Jay Hopson Lays out the Linebackers

Is there enough talent, and experience, at linebacker? LB Coach Jay Hopson goes through the unit in detail, player by player.

Question: When Fitz (J.B. Fitzgerald) plays, does he rotate in with Jonas (Mouton) or is he interchangeable?

Jay Hopson: "Interchangeable. When he gets in there, we are keeping the competition open. Some things might look obvious here and there to the people watching, but Coach Rod will make that decision and I'm going to keep them battling. Those are kids that I'm extremely high on."

Question: Is your quick and spinner interchanging between the front, middle and back; do you almost need a degree to be able to play linebacker?

Jay Hopson: "Well Greg (Robinson) has got the two outside, Stevie (Brown) and those guys. My world is just the two inside guys."

Question: Because they might be moving back or moving front; I think there has got to be a certain way…?

Jay Hopson: "They do. They have to have an awareness. But that's the thing about playing linebacker: you got to see pullers, you got to see split flow, you got to see so much I think at the linebacker position. I've coached the linebackers. I've coached the back end. The linebacker position, you probably have to have the most discipline in your vision of what you see because everything is happening (snaps fingers) like that. That's the one thing that has impressed me about Brandon Smith, moving from defensive back. When you're far away from the ball sometimes you have time and distant on your side, you have a little bit more time to decipher. Brandon came in and in two days, okay this kid has that ability. He can see right now. A lot of players are big, physical and fast, but they can't see all the stuff that a linebacker has to see. It is truly that natural instinct. Those kids, I think they are doing a good job."

Question: Is Brandon Smith catching up?

Jay Hopson: "Yes, he really is. He is a kid that's worked extremely hard. I see him every day making one more step every day."

Question: Do you feel that there is enough live tackling going on during practice?

Jay Hopson: "You know, I do, because we just had a scrimmage. We had a scrimmage live. One thing you notice about our practice, Coach Rod always put in…for the last week and a half, there is like a 15 minute block that is live. We refer to them as live backs. They get a shot every day in live opportunities. That something that is excellent, because otherwise you're live for a day and then you're waiting five more days to go live again. With each practice, there is always usually a little section where they are going live."

Question: Are you seeing an improvement in the tackling?

Jay Hopson: "No question. I think the fundamentals have definitely improved."

Question: You talked about how you handle mostly the two guys in the middle; Obi (Ezeh) obviously is going to be in their competing, who do you have right now?

Jay Hopson: "You got Obi, Jonas, JB, Kevin Leach has been solid this camp. Brandon Smith who has moved from safety, I'd say he has really been quite a surprise."

Question: Obi has been a significant player on the defense for a couple of years now; do you look at him as somebody who needs to be a leader?

Jay Hopson: "Yes and he is. Obi is a natural leader. He's working hard. We talk about it our room and I expect Obi to have a good year this year for us."

Question: Has he done anything in the summer?

Jay Hopson: "Obi always works hard. I just talked to a guy and said his mom and daddy raised him right. Obi is one of those kids that takes pride in what he does. He always wants to excel and he is going to come out and he is going to work physically and mentally as hard as he can."

Question: Can you talk about Jonas and what you've seen from him this fall?

Jay Hopson: "Jonas is really…I've been really pleased with Jonas. Jonas is a kid that has worked extremely hard. He's a kid that's an explosive player. He's a kid…he's my kind of guy. Jonas is a tough guy. He's physical and we expect Jonas to make some plays for us."

Question: Last year was his first year starting at linebacker after recruiting as a safety; is he still on a learning curve?

Jay Hopson: "Your first year starter is like a freshman quarterback. There are things that you progress. Jonas has just progressed throughout last year. I think he might have finished second on the team in tackles, but you saw him progress. This year, you just see that progression go even further. I think he's ready to have a big year."

Question: What kind of potential do you see for him in the future?

Jay Hopson: "I love those guys. Those are my guys. I think he's an NFL player all the way. I'll sell him to anybody. I just love him. I think both those kids, JB, all those guys. I think those kids are great kids. They're hard workers. It is just a joy to coach them."

Question: Can you talk about both Obi and Jonas, what their actual strengths are on the field and how you see them working together?

Jay Hopson: "You know what, Obi is a MIKE linebacker. He's kind of our leader. He directs traffic for us right there. He's a kid that understands our defense and understands what we're doing. Jonas is our WILL linebacker and that's a kid that at times has to be a little bit more involved in coverage stuff. Jonas is….they both complement each other. The MIKE is in the box. Obi is securing those inside gaps and a lot of times Jonas is out there on the edge securing things on the perimeter. They are a good one-two team and they love playing together and we expect big things from them this year."

Question: Can we talk about JB a little bit.

Jay Hopson: "JB is really in the battle. Like I said, we're keeping that competition on. Coach Rod will make that decision a week before the first game and like I said, you keep battling. JB is a swing guy too, he knows both positions. JB is smart. He's also very much like Obi. He is mentally sharp. He's physical and JB is a competitor. He's not going to give in. JB wants a job too. He's going to work hard and I'm fortunate to have guys like that."

Question: You said he is a swing guy, but do you feel that he fits better at one than the other; is there one you would prefer to see him at?

Jay Hopson: "That's a good question. He's a kid that I think he can do either one. He might be a little bit further ahead at MIKE right now, but I probably practice him a lot more at MIKE right now. I'd probably leave it at that. That's probably where it is at."

Question: Coach said he wants to be able to play 20 to 22 guys on defense; are you comfortable with the depth you've got right now to be able to say that you could find maybe four or five guys on a Saturday that you are comfortable throwing out there?

Jay Hopson: "I am. I think inside we got some guys right there. I feel like we got some solid guys that are backing up whoever the starters are. I feel good about it."

Question: Do you have Kenny Demens as well?

Jay Hopson: "I have Kenny."

Question: Where is he practicing?

Jay Hopson: "He's kind of in the mix right there. You got Obi, JB, Kenny on the inside MIKE. Kenny has made some plays. I want him to keep battling. "

"We've got a big scrimmage coming up this week and we'll see how it shakes out."

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