New San José State University assistant coach Dan Ferrigno is totally familiar with building special teams units. In the early stages of spring practice, the Spartans' new special teams coordinator and tight ends coach focused on the punt aspect of special teams play and the importance of effective blocking by the tight ends.
Wide receiver Hansell Wilson and defensive tackle Tony Popovich, a pair of fifth-year seniors, discuss different comfort levels connected with a spring practice. For Wilson, he's not the anonymous walk-on freshman hoping to make a strong first impression, but now looking to make the good next impression. For Popovich, he senses a better fit all the way around for the San Jose State defense and the need to be ready for every practice.
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Special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno
Q: What has it been like for you to be out here with a new group guys?
DF: "It's very exciting. I'm very pleased with the way we work at practice. If we practice and work like that, we'll get better. It's been good so far."
Q: Tell us how you divide your time between coaching the tight ends and coordinating special teams work?
DF: "I've done it for so long, it doesn't bother me. You have to budget your time in preparation for practice. It's a little extra work, but I really enjoy it. It's not a big deal."
Q: At tight end, you have experienced players, but each one still may have a lot to prove.
DF: "They still have a lot to prove, each one of them. Our big emphasis going into the spring is blocking, getting better at blocking. The offense requires more of that now than it did before. So, that's been a big emphasis. They're all real good route runners. They catch (the ball) well. We have to catch them up on the blocking."
Q: Brad Kuh is one of your new tight ends after moving over from linebacker. How is Brad doing?
DF: "Very pleased with Brad. He can play the position. He's probably more of what we would term - a U-Back. He can play like a fullback and on the line of scrimmage. He's a real good athlete and very intelligent which helps. There is a lot to learn and a lot to think about, but he seems to handle it just fine."
Q: What have you covered so far with the special teams?
DF: "We've hit a lot on punt (punting and protection). That's usually what we've done in the past. We've had three full days of punt. Now, we'll start to work on punt return, kickoff return and kickoff. We'll still sprinkle in punt the next three weeks, too, to make sure we get that right. It's important we do that well."
Wide receiver Hansell Wilson
Q: How has spring practice gone so far for the offense, first, and the wide receivers?
HW: "For the offense, it's going good. There are a bunch of new plays. It's a new learning experience, but I think we're picking it up pretty well. We're moving the ball pretty well. I think everybody is buying into it. So, that is a good start."
Q: You talked about new plays. What is the learning curve like?
HW: "It's pretty much the same thing as before. There are a few different concepts and terminology for different plays. It's nothing too complex for us."
Q: What do you hope to see coming out of 2015 spring practice?
HW: "I want to see everybody buying into the whole program, us competing with each other and building leadership. Leadership is one of the big things. If we have that, we can excel."
Q: What is like for you now being a fifth-year senior in the program?
HW: "It's crazy. It seems like only yesterday I was a little freshman on the scout team. Now, it's my senior year and everything is flying by. I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Q: So, do you approach spring practice differently?
HW: "I have a whole different outlook. I want to make the best of it. In 2011, I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know people on the team that well. Now, I know everybody. I know what I am doing out there. It's a lot smoother (for me) process."
Q: Lastly, you are regarded as one of the fastest if not the fastest player on the team. Is that still the case?
HW: "I think that is the case. (RB) Tyler Ervin would disagree, but I'll take it."
Defensive tackle Tony Popovich
Q: With three days in the books what is your perspective on spring practice?
TP: "There's definitely a lot more comfort in the system, because this is our second year with (Coach) `GRob.' I feel a lot more defensive unity. We're playing together a lot more than last year for some reason. It's more of a cohesive unit for sure. Our D-line is looking better and we're working together better.
There seems to be a lot more fire to the defense as a whole the first three days compared to last year. There is a whole different energy for sure. From what I've seen, people are having a lot more fun."
Q: Are you saying there is more coordination between the line to the linebackers to the secondary? Or, how would you measure the cohesiveness?
TP: "When you watch it on film, it's smooth. People are working well together. The linebackers are reading off of us (defensive linemen) after three days. Usually, that takes two weeks to get down the movement and where everybody is supposed to be. Just the comfort of knowing the defense, everybody is able to play faster and have more fun, because we are not thinking as much. We know where we are supposed to be. The puzzle pieces are fitting together better this year at this time compared to last year."
Q: Looking back, was the learning curve more challenging last year than maybe you and your teammates realized?
TP: "Coming from the 3-4 to this was so much different. Even though it was easier, it was so much different. People had to think before they did something. It took a lot longer to pick up. This year, we are picking up right where we left off at the end of last season. It's going faster and everybody seems to be more comfortable with what they are doing."
Q: There was a lot of turnover in the defensive line after last season. There are opportunities available. How do you see the line progressing so far?
TP: "We have a lot of young guys. Christian Hill, Cedric (Lousi) and I are the only seniors. The new guys are coming into their own which is nice, because it's not as big a drop off from the 1's, 2's and 3's. I feel so many people have played that we're able to help each other out more. So, we're picking it up quicker and now it's getting used to each other. It's a whole new group; so, we have to know how each other plays (his role).
I feel this group they know they have to pick it up to play. There's a lot more competition between the 1's, 2's and 3's. Anybody can jump up and have a good day. It's pretty exciting right now."
Q: For you, how have the three days gone?
TP: "Pretty good. I've been getting the rust off from the last three months. I'm excited to be out here just picking up where I left off for last year. I can't wait to get back out there."
Q: Any responsibility of taking a leadership role given how much playing experience you have?
TP: "I definitely need to set the standard and be a good role model - how I want the unit to work and the level of intensity we have to have in order to be a successful defensive line.
I learned from out 11-2 season when we had a great defensive line and pick up where we left off there. We had a couple of slow years. Now we have to get after it and set the tone for physicality and speed. We need to work on getting to the quarterback, because that is something we are emphasizing."
Q: Wes Schweitzer said Saturday there is more physicality so far (in practice). Is that the case when the lines are gong up against each other?
TP: "I can agree with Wes. This is a whole new offensive line.
From the defensive line standpoint, I have never seen them come out so fast and get after it. Usually, the first couple of days, we're feeling each other out - kind of playing patty cake with each other. We came out and it was like full pads the first day.
They came out to work and there is a lot of competition. They're working hard to not get beat by us. We're working hard, too. It's definitely the most physical since I've been here. Just right off the bat, them coming out looking to give it to us. They're definitely not taking it easy."
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