CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois University football coach Dale Lennon unveiled a new all-black helmet during the program's media day on Thursday. The team will wear a flat-black helmet during the 2012 season with the word "Salukis" lettered on both sides and maroon and white striping down the center.
Lennon, along with coordinators Kalen DeBoer (offense), Bubba Schweigert (defense) and Eric Schmidt (special teams), discussed the state of the team heading into training camp and fielded questions from the media.
The Salukis, who were picked seventh in the league's preseason poll announced earlier in the day, begin practice on Sunday and will have two weeks of camp before school starts on Aug. 20.
"The theme for our offseason was "Get Better." Last season, we were in every game that we played, but for one reason or another we were not capable of winning those games, and when you get right down to it, we needed to be better. We needed to be better both as players and as coaches, and that's where we took a good, hard look at where we were at, and we needed to do things to change that. I think our offseason has been productive. I think if you look at this team going into this fall, of thecomponentsthat you use to measure whether or not you get better, number one is experience. This is gonna be a pretty experienced football team. We have a number of players that have played a lot of football for us, some of whom have just been one-game starters, but they've been in that role before. The other area that we needed to get better is we felt we needed to improve our overall talent. That was something both offensively and defensively there were areas we thought we could improve upon. In that, you go out and try to recruit some talented athletes that can come up and be impact players. The third element we looked at to get better was just our overall schemes. What we were doing offensively, defensively, with our special teams, were we spending enough time on the things that we needed to work on, and that was something that we addressed through spring ball. We made some changes here and there. I like the things that I've seen during the course of the spring, and we've been working on those through the course of the summer to get ready to go this fall. You will see some different wrinkles. Some of our schemes you might not even notice, but there'll be some twists here and there that I think will allow our players to have a better chance at having success."
"With that, a couple areas we thought specifically needed to get better in the scheme concept: offensively, you'll see some things with our redzone offense, which is something we've spent a lot of time on. Our third down production on offense was another area where we needed to improve upon, and a lot of that is what you do on first and second down. Overall, we need to have a better third-down conversion rate. And number three is explosive plays. We need to be able to have that potential to score anywhere on the field, and there are several ways in which you can improve upon that. But overall, we just need to have a little more punch to our offensive attack."
"Defensively, we also struggled with the redzone defense, and again, another reason why we're going to the redzone schemes early. The second thing we identified is that we need to be a lot better in pass defense. We did get some transfers coming in over the course of the summer. We've added three Division I transfers, that'll be two at the safety position and one at the corner position. We're hoping that talent-wise that will give us the type of skill in the secondary that will allow us to be successful. The third thing we want to emphasize is tacklingefficiencies. We looked at the big plays against us on film, and one thing that was very obvious was sometimes we had people at the point of attack and just didn't make the play, and that's something we need to do a better job of coaching our players to be more effective in their tackling, especially the open-field tackle. That can be the difference between success and failure."
Kalen DeBoer, Offensive Coordinator
"I think the other area we don't want to lose sight of is turnovers. Last year we felt we made great strides. We turned the ball over 17 times, and that's a little closer to the mark that you wanna be at for a season. I think we can still get better, but in seven games last year we had one or less turnovers. We wanna keep making strides, but we don't want to lose sight of that because that can win or lose you a game pretty quickly."
"The other area really isn't measurable, but we need to develop a personality, a mentality with a littler more aggressiveness. And that comes with confidence, that comes with guys playing together and feeling comfortable in what they're doing, and that's where we gotta get to this fall. In fall camp we gotta get our first stringers ready to go and develop that personality and mentality. In critical times is where we failed last year. Many times we were in those battles, but we just failed to make that score that could get us up or put us over the hump. Being great in critical times in our conference -- as you know, being as tough as it is -- we get a lot of those opportunities. That all falls into the mentality and personality category."
"I don't want to dwell on the 2011 season too much, but coming back from last year, the reason we're excited is that we have a lot of returners, especially in the skill positions. Last year we were returning a lot of offensive linemen -- this year, it's more on the skill-position side. At the end of the year we were starting two freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors at the skill positions, so all those guys return. Now, obviously Jewel (Hampton) is not with us, but we have some quality running backs that will fill in nicely there. In the last four games we scored over 30 points a game, and we want to build on that. We felt like we had some momentum there, and obviously there's a few new faces going into the spring, but we need to build on that success that we had at the end. A lot of that was Kory Faulkner, feeling comfortable after he got thrown into the fire there. His first start was against the national champs against NDSU, and that's not easy. His first three games were against the toughest teams in the conference. I think the way he finished showed that there's a lot of promise for him and his ability to lead our team."
Q: "I was curious about Kory. I know he had a knee surgery -- how much confidence do you have in his knee?"
"You're always concerned. His conditioning probably isn't where he needs to be, but we expect him to pick off right from where he left off this spring. I think he's had enough time this summer to shake off the rust and hopefully go into camp feeling good about things."
Q: "Are you comfortable with a tight end leading you in receptions, or do you need a wide receiver to fill that role?"
"We need a receiver,preferablya guy on the other side that can keep the defenses from being able to focus on the tight end -- there's no question. We need to have more balance, as far as I'm concerned. You need five guys, you need a guy at every skill position in an elite offense that is a threat to make a play. So we certainly need these receivers and the running backs to step up and play bigger roles from a year ago."
Q: "How important is it to develop a running back that is a difference maker in relation to the passing game?"
"Does the run set up the pass, or does the pass set up the run? Last year, we were definitely a run-set-up-the-pass type of team. We were gonna pound away and try to get us into a third and manageable, but there might be a little bit more of balance this year. Our experience in the receiving corps and the tight ends helps our young offensive line out, and we spread things out. We'll try to mix it up and give the ball to our running backs and out in swing passes or maybe screens and just try to be more balanced that way. As far as who's getting the ball, I think balance is the key."
Q: "Has (Mika'il) McCall recovered from his leg injuries well?"
"We were conscious of that, but he looked pretty good this spring. I think he has some pretty good speed for how big he is, that's the thing that's impressive."
Q: "Has Paul (McIntosh) recovered well enough to participate in training camp?"
"I don't want to get into it too much, but that's the concern with Paul, is just having him healthy, and right away we're not expecting him to be able to go too much here through fall camp. A.J. (Hill) has kinda seen that throughout the summer and really stepped up his role as a leader here, especially with even Kory being out for the early part of the summer."
Q: "Do you feel like you guys have found that big play threat?"
"I think everyone has to pick up the pieces a little bit. I think David Lewis gives us an X-receiver with his size where you can throw the ball up to him up the field usually and he can go up and make some plays. I think LaSteven McKinney this spring really showed what he can do when he gets the ball in his hands. He only had 15-20 catches last year, and we have to triple that for him, because when he gets the ball in his hands he's a guy that could go the distance."
Q: "Kory had more rushing touchdowns last year than he did through the air -- do you feel those numbers will be reversed this year?"
"Yeah, we need it to be. That's the big thing I think with redzone that we've worked on. It's not the running part of it. We were pretty good running the football into the endzone -- it was the passing part. The pass efficiency for our offense was very low last year, but that number is reflected because of the lack of touchdown passes. We need to find ways when we get inside that 30-yard line to be able to throw it into the endzone, and not just rely on running it in all the time because it's tight quarters down in there. The defenses, they change things up and bear down."
Q: "Do you think you have a running back who can equal Jewel's production last year?"
"We have two seniors that should be physically developed enough to, one way or another, handle the load for us. Mika'il, physically when you look at him, you're like, that's a guy that can be an every-down back for us. So between the three of them, I think it's an important thing for us, is to make sure we utilize their skills. I understand as an offense we need to be based on our strengths."
Q: How do you like the progress of the tempo offense?"
"It's coming along. It's something that you really have to sell out to. We've made quite a few adjustments in our terminology to get it to the point where we can do it. This summer our guys have tried to mimic it a bit on their own, and hopefully that's been successful; we don't get the chance to see that. I think going in day one, we're expecting it to just be continued from where we left off from in the spring. You wanna find ways to just keep defenses on their toes and wondering what you're gonna do next. Are you gonna motion shift? Are you gonna tempo? We had some of those tempo elements in our offense at certain points of the field, but you just want to make it where you could do it at any time and with any personnel."
Bubba Schweigert, Defensive Coordinator
The first thing is tackling. In order to play good defense you just have to tackle well, how do you get better at that? You have to practice it, you have to create those situations in practice. We attempted to do that in the spring, we made some progress but by no means are we where we want to be yet. We need to be cognizant of that fact and work on it on our fall camp. We just need that to be better when we get to our first game and throughout the season. Another thing that helps you tackle better is knowing your defensive system better. And you're confident out there and your in the right position and you put yourself in position to make those play. Those things are important to us and will continue to be an emphasis as far as spending more time on it, drilling it more and all those things, we have to do that to improve on defense. Pass defense we got to be better, I think the way we approach things we have to stop the run and that.And the way we play defense we've done a pretty good job at that. Sometimes we're going to be a little lower in the league in pass defense when you do that but our main concern has to be the explosive pass plays. If you load up at time to stop the run and force teams to throw the football. You're going to give up some pass plays but you cant give up the huge plays. It has to be a point of emphasis that we make people drive the football, when you give up those big plays less chance for turnovers, less chance for the offense to make penalties and hurt themselves. Redzone, Coach Lennon and Coach DeBoer both mentioned we're practicing more in the redzone. Believe me, we're looking at what we're calling in the redzone, how we're scheming in the redzone. All those things have to be factors because you what to force field goals when people get down there. Not only does it keep points off the board but you gain momentum. If somebody gets down there and doesn't score a touchdown it really can boost your team you have an opportunity to block a kick, poor snap, all those things. So those things have to improve.
Q: With the secondary being a question mark, what gives you confidence about them?
A: I like their effort in the spring, not just out on the practice field, but I liked their effort in the meeting room. And the want-to is really there and that's part of the battle. the one thing about guys that haven't played a lot is they have an excitement and anticipation about them that can be very good, nobody is an a comfort zone back there and there cant be. We have a lot of competition at all the positions and the playing time will be decided on fall camp. As far as transfers go, you like what you see on tape, but until you work with them you don't know what you have. They're bigger more athletic guys and we think they can help us.
Q: What's most important to you when you evaluate safeties?
A: First of all, athleticism is very important. You're playing in space and those are the guys that save you from big plays -- whether it is through the air or run plays. We talk about tackling being a point of emphasis for us and you better be able to tackle in space and you better be a good athlete. The way football is being played nowadays, what most teams do now is they try to create space for their best players. So you have to be able to tackle one-on-one. We have a saying for our guys that one-on-one is the best we can do, we can get you in a situation where you're one-on-one and that's the best we can do and you got to make the play. Sure we'd like them as big and as fast as we can get them. But we will never sacrifice size in the secondary for speed and agility or quickness. We got to play the guys that can cover the ground and play well in space.
Q: With Kenny (Boatright) and Eze (Obiora) having a year of experience under their belts, how much more disruptive do you expect them to be?
A: We hope they get better. Part of it is how we scheme against other teams and if we can hold up in the back row. If you look, we didn't run as many pressures later in the season because we were not holding up in the back end like we'd like. A lot of that determines on how we do in the secondary. one-on-one they should be better. We work hard on it, I think we're happy with Coach Flyger being back with us and he's worked with our line in the past. We're going to challenge those guys and one-on-one situation they've got to win that battle.
Q: Will Victor Burnett be ready?
A: He's ready. He's fully recovered, but we have not worked a day with Victor. We like his talent, we like what we see on video. But we really have not worked with him at all yet.
Q: What makes you think you can get better at redzone defense?
A: We can't get much worse... Other than that we have to play better, we're going to practice it, we have to execute our calls. That's what you have to do, you have to practice it, execute calls but we did not do well a year ago. We didn't force field goals when we got in those situations. It's a point of emphasis and you got to keep working on it and plugging away on it. When you do experience some confidence and make some stops it helps you in executing your stuff.
Q: What can you tell me about the back-up nose tackles TJ Beelen and Ryan Campbell?
A: They're true freshmen. TJ Beelen had a lot of talent and we think that he can play as a true freshman just physically, but once again, we have to get out there and work with him and teach him and it's important to see how he develops. Ryan Campbell the same thing, we're happy with what we see and what we got talent-wise. But we've got to develop it and get him out there and ready to go.
Q: If there is a problem with Swanson would you go with Beelen at nose tackle or would you go with three defensive ends like you did in spring?
A: It all depends on how TJ Beelen looks at fall camp, we'll evaluate that at fall camp.
Q: Is Kayon's ankle 100 percent?
A: He's moving well and we expect him to be 100 percent.
Eric Schmidt, Special Teams Coordinator
Things that we like when you look at our team last year, we were at or near the top of our league in returns. Whether it was punt returns or kickof return, I think we had nine kickoff returns of 40 yards, those are big plays for us. We returnall of our return specialists -- Steve Strother,Mulku (Kalokoh)LaSteven McKinney those are guys that have proven they can be big-play guys for us so, we're excited about those guys. Plus, we have some younger guys coming in that we've recruited that were redshirtedthat last year or as true freshman that we think can be dynamic-type return guys for us. That's something that we're excited about here.
The next thing we're excited about is our punt team improved from the year before. We put a new scheme in and it was good for us. Austin Pucylowskigot better. He has a year under his belt,he matured and we expect him to get better this fall as we move forward. We feel like we have a bigger group of guys both on our coverage units and on our blocking schemes. A bigger group of guys to pick from as coach talked about when we try to increase the talent of our team, especially when you talk about linebackers, safeties and wide receivers, those are all guys that have to help you in special teams as well. Those are things moving into the fall should be strengths for us. Concerns that we have, the number one thing is our kicker. We feel we need to get better in both phases and what I mean by that is that we need a guy that can increase his range and accuracy. Plus we need a guy that can put the ball in the endzone especially with the new rule that goes into effect this fall. So that will be a big evaluation going into the fall... We also feel like we were in a lot of close games last year and we need to make momentum-swinging plays on special teams.
Q:How much do you think the new rules are going to limit your opportunities in the return game?
A: We're concerned about it that it will be less. That was a big part for us, we had nine returns for over 40 yards. Steve Strotherwas an All-Conference guy for us. LaSteven McKinney was really dynamic on punt returns as well, and when you take a knee you get it at the 25. So you catch the ball two yards deep and you have to go 27 yards just to get to where they're going to get you the ball. So it'll be a little bit different, it will be interesting to see how many less kickoff returns we have, but I definitely think it will change that part of the game.
Q: Strother averaged almost 27 (a return), will you let him take it out?
A: We've talked about it. Our base rule is if you're two yards deep in the end zone to take a knee. But you adjust those rules with the better player you have back there. So we'll have some leeway there for Steve and also for Mulku. Mulku didn't have as many opportunities, but he made some big plays for us as well back there returning the kick for us.
Q: You can't jump over a player on the punt return, how do you adjust your punt rush this year?
A: That really doesn't affect us as much. There's not as many leapers, guys trying to jump a shield that there has been in the past. I think there was one team that tried that to us last. We're not a big jump team as far as trying to jump over the top of the shield. Most people have learned, now that the shield punt has evolved, you don't have the punter as close to the shield backer, so it's harder to do that.
"I hope when you listen to the coaches talk that you realize we do have an edge. We realize that we've got to get better, that's been our approach all offseason going through the summer. We aren't satisfied with where we're at. There's things that we can do that will allow us the opportunity to get better, but the bottom line is to do it in the ballgame. That's where our approach goes heading into pre-fall. We're cautiously optimistic. We feel we have the potential to be the type of team that we think we can, but until we prove it that'll all be up for speculation. That's the objective in front of us right now: we've gotta prove that we're better than seventh in the conference."
Q: "Do you think seven wins in this league is enough to get you into the playoffs?"
"That's speculation, and at this time of year, it's tough to go on. They're expanding, but 7-4 wasn't good enough for Illinois State to get in. Then again, it depends on who you beat and who you lose to, so 7-4 could be pretty impressive if you win the right games, but that's just speculation right now."
Q: "In the offseason, you put a lot of emphasis on doing the little things right. How do you feel the team embodies that right now?"
"Mentally, a positive resource for us has been Clete McLeod. He spends every day with them. As coaches, we can't, we're very limited in our contact that we can have with the team. But all of the reports that I've received, the players stopping in to visit, the feedback I'm getting is very encouraging. I think our players are realistic. I think our players are at a point where they want to step up and prove something, and that's the attitude that you can hang your hat on. We'll have an attitude going through pre-fall, and hopefully it sustains."
Q: "Do you feel like this team has more vocal leaders?"
"Vocal is not the right word. We have players now that will get in each other's face -- that's a whole different thing. It's one thing to be 'Rah-rah, let's go get 'em!' type, but it's another thing to be that guy that's gonna get in your teammate's face and tell you, 'Hey, you're not doing your load here, pick it up.' That's what we need with this team. We need guys that aren't afraid to get into their teammate's face and tell them to pick it up. From what I've been hearing I've been pleased with what I've heard."
Q: "How would you compare the front seven this year to ones you've had in the past?"
"Always tough to tell before they perform. I like the potential. I look at the three guys up front: very athletic. My philosophy with the development of players is that experience is huge. The amount of improvement you should have from one year to the next should be pretty significant. You should be a better player just because you are a senior, because you have a couple years of playing under your belt. Therefore, I'm hoping we're going to be seeing the benefit of that, especially with the front seven where you're looking at a pretty senior-dominated group. What Coach Schweigert can do with our defensive schemes, and we shore up the secondary like we hope we can, that front seven is gonna be fun to watch."
Q: "What do you like about how your schedule sets up this year?"
"Every schedule is challenging. I like the fact that we have our three non-conference games right in a row at the very beginning so it doesn't break up your schedule. I like having a very challenging first game, which we will have against Eastern Illinois. Your division-up game that you play, you wanna feel good about your chances going into that game, and we'll know more after our Eastern Illinois game where we're at, but I think we're gonna have an opportunity there. And then coming home finally with Southeast Missouri, I'm just hoping that we can have that positive start on the season to really make us feel good about who we are. And then when we get into our conference schedule, this conference is amazing. From one to ten, you seriously could have any one of the ten teams be a contender -- it's that legitimate. And with South Dakota coming in, they're good, they're gonna win games, they're gonna give teams some issues. The league just got tougher."
Q: "Do you like where your bye week is?"
"You never know if you like it or not until you get to it. If we're on a roll, I love it. If we're playing good and we're going into the stretch and we're in the hunt, we got the perfect spot for the bye. If we're banged up, well you'd kinda like to have that bye next week. For right now, I'd rather get on a roll and keep playing for awhile, so it's not a bad bye."
Q: "How much forward preparation can you do for the rest of your schedule with the season yet to star?"
"Well, we've been doing that through the summer. Offensively, defensively, you come up any morning or afternoon our staff is in their rooms watching last year's films. They're doing their gameplans, they're evaluating personnel, so we have a feel for what they're capable of doing. But when the season hits, you almost have to throw a lot of that stuff out because things change and players get hurt and circumstances happen, therefore you have to get ready to adapt. You have your initial gameplan, and then you get to game week and you gotta modify it and hopefully have it good to go by Saturday."
Q: "The seniors now had success in the front end of their careers. What does this season mean now that they've met some adversity in the last couple years?"
"I think this, too, is where that edge should be present, and just not settling for anything less than their full commitment. That's what I'm looking for from that senior group that we brought in with our first recruiting class. They've been through a lot of ups and downs. A lot of them have been through personal trials and tribulations just to get here. I'm hoping that this year is very special to them and that they want to make something of it."
Q: "What makes you think your redzone offense could be better this year?"
"Can I use Coach Schweigert's line? What you need with the redzone offense, you just have to have confidence -- it's confidence. And that's the one thing if you go in our offensive huddle you can see if we're a confident team or if we're hoping. From what I saw in the spring, that confidence factor can be there. Our quarterback has to be cocky. When we get into the redzone there has to be an attitude that we're gonna score. There can be no doubt in his mind that they're not gonna score. The same thing with defense. We could have been a very good redzone defense let's say if we got two turnovers and forced them in the redzone. All of a sudden, now you're not a bad redzone defense. There's just a fine line between success and failure, and those are the things that we gotta be able to capitalize on, and when you're inside the 20 you gotta put points on the board. We missed four field goals inside the redzone. You gotta put points on the board. You put points on the board it's a whole different gameplan. All that will be part of the process."
Q: "What's the benefit of moving (Richard) Wilson from right tackle to left tackle?"
"He's our best tackle. Protect the blind side -- you ever see that movie? That's the big reason there to make sure that the throwing arm doesn't have someone coming off his back side."
From: SIU Media Relations