CSU football head coach Jim McElwain addressed the media and fielded questions at a pre-camp press conference Thursday morning, as did seniors TE Kivon Cartwright, LB Max Morgan and CB Bernard Blake. They reflected on the off season, last year, new recruits and “the climb” they plan to make in 2014.
Q: What has been the approach this summer?
McElwain: These guys have attacked the whole off season from the standpoint that there is no reason to be satisfied with the little success that we had. We learned a lot about what it takes to begin this climb.
We kind of climbed those foothills. Then the clouds lift and you see Long’s Peak. Well, that’s another heck of a climb now. All we’ve done is made it up the horse trail, and now we’ve got to take that next step and climb that second mountain.
Q: Any position changes?
McElwain: No, pretty much where we were in the spring, we’re going to keep guys at those spots. The biggest one probably was [Jasen Oden Jr.] moving to running back. I thought he had a really good camp and it gives us a really physical runner.
Q: How can you replace guys like Kapri Bibbs and Shaquil Barrett?
McElwain: You try to do it by other positions. At the wide out spot, we need to get some more explosive plays – some of those ‘make you miss and finish’ types of plays.
On defense, if there’s one thing we need to do it’s get better against explosive plays. That was our achilles heel all last year. There were times when those guys were able to sit back there and have lunch, dinner, and maybe a snack by the time they got the ball off. So we’ve got to do a little better as far as the pressure part.
Morgan: Even though we have three new starters in the defensive line, they all have a lot of experience and rotated a lot, so I’m actually really confident going into this fall with our personnel and everybody being on the same page.
Blake: We just have to continue making strides and turning this program around. People don’t understand that the best thing the seniors did last year was off the field in preparing this team.
Q: With the loss of Barrett, how will the linebackers do?
McElwain: I feel really good about our linebacking corp. We’ve got some speed there to handle some of those dual-threat quarterbacks. Hopefully, they’ll be able to contain the explosive plays a bit. They’re going to be able to close on the ball and not give up some of those big yarders.
Morgan: This is going to be me and Aaron [Davis]’s fourth year here together … It’s hard to say that we’ll be better, because he was such a great player, but I’m confident that we’ll be a very good linebacking corp.
Q: How much confidence is there in Garrett Grayson?
McElwain: A lot has been said about the Manning Academy. I think the mental part of the game is what he really brought from there … He’s still got to throw it to our colored jerseys and not the other team. It’s a pretty simple concept, and I tell him that every day. What colored jersey are we wearing? Throw it to that one. [chuckles]
Cartwright: One thing I like about Garrett is his confidence on the field. He leads by example with his work ethic in the weight room. You don’t have to worry about anything because you know Garrett’s got it and he’s on the same page as everybody else.
Q: Is there going to be a heavier reliance on the pass this year?
McElwain: We’ll probably be more top-heavy throwing the ball, because that’s who we have right now. But, I still believe that to have a successful football program you’ve got to be able to stop the run, and you’ve got to be able to run to win. Those are the things that are going to be our trademarks going forward.
How much confidence is there in the younger guys on this team?
McElwain: I like this team. I like the guys on this team. I like the leadership on this team. I really genuinely like these guys. They’re fun to be around and they sure know when to turn it on. They know what it takes now. It isn’t as much prodding from us as it is internal, and that’s when you get to have a team.
Cartwright: They’re hard workers, especially Rashard [Higgins]. He wants big things, and he’s going to go get them.
Blake: The thing I like most about the incoming freshmen is that they’re hungry. They ask questions, they watch film, they learn the playbook, and none of them are afraid to take those reps.
Q: There are high expectations for CSU in the media. What are the expectations within the team?
McElwain: It goes back to that ‘climb’ analogy … I don’t put numbers on it. I want us to go out and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, try to win every play and then find out what the score is at the end. That starts in what you do in RamU, in spring ball, in the off season, and now in two-a-days.
Morgan: Our goal is always to be the best team we can be, and we always expect to go to a bowl game.
Cartwright: Our slogan this year is ‘the climb.’ We’re not looking at the end result, we’re looking at the process … Once we reach one peak, we’re going to the next one. I don’t know about what the nation expects of us. I just know that the guys in the locker room are ready for whatever challenge.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.