Q&A: UCF coach George O'Leary

I had a chance to sit down with UCF football coach George O’Leary and asked about some of his expectations headed into spring football. Here is a little of what he had to say:

Where do you want to see improvement from quarterback Jeff Godfrey during spring practice?

George O'Leary: His pocket presence. He’s really done a wonderful job for a true freshman, but when you look at the season and you look at how many open receivers we had, that experience of pocket presence. It doesn’t always have to be a rush. Go to the second or third receiver. That’s where he needs to improve and I think he will. He improved each game. Next year, he’ll have all the bullets in the gun as far as the game plan so we’ll have a lot more ways of attacking people.

Did he exceed your expectations?

GO: He did. True freshman quarterbacks, for them to play at the Division I level at the level he played -- conference championship, bowl championship -- is outstanding. There’s no question the talent he has is only going to get better and better as his experience improves.

What will you do at backup with Rob Calabrese coming back from a knee injury?

GO: Right now, Blake Bortles will be the backup. Rob is still at quarterback but I want to look at him at receiver. He’s too good an athlete not to keep on the field in some way. His leadership -- Rob is a senior and very well respected. Sometimes that area of the game is not looked at the way it should be. That was the key this past season. We had a bunch of kids that were a bunch of seniors that really showed the way on the field but showed it off the field, too. Rob is one of those kind of kids.

And Calabrese is OK with moving to receiver?

GO: He’s going to line up there and we’ll also have the opportunity to use him at quarterback. The flexibility and versatility is going to help us and help Jeff and help Blake. I was very impressed with Blake Bortles this fall on the show teams. He’s a strong guy who can throw. He’s athletic enough to run everything we want to run so putting him at 2 gives him an opportunity to get a lot more reps and gives Rob an opportunity to work on some of the skills I hope will help the team.

What will you do at running back with Brynn Harvey coming back?

GO: Brynn will line up behind Latavius [Murray] to start. The only thing I promise is the first snap. That depth chart will be adjusted as spring ball goes on.

With some of the losses you took on defense, do you think the offense may be ahead in the spring?

GO: I would think right now with the people we have coming in midyear there’s going to be a lot of battles on the field defensively. The secondary is pretty much intact. Linebacker corps: we have some young kids who have the size and athleticism. We have to see where they’re at. Defensive line, you graduate [Bruce] Miller and David Williams. You’ve got people at that position. We have a chance to be a very solid defense, no question there. There’s going to be a lot of competition in the spring, which I like. You need to keep competition. I don’t think there’s any positions given out because you played last year. You’ve got to compete for them and the kids know that. When you leave the two-deep in the spring, that’s how we line up in the preseason and then you really worry about game planning and getting things done the right way. The spring is a way to make the team and also win a position.

You spoke about leadership earlier. How do you replace leaders such as Bruce Miller and Derrick Hallman?

GO: I met with the team [Wednesday]. There are 17 seniors next year. I said there were 19 last class. They didn’t just start being leaders in spring ball and preseason. They started the first day of winter workouts. I think collectively you guys have to understand there are right ways to do things and wrong ways. If you take charge of your football team from the locker room to the classroom, socially, in all facets, that’s how you develop respect. You’re only as good as your senior class.

Who or what are you most looking forward to seeing in the spring?

GO: I’m anxious to see at linebacker how Ray Shipman comes along. Jose Jose is another one that’s come in -- he’s in school already. From a defensive standpoint, I think it’s going to all come together. Offensively I just want to see the maturity of the offensive line, I want to see where is the depth chart at running back. And obviously at the receiving corps we’re losing kids, but we have some talented kids coming up. JJ Worton and Josh Reese -- how do they fit in and where are they at as far as Division I football is concerned?