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August 27, 2014

David Cutcliffe

DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  I think our team kind of feels like it's been a long time coming to get back on the game field, although we went right back to work after the bowl game.  Spring practice started very early with an early spring practice, and I think that feeling kind of has really grown.  I mean, it's been a long time since we've been on the field when we started camp, and I think now they're ready to play a football game.
Elon has got a new staff.  We're not really sure what we're going to see schematically.  We have some general ideas, but they've got a bunch of returning football players, we've got a bunch of returning football players, and it's going to be a matter of how well we go out and execute, how hard we can play, how consistent we can play.  I think that's the biggest thing I'm looking for in the first game is see if the game is clean and see if we can be as consistent as possible in all three phases.

Q.  Last year Jamison Crowder and DeVon Edwards were two of the most dynamic return men around, but they both played such a key role, Jamison on offense and DeVon on defense.  Is there any thought to protect them in some ways and not risk them at special teams, or is it just part of the game?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  No, I don't ever go there mentally.  Those are big, huge plays.  Take, for example, kickoff return; with the spot being the 25‑yard line on a touchback, we'll generally take that spot if somebody kicks one into the end zone, but when you get that opportunity, it's a huge play, and we have to‑‑ when we return a kickoff, we've got to extend it beyond the 25‑yard line minimally, and you take your best football players.  We've got a lot of starters on that team, and that's how we do special teams in the punt return area.
Anymore in college football, you get a stop and force a punt, that's a big deal defensively, and as you send that return team out there, that kind of puts an exclamation point on what your defense just did, and if you can, again, gain yards, that's either huge field position, or in the case with Jamison and DeVon, both those guys can score every time they get an opportunity.  So they'll certainly be there barring any injury, God forbid.  They'll be out there doing their job in those instances.

Q.  Josh has returned kickoffs in the past pretty successfully.  I'm just wondering‑‑
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  Johnell Barnes is in that mix.  We have return men, too, with Shaquille Powell, Joe Ajeigbe, Shaun Wilson has been working back there, Josh Snead works back there, and then the punt return end of things, we've got Ryan Smith, we've got Max McCaffrey, we've got Johnell Barnes.  We spend a lot of time working a lot of different people.  All of those guys are capable of being involved in our return game, and starting game one they'll be game ready.

Q.  Just wondering how your defensive front has developed here since the last time we saw you play with some new faces now in the starting lineup.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  Yeah, we've got veteran players in a lot of spots.  The thing that we hope we can do is stay healthy up front.  Jamal Bruce is coming off injury, Wallace is coming off injury, Jordan DeWalt, all three seniors are coming off injuries.  What I hope we can do if we stay healthy, and I think we have a chance of being much better there.  Again, I think the biggest thing is to measure us‑‑ I need to see more consistency out of our people.  But without a doubt we're going to go in and play six in the interior.  We've got a red‑shirt freshman, Mike Ramsay, that's ready, A.J. Wolf, a sophomore, that's ready in that rotation, Bruce is back healthy, Carlos Wray is healthy, Jamal Wallace, Allen Jackson has beefed up from end and is playing better and better inside, and then we're going to play five defensive ends if they're healthy.  I'm hoping that can become a strength for our team, and that's something we've really focused hard on as a defense and as a team, squad, and I think those guys feel like they're carrying a lot of weight to do that as we go into game one.

Q.  How has David done with the transition into where Kelby was for you guys last year?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  Well, David Helton is very experienced and a very good football player.  He hasn't played much at Mike because Kelby has been there.  But the transition is much easier with a veteran.  We're just still trying to build depth at linebacker, and if you just went to the depth chart, losing Kelby was blow in itself, but I think when you lose a person like Kelby, the thing that I'm most pleased‑‑ I knew that would affect our defense, but David Helton has done a tremendous job of accepting a leadership role and stepping up and trying to lead not only the linebacking corps but that entire defensive front.

Q.  Obviously you've had some key injuries in the preseason.  How much more anxious or not are you about your team than you were back in July?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  Well, you know, anytime you lose all‑conference players or any number, one or two, and in this case two, it makes a coach anxious, but we're in this business and understand it, and so you close ranks, and once you close ranks you continue just trying to get better.
I think we have a good football team as we are right now.  I believe that we have people at tight end and we have people at linebacker and other positions in the defensive front that are going to play at a high level.  It's a long season, 12 games, and one thing you know, there are going to be other injuries even if it's week to week as to who's available, and so we're going to continue to work hard to grow our depth.  We're better athletically than we've been since we've been here, and hopefully that pays off when people have to step up.

Q.  I wanted to ask, last year Jamison led the league in catches, and he also‑‑ I saw a stat somewhere that he was targeted more than any other receiver.  Do you think with the development of Issac Blakeney and you were talking about Max McCaffrey really stepping up his game, that you maybe will have a little more balance in the passing game this year?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  Well, you know, the year before we were I think maybe one of two teams if not the only team in the country that had three receivers that caught over 66 balls, which was extremely balanced.  Jamison obviously was one of those, Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott.  The receiving corps was built a little differently last year, and I can promise you we're going to target Jamison, and everybody knows it, and that's okay.
But it is very important that we create balance.  I thought Braxton Deaver created some balance a year ago and had a heck of a year, and we've got to do the same thing not only at wide receiver, we've got to see that at tight end.  I think we've got some backs that can be effective receivers to create balance, and then you just mentioned, too, Issac, Max McCaffrey, Johnell Barnes and others.  That's the real test is to see, because again, we're going to lose players from time to time even if it's just for one ballgame, so you'd better have balance and have the ability for people to step up and make plays.

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