The start of the 2017 season is just a few weeks away for the Knights. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander talked with the media on Tuesday about what he has seen from the team so far.
Q: What are your thoughts on where you guys are now at the end of camp compared to where you were at the start?
A: I don’t know if you’re ever satisfied. But I’m happy. I think the guys responded well all through camp. They responded to situations, started to respond better when things weren’t going our way. Some of these young guys are starting to emerge. I think we’re going to have some depth at every position. We’re going to be able to have a good-looking defense out there come game one.
Q: What can you say about adding former North Carolina cornerback Mike Hughes to the roster?
A: He’s been out there for a day in helmets and one day in half pads, according to NCAA rules [he has to do that]. You can tell he’s smooth, you can tell he’s athletic. I’ve met with him, he’s a pretty sharp guy. [He’s] definitely got a little in-shape work to do. He hasn’t been playing football like all these other guys have for a month, so he’s got a little ways to go there. But you definitely can tell he’s got some tools and he’s going to be able to help us.
Q: Which freshmen standing out and giving themselves a chance to play?
A: The one freshman that really stands out is [defensive back] Antwan Collier. In spring football, we thought he was going to be a good football player. He probably wasn’t ready, but he came into camp and really shined. I think he’s really going to help us as a true freshman.
Q: What excites you most about the defense heading into this season?
A: I think everybody, including myself, said ‘you guys were pretty good on defense last year, lost a lot of players and hopefully we can be good this year.’ So, we’re kind of playing with a chip on our shoulder even though there’s a little bit of hype going around now. We’re trying to say ‘can we be better than last year?’ We absolutely can be. ‘Can we be as good as anybody in the league?’ Absolutely, we can be. But I’m excited for these guys to take that challenge on. I’m excited for the culture in our room. The togetherness of this defense, last year it maybe wasn’t as close as a unit. Some good players changed over systems, changed over positions, changed over culture of the whole team. The guys that we lost last year started to form the culture and these guys have really taken that thing and run with it.
Q: With [redshirt senior] Chequan Burkett leaving the team and then coming back, where did you see the biggest potential with him returning?
A: The biggest potential with him returning, whether he’s the starter or a backup, was to give us some great depth at inside linebacker, which is a position where we needed some depth. When he decided to take the leave of absence, it was never a shut door. He was going to go figure out real life for a while with children and a wife. If they could make it work, he was going to come back. He didn’t forget how to run our defense. He’s a smart guy. It’s great to have him back for depth and he’ll probably end up running out there with the first team for game one. It’s great to have him for younger guys that maybe need an older guy to look up to. Maybe if they don’t want to come talk to me, they go talk to him because he’s a dad and a husband and he’s got things figured out a little bit.