Miami Gardens, FL – On Tuesday, December 29, North Carolina held a Orange Bowl press conference. UNC offensive players who spoke included QB Sam Howell, WR Emery Simmons, OT Jordan Tucker, and WR Dazz Newsome. UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo also appeared.
Sam Howell – Sophomore QB
Q. Sam, from the study that you’ve done on Texas A&M, what challenges will their defense present you guys on Saturday?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, they do a really good job on defense. Their defensive coordinator does a really good job, and they really on all three levels, they’re really good. On their defensive front, their linebackers and their secondary, they’re really good. They’re an SEC defense and we know that that means something.
I think they’re very good up front on the D-line, so that’s definitely a challenge for us, and then they just have a whole lot of athletes all over that defense, so it’s definitely going to be a lot of hard match-ups for us, and we’re going to be prepared for it.
Q. A lot of talk leading up to this has been about the opt-outs and not Texas A&M. How do you keep your guys focused on Texas A&M and not on any of the distractions?
SAM HOWELL: Honestly it hasn’t been much of a distraction. We kind of just move on. It is what it is. Those guys, they made the decision that they thought was best for them, and we all respect their decisions, but at the end of the day we’ve got a job to do. We have a football game on Saturday, and we’ve got to go win the football game. We really can’t worry about any of that. We’ve just got to move forward. That’s really the message I try to relay to these guys. We have a lot of guys that need to step up and make some plays for us this weekend for us to have a chance to win.
Q. We saw Texas A&M sit outside of that top 4 pretty much all season. To be able to play a team like that in the Orange Bowl, how much excitement is surrounding this game?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, it’s definitely exciting for us to play a great opponent like Texas A&M who very easily could be in the College Football Playoff right now. It’s definitely a great challenge for us, and we’re definitely excited to play in the caliber of game like this. This isn’t a game that people would think this program would be in a couple years ago, so it just shows how far we’ve come, but we definitely want to go and make a statement on Saturday.
Q. Sticking with the opt-out theme, Coach Longo talked about him having to come up with a new game plan where he was going to switch up around 30 different snaps or whatever that were going to go to Michael and Javonte. Are you taking this game not only as an opportunity to build this program for the future but kind of show off the stats that you’ll be able to bring to the table or whatever, now that you’ll have those different type of play calls to play around with?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, I mean, for me it’s nothing different. I’m going to prepare how I’m going to prepare and then just execute the play that he calls. I’m not going to try to do anything more than I usually do. I am who I am and I’ll just go out there and play my game. I’m definitely excited for these younger guys to have a chance to really show what they’ve got because we really haven’t seen them play any snaps that really mean anything this year.
So it’s definitely a great opportunity for those guys, and it shows what we’re going to be like next year with these guys leaving. So it’s a great opportunity for those guys to get some good quality reps and see if they can make some plays for us.
Q. Mack talked yesterday about how no one is opting out of the college football playoffs but you see a lot of opt-outs in these New Year’s Six bowl and other bowl games across the country. What does the Orange Bowl mean to you as a college football player? How important is it to win this game?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, the Orange Bowl definitely means a lot to me. It’s a game I grew up watching. It’s a game I always wanted to play in down there in Miami. Obviously it being a New Year’s Six bowl, we know how prestigious the game is. We’re not just happy to be going down there, we want to win the football game. That’s the mentality of our team.
With the opt-outs, I understand all the decisions that those guys made, but for us here, the guys that are playing, we want to go down there and win, so that’s our mentality.
Q. Not to put you too much on the spot here, but I’m curious about your take with the College Football Playoff. Would you like to see it expand to maybe six to eight teams?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, I mean, I think that would be cool just to — I mean, it’s just a little more exciting, more teams, but I feel like once you expand to six, then whoever gets left out at No. 7, they’re going to try to make a case at the end. I feel like you’re still going to have the same issues you have now, no matter how many teams you have.
But I’m definitely all for expanding it. I think only good could come out of that.
Q. What do you see as the biggest challenges given that you guys last played almost a month ago it’ll be coming up, and also having to work in guys for the three major guys that aren’t playing? What do you see as the biggest challenges to finding your chemistry and staying in sync?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, it’s just different without those guys on the field. We’ve had a couple weeks to prepare, but we really don’t have that many game reps. I don’t have very many game reps with the younger running backs. I know I’ve thrown to the younger receivers a couple times, but really just — it’s just not — we just don’t really have the same chemistry. So that’s probably been the biggest challenge, just trying to develop that chemistry as good as we can before Saturday.
Q. And what also do you see kind of as the biggest differences with this bowl experience given that we’re in the pandemic? Like you’re not going down for these events with Texas A&M and all that kind of stuff. It’s pretty much another glorified, maybe a little extended but a glorified road trip?
SAM HOWELL: To be honest with you, I hate it. I love bowl week. I loved our time in D.C. last year for the Military Bowl. That was one of the funnest weeks I’ve had in my entire life just being there with the team. So I’m definitely a little bit disappointed that we don’t get to be down there for a week and spend time with my guys. But it is what it is. Our main mentality right now is to go win the game, so that’s what we’re going to try to do.
Q. Texas A&M is one of the best teams in the country. How are you going to try to work with Mack Brown in terms of installing the right game plan this week?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, it’s really the same as every other week. It doesn’t really matter the opponent. We go through the same process every single week as far as developing the game plan. We always try to come up with the best game plan as possible, no matter who we’re playing. Obviously this is a great challenge for us. But yeah, really we just stick to our same process that we’ve been sticking to all year.
Q. Do you have a little bit of an underdog mentality just because people are kind of counting you out of this game?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, I mean, I guess you could say that. People aren’t really giving us a chance anymore, especially with these guys opting out, so they’re probably thinking it’s going to be a blowout, but we know people are saying that about us, but we really don’t care about that. We know the guys we have. I think a lot of people are saying that because they don’t really know what we have behind those guys that have played here for so long, and we know the type of players we have here.
So I’m excited for those guys to get out there and really show everybody what they really have because there’s been a lot of disrespect towards the guys who are going to have to step up and play.
Q. What do you expect from Khafre Brown, Emery Simmons and Antoine Green stepping in for Dyami Brown?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, I expect a lot of big things out of them. Those three guys are going to have to come up with some big plays for us to have a chance to win the football game. Dyami is due for a couple deep ball catches a game, at least one touchdown a game. So they’ll definitely have to make some plays for us to have a chance to win.
They’ve had a really good couple weeks of practice, and they’re all three really good receivers, all three of them are definitely talented enough to be starters here. They’re talented enough, they put the work in, so I’m excited for those guys to get out there.
Q. What can you tell us about Antoine? He’s one player — Emery and Khafre have caught a number of balls this year, but Antoine hasn’t been as productive this year. What can you tell us about Green?
SAM HOWELL: Yeah, Antoine is a really, really talented player. I think he had the injury his freshman year. He was kind of in and out last year with injuries, too, so he hasn’t gotten to play as much as we would have liked him to play, but he’s definitely capable of being a really good player. I think Antoine is going to play this game for a very long time. I think he’s that talented.
I think he played — I watched some of his freshman year when I was still in high school, and I thought he was one of the best receivers in the country, so he’s definitely a freak. He’s got — he really is a really all-around receiver. He’s got great hands. He can catch the deep ball, so I’m excited for him to get out there and get a lot of reps this weekend.
Emery Simmons – Sophomore WR
Q. Emery, you’ve obviously seen probably a lot of noise on social media about the opt-outs hurting you guys’ chances to win on Saturday. Do you feel a sense of disrespect and are you playing with a chip on your shoulder despite playing well this season?
EMERY SIMMONS: Not at all. I feel like us as a team, I feel like we all supported our teammates with the decision they made. The goal of this game is to play, and then if you’re blessed with the opportunity to go and further your career, then take it. It’s all love to them guys. I wish them the best, but I feel like with our team we’ve still got guys that’s in play, that can fulfill them roles and make the big plays. That’s why we recruited. That’s why coaches come out and get us. I feel like even now with them opting out, I still feel like we’ve got a good chance to come out there and prove that we’re a top contender.
Q. Because of all the opt-outs and people maybe doubting you and see a little bit more despite you saying you get recruited for a reason, are you playing with a chip on your shoulder hearing this commentary knowing how you and your teammates can play?
EMERY SIMMONS: I still would say it wouldn’t be much of a chip. The confidence is there. We know what we do in practice. We know the type of skill set we have, so I feel like it’s another game. You just go out there and play. I mean, it’s just on a bigger — just now you take the chances you get, it’s on a bigger stage, but it still doesn’t change the game at all. I still feel like our guys are going to be ready and we’re all going to step up to the plate.
Q. Kind of sticking on the opt-outs for a second, how much does your role change, if at all, with so many skill guys opting out, and kind of staying with that as well, how much does your mindset maybe going into the game change knowing that you’re going to be a guy that’s really heavily relied on to go out there and make plays on a consistent basis?
EMERY SIMMONS: My mindset still hasn’t changed. It’s still been with me throughout the season. Just next man up. It’s been that way from the beginning of the season. You’ve still got to take that, even though Dyami is not here, you’ve still got to prepare like you’re in that starting role or you’re going to get the ball because you never know.
So with him being gone, it’s making more room for guys just to come up and make plays, and now it’s going to be all over the place now, so it’s more so other guys like our running backs, Josh Henderson, British Brooks and a little bit more of our receivers coming in and making big plays to help out this offense and keep the offense where it’s been.
Q. You were inserted in the starting lineup after Bo went down. You’ve gotten a ton of reps since then. How was your game evolved over these last seven games or so?
EMERY SIMMONS: Just more confidence I would say. Over these last couple games with me getting — starting, I feel like I’ve built more confidence, but I feel like that confidence has been there all along. It was just a matter of getting the opportunity to go out there and show it. So I feel like with that happening, it was more so just next-man-up mentality and go out there and playing the game you love, just going out there having fun doing it, and it just worked out.
Q. We’ve seen some flashes from Khafre and the Virginia game, for example, he had a big touchdown in that game. What is your scouting report of Khafre Brown?
EMERY SIMMONS: Khafre Brown is explosive. He’s an explosive guy, very twitchy, very fast, and he’s just like his brother, can beat you deep, got great hands. All around the board good guy and great player.
Jordan Tucker – Junior OT
Q. Jordan, just curious, obviously with Javonte and Michael out, you’ve got some new running backs who are going to be stepping in and being relied on pretty heavily. What are some of the strengths that British Brooks or Josh Henderson or Elijah that they bring to the table?
JORDAN TUCKER: I think some of the strengths are just being new backs. A lot of people are watching film, watching the backs that we did have that made the decision to opt out and better themselves, and I’m all for that, and just the backs that we’ve got, we see them every day in practice, all of them got speed, they got power and they’ve all been learning from Javonte and Mike, as well. So as an O-line and offense we’ve got as much faith in them as we did in our backs before.
Q. I just wanted to get your opinion on DeMarvin Leal. He’s one of the top defensive players in the country. How are you looking to limit him and how do you work on that in practice?
JORDAN TUCKER: If you could give me a number. I don’t really know who that is. Like Dazz said, I’m a ball player. Like I just go out there every day, play football. I’m not really worried about who is lined up across from me. I know they have some talent on the D-line, but as an O-line we’ve been playing together this whole year. We’ve showed some highs and some lows but we’re ready to show out and put this team on our back.
Q. Some of the guys and also Coach Brown yesterday talked about the chip on the shoulder that you guys have with the opt-outs people are saying you guys don’t have a chance, all your starters are gone. Maybe the team should opt out. What are your thoughts on that, and have you guys talked much about it, and is there a real chip? Can a chip actually be a real thing going into a game like this?
JORDAN TUCKER: I don’t really know much about like a chip on a shoulder, but I know like Dazz just said before, all of us are football players and everyone is going to make the best decision for them, and everybody else really doesn’t have a decision in what somebody else does. We’ve just got to move forward, next man up, and I know every single person goes out there to practice and goes out there ready to play in a game. So if that’s a chip on your shoulder, then yeah, we do have one.
Q. The next-man-up thing, is it maybe they got hurt in practice, they’re not just available, you guys just move forward? Is that sort of the mentality you have when you get into the grind of the season that whoever is ready to be there is there? That’s kind of the mentality?
JORDAN TUCKER: Yeah, I do, and I think a lot of teams do preach this next-man-up mentality, but I think here at North Carolina we really do enforce that because your next play could be your last play. You never do know. We try and instill in the ones, twos and threes that y’all got to be ready to go on game day, and if you’re not, then you’re going to get exposed for that.
As far as how we work at North Carolina, I know that everybody is ready to go.
Q. You guys are coming off such a high after the Miami game and then certainly learning about the Orange Bowl bid. Then it seems like the opt-outs maybe kind of took some wind out of the sail. Where would you say the confidence level of this team is right now?
JORDAN TUCKER: Higher.
Q. How so?
JORDAN TUCKER: Because a lot of people think that we can’t do it, and I mean, I’ve been here four years now. We’ve been through this. A lot of people have doubted us in the past. We’ve been the underdog going in and out, so there’s nothing really new to me. Might got to instill it in the younger guys but a lot of the older guys it’s nothing new. We are ready to go. We are just ready to play ball.
Q. And is that something that over the past — the course of the past season has changed? Like do you think this team would have been — a year ago this team still would have had this amount of confidence?
JORDAN TUCKER: In all honesty, I think after the first two games last season, we really saw what we could do on a national rank, and we’ve been playing locally really, and Mack tries to instill that in us, that we’re trying to be a national team. Especially after the first two games in Miami and South Carolina last year, I think our team saw that, and I think recruits saw that and staff, everybody bought in, so I think our confidence level rises with each game we play.
Q. I wanted to ask you, how much are you looking forward to the opportunity to opening up those same type of holes that you opened up for Michael and Javonte throughout the season and doing it for backs that nobody has heard of up until this point?
JORDAN TUCKER: Yeah, agreed. In an interview earlier this year I mentioned most of the time the O-line doesn’t even know who’s in until they run past us, and I think that’s a good thing because with the backs that we’ve got now, same thing in practice, we don’t even know who is back there but when they run past us we know. We’re excited just to score, to move people, to take the line of scrimmage, all of that. Like we’re just excited for everything.
Q. Can you put in perspective what this program has done in just a few years? You guys are heading into a big-time bowl game this weekend.
JORDAN TUCKER: Yeah, perspective, like I said, being here four years, these last two years have been incredible, with Coach Brown and bringing the staff in and everybody really buying in, it’s definitely made a change on how I see football and how I see life. It’s just been great. All positives from my end. Mack really came in, made a difference on and off the field. He’s trying to make our future better, and that’s what we love.
As soon as we all bought in, this family just became closer and closer, and just the perspective of that, I don’t know if people can see it from outside, but this is a close unit, we’re all for each other regardless of personal decisions, like this is a family.
Q. What advice could you give as a veteran to some of these younger guys to kind of help keep their emotions in check, where you’re going up against a top-five opponent in a major game like the Orange Bowl?
JORDAN TUCKER: To be honest, my biggest piece of advice was we’ll probably be practice how you want to play just because, in my opinion, practice is way harder than a game. Once I get in a game I can just go out and do what I do best and that’s just compete. It’s really the emphasis on competing, that’s half the battle. Just going out there to fight and knowing that you’ve got 10 other brothers, really 100 other brothers out there that got your back. That’s what I would preach to the young guys.
Dazz Newsome – Senior WR
Q. I wanted to hit you with the question of how much did you consider not playing in this game with the new rules and how things are set up now, now that players have to prepare for the draft? And Coach Longo talked about there being 30 different type of touches with the game plan that would have to be spread around now with the two running backs heading out for the draft. What is your mindset going into this bowl game, and if you could answer that first question for me, too, as far as how much you thought about not playing.
DAZZ NEWSOME: Well, I’m a ball player, so I want to play, for the first question.
And the second question? Would you say the second question again?
Q. The second question is what is your mentality with those 30 different type of touches that the coach has to distribute now, know what I mean? Do you want to get every single one of those touches, opportunities and all that, now that you are playing in this game?
DAZZ NEWSOME: If he gives them all to me, I’ll take it. But it’s the same game plan. We ain’t changing nothing. You’ve just got to make plays when the ball comes to you.
Q. Dazz, the talk of the bowl so far has been the opt-outs. Have you seen the team with the chip on its shoulder where it feels like people kind of not even giving you guys a chance before the game even starts?
DAZZ NEWSOME: Most definitely. We see all the things people are saying. We see all the comments people are saying. It’s definitely making everybody play with a chip on their shoulder.
Q. With this being your last game at UNC, what’s it been like for you to kind of reflect on your journey at UNC where the first two years you really struggled and now Carolina is playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game?
DAZZ NEWSOME: I was talking to one of the referees at practice today about that, he was just saying how we stuck in there, and when we first got here, the first two years how bad it was. It wasn’t all bad, but losing is definitely not fun. And then to see how we come now, it’s definitely — I can’t even explain it.
Q. I was wondering if you could put in perspective — this is dealing with players not just at Carolina but just in general around the country who opt out of bowl games, how important is winning the Orange Bowl to you? How do you view this game?
DAZZ NEWSOME: I mean, it’s one of the biggest games — biggest bowl games I’ve played in my life. It’s definitely the biggest bowl game I’ve ever played in my life, so I couldn’t not play in it.
Q. This season as a whole, obviously you didn’t have as many catches as you did last season. Are you putting a lot of pressure on yourself for this game knowing that No. 2 isn’t going to be on the other side of the field from you to kind of compensate for his absence?
DAZZ NEWSOME: No, no, no, sir. I know what I can do and they also — also the other team knows what I can do. There’s no pressure. We’ve got good players on the team still. We’ve got players just as good as Dyami.
Q. You mentioned the other team. What have you seen out of Texas A&M on film so far?
DAZZ NEWSOME: We’ve seen that they’re fast. They all ride it to the ball. A pretty rear-winded team with a good D-line.
Q. Now that Dyami is out and you’re kind of the leader of the wide receiver group in terms of experience and touches, are you taking on a different leadership role and trying to get guys like Khafre and Emery and Antoine ready?
DAZZ NEWSOME: Yeah, I’m always trying to step in and be a leader, but also we’ve got other guys, younger guys that are trying to step in and be a leader, as well.
Q. Do you plan on going off and going out with a bang?
DAZZ NEWSOME: Most definitely. Most definitely trying to go out with a bang.
Q. Are you just pumped up because this is your last game? What are the feelings going through your mind and how excited are you to put on a show?
DAZZ NEWSOME: It’s both. I mean, I’m putting on — this is my last game and also this is one of the biggest bowl games that we’ve played in, like I said, so I’m definitely pumped.
Phil Longo – Offensive coordinator
Q. Mack told us yesterday about what kind of transpired after Javonte informed you guys Saturday that he was opting out, wasn’t going to play, and he said that you guys kind of had to do some redesign or tweaking the offense. Can you take us through that process and how much you would have to tweak not having guys like Javonte and Michael there?
PHIL LONGO: I’d say 30 carries, okay. That’s what I’d tell you. Christmas morning I enjoyed a very good Christmas with four kids who wanted to go in four different directions, but we had a really good time in the morning, and thankfully relatives did a good job of supplying them with enough that they were very occupied in the afternoon. I spent a lot of Christmas afternoon calling the game based on our game plan against Texas A&M.
The 30 carries that I alluded to were the 30 of the 60 or 70 plays that you get in a ballgame, were kind of geared towards him getting the football one way or the other. I called three games with Javonte in mind, and later on on Saturday, we found out that he would not be with us.
So you have to — you go make your adjustments. So we’ve got to take 30 reps and we’ve got to distribute them and spread them out to the other weapons that we do have. So yeah, there was some game plan adjusting going on over the weekend, and we just kind of put that to the test today in practice, and it went very well. Looking forward to having a good week of preparation leading up to Saturday.
Q. What have you seen from Josh and British in particular that you like that kind of fit into what you guys typically do anyway?
PHIL LONGO: Well, I have said, I know Mack has said, Coach Gillespie has alluded to the fact that we love the running back room as a whole. There’s five guys in there, great character guys. They’re all very talented — six, actually. Six character guys, very talented. Two of them have tremendous speed, two of them are a little bit bigger, more physical. It’s a well rounded room. They all know the offense real well. They do a good job pass protecting.
What they don’t have are all those reps that Michael and Javonte took for us this year. And so they have the practice reps. As I’ve alluded to in the past, our ones and our twos are — our blue offense and our white offense get equal reps in practice, so they’ve had equal preparation on the year, so they know the system. It’s just the game reps and the actual game experience against the live opponent that they don’t have.
They’re going to need to respond to that on Saturday.
Q. In terms of your emphasis in practice this week, just because the bowl game is past Christmas and New Year’s and there’s a tendency to get a little loose, how are you going to keep your guys tight and make sure they’re doing the right things in practice and the emphasis on that this week?
PHIL LONGO: Well, if you ever come and spend time here, things are loose all the time. That’s how Mack does it. We’re relaxed. We have fun in practice. We have fun when we’re preparing. I don’t think this week is any different.
I think we’re excited about the opportunity that some of the young guys are going to get. I’m excited to see them. I mean, you’re fans of these guys. We spend every day with them, and you know that they’re our future, and you look forward to watching them develop and watching them play, and we just have a scenario here where they’re going to get an opportunity a little bit sooner.
You plug them in — you’re not going to change anything. We’re going to do what we do. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel here now. We still have 42 other guys that know the offense and are instinctive in the offense that we’ve been running and have been successful all year. We’re going to do what we do, plug the new guys in and keep going.
Q. What was your message to some of these guys in practice this week as far as having to step up, and what’s their response been in practice, specifically the two in the backfield with Josh and British?
PHIL LONGO: You know, truthfully, I didn’t address it at all. I mean, when we have an injured guy, I don’t address it with the team. You know, occasionally if Coach Brown feels like that’s necessary, then he’s the head coach, he’ll do that. But from an offensive standpoint, if somebody is out, we plug in the next guy and we practice. And whether that be because of an opt-out or an injury or any other reason that would keep a guy out of practice, don’t have the time to address it, don’t need to address it. We just line up and go practice and prep for Saturday.
You know, I think when you handle it that way and you don’t make a big deal out of it, it becomes not a big deal, and that’s not to downplay the impact that those guys have had on this program over the last two years. We certainly all know that. But we also have a game to win, and we have guys that are going to suit up, and so we’re going to move forward with them.
Q. Along those lines, how has Sam Howell responded to this? I know four starters but also four leaders on this team. How does he kind of try to get the distractions — no distractions in practice and keep everyone focused on the game?
PHIL LONGO: So I often think coaches are guilty of making this game a lot more difficult than it has to be. I think we could very easily have made a big deal out of a little adversity and made a problem out of nothing.
I think the only coaching that I gave Sam that he probably didn’t even need, because he’s mature enough to understand this now leading the offense for the last 24 games, but the only advice I gave him and the only coaching I told him was not to feel like he has to go and win this game himself.
The best thing he can do for our football team right now is to keep doing what he has been doing: Manage the offense, make plays when he has the opportunity to make plays, and not go outside the — the only time he’s ever gotten in trouble at all, and it’s been very few, is when he’s tried to do more than he really needs to do on a play, and I think he’d tell you the same thing.
He hasn’t done that in quite a while, and so that’s really the only advice I gave him was look, we need to stay focused and keep doing what we’re doing, and he just gave me the nod that he always gave me and we go out and practiced as we always do. So it’s business as usual right now offensively.
Q. I was just curious if you draw on any of your experience when you face Texas A&M from your time at Ole Miss that you can now apply to your meeting in the Orange Bowl?
PHIL LONGO: Yeah, I think anything we did wrong then we’re just not going to do now. Joking aside, this is a completely different team. It’s the same offensive system, but we have different players here. There’s a different emphasis. We are emphasizing different things in the offense. Some of them are similar, and many of them are different.
It’s just like anything else. We have a different cast going into this Saturday than we’ve had all season, so we’re going to play to the strengths of that cast. The cast I had at Ole Miss was different than here, so I went back just to see what Elko did against this X’s and O’s system, but I think he’s going to spend a lot more time watching and studying and preparing for what we’re doing here at North Carolina. And that’s really the mindset that we have on our end, as well.
Q. Phil, you guys always seem to be in sync through the season on that opening drive. I think it finished with eight touchdowns — I forgot. It was so many. But you guys are always in sync on that first drive. With having to plug in so many new guys for the starters, in some way are you going to be kind of feeling out to get your own chemistry with so many new guys that are going to be plugged in now as starters?
PHIL LONGO: Truthfully I’m really not. I think if I did that, I would be making a mistake on my own part. I think that our offense is the offense. The guys are — we still have eight of them, and then the five that we rotate in and out at those other positions that are really good football players and have contributed to all the success that the three that won’t be here have had.
Do we expect the guys that we’re plugging in to be Javonte and Michael and Dyami? No, we don’t. So the only difference will be is we may distribute the ball to more players because we need to. I don’t know if there’s a guy on the roster that can tote the ball 30 times the way Javonte could right now with the way he’s playing, and so you’re going to see more names and more faces have a role on Saturday.
But in terms of what I’m calling and how I call it and when I call it, I don’t know that any of that’s going to change. To me that’s going away from what we do well.
Q. And you mentioned talking to Sam about basically playing within himself. Did you have the same conversation with Dazz, given that he’s been somebody who’s provided a lot of big plays over the last couple of seasons, about him also not trying to do too much?
PHIL LONGO: No, I haven’t had that conversation with Dazz. As a matter of fact I hope Dazz tries to score on every single play he touches the football. If he wants to take the team on his back and catch the ball for 200 yards and three touchdowns, be my guest. We could use as good a game out of Dazz as we could get, and that really holds true for all our guys. Go out and do their job and give us your best effort, and if they’re looking to overlap some of the production that we have lost, fantastic.
The guy that’s running the show, the one that’s making the mental decisions, I want and we need him to be as focused as he has been, and to generate and execute the offense the way he has and let the athletes go make plays.
Q. Who are you kind of looking to replace what Dyami could do as a deep threat, as the big wide receiver that can go long —
PHIL LONGO: Well, there’s three receivers that we’re very high on, Khafre Brown has made some big plays this year, and Emery Simmons, his role has increased every week as the season has gone on and he’s made some huge plays, especially in the second half of the season. And then we’re going to lean on Antoine Green somewhat in the game, as well. So those three, and you may see some of Justin Olson. Those three or four guys are going to be our wide receiver corps.
And in the backfield you’re going to see Elijah, you’re going to see Josh Henderson, you’re going to see British Brooks. That’s who’s here. Those are the guys who know the job. That’s who we have confidence in, so those will be the names you’re calling out on Saturday as opposed to some of the others.
Q. How does having a deep threat like Dyami, who can really take a top off a defense, help the overall offense?
PHIL LONGO: Well, I think the goal is stretch the defense horizontally pre-snap, stretch them vertically post snap and in a perfect world you’d like to get all 11 guys evenly displaced away from each other, so you’re creating space for your athletes. It doesn’t work that pretty, but when you have a guy like Dyami who can stretch you vertically, it gives us an opportunity to do that to the defense. He’s always a huge threat down the field.
But as I say, Dazz is a huge threat down the field. Emery is a threat down the field, Antoine is, Khafre certainly is. So we’re going to have to do some of the things that we are used to doing with some different faces, and the rest of it will still be instinctive to the remaining players on the offense.
Q. Touching on what you were talking about, about Sam and staying focused and playing within himself, is there any inclination just on your part when you’re scripting these plays or just putting your plan in place to give him more responsibility just because you know what you have in him? Just on your end, when you’re getting your designs together, do you have that inclination just to put even more on his plate?
PHIL LONGO: So I would say, and I always say that our offense is simpler because we want the guys to play instinctively, and that sounds like rhetoric but that’s really how it is. Wherever that level of responsibility from a decision-making standpoint is with Sam, will he have more to do this game? A little bit.
Again, why dish up something completely different to a player who’s already one of the best at his position? We’re going to ask him to do what he’s always done, and maybe he’ll have a few more decisions to make with regards to — it’s a good thing he has more people to distribute the ball to. When Dyami is out there and you have a one-on-one, you kind of know where you’re going. Now he’s going to have to settle in and pick the one that is in the best one-on-one scenario and trigger the football, whether it be on a screen or underneath or downtown. His job doesn’t change. It’s just the cast that he’s playing with will be a little bit different.
Their strengths are a little bit different, so we’ll play to their strengths. If we have a really good change-of-direction underneath guy, we may do a little bit more there with him. If we have another guy that can go downtown, then we’ll try to go downtown with that guy. We were so spoiled with Javonte and Michael because both of them were so well-rounded, and we have some well-rounded backs that are going to play Saturday, but some of them are blocking better, some of them are running better, some of them are better receivers. We’re going to utilize most of them and we’re going to play to their strengths, and I think we can get through a game that way without creating any tendencies because you don’t have game 14 to go to.
Q. Do you think you guys are even learning stuff about some of the running backs that haven’t played as much and the receivers that have played much, even now at the end of December with — just right now in practice you’re learning more about what they can do?
PHIL LONGO: I think you’re always learning. What I learned today was there were some guys out there that took a lot more reps than they usually get, and they handled it really well. So that was kind of promising today.
But as I’ve said, the white team that goes in after the blue team gets the exact same amount of reps in practice all week long, and that includes Friday.
So those guys have had as much time to prepare for what they do their skill set at their position as the guys that were playing ahead of them.
I think from a knowing the offense and making this cut and that catch and this block and doing all those things, those are things that they know how to do already, and we just have to — they have to understand they’ve got to go execute and do those things against live competition on Saturday.
Q. I know Jimbo Fisher’s MO per se is to keep the momentum going. Does your locker room message parallel that in any way, and if not what’s a view into your meeting mantras?
PHIL LONGO: Keep the momentum going is what you’re saying they’re doing at A&M? Well, I hope we’re doing the same thing. We just discussed scoring. I guess we scored a touchdown on the first drive of eight games. We’d like to keep that going. We’d like that to be game 9 this Saturday.
The momentum and really we want to stay consistent, and we want to continue to do what we have done all year, and that’s try to be a week better for the next opponent. We respect A&M tremendously. They have one of the best defensive lines that we’ve seen all season, maybe in the two years I’ve been here. They’re really, really good on the back end. The linebackers are excellent football players.
We’re going to see one of the better defenses we’ve seen. We know that. We know where the individual challenges are. We know we’re going to have to play physically. We know this will be one of the faster defenses we’ve competed against.
Look, we know our job. We’re well aware of what we need to do to win the game, and it’s just going to come down to executing on Saturday to give ourselves an opportunity to win on the offensive side.