Aug. 28, 2007
Q. Comment on what it’s like preparing for a defense like this. They blitz on 75 percent of the snaps, how unique is that to any other opponent that you have to deal with over the course of the season?
Travis Thomas: You have to be conscious of your protections and your responsibility on every play knowing that they could throw something at you at any time, and we’re expecting that. You know, one thing you have to do is just make sure you’re on key and everyone is in tune and on the same page.
Q. John, does that limit like maybe what you can do in the passing game, do you guys have to max protect a little bit more when you’re facing a defense like this?
John Carlson: You know, it varies based on the protection call and on the route. You know, in some ways, I feel that playing a team like this that we know is going to blitz a lot, it makes you more aware of it. You know it’s coming. So I guess playing a team that doesn’t blitz as much, sometimes you might be surprised.
But against a team like this, we know they are going to blitz a lot. It just makes you more conscious and more aware of it. As far as my role on the offense, it changes on every play.
Q. You know it’s coming, but is there kind of that intimidation factor because it is so aggressive and it is so up tempo and coming at you?
Travis Thomas: Right, we’re not intimidated at all. At least I don’t feel intimidated. You know, our job, whether it’s a lineman or a running back or a tight end, our job is to go up there and protect the quarterback, and we are going to do that by any means necessary.
Q. And do you feel like when they do blitz, it’s an opportunity for you to turn the tables on them a little bit?
John Carlson: Yeah, I mean, when they blitz, they are taking a chance and they are going to have some good plays. They are going to blow some plays on the backfield, but it also provides us with an opportunity to maybe break a big route or a long route or connect on a long pass. So there are two sides to that coin, and we just need to focus on our protections and making plays.
Q. Obviously it’s important to develop chemistry on offense with whoever is playing calls, taking the snaps, Coach Weis said you would almost have to be brain dead at this point from practice; what signs do you look for to know that the chemistry is developing throughout the entire offense or for whoever that guy is going to be on Saturday; what signs have you looked for in the past couple weeks?
John Carlson: Travis is so kind as to let me take this question first. I think as an offense, it’s hard to pinpoint certain attributes or certain occurrences that prove that there’s chemistry. But it’s something that you feel in the huddle. It’s something that that as an offensive line, picking up a tough blitz or as receivers, seeing a hot route or seeing a site adjust, it’s just when everything clicks. I think that’s when you know that the chemistry is there.
Travis Thomas: I think along with what John said, it’s just a feeling you get. You know, it’s something you practice for and you gradually gain as time goes on. You know, it’s just where you get to the point where you’re out there reacting and you don’t really have to think as much and you feel like all cylinders are clicking at the same point. That’s something that we worked for every day.
You know, we’re approaching the first game of the year, so we’re still working on fundamentals and techniques and working on our individual things that we need to do to make each and every one of us better and better as a team. We still have work to be done, but there are things that we’re doing well right now.
Q. Travis, a lot of talk already and you’ve already answered questions about it, the aggressive style of the Georgia Tech team and the way they like to blitz. Having spent a year playing defense yourself, does that give you any insight to help yourself and the offense react to certain situations? Do you see things across the line now that you didn’t see before you played on defense?
Travis Thomas: Yeah, I think so a little bit. As far as being a running back and maybe picking up the linebacker, you know, I kind of know if they are blitzing in the gap what kind of technique they want to use. It’s one or two things; it will be a bull rush or it will be a dance guy to make you swing and try to miss. There’s only a certain amount of things that they can do. It’s about getting yourself in the right position and being able to counter that and uphold your protection.
Q. Coach Weis said today that everybody has to take more responsibility with the younger quarterback, you can’t just expect a quarterback to make all of the reads and make all of the plays. In the huddle, do you guys, say, “Hey, I saw this” or “this is going to happen”; how will you help whoever is in there on Saturday?
Travis Thomas: I just think communication is key for my part of the game, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams and also communication with the coaches when you come out to the sideline and you let them know that you see things out there that they may not be able to see from the sideline. It allows you to put yourself in the position and laws them to be in the position to make the correct calls and make the changes necessary for you to be successful.
Q. Will you feel comfortable saying something if you see something in a previous play or see something from that nature?
John Carlson: Yeah, I’ll feel comfortable doing that. But I feel like more than anything we have John Sullivan as a leader in the offensive line. He makes a lot of calls and he’s great at picking up things that the defense is doing and bringing that to the sideline and sharing that information with the coaches.
So I feel like we’ve got John on the offensive line and Travis in the backfield, two key components to picking up blitzes and really just having a handle on the defense.
Q. Experience wise, this is a relatively young team, especially compared to last year. Coach Weis, again and again through the preseason, has complimented the leadership of the veterans in particular, the leadership committee and the captains. Can you each talk about how you’ve approached the spring and fall in terms of what you needed to do from a leadership perspective?
Travis Thomas: Me personally, I’ve along the way kind of been the guy to be more so of a leader by example and I’ve seen myself grow more as a vocal leader now. I try to do things the right way and hopefully everyone picks up on that and tries to do the same, as well.
But you know, when you see a guy who may be lagging along and really doesn’t have clue as to how things are working right now, it kind of feels like it’s my responsibility to bring him along and get him up to speed as a leader.
John Carlson: I agree with Travis in that in years past, I felt that my role has been more centered around being a leader by example and in the spring, in the summer, just throughout camp and fall, I feel that I needed to be more vocal at times. That doesn’t mean I’m out there yelling and screaming. But being a fifth year senior and being around so many young guys, Travis and Sully and some of the older guys, we have all kind of taken on that role as being more vocal and just trying to bring the young guys along.
Q. Has the rushing attack, does it have a new face now that the personnel has changed so much with you and James Aldridge?
Travis Thomas: I think so. I think everyone knows we want to run the ball. Not only do we want to run it, we want to run it hard. That doesn’t mean that we are not going to be diverse. That doesn’t mean that we are going to be one dimensional. It just means we have different styles of running backs right now; five, and that means that you can do a lot of different things.
I think it’s a really good thing that we have that diversity in the backfield right now.
Q. You have obviously the most experience at running back. How much responsibility, personal responsibility do you feel just for the rushing game that you feel you need to pick up the yards to get the team in a position to win?
Travis Thomas: I take a lot of responsibility for that. When my number is called to run the ball, I feel like I have to run the ball well. That’s what I’m here to do now is run the ball and do the things a running back is called to do, whether it’s catch or block or help a lineman out on protection or whatever is necessary being a running back, that’s what I feel responsible doing.
Q. Staying with that, I know you have confidence with whoever the quarterback is, but at the same time, wanting to establish a very good running game, talk about how important that is for you guys to be successful to get things going with the running game overall.
Travis Thomas: I think it’s very important. If you can run the ball well, it kind of sets the tone for the game. If you’re out there smacking the team in the mouth, getting the lines, the push, and you’re getting four or five yards a pop, that just builds confidence and gets you on a roll and things are going good for you.
And it also allows you to set up a passing game. When the running goes well, hopefully they will load up the box and you’ll be able to get some nice shots in there. I think it goes hand in hand, and the more you can run the ball, the more you can control the clock.
Q. You talked about the five running backs; how difficult is that for you, to spare or if easy to compare knowing how much you’ll be out on the field?
Travis Thomas: All I’m doing is going out there and doing the best I can with whatever they ask me to do. I try to work on the things that I need to do personally to get better fundamentals and technique wise, whether it’s running and catching a block.
Like I said before, whatever I’m called out there to do, that’s what I’m going to do. With the diversity that we have, it allows me to not only do certain things maybe necessarily a little bit better than some of the backs, but it allows me to get a rest in, and, you know, stay fresh, which is something not a lot of teams can do because they may not necessarily have the depth at this position.
Q. Do you have an idea of what the rotation is going to be like on Saturday, how much you might be out there?
Travis Thomas: I’m not necessarily sure how the rotation is going to go. I’ll leave that up to the coaches. I’m not calling the shots. Whenever I’m out there, I’m just going to do the things necessary that I need to do.
Q. This is either for John or Travis. Following up on that, is it tougher to build that chemistry because there’s two quarterbacks taking reps even this week; and there was three going into last week, even though you guys do you know who the starter is?
John Carlson: For me I feel like on every play I have a job to do and I have a responsibility, and that’s got to be my focus on every play. I’m not concerned with who is taking the snap. I’m not concerned with who the tackle is next to me. I have a job to do. It’s just like everyone else on the field. So that’s how I approach every play.
Q. Also with the fact that you guys have the leadership role, does that make it easier, or does repping two quarterbacks this late before a game, could that possibly be detrimental to a team?
Travis Thomas: I don’t know if it would be detrimental to a team. I think it’s all based on, you know, how the coaching staff feels about the personnel they have, you know, what they are trying to do as far as game plan and scheme. You know, just how well those quarterbacks are; how good are they and how do you plan to use them. So as far as being harmful, I don’t think that may be necessarily the case.
Q. Talk about just starting out, the opening game and being in Notre Dame Stadium again, it’s been so long but the excitement of an opening day, what are you looking forward to and could you take us there, what’s going to happen Saturday?
Travis Thomas: I’ll just be listening to my music and hope that the guys get over their jitters before the game. I think everyone is excited right now, hopefully. I’m just looking forward to the first hit.
Q. Does it make it even more important this year to not take anything for granted and to go out every game and just leave it out there?
Travis Thomas: Absolutely. I think you have to go out there and play every play like it’s your last because football is such a physical sport and you never know what play is going to be your last. I’m just enjoying every moment out here.
Q. How tough was last year’s game? This isn’t a patsy opener you have. Just talk about Georgia Tech and you probably know they are going to come at you like they did last year.
John Carlson: We know defensively they are going very aggressive. They are going to come after us. They know we’re inexperienced, but I’m sure they have young players playing, as well.
It’s exciting to finally be at this point to be at game week because we’ve been hitting each other for — this is the fourth week now, and I want to play against someone else. I’m just excited to have an opportunity to set foot on that field on Saturday.
Q. Do you remember the atmosphere last year, how crazy it was in Atlanta and how hyped up it was there?
John Carlson: It was extremely loud, more so than I expected. But that makes it exciting. When you feel like the whole stadium is against you, it gets the adrenaline flowing, and it’s fun; that’s why we play the game because of playing in hostile environments like that.
Q. As captains, why was it important to kind of bring Sully into the mix and be kind of on the same foot as the two of you?
Travis Thomas: I think it was important because he deserves it. I mean, the guy goes out there and he’s making calls like the quarterback. He’s been the starter for the past, what, three, four years? I mean, he does his job well and without him, I feel like we’re lacking something. We wouldn’t be the same team that we are. But I think it’s just a great way to honor him and recognize the things that he’s done for us.
Q. John, what’s your perspective on that?
John Carlson: He’s proven that this team would be lacking without his knowledge of the game, without his leadership, without his intensity and his tenacity. He’s earned it and then some. He belongs out there with us as a captain.
Q. The nature of this team, is that also part of the importance that you have a new quarterback and he’s kind of right there with him on every single play talking to him; is that also part of the big benefit?
John Carlson: Yeah, he’s able to take a lot of pressure off the quarterback because he’s so knowledgeable of pass protections and of run blocking. He knows what every lineman has to do on every play, and he makes calls on every play. So what he brings is so valuable that he takes a lot of pressure off that quarterback and he deserves to be a captain.
Q. Both of you guys came in with him, and Charlie talked about how (Sullivan’s) probably in the best shape he’s ever been since you’ve been at Notre Dame. How have you seen that manifest itself? Where does it show up in practice, that new level of conditioning that he’s found?
Travis Thomas: I mean, I really don’t see him getting winded. There may be times where we’re in an 18 minute practice and he’s out there for 12 of those 18 minutes straight and he’s still going strong. That’s hard to do for a lineman. That’s hard to do for anyone. And just throughout the summer conditioning when we’re doing our 110 test, he made every one and that may be something that he struggled with in the past. I can just see the progression and the hunger that he has right now.
Q. For both you guys, Charlie talked about this week using the energy on campus to kind of get you guys ready and to get you excited. The kids are back, classes have started; kind of talk about what it’s like and the anticipation that kind of builds throughout the week, what it’s like and how fun it can be.
Travis Thomas: You know, living off campus right now, I’m not really experiencing it much like I have in the past, which is a good thing. It can get on your nerves a little bit, a lot of people running around. It’s crazy; it’s a madhouse up here. I think it’s a good thing. It gets you hyped up for the game. Everyone is looking forward to it. It’s the first week of school, but at the same time you can’t allow that to get you too emotional to where you can’t go out there and perform the way you’re supposed to.
John Carlson: I think this week is important for the younger players especially, because they have never experienced this before. With all of the students being on campus and the pep rally later in the week and just all of the people that will be on campus besides the students, it creates a lot of energy and excitement. And I can think back to my freshman year, the first game weekend I went through, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
So it will be exciting, and hopefully like Travis said earlier, the younger guys can get those first game jitters out of the way early and just play football.
Q. Practice can be a grind and you walk around campus, people playing music and throwing balls around. Is it distracting but it’s cool, too?
Travis Thomas: It’s special to me because there’s no other place like Notre Dame. You may see people on the quad but you may not see people on the quad wearing Leprechaun hats playing football day in, day out every day of the week, in season and out of the week. I mean, it’s ridiculous. People really have a love for the game here and they love football. Being here at this university, as prestigious as it is, I mean, I just feel special being here.
John Carlson: We have a tremendous amount of support. We receive a tremendous amount of support from the students and the faculty and everyone on campus. That’s something that I guess I’ve learned to appreciate more over the years. Being that this is my last year, I’m trying to take everything in and enjoy it, and even enjoy the tough days and the long days.
Like last night I was walking out to practice and I heard the marching band practice. It’s an atmosphere unlike any other, and I’m excited for the weekend and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Q. Can you guys talk about, Coach Weis said he had to bite his tongue a lot this year because of the younger players, do you notice a difference in his attitude at practice, and if so, how is he different with the players?
John Carlson: I feel like he’s been very patient with us. And I also feel that he’s allowed some of the older guys to step in with players in their position group. For example, he allows me to step in with the other tight ends and maybe give them a pointer or get after them a little bit when I feel like they are not doing their job. That doesn’t mean he’s not coaching. But he’s been real patient.
Travis Thomas: I mean, it goes the same. I think also what I’m seeing now, more so maybe in meetings, is that his staff is really doing a great deal of coaching more so as far as leading the meetings right now. Not to say he’s not coaching, but I think he’s given more freedom to us as players, us as captains, and the rest of his coaches to really good out there and do a little bit extra.
Q. Not to use the rebuilding word and all that, but was there any worry among the leaders that his attitude might be perceived by some as a different expectation?
Travis Thomas: Not at all. We’re not expecting for this to be a rebuilding year. One thing that we have is that tradition never graduates and Notre Dame tradition is still here. We still have leadership with the nine fifth year guys came back, and the juniors and seniors know how things go around here. The coaches and us as fifth years are not taking the attitude that this is the year to rebuild. We came back for a purpose. We came back to win, and that’s what we’re working for.
Q. Are you on kickoff return?
Travis Thomas: Yes.
Q. What do you think of moving the kickoff back five yards? Do you like that idea?
Travis Thomas: I think it gives you maybe a little bit more time. And I say a little because those guys are flying down, it gives you a little more time to maybe get in a position to make a better block, but I don’t think it’s going to be that much more of a difference. It may give you an opportunity to have more returns because not as many balls will be kicked for touchbacks.
So I think it’s good for us to give us an opportunity to have more returns.
Q. Does it change the team strategy? Do you do anything differently because of it?
Travis Thomas: No, I just think a lot of the balls will be shorter and not as many will be in the end zone. I think that’s the biggest difference from kicking off in the third year right now.
Q. Some people may question that that’s a play that could have a high number of high speed collisions. Does that go through your mind at all? Do you worry that the more kickoff returns could mean more injuries?
Travis Thomas: No. I think any time you’re out there, you can get hurt. When you go out there and think about trying not to get hurt, that’s when you get hurt. Football is a game played at high speed and high intensity, and guys are flying around and banging on every play. That’s what we love to do; and knowing out there that we can be hurt. So I don’t think that it’s more of a risk to get injured. Just being out there is a risk in itself.
Q. On kickoff return, it’s one of those spots where a true freshman is going to be out there. What have you seen from them in camp that kind of gives you confidence that they can be successful back there in the first game?
Travis Thomas: I think they have the speed to take it to the house any time that they touch the ball. You know, it’s just up to the guys that are blocking to do their job to win the one on one blocks in the front line and give them an opportunity to hit a crease in and make something happen. So I think we have two very talented guys back there who can make some things happen.
Q. Is it a different year of speed than maybe guys who have been playing that position in the past?
Travis Thomas: I mean, they have a different style. You know, everyone’s different. They obviously have speed. It’s clear to see, but we’ll see how things go on game day.
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