McCullough talks Jerome Bettis, ‘chips on shoulders’, title aspirations

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New Irish running backs manager Deland McCullough held court with print reporters for over 20 minutes inside the Irish Athletics Center this morning.

We’ve already shared McCullough’s thoughts on detail work, the group as a whole and other influences in the offensive backfield.

Below, McCullough talks about how deep his rotation is, how the group adapts to pass protection and even how he suffered with Notre Dame, not even knowing he would be on staff, while watching the Fiesta Bowl and the blossoming relationship with Jerome ‘Bus’ Bettis.

Q: How do you think the younger ones adapted to pass protection?

DM: I feel good. I feel really good about it. There is a progression that you do, to prepare the guys, not only to identify, but the keys are first recognition. Who do I have? And then separation, feet, hands and finishing. I feel really good about it.

I feel like we had opportunities today to take blitzes and the guys did a great job doing that.

Q: How far can you go with these four in a rotation?

DM: We can go all four. Everywhere I’ve been my story is pretty strong playing against a lot of guys. You have several jobs that come with playing running back that people on the box may not think of. You have the starter, you have your immediate save, so these two guys should play the most. In my world you have a third and 3 to 6 guy. You have a third and over 7 guy, you have a two minute guy, you have a four minute guy, you have a gadget guy, a guy short distance goal line. You’re talking about seven, eight jobs right there. Two people don’t do all those jobs, but those opportunities for growth from those jobs are there.

And when you see them, it excites the guys. They don’t just look at him like I’m the starter or I’m the backup. There are other things you can fall into and still agree to be part of the game plan. And have the ability to grow from there.

Q: Ball security is important to you. How much does defense that focuses so much on forcing takeaways help prepare your guys to protect the ball?

DM: It helps a lot. We do, when I came here, we have heavy balls. We haven’t even reached the others. I have a bunch of them, can’t wait to use them. I have a bunch of stuff that we haven’t been able to launch yet. They told me that when we get to training camp I will have more time to use other things. But right now, just using the heavy soccer ball is like a soccer ball with water in it. We use it during some of our individual exercises and when stretching, just to work on that technique. The moment you take that and go to a regular ball, you crush it.

Having a defense that kicks it, hits it, rakes it, does those things, it increases attention to detail and ball-carrying technique.

Q: What are some of these other techniques?

DM: We have another one called high and tight and it beeps when you hold it the right way. It will just beep all the time. We used like in the beginning one time, I was just like, hey, this is what we’re gonna do. It should keep beeping. When you hold it tight, it beeps continuously. That’s why I should hear it beeping all the time.

We have another thing called a “fumble pro”, which takes the ball out. I have a punch. I have all kinds of things that I would use, that I will use, that these guys will be exposed to. The punch, I wish (I invented it).

When I first did the punch it was a 3 inch PVC pipe with a boxing glove taped to it. It’s the real thing. It’s the real thing right there.

Q: Did you know Jérôme Bettis before arriving here and how are things going with him?

DM: Shoot, that was great. To have someone, you obviously know, with a heritage and a tradition, a hall of fame, a top player here, that definitely helps. Obviously with his experience etc. I know that when I met him and got here we took the players to Ruth’s Chris and he was there. He happened to be there too. It was not planned. He was there with some of his friends and family. Just having him as a resource, I think it’s important for me to feel his support – especially the position he played. And kind of seeing what these guys are doing. Here are some of the coaching points, here are some of the things we do. It’s important to me that he feels good, these guys are going in the right direction.

I know from what I understood that there was a connection during this semester (between Bettis and Estime). It was really good. Just keep earning guys trust. All the clips I show them, I show them NFL stuff. This is where you all want to go. The footwork we do here, here are these guys doing it. I’m not sitting here selling you something that doesn’t work. I break the Super Bowl ring from time to time (which he won with the Chiefs). Hit the table, and I’ll say, ‘It’s not 50 years ago. That was two years ago now. Go on.’

Q; Speaking of Audric, he talked about that team’s chip on his shoulder. In your experience, when a team has this chip from the start, what does it do for the program and the team?

DM: Well, I mean, you got a bunch of guys that feel like there’s unfinished business. I watched that game (Fiesta Bowl), I wasn’t even affiliated with them. This bowl game, I mean, come on. I think the guys really feel, we all feel we have a national championship level team, but we have to put in the work to get there. So the chip on your shoulder, whether it’s what the naysayers are saying or whatever, there’s all the different types of forces that we know here at Notre Dame. At the end of the day, these guys buy into what we’re trying to do.

And the same with the chip on his shoulder at his position. Audric is quite candid with some of the things he said. I saw one of his stuff on Twitter, I was like, “Okay, man. I just liked that. I said I wasn’t gonna retweet it, I just liked it. I’m not going to sign him completely, I don’t even know him yet. But he put a strong prediction on one of his things. I said, ‘Okay, I’m just going to like this one.’ But the thing about Audric is he’s doing a great job saving that chip that’s on his shoulder, and I think that’s spread to other guys.

Q: When you saw them drop out of the race in that bowling game, even though you weren’t affiliated at the time, what crossed your mind?

DM: Few things. I’m like, ‘Run the rock. Let’s run it. Go and get it.’ The line we had and different things, I wasn’t there, I don’t know the specifics, and I’m going back and forth and different things, but all we can do now is just move forward. We have Harry (Hiestand) here (OL coach), me, we have a great attacking staff overall, a great staff overall. I’m just excited about some of the things we’re going to bring to the table to complete the pass game for sure.

Q: How do you teach the stiff arm, as Kyren Williams had it?

DM: Part of it is you either have it or you don’t. He had a good angle for the way he shot it there on the guys. In my history, I have never done anything specific for a stiff arm. It’s just an instinctive thing, just kind of part of their deal.

I had great backs, Tevin Coleman at Indiana had over 2,000 yards; I can count on one hand the number of times he stiffened someone.

Q: What was the message to Chris Tyree? Especially since he admits he wants to do more.

DM: I tell all the guys to keep taking advantage of this opportunity. So in the room you’re trying to get guys I tell them in this room the team but I just took over the room there should be a level of separation and gain with everyone world. So you have everyone pushing each other. If Chris, I’m trying to break up. If I’m anyone, I try to win. Boom boom boom. Everyone should feel that warmth that someone is coming for them.

With Chris, in particular, he’s been a guy who’s embraced the details. He will come to meet me. They see the results. That’s the thing. Be a thing if you only have loose conversations with them, but being detailed can lead to that. Being detailed can if you’re trying to take it to the next level, and you have someone like me who was out there asking these questions, you want to be prepared to answer them. Why are you throwing the ball over there? I just do my own thing. Well, in the NFL, you can’t do that. I often see you doing that in college, if you do that in the NFL, you won’t be there. So how about addressing it here now. Let’s tackle it now. Let’s put ourselves in a position to be the best version of you, now. Give yourself the language used by the NFL, now. Because I know what these guys are going to ask them when they get to where they’re trying to go. So having that level of buy-in, especially from all my guys, and how that permeates the team, is going to be good this year.

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