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July 2, 2008

Football: Q&A with coach Kenny Carter

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Not long after Florida's season ending loss in the Capital One Bowl, the Gators lost their first of three assistant coaches when Stan Drayton bolted for the Tennessee Volunteers. It didn't take long for Urban Meyer to fill the opening by bringing in Kenny Carter from Vanderbilt.

On Wednesday afternoon GatorBait.net interrupted him while he was working on devising punt blocking schemes for a quick Q&A session.

GatorBait.net: What has the transition been like coming from Vanderbilt to Florida?

Kenny Carter: This has been the smoothest transition I've had of all the schools I've coached at. There were little things that would happen at different times that helped reinforce that I made the right choice. Nothing major, just little things along the way that made the decision seem like fate. It has all just worked out.

GatorBait.net: I would assume that coach Meyer has a list of coaches he's interested in just in case a situation arises, but walk us through how you ended up coaching the Gators.

Kenny Carter: It started toward the latter end of the signing period. Dan Mullen called me and asked me if I would be interested in Florida. Obviously, it's Florida, I told him I would be interested, but if I were to do anything it would have to wait until after Signing Day.

I was the recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt and I have a lot of respect for coach (Bobby) Johnson and his staff. And quite honestly, I didn't know if it would be the right fit before getting a chance to talk to coach Meyer.

I met with Dan and Steve Addazio. After Signing Day I visited with coach Meyer, Dan, Steve and John Hevesy and we did some ball stuff together.

One thing led to another and the next day Urban called and offered me the job.

GatorBait.net: Is your family enjoying Florida?

Kenny Carter: They are, they are. We've got two mortgages right now, but other than that we're okay. It will all work out. We're in a great place in Nashville as far as the area and we're probably looking at getting an offer on it in the next couple of days.

GatorBait.net: You have a diverse coaching background. From LSU to Pittsburgh, to Penn State to Vanderbilt - you've coached at some top football programs. Plus you've coached on both sides of the ball by coaching linebacker, defensive ends, tight ends, wide receivers and now running backs.

Do you have to go out and, for lack of a better word we'll say learn, how to coach these different positions?

Kenny Carter: You do it in a lot of different ways.

The thing is if you have any aspirations of being a head coach it behooves you to have experience on both sides of the ball.

I want to be a head coach at some point, and one of my mentors in the profession told me not to be afraid to do that - and if you can do it at the 1-A level, the better.

I never thought, 'Oh I can't do that.' What you do is you basically learn the specifics of that position from people you have a lot of respect for. People you feel know the intricacies of that position. And then you learn the scheme from the school you're at. What that does in the long run is it ties things together for you better as a teacher.

I know the ins-and-outs of several different positions and different schemes because I've coached them.

GatorBait.net: Talk about what you inherited at Florida. When people think of the Gator running game, Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin come to mind. Do you think your running backs think of themselves as secondary players in the UF offense?

Kenny Carter: To be quite honest, one of the reasons I wanted to come to Florida, and accepted the job is because when coach Meyer and I had this conversation, this is one of the things we want to try to alleviate. We don't want it to just be the Tim Tebow-Percy Harvin Show.

We have above average backs. They haven't performed to that level yet, but we have very good running backs and our goal is to get them to perform to that level. Not just one individual, but everyone in that (running back meeting) room.

Over the spring we made an extra effort to make sure we gave those guys carries. We made sure to put them in the position to where they had to prove to their teammates and prove to us that they have the ability to be productive and they have the ability to do what needs to be done at that position.

We felt like they did that.

As far as them feeling like they're secondary, really things like that are inconsequential because it all comes down to winning ball games.

If we're getting production out of the position, they'll get the carries.

GatorBait.net: You said you have a stable of above average running backs - how do you sort through who deserves to get the carries? You have a lot of bodies, but only one football.

Kenny Carter: There's two mitigating factors for any player getting playing time. One is his knowledge of the scheme. Two is conditioning. Those are the two things that come into play as to where they are. For some of them that's a factor, for some of them it's not.

After that there are situations you put them. This guy might be right for this scenario, while this guy might be better in a different scenario, while another might be a good fit for any scenario.

Then after that it comes down to production. When there's a couple of guys who are capable, when you're out there and you have a chance, you better take advantage of it.

If they're all even, we're going to rotate them to keep them fresh. The beauty of it is you never know who's going to pop a play. A couple of them can score from anywhere on the field.

The competition is very stiff between them and that adds to the intensity in the (meeting) room, the intensity on the practice field. Because if you're not productive on the practice field, don't expect to play.

Plus, Chris (Rainey), Brandon (James) and Emmanuel (Moody) have the ability to play some receiver in our scheme.

We're also doing some two back things in our backfield.

GatorBait.net: With Eric Rutledge gone, you really don't have a proven fullback. Could we see two running backs together in the backfield more often?

Kenny Carter: Well we used two running backs in the backfield in the spring. We used them to block and to run, especially in the goal line situations. There's also some other scenarios where we can use two backs and one doesn't necessarily need to be a fullback.

We can also utilize our tight ends back there also.

GatorBait.net: What kind of reports are you getting about the off-season workouts?

Kenny Carter: Well the NCAA says that the strength coach can't report to us about how the kids are doing, but when I see them and talk to them, they are doing very well.

When I look at them physically, they look as good as they've looked.

Chris is gaining the weight he needs to gain. Kestahn (Moore) is as physically fit as he's ever been. I mean, he's a specimen when you look at him as far as how muscular he is. Emmanuel is where he needs to be physically. So I've been pleased with them. Jeff Demps just literally got on campus. He went to his first class today.

GatorBait.net: With all his speed, you had to be happy to see Demps report.

Kenny Carter: Speed is great, but like I said the two primary things that will keep a player off the field is their knowledge of the system and conditioning. We're going to have to fast track his level of aptitude when it comes to the scheme. If we can get that where it needs to be, we're going to utilize him. But obviously, when you have someone with his speed, we'll streamline things to be able to get the ball in his hands because he can punish people with his speed.

GatorBait.net: Around the country coaches are in and out of the office this time of year - you're limited in the amount of time you can spend with your players. Are you on pins-and-needles hoping they are doing the right thing?

Kenny Carter: No, because of the competition at Florida. Everything is about winning a championship here - our guys understand that so they're going to train. That's why they came here.

As far as exposure to your kids, the only limitations are what you can do with them in regards to football. As far as being around them, having them over your house, visiting with them about academics and social things - you can do all that you want.

As a matter of fact the backs were out at my house a week ago.

We can talk to them, be around them, check in on them in class. I did that this morning. I sat there 15 minutes before class started, watching them, saying 'hey' as they came in. They need to know that we're around. That's important. Urban is big on that. We don't have a mass exodus during the summer, we rotate in and out as a staff and take care of each other's players.

GatorBait.net: Even with that being the case, you can't be around all the time. In your absence are any of the players stepping up as a leader?

Kenny Carter: Because he's the oldest guy, I would say Kestahn is a little more verbal, but they all kind of have their own deal because they understand they are fighting for one spot.

We've rallied around the (players in the meeting) room being productive instead of there just being one man who's the man.

GatorBait.net: With Tebow and Harvin carrying the load in the running game last year, you know opposing coaches have to be using that against you on the recruiting trail when it comes to prep running backs. How do you combat that?

Kenny Carter: I combat it very simply by telling them the reason I was brought in here was to address that. It's not just necessarily about me - the head coach wants to address that and he's going to address it.

Tim's not going to be here forever. Percy's not going to be here forever.

The proof is what happens during the season. That's what the recruits are looking at.

I get asked all the time about the spread. Our backs aren't in the I. Well that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you're lined up in the spread, the (shot) gun or the I. What matters is what you do with that ball after you get it

When you get that exchange from the quarterback, you're either a great back or you're not. You're either productive or you're not. You either make the cut you're supposed to make or you don't.

Football is football. From what formation you get the football doesn't make a bit of difference. What you do with it after you get it is what matters.

That's the theme we go with to recruits. We give you a chance to do things most backs don't get the chance to do at other places. On third and long, you're not going to be over on the sideline - we keep our backs in there on those situations because we expect them to be able to catch the ball.

If you're good enough to go to the next level, this offense helps you showcase your versatility. You'll have a chance to prove that you're an every down type of back.

GatorBait.net: With the start of fall practice about a month away, do you have a set depth chart at this time?

Kenny Carter: Our depth chart is our (meeting) room. We have six guys who will do what they need to do. They also have roles on special teams.

Right now Kestahn is the starter because he's earned the right to be the starter.

Whether he maintains that position will play itself out.

GatorBait.net: Talk a little about what each of your backs brings to the table. First up Moore.

Kenny Carter: He understands our scheme. He's physical, he's tough, he's an excellent blocker, be it pass protection or the run game.

And he's a good runner. He has a lot of very strong attributes. He's really the guy that when you think of Florida football, he's what you think of. You want to be represented by a young man like him.

GatorBait.net: He's been productive when given the chance, but the knock on him is he'll put the ball on the ground.

Kenny Carter: Well he had two fumbles - which were in critical times - which is why everyone made it a knock.

We're talking about two fumbles. Every back fumbles. I don't care who you are in college or the NFL. Is it acceptable? No. But is it fair for him to carry the mark of being a fumbler? No, I don't think so.

There's a time when you have to move on and let him play his senior year. Let's move beyond what happened last season and see what the guy can do this season. That's what matters.

GatorBait.net: Not to keep the subject on fumbles going, but is it something that can be fixed through better technique?

Kenny Carter: Absolutely. It can be corrected by better technique and that's one of the things we addressed this spring.

You're number-one responsibility as a ball carrier is to hold on to the ball. Whether you're a quarterback, running back or receiver, if you handle the ball you have to hold on to it.

We make a big deal about ball security and if anyone turns the ball over, there will be a price to pay for it.

But we're not going to harp on it. That's in the past. We're worried about this season.

GatorBait.net: What does Chris Rainey bring to the table?

Kenny Carter: Speed. He's very fast, but what it is about Chris that I really enjoy is he's a complete running back. He's a great inside runner. He obviously has great speed to get to the perimeter. He can make people miss. He's natural. We put him in many short yardage situations in the spring and he converted probably 98% of them. He just has a knack for being a back. He's a natural.

GatorBait.net: Part of being a all around back is being able to block. Where is he physically as far as weight and strength?

Kenny Carter: He's right under 180 (pounds) and he's able to bench 300 (pounds) multiple times this summer. You're talking about a guy who's coming off of two shoulder surgeries. Pound-for-pound he's very strong. We're very pleased with his development and he would probably be further along if he had not run track, but that was something that he wanted to do and he was able to help the University of Florida to some accomplishments that they hadn't achieved before on their relay team.

GatorBait.net: Here we are back on fumbles again. Emmanuel Moody was having a terrific spring game until the goal-line fumble. Was that just a bump in the road for him? Something that happened, but didn't outweigh the positives?

Kenny Carter: Yeah. To me that would be like saying to your wife that you're never going to eat her cooking again because she burned the food one time.

We're moving on. He fumbled, he was wrong, and he paid a price for it.

Fumbling isn't acceptable, but we have to move on from it. Do we ostracize the kid, quit on him and tell him his career is over? Or do we tell him he's very productive, he has a lot of skills and address it?

Quite frankly it happened because he was lazy on the play. Instead of powering into the end zone he tried to dive in so he wouldn't have exert a little more effort by driving in with his legs.

It's unacceptable, but he knew why he fumbled. He knew exactly what happened. I looked him right in the eye and addressed it and then we moved on from it.

GatorBait.net: Overall, did you see more positive than negative from Moody over the spring?

Kenny Carter: Absolutely. He had to adjust to me and grow very fast. Earlier we talked about the two things that can keep you off the field, and one of them was keeping him off the field. He did not have the grasp of our scheme that he needed to have, and that was hurting his production.

Actually, when I think about it, he had both things because he had some hamstring issues in the winter workouts that were holding him back so his conditioning level wasn't where it needed to be either.

He's done a great job this summer. He's done a great job logging in film time to give himself a chance to really learn and understand what we're doing in the scheme.

He knows what he has to do.

I gave him a hard time the other day. I called him and told him, 'everybody won't let go of what you accomplished at Southern Cal. You made the Maxwell Watch List because of what you did there, but what are you going to do here? What are you going to do about it? Are you going to live up to those expectations? Are you going to live off that one season?'

I told him it's up to him.

GatorBait.net: How do you think he'll respond to that challenge?

Kenny Carter: There's only one way to respond - he does it or he doesn't. There's no gray area here, the competition's too good. We try to set all of our guys up for success, we don't set them up for failure. I want them all to do well, but there's no favoritism, there's no politics, it's production that counts.

If he produces he'll be out there. If he doesn't, he won't.

GatorBait.net: Brandon James probably spent more time split out this past spring then he did lining up in the backfield.

Kenny Carter: They all have to catch the ball, but the reason he did it is because we were short on receivers because of injuries. We felt like he was the best guy to help us, but it also gave him an opportunity to get more time. It also helps us down the road. We have a guy now in our scheme who understands what we want to do at receiver and running back.

GatorBait.net: Then there's Mon Williams coming back off of a couple of knee injuries. What's your thoughts on him?

Kenny Carter: I thought he did a good job when we needed him to be a power runner. He had one scrimmage where he was just exceptional. He had over 120-yards rushing. He's still not 100%. When we go into fall camp he should be very close.

He's got to get his confidence up and understand all the things we're trying to do.

GatorBait.net: With the guys you just spoke about, with the depth you have at the position, what is the chances of someone like Demps actually playing this year or is he bound for a red shirt?

Kenny Carter: I don't know if you can say kid is automatically going to be red shirted unless physically they just aren't there. You have a guy like that with his speed, you try to get him in mismatches and get him in space to score. Coach will make that decision, we'll make that decision as a staff, but if he looks like he can utilize his speed and hold on to the ball and score, we'll let him do it.



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