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December 29, 2017

Mel Tucker

Pasadena, California

Q. Tell us about J.R. Reed, how a guy goes from transfer to Tulsa to playing immediately and being impactful.
MEL TUCKER: First of all, J.R. is a very good athlete. He's one of our fastest players. He's got a good pedigree. His dad is Jake Reed and played in the NFL for a number of years. His uncle is Dale Carter who played in the NFL for a number of years.

We knew that he would be a strong contributor for us just because of his height, weight, speed and his love for the game. He's got a high football IQ and he really studies a lot. He takes good notes. He's very, very coachable.

So we're excited to be able to get him on the field and he's had good production for us all season.

Q. Kirby did say that y'all did get a little bit lucky with jr. Did he turn out to be a little bit more high ceiling than what you all thought?
MEL TUCKER: Well, you never know until the players hit the field, actually, and you put the pads on and how they are going to adjust. He adjusted. He adjusted well. And so you're just never quite sure how it's going to turn out but it's turned out well for us.

Q. Got in on the tail end of a question, talking about reports of Mayfield that he's been sick and you don't expect that he's going to miss the game.
MEL TUCKER: Yeah, I don't (laughing) he may be under the weather. Really, in a game like, this you expect him to be at his best. We want him to be at his best. That's part of the challenge and the competition factor, and this is what it's all about.

So we'll see, but that's not part of our thinking is that he's going to be anything less than what we've seen.

Q. Jonathan Ledbetter has come a long way over the past year. Can you talk about his maturity off the field?
MEL TUCKER: Yeah, Led has -- you guys got a chance to talk to him. He's a really fun guy to be around. He's got a magnetic type of personality and he's got really good leadership qualities, and I think once he adjusted to us as a new staff, as we began to build trust, and again, that shared responsibility and his dedication in the weight room, you know, he's really worked hard to make himself a better player, and he's also -- I think he's stepped up from a leadership role for us, which is important.

When you have leadership coming from the players and not just from the coaches, I think that's when you can really make some strides, and he has done that. And I think his best football is still ahead of him.

Q. Did you worry about a guy like that? Clearly he's a smart kid and knows how to play football but off the field had some issues.
MEL TUCKER: No, I mean, with Led, you know, we believe in him. I believe in him. Always have and always will. And so it's our job as coaches is to help to develop players on and off the field and we have a program in place to do that. I think he's benefitted from that.

Q. What was the process like for you, that opportunity, and kind of -- do you think you'll have similar opportunities in the future?
MEL TUCKER: Yeah, I thought it was a solid process and it was timely, which was important because we're in the midst of recruiting. It's really, it seems like -- it seems like years ago, because I'm so focused on what we're doing now and that's where my focus is going to be. I'm really not thinking about anything else at this point other than this game.

Q. With the number of starters you have back, there's a lot of expectations that they will be really good. What did you have to do? What was key to maximizing or getting close to maximizing?
MEL TUCKER: Just have to keep continue to develop the guys, the players. I think we have a tremendous strength and conditioning staff headed up by Scott Sinclair, so our off-season program was really strong. I think our players, you know, just gained strength and explosiveness in the weight room. They compete in the weight room, and I think that's showed up. When we hit spring ball, we had a bigger, stronger, faster team, leaner team. Guys just really understood how we needed to work, and even though you have a lot of guys coming back, that doesn't mean you're going to be good. We made sure that we made that clear to those guys during our spring. Actually during our spring, we started kind of slow defensively and you know, we have some -- we have some conversations about that and our players responded, and I thought we finished strong. We carried that over into the summer and then into fall camp.

Q. John mentioned he's leaning towards coming back. What would it mean, probably the most veteran group on the field next year?
MEL TUCKER: Yeah, it's always great when you have players that want to be a part of your program. You know, he is a good player. Like I said before, I think he's got his best football still ahead of him. He's a joy to work with. Any time you have players -- we saw it a year ago with Sony and Chubb and Zoe and some of those guys; that when you have guys that want to be a part of your program, I think that's just a tribute to Coach Smart and how he's built things.

Players understand that we have their best interests at heart and we are going to do everything we can to help them develop on and off the field. I think they feel like they benefit from being in our program.

Q. How has Stetson been?
MEL TUCKER: Stetson Bennett is a beast, man. Stetson Bennett -- Stetson Bennett puts a lot of pressure on our defense, because he is extremely quick, he's fast and he can throw. He can throw in the pocket and he can throw on the run, and he's very, very competitive.

And so he does a great job of giving us a look, and it challenges our players. So I'm glad we have him.

Q. The year you spent at Alabama, what stood out to you about the way that Kirby and Nick Saban worked together?
MEL TUCKER: Well, you know, I think it takes -- I've known Coach Saban a really long time, and you know, he's a really good person. He looks to work with good people and so when you see Kirby, really good person, high character; and Nick Saban, this tremendous guy, loyal and cares about his coaches and his players, and guys -- and then you have two guys that love football, how can you go wrong with that combination of guys working together?

That's what I saw when I was at Alabama. You know, Nick started it and Kirby can finish it.

Q. With what Mayfield is going to do with up-tempo and RPOs, what is the closest you've seen?
MEL TUCKER: It seems like everyone is in the RPO business and almost everybody we play, they want to go fast and have some element of fast ball plays, no-huddle, try to run as many plays as you can and spread you out.

We've seen, it's really, you see that almost every week, and it's rare that you see a team that's not like that. But again, these guys are unique and they are different because I think that their quarterback is an elite player, and he's an elite competitor. And he's got really, really good players around him with great coaching.

So when you have that combination, they are just hard to stop. You see what they have done to everybody they play; they score a lot of points and they very explosive. You know, kind of what you see is what you get. It's a huge challenge for us defensively.

Q. So because of all that, does managing setbacks become more significant, given their play-making ability?
MEL TUCKER: Yeah, we talk to our players about playing the next play. You know, it's a cycle of a snap. You get the call, you get lined up, you get your pre-snap keys. When the ball is snapped, you play the play and then the result is either you won the down or you lost a down.

Good or bad, you learn from that play, and then you move on to the next play. And so they are going to make some plays. They are a great offense and so they are going to make some plays. We have to continue to play the next play. We have to do a great job with our adjustments, understand what happened and get it fixed right away and then just continue to play.

And there's always momentum swings in games. Our guys have done a good job all year, all season, being poised and patient and just very focused, you know, just to keep chomping.

Q. How have you seen Kirby put his own spin on Nick's process? It's obviously a similar archetype but has to be some of his own personality.
MEL TUCKER: It's a similar platform because it works, but Kirby has his own personality and I think that that really makes it unique and makes it different because the team really responds to the head coach. Kirby is a very, very high-energy, very intense -- he loves football. He's always trying to find a way to make it better for the players. Always trying to find a way to find a competitive advantage. Just finding a way to get better each and every day in any meeting, any drill. He's just a relentless effort and mentality of never being satisfied and always trying to get better and pushing everyone to get better and doing it within his own personality.

So you know, obviously like I said, the architecture and the platform is very similar. But Kirby is his own man and he's put a unique spin on it.

Q. One of your players said Kirby came in and it was family, family, family; was that part of the platform?
MEL TUCKER: We talk about family and spare responsibility with players and coaches. I think that's important in this day and age with players. You want to make sure that you want to have buy-in with your guys, and the way to do that is to build trust and earn the trust of your players each and every day by having integrity in doing what you say you're going to do, treating them with respect and always finding ways to help them on and off the field. That's what you do in a family. You try to take care of each other and be unselfish and make sure we do things together and understand -- if you really want to accomplish something big, you have to buy into being part of something that is bigger than yourself, which is our team, our players have bought into that, and Kirby has preached that, the family, and buying into the team concept from day one.

Q. From the football side, how valuable was the experience for games like Juwan, even Tae Crowder.
MEL TUCKER: Yeah, the great thing I think about our program is that we coach all the players. We coach them all. We do a lot. We take a lot of reps. We do a lot of two-spot drills and so we try to get as many guys ready to play as possible, and so it's a next-man-up mentality. We have confidence in all of our players that they can go in the game, execute the game plan and play to the standard that we have for them.

And so those guys that you mentioned, have gotten experience in games and have done a good job when they have been in there, and we trust them and feel good when they step on the field being able to get the job done.

Q. You have two National Championship rings; is that right?
MEL TUCKER: I do. (Laughter).

Q. Where do you keep them? And how different is this now, semifinals, finals?
MEL TUCKER: Yeah, it's different. Where do I keep them? I don't wear them. They are at my home in my bedroom, kind of put away. You know, you're only good as your next game. So it's an accomplishment, but you know, okay. So what, now what? You've just got to keep going.

Q. Have you sized everybody for rings yet?
MEL TUCKER: I'm not in the ring business. You're going to have to ask somebody else about that. I'm trying to get -- I'm focused on getting guys lined up and getting them pointed that way and getting them going.

Q. Your defense last year was not very good statistically and this year has been a complete turnaround. Is it something different with the scheme, mechanics? What happened last year to this year? The turnaround, it's almost a 100-point jump if you look at the standings.
MEL TUCKER: Yeah, that's good to hear because you get what you emphasize. Always at the end of the season, you do quality control and you evaluate where you're strong and where you're weak, and our red zone was a glaring weakness for us. So we studied it, we studied other people that have done a good job in the red zone, so we have done some things schematically.

We also have done some things probably fundamentally and execution-wise better. We really -- and we've taken more reps. Made sure in the spring and fall camp that we just took more turns down in practice and so I think that's paid off. When we go into the red zone and practice, we're constantly reminding ourselves, reminding the players where we ranked the year before.

I think we all just felt, you know, like we needed to step up there, players and coaches.

Q. Has Deandre Baker graded out as well internally?
MEL TUCKER: Yeah, Bake does a good job. He does a good job playing the ball down the field. He's a long guy that competes. He's good in press. He's a high-percentage tackler. I really like that he has poise over his back to the ball, which is a good trait to have as a defensive back. Because a lot of times you're going to be in a defeated position, but still, if you're confident and you have poise, you can still find a way to make the play. I think he does a good job of doing that down the field.

Q. From what you've seen on film, what do you anticipate translating well for Baker Mayfield to the NFL?
MEL TUCKER: I mean, I just think that, you know, everything that he does -- I don't think that there's anything that he does that won't translate. You know, I don't think -- I don't see really any weakness in his game. I don't see any area where that I think that he will struggle. You know, just from what I can see on tape.

So I think he has all the tools and like I said, his competitive toughness, his CT score is off the chart. I think his future is very bright.

Q. He's six-foot tall, is that going to be an issue?
MEL TUCKER: I don't think so. There's other six-foot quarterbacks that have success, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, a couple guys. It's about the individual player.

Q. What's changed about defending guys that can run like that these past couple years?
MEL TUCKER: You just really have to come to a realization that this guy, theirs is a dual-threat guy, and you've got to really emphasize that with your players and you show it to them.

When you show it to them: He is killing people by doing this and show people the plays, the different ways of stepping up, getting outside the pocket, scrambling, whatever it is. You show it to them and you try to simulate that in practice, and make sure the players understand that, you know, this is a key component of this game that we have to stop him and that we have to defend. Like I say, I don't know if you can stop him but you can only hope to contain him. Great player.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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