CRAWFORD | Sorting through the ACC media madness with Louisville - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Sorting through the ACC media madness with Louisville's Sheldon Rankins

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford. WDRB photo by Eric Crawford.
Sheldon Rankins (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford). Sheldon Rankins (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford).

PINEHURST, N.C. (WDRB) — I never know what to do with media days. It’s a problem, especially, you know, when you’re in the media.

I was pretty fired up a year ago to go to my first SEC football media days. John Lewis and I drove down to Birmingham, Ala., for the final day of four, because that was the day the University of Kentucky was being featured.

We get there, and the hotel lobby is packed with Alabama fans. They’ve got velvet ropes so that the media can get to the elevator. They aren’t cheering or anything. They’re just standing around, waiting, for Nick Saban to pass by, to touch the hem of his garment, perhaps.

The other media folks there seemed worn down, like a group of people coming home from a three-day camping trip. Everything was covered, it seemed, with a thin glaze of Golden Flakes potato chips. If you ever, for dietary purposes, want to go on a potato chip-and-Dr. Pepper cleanse, that’s your place.

Mark Stoops followed Saban on the SEC Media Days podium. Have you ever been in a room with no oxygen? Stoops is talking, and the staff has already started to clean up. By the time he’s finished, they’re breaking tables down so fast we had to sit on the floor to do our work.

This year, mainly for that reason, I skipped the SEC. Given the choice of covering the SEC in Birmingham or the ACC at Pinehurst Resort, I thought the choice was clear. Which would you pick? And before you answer, consider that I got to my room here and there’s a little toy SUV on the table with the words, “Reserve a complimentary Acura.”

It’ll never be as good as it was in the Big East, when they brought the media up to Newport, R.I., sat us there on a bluff overlooking the mouth of Newport Harbor and Narragannsett Bay, and rolled out a seafood feast prepared on site.

But the ACC likes to put on a show. The food is good. The golf (if you like that kind of thing) is good. And the humidity is impressive. WDRB's Mike Lacett and I had to call an audible on our outdoor stand-ups because the camera was fogging up. 

Media days, for players, are a little like an episode of “Punked.” They tell you it’s a big honor. They tell you it’s a privilege. Then you get there and realize it’s an exercise in answering the same questions over and over FOR EIGHT HOURS. Morning talk radio. TV. ESPN. Raycom. ESPNU asks you what your favorite Disney movie is. Really? I guess I should have asked them what their favorite FOX TV show is. Nah. Strike that.

Then you roll in to meet the TV and internet media. Someone from the conference reminds you that you’re live from the minute you get to the podium. Thanks, Andrew Harrison.

(Incidentally, a tip of the cap to the ACC person who got frustrated after typing in a mountain of score information who finally, after entering last season’s Wake Forest results, typed “F— this s—” into the conference media guide. Then left it there. Former agate clerks everywhere feel your pain.)

Credit U of L defensive players Sheldon Rankins and James Burgess. They were two of the more interesting guys on Day 1 of ACC media days.

I rolled tape on both players, but talked more to Rankins, a senior defensive end from Covington, Ga., who recorded 10 sacks and 13 1/2 tackles for loss as a starter last season. He’s been down there in the defensive trenches for three years, while other guys got more of the spotlight. Now it’s his turn, and he says he’s ready to grab it.

They asked Rankins if there’s a time when he likes to get away and even stop thinking about football.

“When I’m sleeping,” Rankins said.

Cue it up. Then there’s the hour-long Q&A with the print media. And if the players by now are on overload, so are we media types. For a month, we’ve been dying for any scrap of football news we can get. By mid-July, I can turn one quote from Bobby Petrino into a three-part series.

And all of a sudden, you’re flooded with all this information from all these players. It’s like taking a starving man to a five-course meal.

Let’s just sit back and enjoy this. Some Rankins insight, Q&A style, just like you get it at media day.

Here’s Rankins on the opener against Auburn: “I have friends that play for Auburn. I live 30 minutes from the Georgia Dome, so my family will be there. It’s like a homecoming for me. It’ll be a great game. Auburn is a great team. They’re going to try to hurry up, get guys tired, get guys out of place and try to capitalize on it. And they’ve got a revamped defense under (Will) Muschamp, and they’re going to try to get after our quarterback. And we’re going to try to do the same thing. So it’s going to be a good game.”

And on the U of L quarterback situation, with five players on scholarship: “I think it’s a great problem to have. We’ve got a lot of talented guys. Will Gardner showed in spurts that he’s a very viable quarterback for us. Reggie Bonnafon, when his number was called, he did the same. Kyle Bolin, the same. And Tyler Ferguson showed some great things in the spring, and so far since he’s been here, Lamar (Jackson) has shown some great things. He’s athletic. He throws a great ball. It’s all about him being so young and having to grow up fast. As a quarterback, you’re the leader of that huddle. You’ve got to be able to command the respect of that huddle. So it’s a problem, but it’s a great problem in a sense, because once the guy emerges as a starter, we’ll know for sure that he’s really earned that spot.”

On whether it’s important to him to break out nationally: “Yeah, definitely. Every player who says he doesn’t want to do that is lying to you. The reason we play this game is to get drafted as high as possible. That’s not my only personal goal, but if I can do that, then I’m helping this team. . . . I feel like you stack me up against any defensive lineman in the country, and nine out of 10 guys will say Sheldon Rankins is one of the top guys. A lot of guys can play two downs, then have to come off the field on third down. I never come off the field. You can run right at me, I’ll stop you. If you want to run away, I’ll come down the line and make the play. You want to drop back on third down, I’ll pressure the quarterback and get there. A lot of guys can’t do that. But people aren’t going to take notice until I make them.”

On what he expected of coach Bobby Petrino when he first arrived: “I didn’t really know what to expect. I heard some things, some good, some bad. All I knew was, wherever he was, he had a good offense. I remember their Arkansas year when they went to the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State. After meeting him, he’s a good guy. He’s different from (Charlie) Strong, but he’s a good guy. At the end of the day, he puts his players in a position to win games. Sometimes things don’t go as we planned. But I’ve truly embraced Coach Petrino as a coach. . . . He’s different. Coach Strong was more of a joker. Coach Petrino is more serious, more, ‘Let’s play football, let’s get to work.’ There’s nothing wrong with that. Two different guys going about the same goal the different way. At the end of the day, they care about their players and they want to win games.”

On how the defensive philosophy under coordinator Todd Grantham is different from the defense under Charlie Strong: “I think Grantham is more of a calculated play caller. He always wants an answer for everything that an offense does. Whereas Strong and Bedford, they knew what we were good at, and said, ‘We’re going to run this. Stop it.’”

On U of L and its ability to tackle effectively the past several seasons: “I think one, strength and conditioning. Guys have to be strong and explosive and drive through guys and bring them to the ground. Second, we work at it. I think with so many rules against contact in the NFL, a lot of that trickles down to college. A lot of teams don’t have a lot of contact. But when you can have contact, you need to tackle. It’s a big part of the game, so it’s something that needs to be practiced.”

On how much the team is studying its early opponents over the summer, and whether being under-recruited out of high school is motivation for that: “With me it is. You know, I’m never going to be the ideal height. I’m just under 6-2. When it comes to what teams are looking for in height, weight and speed, the height isn’t going to be there. It’s not. But what I can do is know more than my opponent and be able to do more than one thing. I pride myself on that. If I look at a formation, I know what a team is going to do, and I think that trickles down to a lot of the guys. I’m always asking guys when they want to go watch film. We get done with conditioning, I’m telling guys, ‘OK let’s go break down some Auburn film.’ Because if you can focus when you’re tired now, it’ll be nothing come game time. And two, you can never watch enough film. As a player, if you can know what they’re going to do before they do it, the job is that much easier.”

And finally, on whether he’d nominate himself, a one-time high school quarterback, to carry the ball in goal line or short-yardage situations: “If I were quarterback we’re going to run quarterback power every play, with a little pop pass every once in a while. Goal line? Ten out of ten, every time. No doubt. Nobody’s stopping me. A yard? I’m a yard myself.”

Good stuff. I have no idea how to arrange it. But it’s media days. It’s time to publish. There will be more tomorrow. Thank goodness.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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