NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Fighting Irish assistant Mike Denbrock has two things that every position coach longs for going into a season – talent and depth. With the chance of six and maybe even eight of his wide receivers seeing valuable playing time in 2013, Denbrock feels fortunate, but has seen the competition between his pupils better than ever. He recently gave some general thoughts about the Notre Dame program and more specifically, the wide-outs.
Q: How hard is it to maintain the standards set in 2012?
Denbrock: “I think it depends on what kind of group you have. We’ve got some younger players in some key spots that maybe don’t have the experience of a few of the kids we had a year ago that I think need a general reminder of exactly what the expectations are and how to go about achieving those things. I can say from #1 to 105, since the start of camp, they really understand where we want to go as a football team and have dug their heels in and have worked hard at it every day.”
Q: Can you talk about the relationship between Tommy Rees and TJ Jones?
Denbrock: “I think some of those things they do, when you’ve worked together for so long and have had success together, are not verbalized or said out loud. You know where the other guy is going to be, you know you trust him, you know if you need someone to step up and make a play he’s there for you. I think that works on both ends with those two.”
“We feel we’ve got a number of offensive weapons we can turn to this season, but TJ Jones is certainly, with his relationship with Tommy, going to be a huge part of our success. You necessarily can’t coach a relationship like they have - it’s developed over time.”
Q: What has Corey Robinson done to impress you?
Denbrock: “He’s done an incredible job. Obviously coming in early helped and it took him a little while to get his feet on the ground, but since he’s done that and had the summer to work with the rest of the players, I think his comfort level is where it needs to be for him to let his ability show. He can go out there and play the game the way he’s capable of doing. He’s had a knack for making sure he makes the plays that are presented to him to make. That’s what we ask of all the guys on the outside.”
Q: What have you learned about the situation with Tony Alford’s brother’s death?
Denbrock: “There’s no doubt that it hit home with a lot of us. We really consider, and I know it’s said a lot about football teams and coaching staffs, but we really are a close-knit family. What affects one of us, affects all of us. I think we’ve done a good job of trying to at least be there for him and not be overbearing, but making sure that he knows there’s support of the brotherhood here if he needs it. It’s just about being there for him during a very difficult time.”
“It was just devastating. Any time you lose someone that is so close to you, and at such a young age, that always compounds it a little bit more. It makes you take stock and think back to people in your own life that you lost that are precious to you. I hope, if anything, it instills in our guys how important it is to rely on one another and lean on one another. This is a family and should be treated that way.”
Q: Talk about having TJ Jones, Chris Brown, and DaVaris Daniels on the field at the same time.
Denbrock: “I think one of the things that we’re trying to develop more and more as we move along is the ability to have key guys at every position on the field. In the past couple of years if you looked at our offense you’d say, ‘Here’s their #1 target. What can we do to take this guy out of the game?’ Now we’re developing and getting to the point where teams aren’t going to be able to do that against us defensively because we can position guys on the field in different spots at different times to make sure that doesn’t happen. The three of them on the field at the same time is just one example of that.”
Q: So do you have the right guy at quarterback to make that happen?
Denbrock: “One of Tommy’s (Rees) great strengths is obviously his knowledge of the game. He’s got great game experience and there isn’t much a defense can do that he hasn’t seen or dealt with at some point. I think a strength of our football team in general on the offensive side is his knowledge and ability to make sure we're in the right play at the right time. Also, when he sees matchups we can take advantage of - not being afraid of getting aggressive and going after those things.”
Q: Has the red zone part of the offense been something that’s improved from last year to this year?
Denbrock: “We really took a hard look at, not only the things we were doing scheme-wise after last year, but the things that we could tweak within the scheme and things that we felt we needed to add. Plus, quite frankly, doing a better job of making sure everybody understood what everybody was doing.”
“It’s just such a condensed area of the field. There’s a lot of bodies in there and you can get a lot of different looks from the defense from man, to bracket, to all-out blitz, to soft zone, to seven across. We just wanted to make sure our scheme fit the different things we’re going to have to play against as we go into the year. And we also wanted to make sure that the personnel on the field had a better understanding of what each other was doing.”
“It’s been a point of emphasis for us and it looks pretty good so far in camp. Obviously every time we go down there we want to be 100% at scoring touchdowns.”
Q: With all the talent and depth at receiver and the offense in general, how do you keep everyone happy?
Denbrock: “It’s a challenge, but the way we’ve constructed our offense where we’re switching a lot of personnel and changing guys - you’re not really an X, you’re not really a boundary receiver, you’re not really a Z, you’re the best guy for the job. I think that alone lets our team know that we’re going to use a number of different guys in what we’re doing and they know very clearly if there is a play to be made and they make it, they’re going to get a chance to make a second play.”
“I think they’ve dealt with the expectations of, if you make plays, you’ll get more plays. But if you don’t make plays or blocks, or do the things you are expected to do from the wide receiver position, then quite frankly, you shouldn’t expect to play. They clearly understand that and have done a good job with it.”
“And you’re right, we have had a great camp at the wide receiver position. I’m expecting great things from those guys and I think you’re going to see a number of guys rotate in and out of there.”
Q: Has DaVaris Daniels developed to the consistency you want from him?
Denbrock: “He’s getting closer. As guys get older in their careers they understand a little bit more about preparation and practicing hard every day, the type of focus that it takes, the mental toughness, and developing yourself as a football player. The hardest steps to take are from a very good player to a great player. He’s in the process and I like the progress that he’s made. I think it’s as important as it’s ever been to him and I look for him to have a very big year.”