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Monday, August 17, 2009
Pac-10 Q&A: USC quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Jeremy Bates only turns 33 on Aug. 27 but he's already driving a Lamborghini.

A "Lamborghini" being a reasonable metaphor for a USC offense that welcomes back nine starters from a crew that averaged 38 points and 455 yards per game in 2008.

That said, Bates' job, to beat this automotive analogy to death, is to replace the transmission, because the old one, Mark Sanchez, is presently competing to be the New York Jets' starting quarterback.

 
  Jeff Golden/Getty Images
  Jeremy Bates is making the transition from the NFL to coaching at the college level.

Bates was hired as USC's quarterback coach and offensive play-caller when Steve Sarkisian became Washington's head coach (actually, Bates replaced Carl Smith, who only was with the Trojans for two weeks before bolting back to the NFL).

What made Bates, son of longtime NFL assistant Jim Bates, look like a savvy hire was his work with Jake Cutler as the Denver Broncos' quarterbacks coach.

Now he's charged with transforming Aaron Corp or Matt Barkley -- both? -- into the next great USC quarterback.

He's new to the college game and there's a lot on his plate, but Bates stopped by for a chat.

Sure you've been asked this a bunch: You're an NFL lifer, what's the biggest difference between coaching in the NFL and college?

Jeremy Bates: The biggest difference is the kids' passion for the game. Every kid that we're coaching just loves the game. They're hungry. They're only playing for one reason -- they love the game of football. It's fun. It's been a great experience. The college kids get better every day.

How about recruiting -- has that grind been an adjustment?

JB: Yeah, it's the first time I went off on the road in the offseason. In the past, I've always used that month to study opponents. But this year I went out recruiting and it was a good experience. The No. 1 impression I've had is how advanced these high school football programs are becoming. It was neat to go out and meet coaches and see how these teams have grown offensively. You've got guys in four wides and doing audibles and all that. It's neat to see where the game of football is going and it all starts in high school. They're doing a great job making sure the game is just going to get better in the future.

Folks always talk about USC's NFL-like talent: What's your take after one spring and some preseason practices. Do you feel like you're surrounded by guys who can play on Sundays?

JB: Yeah, no question. We've got a lot of guys -- athletically and with their size -- who will be NFL players. They have the measurables and numbers. But the No. 1 thing that separates them is they work their tails off. They don't take a play off. They don't take a day off. They're going to get better and max out their potential.

How much of what we see this year is going to be your offense vs. what USC has done in past years?

JB: This is USC's offense. When I came here, I had to be respectful of what Lane Kiffin and Sark [Steve Sarkisian] have done and also Coach [Norm] Chow. I've always watched him from afar and I've always studied USC. I didn't come here with a plan of changing this. They've won a lot of football games and Pac-10 championships. I'm not going to change it. I'm going to add some things. Make some subtle changes here and there in the protection schemes, some of the routes. We're going to continue to grow. Any offense that wants to be great has to study and keep growing. If they don't, they're going to fall behind. We're going to add some stuff from Denver, some stuff from other teams I studied this summer. But mainly we're going to keep what USC has been doing in past years because it's been successful.

Give me a summary of how the quarterback competition stands?

JB: Going into two-a-days, Aaron Corp was the No. 1 guy. As you know, he got hurt, and we're just waiting for him to get back. He threw yesterday and did some drills. We're waiting for him to get back and when he gets back, he'll get right in there and we can start competing again. But right now, with him not being out there -- and this happens in the game of football -- Matt Barkley is starting with the ones and getting a lot of snaps. We're trying to speed up the process, give him extra reps so he understands the speed of the college game. So he's going to get a lot of reps with the ones and the twos. Mitch Mustain ended spring No. 3. So with Aaron being gone right now Mitch is No. 2. He had a great scrimmage [over the weekend]. He's competing and getting better. He's done a lot of great things in his life. So we feel good about the situation. We've got three great quarterbacks. It's a competition and whenever you have a competition like that it's going to make everyone better in the long run.

What's so special about Barkley that a true freshman can be in contention for the starting quarterback job?

JB: Extreme maturity. It's a credit to the way he was raised by his family and his high school coaches. The kid understands the game. Nothing bothers him. He doesn't get rattled. He knows how to study. He's very coachable. If he makes a mistake today, he goes to the film room, watches it, takes notes on his mistakes and he goes out the next day and doesn't make the same mistake twice. The kid is just really mature. He's been through a lot. He has the ability to step in and play at 18 [years old], which is exciting.

How many running backs do you think will get regular carries this fall?

JB: We're talking about that right now. I know last year they did a great job of rotating. We've got a handful. More than a handful of great running backs. We're talking All-American running backs. It's really tough. We're going back and forth right now. I know last year when I was with Denver, we tried to go every five plays and then we'd switch running backs. It was tough. I think running backs need to get a little bit of a flow. But that's the way we've been doing it here. So we're talking back and forth as coaches. If someone steps up, maybe it's going to be one. If two people step up, maybe it's going to be two. If they're all playing great and they're all equal going into games, maybe we'll just keep rotating them like last year. It's an on-going process. I wouldn't say it's a concern but it is something we are discussing, something I want to get situated before we open up with San Jose State.

What's the pecking order there?

JB: They're all even. No one is ahead. I'm really looking forward to someone stepping up. I need to see who wants to take charge. They're all competitive, but at the same time they're all best friends and they are all pulling
for each other, which is great. But I'm waiting and I'm watching. We're going to challenge them: Who wants to step up and take it over. It's time. I'd like to see one of them step up. But to be honest with you, they're all right there.

Your offensive line is being touted as the best unit in the country: What's your feeling on that?

JB: It helps you being a quarterback coach knowing you've got those guys up front. We've got some young quarterbacks, so it helps you sleep at night knowing those guys, those front five are going to protect them. Those guys -- it's an incredible offensive line. They have experience. They have passion. They have all the tools. I envision every one of those five players to be playing in the NFL in the future. It's fun to watch them. Offensive line is extremely tough to play. There's a lot of communication that goes on down there in the trenches. For those guys to have been playing together as much as they have and be able to communicate as fast as they do really helps. They're a special unit. We'll go as far as our offensive line takes us this year.

You've got three weeks until the first game. What is your chief concern going forward?

JB: We just want to keep getting better every day. I told them yesterday. I'll tell them today. We've just got to keep chopping wood. We'll make mistakes, that's part of two-a-days, but as long as we go back, study the film and grow from it -- keep chopping wood -- we're going to be a good football team. We'll start worrying about the other things -- who's one, who's two, who's three -- when we get closer to San Jose State. Two-a-days is a fun time. It's always been my favorite time of the season. I've always thought two-a-days was a special time. I use to go with my dad and spend my summer with him. It's all ball.

Do you see yourself remaining a college coach for long or do you expect to return to the NFL sometime soon?

JB: I think I've had a unique growing up experience with a dad who is a football coach. I've learned one thing: to max out that football season and be the best you can be and get your team as good as you can be. At the end of the season, you never know what's going to happen in this game. I've moved a bunch. I've enjoyed it. But right now I'm not going to look past this season. We're going to try to do the best we can. At the end of the season, what happens, we'll see. Who knows? I'm really excited about being here. I love working with Coach [Pete] Carroll. I feel blessed to just be around him, watch him operate, watch him keep the energy in all these guys. This is a great situation for me. I'm learning every day not only from Pete but the rest of the coaching staff. It's fun. We've got a really special team.