Q: You missed all of spring practice with a shoulder injury. When were you finally cleared to resume lifting and practicing?
A: It was something we kind of eased into. Throughout the summer, we incorporated working my hurt shoulder a little more and a little more. Probably a couple weeks before fall camp was the first time I was 100 percent go. We've been working on getting the strength back in it. I'm feeling good now.
Q: How tough was it being away from activities with your teammates in the spring and summer?
A: It was real tough. I like to think of myself as a team guy and I hate watching other people work when I'm just standing there. From a positive perspective, it did give me a chance to almost re-learn the playbook entirely from the outside perspective, which was something I was too young to do before I was injured. I was kind of grateful for that.
Q: Has the playbook for the defensive line changed at all this year under a new DL coach?
A: I always thought that if you played in the same scheme, having a different position coach wouldn't make that much of a difference. I was dead wrong about that. Dead wrong. We're learning some new stuff. It's a lot of little tweaks, but they're important things. It's a lot more aggressive. I feel like we're letting our athletes be athletes a little more. I won't go too much more into it, but I think that's what any football player wants to hear. Just be a football player. Just go. Stop worrying about this or that. Just go play football. That was something really exciting to hear.
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Q: How have you seen this defense grow from last year?
A: I think there's a greater sense of accountability among everybody, not just among seniors. I feel like last year we kind of got a little bit divided, and that's something I don't feel like is present this year. Against competition, I guess we'll see against Southern Miss, but I feel good about where we are. We're flying around and we're kind of letting loose and getting comfortable.
Q: What do you mean by “divided”? Was there a division between seniors and upperclassmen?
A: A little bit. But I don't think it was intentional. I don't think it was anything the seniors did wrong. I just feel like that last year the young guys weren't as OK with stepping up and trying to take hold of things. I feel like right now everyone feels like they're invested. They're a part of the defense and they can control their share. They can step up when they want to, and they have been, and that's great. We need leadership from everybody. I think before it was just seen as a senior thing. I'm glad we've got our mind around that concept.
Q: How do you work at fixing that division between older, established players and younger players? Do the older players have to reach out to the newcomers?
A: I want to be really clear on the fact that I'm not saying the seniors did anything wrong last year. I just feel we didn't really understand accountability and ownership. We waited for coaches to tell us things or tell us to fix things we knew needed fixing anyway. When I say we were divided, I just feel this year everyone has a sense of accountability and a sense of ownership. And that's something we really, really worked on in the offseason with (NU strength coach James) Dobson, with Bo, in our meetings. That was a main point of emphasis, and I think that's something that came through pretty strongly. I think it's something we picked up. I think identifying it is the biggest part of fixing it. Some teams are like that. They just have one person leading and being accountable. I think identifying that problem is the biggest step to fixing it, and after that, it's an everyday thing. It feels more like a team now than since I've been here, and I'm proud of that. I really am.