Q. Jaylen, obviously it’s a transition of quarterbacks. What has Jawon Pass been for you, what can you say coming out of the spring going into the fall, and what he can be for this team as the focus is on — it’s not Lamar, now let’s focus on Jawon and why he’s so special.
JAYLEN SMITH: Jawon is a natural born leader. It’s in him. Once he came, he knew what he was getting himself into. He knew he was going to play behind a guy like Lamar. He learned a lot, and you can see he’s learned the plays, he’s learned the progressions. His physicality is not a question to me, but what I like about him is his demeanor. He’s a guy who’s very cool, calm, and collected at all moments of time. It’s very hard to rattle a guy like that.
Q. Jaylen, to end the season last year you had a touchdown in each of the last four games. How does one nice episode in your life layer on top of the next, layer on top of the next? Where does the confidence then — how do you use that, I guess?
JAYLEN SMITH: It’s a game of life. Momentum is a game of life, whether it be playing football or whatever. I think that was good for me, building on that. I missed three games, so it was important for me to come back and finish strong, and I think that boosted me into the start of this 2018 season.
Q. Jaylen, just speak on the receiving corps, just what you can say about what you’ve done individually to improve and what you’re seeing out of the rest of the corps, as we know that this offense can score points.
JAYLEN SMITH: Well, I’ve tried to mold myself into more of a leader at the receiver position, and me, Dez and Seth, we get the spotlight, but it goes way beyond that, guys like Corey Reed, Devante Peete coming back, Emonee Spence who’s been under the radar for a minute, and all the freshmen coming in are all speed guys. I feel like we have the best group in the conference, and we work like it. So that’s the main thing to me. We put in the work to have the title of the best group in the conference, and it shows.
Q. Jaylen, you returned four offensive linemen and not just yourself but two other wide receivers. Talk about the comfort level for a new quarterback to have that many familiar faces blocking for him and that many familiar faces to throw to.
JAYLEN SMITH: Yeah, that was a focus for us, making Puma’s job a lot easier. As much as we can do to help him out in his first season as the starting quarterback is what we will do. The O-line will do the same. So I think that would be important for us. Puma has put in the work, he’s put in his time, he’s paid his dues, and it’s his time to shine.
Q. I want to ask you about the running game. Dae Williams and Colin Wilson, sort of that tandem there, sort of your thoughts about him?
JAYLEN SMITH: Yeah, Dae Williams, he came back from an ACL, and he proved a lot of people wrong, a lot of people thought he wasn’t going to be able to play last year, and he did numbers in the sporadic time. Same thing with Mojo. That’s Colin’s nickname, Mojo. He’s one of the best backs I’ve seen as far as vision goes, and even then we have a stable of running backs, Tobias — Pee-wee, that’s what we call him. Pee-wee, he’s come along. He’s moved from defense to offense, and we have Tre Smith, who’s been here for four years, and he’s coming along well. I feel like those four guys right there, they give us a stable back there of running backs, so we’ll be in good hands back there, as well.
Q. You talked about that injury last year to your wrist. How did you maintain that football focus while you were out?
JAYLEN SMITH: Just knowing I would be back. It’s easy to lose focus unless you have a plan at hand. My thing was I know I’ll be gone, but I won’t be gone long. That’s how I just stayed focused knowing that that wasn’t the end of the chapter.
Q. Do you guys feel a little under the radar? You lost Lamar, a lot of talk about him, but do you feel a little under the radar going into the season as a team?
JAYLEN SMITH: Yeah, we do. It’s just you lose that production, all that Lamar did. Even with the skills that Puma possesses, people are still going to have questions. They’re still going to have their doubts about what we can do without Lamar and how much we actually did without him. So yeah, it feels like we’re kind of sliding under the radar, but it’s up to us to do what we do, work hard, put it together and let the chips fall where they may.
Q. Jonathan, to speak on Brian VanGorder, new defensive coordinator, what you’ve taken away from him and what you’ve seen from this defense as you head into the fall.
JONATHAN GREENARD: Well, I knew instantly when Coach VanGorder came in he was about winning and making sure we impose our will on offenses. Definitely him having that mentality and guys like me who have been around different defensive coordinators, that’s what we want, to make sure we’re going to play with an aggressive guy who makes sure our presence is known in the game. With him being there and the players that we have, I think we’re going to be really successful.
Q. You talk about imposing your will, 22.5 tackles for loss in your career, been fairly steady in that category. As you think about 2018, is there something about you that wants to be more aggressive?
JONATHAN GREENARD: Definitely. The most thing I can say I want to be more aggressive in is finishing, staying aggressive every single play and not giving up and steadily progressing my motor, as in consistently making plays, chasing the ball down the backside, running to the football if the ball is thrown. So I feel like I’ve been working on that a lot with my conditioning, as well, and from spring I definitely tried to master that craft, as well.
Q. I wanted to ask you about some of those young linebackers, specifically Dorian Etheridge, Avery and Robert Hicks. Seems like those guys have a chance to step up this year.
JONATHAN GREENARD: Right, Robert Hicks came in in January and he’s been very good. He’s a very physical linebacker, wants to step up and definitely a run stopper. Dorian Etheridge, I knew he was going to be how he was as soon as I saw him last year once he came in with the ones and got some reps with us. And once I knew how he took on that leadership role to lead the defense at a young age already, I knew that he had something in him. And the knowledge he has for the game and the feel he has for a game, it’s kind of like you can’t really teach that. So when somebody comes like they’re all this, you just have to build up and just help him out in his ability to do stuff.
Q. Jonathan, under Coach Petrino the defense has been good, and I understand a new system now, but what was the takeaway from those performances? What has to change?
JONATHAN GREENARD: Yeah, it’s definitely not — we realized at the end of the year that we had to sit back and realize that that’s not what U of L football is about. U of L football has always been defensive-minded. We always had a dominant defense no matter what year or what the case may be, so to realize that we gave up that many points, that was very uncharacteristic, like you said. We just definitely took that as a chip on our shoulder towards the end of the year, and that’s why we finished a little bit stronger like we did, and we’ll just carry that over, and hopefully that lasts for the summer and into the fall, as well.
Q. What drives you? What has been your inspiration as a football player going all the way back to the day?
JONATHAN GREENARD: Oh, man, we inspiration, it’s two things, my mother, how hard she worked growing up. That’s the reason why I have this passion I have for the game or for anything, period, because anything she does, she does it with 110 percent and anything I do, 110 percent.
Another reason why Ryan Tumblin, one of my friends back home from high school, he’s autistic and epileptic, as well. He definitely made me feel — he made me be more humble and actually respect the game more because somebody who’s not able to do that and wishing they could be able to do that, just makes you realize how good you have it and make you not take that next snap for granted.
Q. You just spoke on some inspiration. How does Bobby Petrino inspire?
JONATHAN GREENARD: Because he has a winning tradition. Anybody who knows about Petrino knows where he comes from, what he’s about. He’s definitely a winning guy. He knows what — he wants the best for you. The main thing with Coach Petrino, he just wants us just to hone in on technique because technique is going to win you the games, when the other guys who have more talent than you, they just don’t have the technique. If you have the technique, you’re going to have — little things like hand placement as a defensive lineman, when you’re honing in on your technique and stuff like that, he emphasizes that on stuff like that, so that way you can be able to have yourself ahead of a guy who might be more athletic than you, who might be stronger or faster or whatever the case may be, so you can’t beat technique.
Q. What’s to like to hear a compliment from one of your student athletes like that?
BOBBY PETRINO: It’s nice. It’s nice. I enjoy coaching football. I enjoy the relationship that I get with our players. This is a team that I really like and respect and one that has really stuck together and grown together. I think everyone on our team now is somebody that we recruited to come here, and certainly Jaylen and Jonathan have done a great job of leadership and production. Both of them are excellent students, and they do a great job not only leading on the field but leading off the field.
Q. You heard positive words about you; what can you say about these two gentlemen and why you decided to bring them to represent the team?
BOBBY PETRINO: Well, because they both have really put in the work that you need to be a great player. Jaylen came to us as a true freshman, started that year as a true freshman. Because he was such a great learner, he learned the offense. God gave him a lot of ability. He’s big and physical and fast. But he does a great job representing what we want at the University of Louisville, and it’s fun to hear him talk about his teammates and bring up Tre Smith and things like that. So he does a great job.
Jonathan is a guy that came in and redshirted for us his first year, spent the time in the weight room developing his body and getting bigger. He’s also an excellent student of the game, much like Jaylen. He really understands the game. He knows how to cheat a little bit, so he’ll recognize certain things offenses are doing or the guy that he’s going over is doing, and he just can cheat and make the play. That’s why you have the stats — I couldn’t exactly hear the stat you said about negative plays, but that’s one of the reasons that allows him to create negative plays is because he really understands the game and knows what’s coming, and sometimes you come out of your assignment to make a play. And as long as he makes the play, I’m good with it. The minute he doesn’t make the play, I might get on him just a little bit.
Q. Your teams have moved the ball at every level of coaching, every place you’ve been, and yet I don’t think we’ve ever seen the yards and points that we saw during the last couple of seasons. Walk us through what’s your vision of the post-Lamar Jackson era? What’s this offense going to look like this year?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I mean, I expect us to be better. I expect us to be more balanced, the ability to get more guys involved, particularly in the running game. I really like our receiving corps coming back. I really think it’s one of the strongest corps coming back. I forgot Jaylen missed three games and still had that many catches and that many touchdowns, and Dez is a guy that can really go get the ball and adjust to the ball. Seth is a big, physical guy that really runs well after the catch.
And like Jaylen said, we have some really good young speed guys that will be able to come in and help us create plays and maybe give us a little different flavor in the run after the catch, and guys that can create more after the catch. And then I think that we’ll do well at quarterback. Puma is a really good player that’s really been an inspiration to all of us because at the quarterback position it’s one of transfer throughout the country. He’s a very highly recruited young guy with high expectations and came in and sat and supported Lamar at everything that he did. He never once came into my office with any talk about transferring, and I really respect that, and I know he has the respect of all of his teammates on how he’s performed every time that he’s went out on the field.
We’ve got a great group of tight ends. I think that’s maybe the unknown because we’ve got three really good tight ends that we can do different things with personnel groupings and a much more experienced offensive line. You might not get the chunks out of one guy like we have the last couple years, but overall they’ve all got to make up for it and be more productive than we’ve been.
Q. Running backs?
BOBBY PETRINO: Running backs are a good group. Tre Smith had a great spring. He really showed his ability to run between the tackles and get yards after contact and protect the quarterback. A lot of times young running backs don’t play because you don’t trust them to protect the quarterback. But we trust him now to do that.
And then Dae Williams and Colin Wilson are two big physical guys, and Colin has some special skills as far as his movement in and out of holes. Tobias Little is a guy that played fullback for us last year, and then we started giving him the football, and he’s a 245-pound guy that can play tailback and catch the ball out of the backfield.
I think overall it’s a really good group. What we need to find out is who wants to separate from the pack, who wants to become the featured back, and you do that by hard work and practice.
Q. You mentioned the quarterback as a position of transfer. Do you have a sense of why that is or how it’s gotten that way?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I think it’s just been that way for a long time. The way I look at it is here’s a guy that was probably their best player in high school, probably has been playing every game since he was six years old, and been one of the best players out on the field, and now you come in and you sit and you take him away. You play six, seven, eight wide receivers, four or five defensive ends/ outside linebackers, but you play one quarterback. That’s how it’s always been. Everyone wants one starter and let him play.
So I think that the guy behind him gets impatient and wants to go find a place where he can be the guy.
Q. I wanted to ask you your early impressions of Jawon Pass as a leader, how he’s embraced that role of taking over for Lamar Jackson.
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I think what Jaylen said is really true. He’s a natural leader. When he stepped on campus, you could see that. One of the things I like so much about Puma was — like when I would go coach Lamar, go to him and coach him after a play and run down the field, I would turn around and run into Jawon. He would follow me so he could hear what I was saying to him. He’s very, very competitive, but he is a little bit low keyed. He’s like — keep his emotions in check. We’re working on that, working on getting him to walk just a little bit faster, get to the line of scrimmage just a little bit faster and get guys going a little bit more. But I do know this, I do know every player on our team respects him and is looking forward to playing with him.
Q. What are your feelings about the new redshirt rule, and how will you use that at Louisville?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I mean, I like the rule. I think it’s a good rule. I’m getting old, so I remember way back when we changed the schedule from 11 games to 12 games. There was supposed to be a piece of pie out there for the head coaches, that we’ll change it to 12 games and give everyone five years of eligibility, which never did happen, so that’s really what I was always liking. But I think it’s a good deal. What I’m going to try to do is try to find a list of freshmen that I really think can play early and help us and maybe play the entire season and utilize them in the first four games of the year and see where they’re at and see if they can continue to improve and help us and make a decision. Then I think we’ll have another group of guys that you say, hey, he’s not ready right now, either it’s physically or mentally or hasn’t adjusted to the speed. Let him continue to practice.
We work our redshirts and guys that don’t play a lot in the game on Sunday nights, let them continue to work on that and then utilize them in the last four games of the year and get them experience and help us in the bowl game. So that’s kind of the plan going in. And then we’re going to have to be able to improvise and adjust.
Q. We had a head coach in the room earlier today that said progress in this league is not easy. You’re heading into your ninth year, 66-35 as an ACC head coach. How has the progress been for you in this league?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I think that it’s a very, very competitive league. Some of those wins that you’re talking about we were back in either Conference USA or the Big East, and those conferences you maybe had two, sometimes three games a year where you felt like when you stepped on the field you were better than the other team. It’s not that way in our conference. Everybody has really good players. Everybody are very well-coached. So you have to be able to do it week in and week out in your preparation and your performance on the field. That’s what makes it so difficult.
I feel like we’ve knocked on the door a few times. I want to see us get over the hump and get to that championship game here.
Q. One thing that I don’t think we spoke about as you were going through the positions, special teams, it seems like on paper it should be pretty good this season.
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I feel great about our special teams. We’ve got a very, very good kicker back that had great year for us last year, and we have our punter back, both of them returning, both had really good years. A returning long snapper that snapped for us last year as a true freshman. So our specialists should be really good.
I like our cover teams because I feel like we’re a faster team than we were, and usually when you’re a faster team, you cover punts and kickoffs much better. But we’ve got to be able to do a better job on our punt return team and creating 1st downs or changing the field with our punt return team.
Q. You talked about having a lot of young guys who could come in and be very influential and could bring a lot of flavor to the team. What has been a key emphasis of their development?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, the biggest thing and the reason you see freshmen playing now is because they’re on campus now for two months. We had most of them that were here in June. We do have eight guys that joined us in January. Some of them were freshmen that graduated early. Some were junior college transfers. But they’re able to get around the players and get to know each other and become comfortable that, hey, I’m as good as these guys.
But the biggest challenge is understanding the playbook, really knowing what we’re trying to do on offense and defense, and then understanding the other side of the ball, because besides the playbook that you have to learn for us to do, the other team is doing more, too, more formations, more motions, more schemes. So you have to be able to know a lot more about the total game of football, and that always challenges some guys. And then you add to it that everybody you’re practicing against and everyone you’re playing against was the best player at their high school, too. So the game is faster. So some guys, it doesn’t bother. They adjust to the speed of the game and they’re ready to go right now. Some guys it takes a little bit of time to get used to how fast the game really is.
Q. I know it’s still early, but you do have Alabama week 1. Are the guys extra excited, extra motivated? What’s their preparation been like?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I think it certainly is a big game for us, and obviously Alabama being the national champions and the tradition that they have, I see it as a great challenge. You know, and I don’t think that our guys are extra excited about it, but I think it motivated them throughout the winter, throughout spring ball, throughout the summer workouts to work extremely hard. But the number one thing we have to do is believe that we can go down there and beat them so that when you truly believe in something, then you go out and play your best, play to your best of your ability, and that’s what’s important for us. If there’s any disbelief at all, usually you underachieve, and that’s the main thing we can’t do. We need to go play our best game to give us an opportunity to win.
Q. You mentioned getting over the hump and your desire to get over the hump. What does it take for your team personally to reach that level, and particularly to supplant the team has represented the Atlantic in the championship the last three years?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, you just probably said it. You have to beat Clemson. There’s no question about that. And obviously Florida State has been a really good team in our division. We’ve competed with Clemson three out of the four years. We were right there to win the game in the last play and weren’t able to get it done. Last year they got the best of us. That’s one of the things you have to do.
But then you have to be consistent throughout the year. You can’t have a bad game. So our consistency and our performance has to improve so that you continue to get that opportunity to win the championship.
Q. With Alabama there in the opening weekend, how do you prepare for them knowing their quarterback situation where both Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa are in the mix?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, you have to prepare for both of them. I think that’s the thing we weren’t able to find out in spring ball was who the starter is going to be because he had a broken thumb and didn’t practice in spring ball. Both of them are great player. Hurts has got an unbelievable record. And then the other guy came in in the National Championship game in the second half and showed how accurate of a passer he is and was able to execute their offense at a very, very high level. You have to be able to prepare for both of them.
We’ve been working on it, watching video, breaking things down since January. So it’s something that we have some time to do, but one guy is a great big physical runner that can also throw the ball, and the other guy is a really accurate passer.