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Q&A with Saluki offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Blake Rolan.

Byline: tom weber saluki media relations

CARBONDALE -- The Saluki football team has completed five of its 15 spring practices so far and is taking a week off for spring break. New offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Blake Rolan offered his thoughts on what he's seen from the offense so far.

What are your first impressions of the offense?

The guys care, care about each other and want to do things right. A couple heads are spinning just a little bit with installation offensively, but our guys are taking coaching and grasping the big picture. When we get back from spring break, we'll focus on honing into the details of our assignments and really learning the small things.

Is there anything that's surprised you so far?

Not seeing our quarterbacks play last year, I didn't really know what to expect. You go back and watch their high school film and the couple of reps they ran at SIU. I told them in our last position meeting it's been a good surprise for me. These guys are very competitive. They're trying to separate themselves and that keeps bringing the next guy up. We need consistency in that room, but I'm definitely excited about the future in that room. The guys will come back after spring break and try to find who is going to lead them.

Give us a quick scouting report on each quarterback, starting with the returnees.

(Nic) Baker is a guy who obviously had a great high school career and I can tell why after being with him a couple of days in practice. He's very competitive, has a chip on his shoulder. He's kind of the quiet assassin. He doesn't say much, he wants to step in and do it. Stone (Labanowitz) is coming off back surgery and is gradually getting in there. He has a great personality, understands the offense and is improving. Austin (Reed), I'm really excited to see, has had some really good days. In my eyes, he's had a really good start to camp. Those three guys have been in the offense and know it, so they have a little bit of an advantage.

And the newcomers?

Kar (Lyles) is very hungry about learning this new offense, wanting to be great and do the little things right. He's shown the ability to learn and produce quickly for a guy coming in to a new offense. He has some ability to extend plays, he just needs to quiet it down a little bit and let plays come to him sometimes. Cooper (Callis) came in, same deal, you have to learn the offense and get quality reps. It means a lot to him. Both guys are being intentional every day trying to get things right.

Is D.J. Davis as explosive in person as he appeared on film?

Definitely. He can really see the hole, stick his foot in the ground and go. He's strong, physical, puts his hat in there. Even though he's the smallest guy out there at times, he doesn't play like it. He brings a lot of energy. He's exciting. We have to get some guys around him who can help him. In this conference, you need 3-to-4 backs in the rotation, but he's definitely a guy who is a spark and a consistent player.

With Javon Williams Jr., how difficult is it to switch from quarterback to running back?

It should be easier coming from quarterback in terms of mentally knowing the protections. His thing is just his eyes in the run game, reading the right people. Coach (Nate) Griffin has done a great job with him. It's easy to see his ability. He can be a difference-maker in this conference. He's a big body, but shockingly, he can leave some people. He needs to do the little things to improve each day, but he has really good potential.

With two of the school's all-time leading receivers graduating last year, do you see Landon Lenoir becoming the go-to guy?

You can tell he's been around some quality receivers and coaching in the past. Having the background of coaching receivers, they all want the football -- they better. You can tell he comes from a room of depth and guys ahead of him who have done some things right. Landon will be a guy you can move around, put at multiple positions, good route runner, will put his hat in there and block some people, too. Now is his time and he understands that.

Who are some of the other receivers you expect to step up this season?

Avante Cox brings us a guy we needed who can stretch the field and play more than one position. Coach (Nick) Williams has done a good job with helping him learn this offense. You have Sam (Thompson) coming in and moving up every day. He does the little things and keeps getting better and better. Bonnie (Sam Bonansinga) has played some in the past and is definitely going to help us this year.
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Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Mar 15, 2019
Words:838
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