Q&A: Houston coach Tony Levine

Houston opens spring practice today as it gears up for Year 1 in the Big East. I had a chance to catch up with coach Tony Levine on Monday, and here is a little of what he had to say.

The first question is about the quarterbacks. How do you envision the competition playing out this spring?

TL: This spring there will be an open competition at every position, so quarterback in that regard won’t be different than anything else. I think going into this season, we have a blank depth chart as we enter spring, and there’s also a chance it may be blank when we finish spring. We’re bringing in some junior college transfers that will be here June 1, and we’re bringing in some talented high school young men that will be here this summer. So I think at all positions, the competition is going to continue through training camp in August.

Are you OK with having some questions at quarterback going into fall practice until you can see the new guys coming in this summer?

TL: I’m absolutely OK with that. I’m more of a glass half full guy and I feel like we have answers at all positions. We just have to choose the best one. We’re going to have tremendous competition and a great pool of candidates to choose from at all positions. So I’m very optimistic the guys who were here last year, regardless of position, are going to show tremendous improvement this spring and into August, and then the newcomers that will be here this summer will provide a great challenge for the guys that are returning.

What do you want to see out of David Piland this spring that he was inconsistent at during the season last year?

TL: You just said the word I was waiting to hear. We need to get consistency not only out of our quarterback position but all positions. We return 10 starters on offense and, again, I think it’s 97 percent of our offensive production from last season returns, which is quite different than what I was talking to you a year ago at this time when we lost 97 percent of our production. But our receivers have to catch the ball better, our offensive line has to protect better, and our quarterback has to make better decisions and distribute the ball better. Everybody has to be more consistent and that’s going to be a big theme this spring.

How much did the midseason coaching changes impact that consistency?

TL: It definitely impacted quarterback. You look at David Piland, who was starting his third year of college and within a 10-month period had three different position coaches if you count Kliff Kingsbury coaching him and leaving, then Mike Nesbitt our offensive coordinator I hired and then Travis Bush taking over that role. That wasn’t easy on David, and I think now the stability we’ve got with the hire of Doug Meacham will help him and the other quarterbacks.

Is the system that Doug’s bringing in, is it similar to what you have done?

TL: That’s part of why I think this transition is going to be so smooth and successful in that Doug’s been at Oklahoma State for eight years and he’s been running the offense there, part of running that offense that Dana Holgorsen brought there from Houston. So it’s the same terminology, the same concepts. They do some things schematically a little different, but it’s going to be a very, very easy transition in terms of what we have been doing and what we’re going to be doing moving forward offensively.

What type of season does Charles Sims have the potential to have if he stays healthy?

TL: I think he’s one of the best running backs in the country. Last season really was an exception to what his career’s been in terms of being injured. That has to do with a couple different factors. The year before, we had the three-headed monster, we had three great tailbacks in Bryce Beall, Mike Hayes and Charles. Both Mike and Bryce were seniors. Last year, with the lack of playing time for Charles due to injuries, we were able to play Ryan Jackson, a true freshman who’s a 10.3 100-meter guy, and then Kenneth Farrow, a redshirt freshman. I see this upcoming season with the development of them, physically in the offseason, the ability for them to go through spring practice and continue to improve, I see us getting back to what we had in the backfield in 2011 with three tremendous running backs Instead of Charles having to play 80 snaps, and touching the ball 25 times, he can play 45 snaps and touch ball 25 times and not take the beating physically that he did last year.

How about defensively, you lose Phillip Steward. Who are you looking at to step up on defense?

TL: Two names come to mind. Derrick Mathews will be a true junior and he started 26 straight games for us the last two years. He played last season about 200 pounds, now he’s up to 210 going into spring. He’s had a great offseason for us. He’s a great leader, and a great player. The other one that’s the one I think going to get a little of publicity: Trevon Randle, coming out of high school, he was one of the top linebackers in the nation, highly recruited. He went to LSU and left there and transferred here a year ago. He sat out last season with the transfer. He’s 6-3, 223 pounds and a legit 4.4 guy, so he’s been here for a year so we know what he’s capable of doing. He’s a guy that will be running with the first team, and a guy everybody’s excited to see perform.