One player referred to him as ‘hip.’
Another called him ‘relatable.’
And a third talked about his social media presence.
No, this isn’t one of their teammates they are talking about.
It’s their coach.
Running backs coach Eddie Faulkner, who was hired this offseason after spending the last six years at N.C. State, has made an immediate impact on his players, especially working with a young group that includes James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell.
“He is easy to relate to. He is hip. He is cool,” said Conner. “He lets us be ourselves. It’s been awesome.
“He has opened our eyes to a lot of things. He is open to learning. It’s a little different in our meeting room. We are like coaching each other. He has been awesome. He has made a huge difference in our relationships.
“It’s all about the relationships in this game. If we have a tight relationship with all of the running backs and our coach, that is important. He encourages us to play fast and free. He does a good job of teaching. He is the whole package. He has been awesome. I can’t say enough about him.”
Faulkner smiled when he heard the word ‘hip’ to describe him. And it was a description he didn’t mind.
“That is cool,” said Faulkner. “That is part of building the relationship. This is just who I am. That is how I will go about my business. That is how I have always operated. I feel like football is such a game of emotion and relying on the person next to you. If you are not close to the person next to you, playing for them, you aren’t going to max your ability. That is something I thrive on and we talk about every day.
“At the same time, they understand the standard there is and what they have to do to reach their goals. I try to be approachable to everybody and coach everyone individually to whatever best suits their learning style because everybody is different. I think that might be where that comes from.”
It is true. What is good for one, might not be good for another. But it seems like whatever it is Faulkner is doing, it’s been good for everyone.
“He has already taught me a lot of things I am going to remember on the field and off the field,” said Snell. “He keeps me accountable for what I do, taking care of my body. He is like a second dad in my life.
“He has taught me to be myself. When you stay true to yourself and fix what you do wrong, correct errors, get better day by day, then nothing can stop me.
“He is really relatable. Him coming from college I feel like he has that connection with his players. He took his time to get to know each of the backs separately so he can have his connection with us. He is different than a lot of coaches.”
One player Faulkner didn’t need to build a new relationship with was Samuels. Faulkner coached tight ends and fullbacks at N.C. State while Samuels was there, so their relationship was already established. And it’s a good one.
“His presence has been good, he respects everybody, everybody respects him. It’s a good vibe,” said Samuels. “That is what it was like in college. Everybody could relate to Coach Faulkner. Everyone knew he was cool. Down to earth. He can just relate to us.
“He is like us. He uses social media just like we do. He has Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Literally everything. The only thing he doesn’t have us on is Snapchat. He is very active on there. He loves to show things on there. I think that is pretty unique and fun.”
Samuels really notices is the change that Faulkner’s presence has brought to the running backs room. Not that they weren’t a close group to begin with, but there is a change.
“There is as difference from this year to last year,” said Samuels. “This year we are closer. We have more camaraderie. We are all competing every day. Pushing each other to be the best. We are doing things outside of football, meeting extra, doing the details to make sure we are the best running back group in the world.
“That is our text group message name, the best running back group in the world. That is the name of the group.”
Faulkner is making sure he does his part to keep that text group message factual. While the relationship building is important, he knows the results come on the field. He has been teaching the backs new techniques in pass protection and footwork. He brought new drills to the table during offseason workouts.
“I am just offering them a different way to look at it,” said Faulkner. “Some of them have success working techniques they have done before. On this level that is something I take into consideration. If they haven’t, I say try this and see what you think. We try that and bounce ideas back and forth.
“It’s awesome because those guys are still eager to learn. They are not stuck in their ways. They are open to new ideas and concepts. We talk about this in the meeting room. We learn from each other. They give me their opinions. That’s why iron sharpens iron. It’s as good a situation in my position you could ask for.”
He is making it new and making it fun, and as Conner said, encouraging them to play, ‘fast and free.’
“Part of that is to make things as simple as possible and go out there and have fun doing it,” said Faulkner “You can’t have fun if you are out there wondering what you are doing. They have to know what they are doing schematically. If you are playing with guys you are connected to and close to you are going to go out there and have fun and play fast. We talk about that every day.”