Note: This interview took place before it was announced that safety Emmett Merchant would rejoin the team for the summer.
AN: Does that transition effect the way you evaluate and recruit at the high school level? Do you now find yourself looking at more offensive guys that you can adapt to defense because of their speed, or are you looking for the same defensive characteristics you’ve always been looking for?
BG: Ever since we have been here we have tried to get speed. It’s the number one thing we look for. Traditionally, since we’ve been here, we have converted bigger safeties to outside ‘backers and bigger outside ‘backers to defensive linemen…Matt Nechak is a great example and Michael Walsh is another example. We’re constantly looking to get more speed on the field and to get our fastest eleven out on the field. That is the name of the game when it comes to teams which spread you out…You better have your fastest guys (who are also good football players) on the field, and since we’ve been here that has been our philosophy. We take guys who can run and we make safeties into outside linebackers and make inside ‘backers or outside ‘backers and turn them into defensive lineman so we can get more speed onto the field.
AN: I know you’ve talked about Tyler Simmons a lot in camp and have talked about the job he has done. Is he a guy who will rotate in at inside linebacker this season, like with what we saw last season with Clint coming in for Tony Haberer and Ross Pospisil?
BG: I view [Tyler] as a starter. He is one of those guys at either SAM or MIKE and can be a starter and fight for time. Like you said, last year we basically used a three man rotation and I see him as that guy who can play either spot. He is fast enough to play SAM, and he can play either spot.
AN: How are Walsh and Nechak coming along in their recovery?
BG: Really good. You know if you would say ‘I want everyone with an injury, regardless of what position they play, to rehab and try to get better…and then you take these two guys right here you would make unbelievable strides. They have worked not only to rehab and to get better with the injury, but they are in great shape right now and I think both of them will be ready to go. They have done a good job working to get better.
AN: Can you tell me a little about the secondary? I know it’s been something of a work in progress…
BG: That is where we are lacking depth. It is one of the most critical areas for when we come out of camp. We are going to be looking for depth…I mean we travel 12 defensive backs because about all of our defensive backs play on special teams. Blake and Kevin at the corner spot have played and started, and Wyatt of course is a leader for us and had a really good year last year…But the other spot, the safety spot, it is a battle and it is up for grabs. Darius [Terry] has played and Kwesi Mitchell had a good spring. He’s just a plebe but he will be battling for time…Jarrod Shannon was out this spring but we expect to get him back on June 1st to give us depth and hopefully fight for a starting job. Jessie Iwuji is a senior and has played on special teams, and he will come back and give us depth…John Angelo has played on special teams but he has to give us some depth at corner, while David Wright - a true plebe - has got to step up and give us depth on the opposite corner spot. We’ve also got Brian Blick – a quarterback who moved to safety during spring practice - and he showed that he has a chance to help us. [Brian] did some good things in spring practice…But when you talk about numbers, we don’t have the numbers in the secondary, so some of the young guys coming in from the Prep school or coming in direct have a chance to come on the bus and to help us.
AN: I also heard that Eric Stein was moving from linebacker to the secondary…
BG: Eric was at safety. We made that move in the spring. He came back with us after the first week. He’s learning the position and has good size but it is going to take him time to learn and adapt playing the position back there and playing in space.
AN: Considering everything that has happened back there, do you consider it something of a blessing in disguise that Emmett Merchant left before the start of the spring and left you these four weeks to get guys into the system and developed?
BG: You know guys like Brian, Kwesi, David Wright…all those young guys got a ton of reps this spring. You know I said earlier about how a couple of years ago when we lost the whole secondary in the first four games…well it is critical for us that we get solid backups who are just like starters and that hey can go in the game and play right now. Those young guys got plenty of reps this spring - and they made progress - but right now we have to take them to another level because they have to be ready to play on Saturdays. But I am anxious to get Jarrod Shannon back. He did some good things before he got injured and we can use him on the kickoff team and on special teams. I can’t wait to get him healthy and to see him in the rotation. But again, considering the depth in the secondary, you are going to see some young guys fighting on the two deep and the three deep when we come back in the fall.
AN: So does that mean you don’t anticipate having to draw more players from the offensive side of the ball to test out in the secondary?
BG: As of right now I don’t see that…I see right now that we are going to get guys we have ready to go and hopefully get some guys from the Prep school and possibly one of the guys coming in direct. Hopefully one of those guys will step up and give us a chance to get them in the two deep or three deep. So that’s where we are in the secondary, but it is going to be important that we take a close look at the guys who are coming in as freshmen.
AN: Coach Niumatalolo told me you’ve already started to look at Ohio State tape. Did you watch their spring game?
BD: I have not seen it yet, but I have been watching their games from a year ago and are they ever impressive. They are very, very talented and very big and we are probably going to be playing the best quarterback in the country. [Terelle Pryor] can do it with his arms and he can do it with his legs and he can make you miss, and overall they are a strong football team…
AN: Did your path ever cross with coach Tressel while you were at UT-Chattanooga and he was at Youngstown State?
BG: Well, I know coach Tressel from when he was at Youngstown State. When I was the AD and the head football coach at UTC we hosted the National Championship game and Youngstown made it to that game. I knew him from years back, and have known him for many years…Actually one of their video coordinators was one of my assistant coordinators when I was at NC State and I recommended him to coach Tressel back in 2000 or 2001 when I was at NC State. But I’ve know coach Tressel for a long time and he does a great job.
AN: Coach Niumatalolo said this Ohio State team was the best team Navy has faced in his time here. Do you agree with that?
BG: No doubt. I mean they will probably be ranked in the Top Five, definitely in the Top Ten. They have the talent, the size, the speed, the depth…this is without a doubt the biggest challenge we have ever faced since we’ve been here.
Adam Nettina can be contacted at AdamNettina – at- gmail.com.