UCF head football coach George O’Leary has already started the process of improving on the 2011 season, interviewing prospective defensive coordinators, evaluating old and new schemes and instructing the players for next year.
While O’Leary stressed that there is plenty of work to be done this offseason after UCF finished with a 5-7 record, he is already anxious for spring practice to get here. The Knights hope to once again clean up in recruiting and then have several positional battles, namely at the quarterback spot between Jeff Godfrey and Blake Bortles.
Here is the second part of the Q-and-A session with UCF’s veteran head coach:
QUESTION: Latavius Murray finished 2010 really well and closed this season again with huge rushing performances. How do you get more consistency out of him for an entire season?
COACH O’LEARY: “His issue is he’s such a lengthy guy as a running back and he takes some direct hits. He’s got to work on his lean, which goes along with him being more flexible. Those are two areas that we need to work on with him in the offseason.
“Again, he’ll start off in the spring at the No. 1 tailback. But there’s some great competition coming over from (the scout team) with Storm Johnson and Cedric Thompson. I was very pleased with how they progressed. So it will be an interesting spring as far as the running backs are concerned.”
QUESTION: Your young receivers – J.J. Worton, Josh Reese and Rannell Hall – were big bright spots down the stretch. How much are you looking forward to a full season with them next year?
COACH O’LEARY: “I was very impressed with how those freshmen played. They played more the last three games, all at one time, than they did early in the season. The more reps they got, the better they got. They all have great ball concentration and they made some terrific catches for us this season. There were some catches there that made you say, `Wow!’ The one J.J. made against Southern Miss, the one Reese made in the UTEP game – they’re just going to get better with more exposure. They need to have a great offseason in the weight room and with their conditioning and when they grow more in the program they will have a bright future for us.”
QUESTION: You were unhappy this season with the contact speed, missed tackles and lack of big plays on defense. What changes do you want to see for next season?
COACH O’LEARY: “I want to get people in here with the background and knowledge that I want them to have. Then, once the coaches get back off the road recruiting, we’ll deal with what we can do better making big plays next season. That was really lacking this year, especially from a sack ratio, a caused fumble ratio and getting tackles for losses. Those are areas that break up long drives and it’s something that we have to work on. We weren’t very efficient in any of those areas this year. Big plays have been a part of the M.O. of this football team defensively and we have to get back to doing that. A lot of time this offseason will be spent on figuring out ways to create those big plays next season. More so than changing, it’s about improving.”
QUESTION: You have recruited really well along the offensive line with a lot of solid depth in place this past season. How much do you need those young players to move into primary roles next season?
COACH O’LEARY: “There are two guys leaving in the top 12 so we have a lot of them back. But it’s time for a lot of those guys to step up now. Normally it takes a couple of years of soaking to get ready to go their junior year. We have a bunch coming back that really need to be competing for jobs and it will be interesting to see this spring.”
QUESTION: How important is it for you to get your coaching staff in place for recruiting with December and January being big months for recruiting?
COACH O’LEARY: “Everybody is on the road now and we’ve maintained contact with all of the ones who have verbally committed to us already. There are a lot of other good players who we are in the hunt with and those visitations will start the second week of December. Then, we break and start back up Jan. 13 with the next round of official visits. Really, there’s a dead period in there where you can’t do anything other than one call a week. But the coaches are out now and are thoroughly covering their recruiting areas. They will be back here Saturday for a staff meeting to see exactly where we are from a contact standpoint and a numbers standpoint.”
QUESTION: You only lose a couple of senior starters on offense and defense, so is it just a matter of filling a few holes now on both sides of the ball?
COACH O’LEARY: “Every year you need to recruit. That’s the lifeline to success in college football. It’s not necessarily always about the bell-ringers, but about getting the program kids who are here three or four years and you can coach them up to win a lot of football games. That’s what a class is made up with. With the NCAA requirements changing academically, that’s a major consideration when taking athletes.”