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Norvell reflects on spring, work ahead in summer

Mike Norvell spoke with the media following Saturday’s spring football game. Below are some of his responses:

What does this spring mean after not having it last year?

“It’s huge. I know I’ve said it throughout the course of spring, but I truly believe that your identity as a football team starts forming now. The winter conditioning is big for our program, Tour of Duty, building mental toughness and physical development, that’s critical. You get out there at practice where you really don’t have an opponent. You have yourself, you have guys fighting at the position and then you have your teammates that you’re going against every day. I thought our guys, the mindset is coming. The challenge, embracing the work that’s coming. Everybody in the country is talking right now about the same things. They’re talking about what they will be and what they believe they can be. I just want to see it in the work. I don’t really care about the message. I want to see how they show up every day and come sit in the meeting rooms, how they apply that out on the practice field and do they prepare and execute relentlessly throughout the work so that we can be the best version of us. I’m starting to see guys taking the proper steps so that we can accomplish that.”

What’s your assessment of the quarterbacks?

“I felt really good about the quarterback room. I think that these guys have all shown that they’re growing and they’re getting better. I think that McKenzie finished up this last week because he’s done a really nice job of just trusting the process of growth. Jordan Travis I think had a phenomenal spring. I’m really excited about the steps he’s taken as a passer and understanding. It’s gonna be a fun, fun battle to watch. We will get Chubba (Purdy) back here, cleared for the summer so it’ll be a full participant there. I liked what I saw from him in the first week. But we wanted to make sure this thing was 100 percent as we got going into into the summer workouts, but we’re excited to get him back in the room. Those guys are going to push each other, and you know it’s it’s going to be a lot of fun. Tate (Rodemaker) got some learning experiences just in situations today that he’s going to be able to build upon. I like the room though.”

Calling sacks to ensure QBs stay healthy or give them less leeway?

“That’s one of the things that going through a spring practice with the quarterbacks not being live, there are going to be some times that calls both ways will happen. Sometimes it’s a sack, sometimes it’s not a sack or a quarterback would have been able to extend (the play). I care about the situation. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s right or wrong. It still gives you an opportunity to have that response. At the end of the day, if you go from first-and-10 to second-and-18, whether it was or wasn’t, you still get to live out that situation and how you respond there. That was big on a couple of those early drives because the quarterbacks had to overcome a couple of those things. I thought it was good work. I really don’t get too carried away on the sacks or not sacks. For me, it’s all about getting the different things we can build from.”

What have you seen from the defense this spring?

“I like what I’m seeing. The steps up front, I think Jermaine Johnson showed even early today that he’s a force to have to handle there off the edge, in the run game, in the passing game. I think Dennis Briggs, Fabien Lovett, those guys are a year stronger, a year more confident through the understanding of what we’re asking them to do schematically. Derrick McLendon, he’s had a really nice spring. With the opportunity he’s been presented, I think he’s continuing to grow and get better. The constant competition is pushing guys to improve. Now, it’s just trusting those fundamentals play-in and play-out, knowing where you need to be and being able to apply those fundamentals in the moment. I thought there were some great open-field tackles at times today and there were some that we missed just because of a fundamental breakdown. Guys have to learn that. I think there’s playmakers there in the defensive backfield. A guy that showed up today that gave up an early play but I thought responded was Akeem Dent. Akeem is somebody that I really want to see take that next step. He missed a couple practices in the middle of spring ball. I thought that was critical when he gave up the big play, he didn’t stay there. He came back, he responded well, continued to compete and do the things necessary. I like this group, I like the defense. We’re gonna get a couple guys that we need to get back, get healthy. But I think these guys are starting to play with that edge that’s necessary and really trusting in each other to do the job that’s required.”

What are your thoughts on the offensive line’s development and being shorthanded this spring?

“That’s one of the things we knew going into spring. When you’ve Devontay (Love-Taylor), Baveon (Johnson) missed the first part of it, we’ve had some guys in and out and that’s part of it but we knew that the continuity wasn’t going to be something that was going to — that execution might not be where it absolutely needs to be. But the fundamental development is something that’s big. I was glad today we got to throw Lloyd Willis out there with the first group some, bumped Darius (Washington) down, it allowed us to look at a couple of different combinations. So I like where guys are headed. Yes, we are young, there’s no secret to it. But you see them developing. We’ve got to be more consistent in our execution. We’ve got to be more consistent and trust in our fundamentals. They’re hungry, and they know what’s in front of them, they know the challenges of what we need to do, but they are absolutely competing with themselves and within their group to be a group that we know we can count on. I’m excited, going to have a great summer with them, no question about it, but it’s going to be great to see. Devontay is definitely a leader of that group who’ll be able to get back here this summer and then you know just as those guys continue to emerge and come together. So I think it’s a great group for the years to come, as well as you know, what we plan on seeing here in 2021.”