Steve Reed from the Gaston Gazette got a chance to have a half hour interview with Marty Hurney yesterday in what he is dubbing the "State of the Team Address" heading into our first preseason game.
There was a lot more information being divulged in this interview than we are used to from Hurney. He danced around a few topics, but for the most part he gave a lot of good insight to the team. Highlights below the jump for those who don't want to read the whole thing.
Q. You’ve had a chance to watch this team practice. What strikes you about this group?
Hurney: "The first trait that I feel like we’ve improved is our overall team speed. That’s something that we feel good about it. We all feel like we have more team speed. Now with that we’ve lost experience so there’s a balance there. Just looking at positions, the quarterback position is very interesting to watch. We feel like we have four very good quarterbacks here. Matt Moore has had a terrific camp and really every time Matt has had a chance he’s done exactly what he’s doing now – he’s stepping up and filing the role. Obviously we feel like Jimmy Clausen has a lot of talent and Hunter Cantwell, Tony Pike, all of those guys have the ability to play in the league."
Q. With the quarterbacks, is this the strongest group of arms you’ve had collectively in camp?
Hurney: "Strong arms and accuracy. And accuracy is number one. And I think we do have more accuracy. I think our passing game has been crisper at times. Again, it’s early so these are just impressions so you won’t know until you get in the preseason games."
It certainly feels like we have moved in the direction of youth and athleticism, just the way Ron Meeks likes it. Here Hurney reinforces our camp observations that both Moore and Clausen are having a strong camp, with Pike and Cantwell showing flashes.
Q. What would you say is the biggest concern heading into the season this year, the defensive line?
Hurney: "It’s funny because everything changes so quick with an injury here or there. Obviously the most change we’ve had as far as veterans leaving would be defensive line.
"At defensive end we were able to get Tyler Brayton back and he’s the leader of that group. Charles Johnson is going into his fourth year and is ready to have his best season I think. Charles has worked extremely hard this offseason and is looking very good. And Everette Brown is going into his second season and should be better. We feel like we picked up a couple of good pass rushers who will help us on the line -- Eric Norwood is a linebacker who can help in pass rush situations and Greg Hardy, he’s an extremely talented player who we feel can help us.
"Inside, I think we tried to address that last year in a sense that we traded our fifth- and sixth-round draft choices for Louis Leonard and Tank Tyler and we feel like they can help us. We picked up Derek Landri off waivers from Jacksonville at the end of the year and we have Corvey Irvin. And we signed Ed Johnson in the off-season. Andre Neblett is a rookie free agent out of Temple who has had a very good camp. So we’ll see. We have guys who can compete there and that is an interesting position to watch in the preseason."
Hurney seems very optimistic about our youth on the defensive line, and he almost seems giddy about our pass rushing capabilities and options. Sounds like Brayton and Johnson are entrenched as the starters, but there will be a heavy dose of Everette Brown, Greg Hardy, and Jerious Norwood in passing situations. He did not give any insight on who the interior starters will be, but he did mention Andre Neblett, a particular surprise as a UDFA.
Hurney: "Not at all. I don’t think there’s a concern with Jon no matter what. I think he’s at a position where he’s going to make as many plays if not more than (when he played) in the middle."
"And we feel like in this defense Jon Beason will have a chance to make a boatload of plays. A lot of people forget that he’s played both. He’s played in the middle and outside and I think it’s a credit for Jon to do what was in the best interest of the team. You hate to lose a player like Thomas Davis but we’re fortunate to have some options."
He also mentions Dan Connor in this section and how they think he is a good football player and will be great in the middle. He also talks about their "best player available" draft strategy noting that they didn't need a linebacker when they selected Connor, but he was the best player on the board. Now they need him, and their strategy is paying off.
Q. Do you feel this is the best secondary you’ve had in awhile?
Hurney: "It’s the fastest. We’ll see how it plays out, but our corners – Chris Gamble, Richard Marshall and Captain Munnerlyn – seem to have taken another step up at camp. And at safety we have more overall speed there than we ever had. We will miss the experience and the leadership of Chris Harris back there but this is Charles Godfrey’s third year and we feel like he’s ready to step up and this is Sherrod Martin’s second year. We added a couple of veterans in Marcus Hudson and Aaron Francisco who are bringing experience back there and Jordan Pugh, who we drafted in the sixth round, is a guy who brings speed to the position. He seems to have good reactions and instincts back there."
Ringing endorsements for all our corners and safeties, meanwhile it looks like the team is very high on Jordan Pugh. We may have seen the last of C.J. Wilson.
Q. You gave up a second-round pick in 2011 to get Armanti Edwards. He talked about this being a rough transition so far from college to the NFL and there have certainly been some growing pains there. Do you think you can get anything out of him this year, or is going to take more time than that?
Hurney: "Oh yeah, I think we will. But we’ll see. Anytime you switch positions, especially from quarterback to wide receiver… You go back to that first practice and he’d never run that much in practice before. What you see is what we saw in college and the workouts – incredible athletic ability and deceiving speed. He’s got incredible hand-eye coordination and reaction to the football. He locates the ball very quickly and snatches it. I think he has great vision."
"We’ll see how he does as a punt returner. I think you can see every day he’s improving.
"I think he’s learning and is making great strides very quickly. It’s hard to project a timetable on things but yes, we do hope he can bring something and help us this year."
Q. When you look at the No. 2 wide receiver position, clearly that was an area that held you back last year. How do you see that playing out?
Hurney: "I think receiver overall we’ve got good competition and feel like we might have some options. Dwayne Jarrett is having a very good training camp and again, what Dwayne gives you is a big guy who can post up and use his body. And he’s done very well. Brandon LaFell, who we got in the third round, is very polished for a rookie. He’s a very smooth route runner who is making plays and is in that mix there. I think Kenny Moore has taken advantage of an opportunity where he’s getting increased reps. He’s a polished route runner and I think he’s taken a step up this year.
"And we have the young guys. We mentioned Armanti and we have David Gettis, who is a big receiver who can run and is getting better every day. Trent Guy, when he was in there, flashed and showed separation as far as a slot guy. And Wallace Wright, who I always skip over, he’s an incredible special teams player but he can play receiver in this league and will be a contributor for us at receiver this year. We’ve got options and that’s what makes the preseason fun"
Another area that Hurney sounds downright Giddy about. He mentions Jarrett first and says that he has had a very good training camp. I think there have been some biased tweets coming out of camp. Since Jarrett is not the new shiny toy, and in general is looked upon unfavorably by the fan base, we have heard only when he screws up, not when he makes a good play. I'm not trying to rekindle that damn debate again, but the point is Hurney thinks he is having a good camp. Also, he mentions that LaFell is ahead of the game and looks to be a factor this year.
Hurney still is very high on Armanti and we all should be do. Very encouraging that he expects Money to be a factor this year. He seems to be holding back however, which leads me to believe we may be seeing some wildcat action after all.
Q. It seems you made a conscious effort to bring in guys with more special teams experience, true?
Hurney: "I really do feel like we got away from our formula in that area (last season) and I feel like that falls on me."
"We did go out and get a Wallace Wright, a Marcus Hudson and an Aaron Francisco in free agency. And not only did we do that but in the draft we got Eric Norwood who is an excellent special teams player. And I’m sure there are some guys I haven’t mentioned. But we feel like we had to target some of those guys. We’ve got some core guys and we feel like that is essential."
Not much comment here, we all know Special Teams was bad last season, and steps have been taken to improve.Hurney then basically dodges 2 questions about John Fox being on the last year of his contract and how it will affect the team... as expected.
Q. There are a lot of fans out there who perceive this is a rebuilding year, a throw-away year if you will. Your thoughts on that?
Hurney: "I start twitching when I hear that. Losing is too hard and you can’t look at it that way. Now we’re a young team but I know our coaches will do the best job with the talent we have. And I think we have some talent"
"But you’re never going to hear me say ‘rebuilding.’ I think the key to this year is to retool without rebuilding. And one of the things we’ve done here with John and I and the scouts and coaches is we haven’t bottomed out. We haven’t had the rebuilding year. I think that is important and we feel like we can be competitive. But until you get in the preseason games and see these guys play you don’t know. But I would say after the first two weeks of camp there is cautious optimism."
I don't think we are rebuilding at all, and Hurney seems to agree. I think we are young, but we do indeed have a lot of talent, and will surprise a lot of people this year.
Tonight is our first preseason game, and I look forward to watching all of these young guys get a chance to play.
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