played last year, those who were starters or backups, those guys have transitioned pretty good. Of course (Erik) Magnuson has been out all this spring. We quiz them all the time and we spend time with them in the film room. Hopefully he does a good job, and I think he will even though he hasn't gotten to (physically) learn all of these things. Every chance I get I quiz him on something here, and there and he is 100% on his answers so far. The other guys (Kyle) Kalis and (Ben) Braden and (Kyle) Bosch and those guys have learned and progressed as well."
Sam Webb: I know you guys emphasis competition at every position, so no spots are necessarily guaranteed, but who are the guys in the thick of competition at various positions starting at center. We know about Graham (Glasgow) and Jack (Miller) who has played some. Who else is in the competition for the center position?
Coach Funk: "As you've mentioned those two have played and we know that they are at that position. Patrick Kugler has got a million reps this spring, mostly at center. I've played him a little bit of guard out of necessity at different times. So he's got valuable reps at center. He's getting bigger and stronger. Last year, he came in with a shoulder injury and he recovered. He was going to be a little bit behind strength wise and he is starting to come on. He is really a savvy football player in just terms of technique and knowing how to play the game. So as he gets stronger, he'll get better. He has taken a lot of reps and then Ben Pliska has taken some reps with our third group and has done a good job."
Sam Webb: The two guard positions, we've seen a lot of Kyle Kalis and his one year of starting. We saw some Kyle Bosch late in the season. Who are the guys at competition at guard?
Coach Funk: "Those two and then we've also had David Dawson who has played tackle and guard. So he is in the mix there. Jack has played some guard too. We didn't have Chris Fox for a month, who was going to be another guard. He has been banged up a little bit and hasn't gotten a lot of reps. Those guys have been responsible for most of the one and two reps. Dan Samuelson has played that right guard with the third group and Greg Froelich as well. Those are the guys that have been playing at guard."
Sam Webb: At the tackle position, you had some mainstays that you could lean on for the last few years. You have newbies now, even more so without Mags not there. How is the tackle position for the rest of the spring?
Coach Funk: "Probably as a position group, those guys have gotten better from day one to day 13 at a higher rate than any of them, which is good because we need that. The two that we lost, obviously going to play on Sunday. You don't just waltz a guy right in and replace those guys. What you can do at the tackle position, which I haven't had to do with those two the last couple of years. You can help tackles… you can help young tackles. You've got Ben Braden who has gotten better every day. He has been playing over on that right side and is big and strong. He has been knocking people around and he has done a real nice job playing with that one hand. He has a big club that he plays with. He can't hold like we like (laughter). In fact, Logan Tuley-Tillman missed part of the spring, he had a big club on the other hand. So between the two, I always laugh when they get called for holding penalties in practice. How can these guys hold with these clubs, you can see what I mean when you look at them. Braden has been working well. David Dawson has played a lot of tackle. Blake Bars has played right tackle and he has gotten better every practice. Logan as I mentioned has come back. The guy who has really come on and really should be getting ready for prom in a few weeks but is already here is Mason Cole. He has done a tremendous job at left tackle and we knew he was an excellent player coming in. He is very athletic. He is going to get bigger and stronger. He's probably been as pleasant as a surprise as anyone. You really don't expect, mid years guys when they come in, they sometimes struggle. Mason has come in and pretty much, I don't want to say effortlessly, but including the academic, social, and football, and lifting that kid has done everything that we've asked. So I think we'll see some nice things from him."
Sam Webb: Offensive line is one of the positions that even with the mid year that you really don't expect those guys to hit the field as true freshman. Is it legit to think that that is really possible with Mason?
Coach Funk: "It could be. He is right in the mix. His athleticism and his intelligence, very well coached in high school in a system that is similar, a lot of similarities. As you watch him progress, he has done a nice job. We never guarantee anything, whether a guy is going to play his first year or whatever. You have to wait and see. He's got a chance. He has got the combination of athleticism, game intelligence, and technique because his coaches had done a nice job with. He is more advanced than a lot of guys."
Sam Webb: I've talked to you a lot over the years now and you always talk a lot about attitude. You want some nastiness up front, are you seeing that with this group?
Coach Funk: "I'm starting to see it. We're starting to see it more and more often. Our defense plays with attitude and that has been a big deal for them and it always is. We're starting to work on that up front and get a little bit more. We've had almost melee's here and there, which is not that bad. You've got to have a little bit of that. You don't want fighting and punching and all that, but you've got to have some guys that are going and push each other. We're starting to see that. Not as consistent as I want, and we've got to work on getting our pad levels down and all of these things that come with the position but in terms of that attitude, it is getting better that way."
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