GH: You have mentioned several times that, in a perfect world, you would like to recruit a scholarship QB for each class. Last year you recruited Trevor Sasek and this year you recruited Justin Burns. It seems like you are on target. Both of them are tall drop back style quarterbacks. Why do you prefer the drop back quarterback to the dual threat type quarterback?
Keeler: We don’t particularly have a preference in terms of a drop back or a dual threat QB. If we take a dual threat QB however, we need one that throws accurately and is not just a runner. It just so happens that the last 2 years we have taken some big strong arm QBs. It will definitely be an emphasis going into next years recruiting season, to take the best QB available, but also an emphasis on trying to find an athletic QB . We have had success with athletic QB’s like Andy Hall, and more pure throwers like Joe Flacco.
GH: Would it require major adjustments to our version of the spread offense if you brought in a quarterback that was also a running threat?
Keeler: There would be some tweaks, we obviously would have more of an emphasis on the belly read game and the option game, but our offense is tooled to go either direction.
GH: Are we deep enough at the quarterback position that one of our back-ups could take over if Pat Devlin became unavailable? Lack of game experience seems to have been a problem in recent years.
Keeler: For almost ever body in the country, there will be a lack of experience for the #2 QB. They just never get enough reps. However, this is a huge spring for Trevor Sasek. We will treat him as if he is challenging for the starting job with Pat Devlin, because that’s what he needs to do.
GH: Did you have any interest in either of the quarterbacks that recently transferred to W&M and Richmond respectively?
Keeler: When a QB transfers from a I-A school like a USC or a North Carolina, down to a I-AA school, they are generally not looking to compete with another I-A QB that has previously transferred down. Either they are going to go and sit a year and compete again at the I-A level, or they will drop down to 1AA and put themselves in a position to be a starter as quickly as possible. So not only didn’t we have transfer QB’s on our radar, recruiting them would be fruitless because they wouldn’t have any interest to come in and compete with Pat Devlin.
GH: Finally, Justin Burns gave his verbal to Delaware early in the recruiting process. How did you find out about him in Georgia?
Keeler:Gregg Perry has many long standing relationships in Georgia. In our junior recruiting Justin was identified. We had about 5 QB’s this past summer that we were very interested, all of which we were able to see in person; either on our campus or somebody else’s campus. We felt Justin was the best one available in terms of, size, athleticism, arm strength, intelligence, level of competition, personality, etc. Also, we felt very strongly that the Burns family was the kind of family that would not waver on their commitment. They came up to see a game in person and we felt very confident even though he was still getting a lot of attention from Kansas, Maryland, Miami-Ohio, Middle Tennessee Sate, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Southern, Central Michigan, Memphis, and a few others. We felt confident that he would stay with us.
GH: Year after year the top players in the state of Delaware end up at Penn State or Rutgers. Malcolm Yowk was rated as the number four player in the state of Delaware last year. Although Malcolm had offers from several Division I-A schools, what made Delaware more appealing to him?
Keeler: I don’t think Malcolm was overwhelmed by the so-called bright lights and pretty girls that is I-A. He really was focusing on the best fit for him. His high school teammate, John Sclesky, was here so he had a great reference point. Also, Mike Mike Schonewolf, his high school coach, is a former UD alum and was a teammate of mine when we won the National Championship. So he understands the winning tradition here at UD. With all of that being said, I don’t think he pushed him to UD, but with his experience, including time as a college football coach, he was able to help Malcolm through the recruiting process. Malcolm felt very comfortable with our coaching staff and players, loved the campus, and we felt very good from the response his parents gave during the fall. I think Malcolm just saw this as the best fit for him.
GH: What was it about him that you liked so much?
Keeler: Malcolm was at one of our one-day workouts in June. He was explosive, he changed direction on a dime, ran anywhere from a 4.38 to 4.42 on about ten watches that we had on him so he has legitimate speed. He caught the ball well, so we saw him as a player that could not only play the RB position for us, but also the kind of athlete that could play the hybrid position that Phil Thaxton played for us last year.
GH: Will he compete for playing time or is he scheduled to red-shirt?
Keeler: With his ability to return and his ability to play a number of spots on field for us, Phil Thaxton’s hybrid position and the RB position, I would think that Malcolm will compete right away for us.
GH: You had mentioned that you also wanted to recruit a big back. Were you successful recruiting someone to fill that spot?
Keeler: We are bringing in Andrew Pierce midyear. Andrew is 5’ 11", 205 lbs, and runs a 4.51 forty. He is a young man from South Jersey that we liked a lot last year but didn’t have a scholarship available. So we are bringing him as a Grey shirt (midyear). We think he has the kind of hard running style that will be what we are looking for to make our running attack more physical.
GH: Do we have enough running backs so that Phil Thaxton will be moved to WR on a full time basis?
Keeler: Phil Thaxton is going to be playing a hybrid position. It’s a position where we can put him in space, yet still bring him back to the backfield. I think the experiment worked last year, and we are all very excited about what Phil can do in space when he has the ball.
GH: First, you have mentioned how important another birthday is for offensive lineman. Could you talk about the progress of the offensive lineman in the off season? Is this group improved enough to get the offensive numbers that you are looking for this season?
Keeler: When we have been at our best offensively, we’ve had the ability to throw the ball and run the ball right at you. The ability to run the ball right at you is a combination of a talented and sturdy RB, a physical OL, and TE’s that can block.. In 2007 we had that perfect combination. A talented and sturdy RB in Omar Cuff, a physical OL, and Josh Baker and Rob Agnone were 2 of the best TE’s in the country.
There’s a couple reasons why I think we haven’t been at that level the last couple of years with our run game. First, after the 2007 season, the graduation of 4 outstanding seniors, all of which were starters for us at some point in their career. They were all very physical players: Greg Benson, Mark Ciavirella, Rich Beverley, and Mike Byrne. So that is difficult to replace that kind of maturity and ability.
Then, unfortunately in that spring, we had 3 significant injuries on the OL. They all happened to redshirt sophomores, typically the time you expect an OL to blossom. Chad Horton broke his ankle and had a twist fracture in the ankle that he still has trouble pushing off with now, that ended his career. Chad was 6’5", 285 lbs. Chris Daino who was one of our most prized recruits that we ever recruited here. 6’4", 305 lb all muscle. He hurt his knee and ended up getting arthritis in his knee to end his career. Then we lost Sam Burrows, which has been two years now but hoping to get him back this year. Sam is 6’3", 305 lb., a tremendous technician, who during the short time we had him on the field, we felt he could be an all conference player. So losing those three put a huge dent in our OL since we anticipated that they would all be 3 year starters. They were all very physical and would have allowed us to do what we had done in the past with running the football.
When you typically carry 12 scholarship OL at the I-AA level, and you lose 7 of them in one year, it is very difficult to rebound. One of the reasons it is difficult to rebound from is that it is tough to find great transfer OL. It is usually better served by taking freshmen and developing them. But since the freshmen typically take 3 years to develop, this can become a problem when there are injuries.
This year we felt Josh Baker and Colin Naugle (very happy with progress of Naugle) would give us the physical presence again at the position that would really help our run game. Losing them might be as big a reason to not be able to run the football as anything. One of our goals going into last season was to play more 2 TE schemes in an effort to be more physical. Then when you lose your two best TE’s that kind of puts you back to more spread sets since you are obviously not going to run the ball in a physical manner in spread sets.
I think the OL made great strides during the fall. Talking to Dave Cohen at Hofstra after the season, he thought our OL was underrated from what he thought it was going to be. I was very pleased with their blitz pickups and their pass protection during the Nova game, but for us to be who we want to be, they need to make big strides during the off season and we need to make an emphasis in the spring of running the football.
GH: Secondly, there were four big lineman that you red-shirted last year. Are any of them ready to step in as a potential starter this year?
Keeler: I thought we did a great job last year of hitting our target in the recruitment of OL. We wanted to get bigger and more physical. I thought all 4 of the OL did a good job on the scout team in the fall. They are all working very hard in the weight room, and since we are coming off a season not in the playoffs, I made it clear that every starting job on our team is wide open. The great thing about where we are with the OL right now is that Kevin Uhll will be our only senior and the other 10 are all either JR, SO, or RS FR. So we can hopefully redshirt any of the OL that come in.
GH: Sam Feleccia seems to have the potential to be a special player. In high school he played TE, WR, and wildcat QB. Do you expect to try him in a similar way or do think he will settle in at one position?
Keeler: What we saw in Sam was a versatile athlete that can play the movement TE position for us where he is off the ball, almost like a h back. We can spread him wide at times and he is very comfortable playing WR. He athletically just gives us a lot of flexibility at what we can do offensively.
GH: You looked at a number of WR’s according to the recruiting services. What was it about Stephen Clark that you really liked?
Keeler: We signed three WR in this class. We are very excited about all three. What we loved about Stephen Clark was that he is a very bright kid, extremely hard worker, natural WR, very loose in the hips, outstanding speed, and we got a recommendation from former blue hen standout, Dominic Banks, who coaches him down there. Stephen had an opportunity to go up against one of the top corners every day in practice, and talking to Dominique, he felt that Stephen really showed that he has the ability to be an outstanding player at any level.
We also signed Karim Jones. Karim is 6’ 4", 210 lbs. who runs a 4.6 forty. He came to a one day workout in June and we fell in love with him. We think he has a great potential upside. The third WR might be the most interesting signing of the bunch, Mike Johnson from Gainesville, FL. In the spring of his junior year he was getting contacted by LSU, Old Miss, Arkansas, Miami, just to name a few. And unfortunately, he had a season ending knee injury that occurred in spring ball. So he was unable to have a senior season. He is 6’ 1 ½”, 205 lbs. He has great athleticism and we feel he has a chance to be a special player. Mike is 6 months out from his surgery and our doctors were very pleased with his progress.
GH: It looks like you have recruited a kicker, in Sean Baner, that has the leg to put the ball in the end zone on kick-offs.
Keeler: I can only comment that we are actively recruiting Sean Baner. In terms of kickers, we looked at every kicker’s tape that came across our desk, which was hundreds. We are really very interested in upgrading our ability to kick the ball off. When you have an outstanding Defense like we believe that we will have this year, you want the opposing teams drives to start inside the 25. This year it was more like the 35. Jon Striefsky had a phenomenal career for us as a placekicker. Unfortunately, that was one area that he struggled in and last year we thought we had the answer when we recruited Patrick Murray. Unfortunately after 10 days of training camp, he decided he wanted to be closer to home so we released him and he did an outstanding job kicking for Fordham last year. So we thought we had the problem solved going into camp last year, I believe we will have the problem solved for this year.
GH: Please discuss the three players coming in as transfers and are you saving any scholarships for a last minute can’t miss transfer?
Keeler: There are more transfers out there this year than possibly ever before. We still maintain the philosophy that we want to build from the ground up so the majority of our team will be freshmen. We will always consider a great player and then you look at potential holes you may have due to injuries or other reasons on your team. We stay away from social issues, and we try to get kids that will academically fit into the University of Delaware. We generally don’t take junior college players, and as you look at a lot of teams across country, 1AA is a transfer destination. Appalachian State may take as many as 6-7 I-A and junior college transfers this year. UMass had 21 on the roster back in 2008. The Midwest schools, Sothern Illinois, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, make a living on junior college and 1A transfers. Delaware has gotten a little bit of a reputation for taking transfers primarily because we have been very fortunate at how well a number of our transfers have worked out. Andy Hall, Sonny Riccio, Ben Patrick, Sean Johnson, Garron Bible, Joe Flacco, etc. But percentage wise, we want to keep to the philosophy I just stated above. Build from the ground up, take great ones, and fill in some holes if we need to.
The great thing about these 3 young men is that there is no projection needed in terms of their ability to play in this league. Also, there is no projection needed in terms of their ability to do the work academically. We took three players that we think can all make an immediate impact on our team next year.
Rocky Hagar, head coach at Northeastern, was on the same staff as Nick Rapone at Temple. So we felt we got very reliable info from Rocky. Darryl Jones is a tremendous talent. He will play corner for us, but has the ability to play safety in case we get an injury. Great leadership ability, great playmaker, and I would be very disappointed if he doesn’t help to make our secondary one of the best secondaries in the league.
Kyle Hunte - absolutely jumped out on film when we watched him. They planned on redshirting him, however, about 6 games into the season they decided to play him. In the last 5 games, I believe he had 3 interceptions. Tremendous athleticism. He will give us great speed off the edge in blitzing situations. He will make the OLB position deeper and more competitive.
Quincy Barr - one of the things we wanted to do defensively in this recruiting class was to get more dynamic. With a special emphasis on the ability to rush the passer. Quincy Barr we believe was a perfect fit for what we were looking for. 6’ 3", 250lb, very dynamic, who has all of the potential in the world. Quincy was the first person that Dave Cohen called me on. So the great relationship that I have with Dave helped solidify us targeting Quincy.
Quincy was originally scheduled to go to Louisville. They had filled up, and Hofstra got him late in the process. He played for Dave as a freshman and then Dave decided to redshirt him last year in a belief that they could have an all conference player for 3 years if they just worried about the fundamentals with Quincy. They challenged him every day as a practice player and he met the challenge.
We kept our eyes open for a transfer DT, but nothing came across our desk that was worthy to act on. We may have a scholarship available for a late transfer, but we felt so good about this class that if we were out, it would be okay because we wanted to take every one of these players. I would anticipate with all of the movement in college football that there will be some transfers available, but for every 100 that come across our desk, we might actively only get involved with one.