A TALK WITH COACH BARTO The Flyer had a chance to sit down with the Arena2 Memphis Mid-South Xplorers new football coach, standout UM alum Danton Barto. Here’s the transcript of the conversation. Also, Odds & Ends. Flyer: How are your preparations for the upcoming season? Barto: We’ve been working very hard, trying to find players. I’m trying to find also what players we have coming back. Our league is almost like college. We start new every year and we might have some key guys back, but we have to hit the recruiting to try and find players that will fit into the system we will implement. Flyer: Let’s get to all of that. First, who do you have coming back? Barto: So far, I have for sure [quarterback] Jeremy Struggs coming back. I have Lou Esposito coming back. Matt LeFever, our backup quarterback is coming back. I have Jesse Allen coming back, Keith Stan coming back, Freddy Powell. So far that’s the really the only 100% commitments I have coming back. Flyer: So how many spots on your roster do you need to fill? Barto: I can carry 21 guys. I’m going to keep 18 and fill in the rest [over the season]. It’s not just a local search, it’s a national search. That’s one thing last year that I think we didn’t do. You have two schools of thought. Of course we want local guys here. But, me being a Memphis guy, I’m going to play the best guy on the field. Flyer: So the roster is wide-open. Barto: Yeah, so I’m going to things differently this year. Last year we had some good players, but we had some players that will not fit in my system and the way we’re going to try and perform and win. Nothing against those guys, they’re not my type of ball players. Flyer: Tell me about the recruiting process. Barto: What you try to do is look at guys and target them and ask ‘Is this guy going to the NFL?’ Because if he is, I don’t want to waste my time with him. I’m not going to get him. So what we do is target players who are good players, but maybe this guy is 5’10” so he’s not going to the NFL, but he would fit in our game perfectly. I won’t give a name, but there’s one guy from Western Michigan. He’s a small guy, very quick. He’s perfect for our game. I doubt that he’ll go to the NFL. Will he go to Arena1? Well, Arena1 is funny about offensive specialists because they don’t like rookies. So he goes on my list. Once his season is over, I’ll try to get him to come here. Flyer: The system seems more and more important every time someone talks about football. There are theses schemas that people work with. Talk about yours. Barto: We’ll be an aggressive scheme on offense. We’ll be a lot different than last year. We will throw the ball 95% of the time. We have Jeremy Struggs, which is a huge luxury in the Arena league. To win, obviously we led the league in rushing, and we won three games. This is a passing league. You have to be able to run the ball into the end zone and it makes since to run then. But with Jeremy being such a great runner, that’s a blessing for us. We will be a vertical passing game. We’ll take our shots when we can. And we’ll look very complex, but we won’t. We will try to formation teams to death. We’ll run the same plays but out of ten different formations. Flyer: What kind of formations are you going to use? Barto: Well, you can’t really spread, but that’s the process. It’s a rhythm passing game. That’s what this league is predicated on and that’s what the spread is. Take what the defense gives you. If it’s a three-step drop, one, two, three, and throw the ball. And on that third step, the ball is going to be coming out. Where we struggled last year, until we got Johnny Loper and Tim Lester in, you have got to take your opportunities down the field. I think this year, you’ll see that more often. We’ll be a more explosive offense than we were last year. And, in our defense, we did put together some good games last year when we were scoring in the fifties. I think you’ll see a better team over all because [last year] I didn’t get the opportunity to work hard on defense last year at the beginning of camp. It will be a lot better defensive team because of the concepts we’re going to do, some things I couldn’t put in because I took over [as coordinator] three games into the season on the fly. Flyer: Help me out here, if I am in the Arena league and I know you’re not going to run. It seems to me that I’m going to be putting in a prevent defense or a 4-3 and spread my guys out. How exactly do you play defense in this league? Barto: Well, it’s a nightmare. This league is predicated on scoring points. So what you do is try and confuse the quarterback as best you can, and try to confuse the receivers a couple times on routes. We try to do the job of keeping those guys in front of us. Basically, we make them drive the ball and make a mistake. By a mistake, I mean they miss a block and we get pressure. We tip the ball and get an interception. They throw an incomplete pass. And this game is almost of the theory that you can do anything you want to us from your 10 yard line to our 20, but then we’re going to tighten up and stop you. Not to say we won’t be aggressive with some of the guys we are targeting to rush the passer, and the defensive backs we are trying to get. But I think we will pick off a lot more balls this year and be a little more aggressive. Flyer: So you’re a defensive guy [Barto is the all-time leading tackler for the U of M]. What kind of adjustments do you need to make on this offensively minded team? Barto: It was the weirdest thing for me last year because it has been eighth grade since I’ve been in an offensive huddle. I honestly did not know how offensive players acted in the huddle. Being in the defensive huddle can be mayhem until somebody tells somebody to be quiet. So I walk in the offensive huddle and these guys are quiet and just kind of looking around. It was an adjustment for me. Offensive players are different from defensive players. Flyer: So finally, what about you in all this? This league is a great thing for players, what about young coaches? Barto: This is a huge opportunity for me. Where does it lead? I don’t know. I used to sit there and wonder, when I was in the CFL, was this going to lead me to the NFL? And I found out that stuff affects you. Where will this lead me? Hopefully it will lead me to the Arena championship game. That’s all I’m thinking about. If anything else happens after that, it’s because my players did their job, my coaches did their job, and I did my job. ODDS & ENDS
  • Chew on these numbers: In the team’s two wins this season (against the Cavs and the Kings), the Memphis Grizzlies held their opponents to 45.6% shooting. On the season (including the 11 losses), the squad has held opponents to a league-last 48% shooting. League champions, the L.A. Lakers, currently rule the NBA defensively, allowing only 40% shooting.
  • On the other side of the ball, Memphis shot 47.6% from the field during the wins, but has shot 42% for the season (rank of 23/29 in the league). The league leader in this category are the Detroit Pistons who have hit 47% of their shots this season.
  • Another interesting stat: Grizzlies point guard Jason Williams is currently third in the league in turnovers with 3.9 a game (behind Utah’s Karl Malone and Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson). In the two Grizzlies wins, Williams had only 2.5 turnovers per game. QUOTABLE
  • ”I’m disappointed in our defense. It’s horrible. It’s absolutely horrible.” Memphis Grizzlies head coach Sidney Lowe on his team’s effort against the Phoenix Suns. Memphis lost that game, 89-103.
  • ”It was our defense that won it for us tonight.” Lowe on how his defense didn’t let him down two games later as the Grizzlies beat the Sacramento Kings, 98-94.
  • "I think we stink." Michael Jordan, on his 2001-2002 Washington Wizards team.

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