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August 17, 2009James Patton's offensive line has been the major topic of spring practices during the first week-and-a-half of workouts. A nagging back injury to projected starting center Ben Habern has sent Patton scrambling for replacements. When will Habern be back to full strength? How will his return change things on the line?
Patton spoke with reporters about the progress he's seeing in fall camp.
Q: Trent Williams told us that leadership is something that doesn't come natural to him. Have you noticed that yourself?
James Patton: Well, Trent's kind of a quiet guy and I think he's always led by the way he plays. I've told him sometimes you can't be just a great player but you have to have a command and have a presence in the way you talk and the things that you do. And I think that what Trent is working on doing.
Q: Have you seen that just through these early practices?
Patton: Yeah, It's been good.
Q: I noticed Jefferies and Vinson getting a lot of reps in the part of the practice we were able to attend. What are your impressions on those two guys?
Patton: They're doing a good job. They still got a way to go. They just have to learn some more football and keep getting our schemes down. They're big guys and talented guys but they just got to keep working.
Q: It seems like Good and Habern have a lot of leadership for being so young. How have they been able to take that on their shoulders while at the same time keeping up in the physical aspect part of the game?
Patton: They're just getting in there and working. Stephen's got a ton of reps in the first week or two. Ben is a little sore but he'll get a bunch of reps in these next couple of weeks. But again with the way they work and with the way they do things off the field, the way they do things with Coach Schmidt, they're leadership speaks for itself.
Q: Talk about Brody and the switch he's made to the center position and how he's adapting?
Patton: Brody's a blocking machine. He can play anywhere you want him to play. He's smart, he can play center, he can play guard and he can play tackle it doesn't matter. He's the best blocker in the league so It's pretty natural for him.
Q: When Habern comes back is there a chance you'll leave Brody at the center position?
Patton: He's going to play somewhere on the field because he's a great player. But no, if Habern comes back then Brody will move back to tight end.
Q: You guys seem to have a lot of guys who are very, very versatile?
Patton: Again, a lineman is a lineman. It doesn't matter if it's an inside guy or an outside guy, it's blocking. You know I refer to an NFL team where you only keep seven lineman for five spots. So with our guys moving around and getting reps at different positions, that's a bonus, that's a benefit.
Q: Will there be a situation when Brody moves back to tight end, where you will pull him up and have him play center for a play or two?
Patton: No probably not. Again, he's just one of the five best blockers so he's going to be on the field.
Q: You guys have always somewhat succeeded with the new guys every time an old batch graduates. That being said, are you surprised there are so many questions surrounding this line?
Patton: Sure, there are always going to be questions with inexperienced guys. It's 'who's going to step up and play', and 'who's going to keep getting better with reps' and all those kind of things.
Q: Do your guys hear most of the those questions or do they tend to block out what the media has to say?
Patton: Sure they do. You know there always seem to be issues. There are issues with experienced guys with getting them to play at a high enough level or them reading their press clippings and thinking that they're the greatest players ever to walk the earth. And that's not true, every player can be better. With young guys it's a little different. Maybe they don't have the experience but their 'want to' and their attitude should be better about becoming a better player with getting the reps and preparing to play.
Q: Obviously you are concerned with getting these new guys reps but how worried are you with the depth behind those guys?
Patton: Again, it's all about getting reps. Getting those young guys snaps. We've got depth, now it's just about getting consistent reps. That's what young players need is a lot of reps.