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    BLOG: Pat Fitzgerald's Spring Preview, Part II

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    This time last year 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald described the offseason as a period when you look under the hood of the car and analyze it and try to figure out how you can make it go faster while using less gas. So when NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski sat down with him two days before his team's first spring practice, he wondered first what Fitzgerald and his staff had discovered when they peeked under the hood this time around. What follows is Part II of Fitzgerald's two-part spring practice preview, a position-by-position assessment of the 'Cats.

    Read Part I of Fitzgerald's Preview Here

    All right. Let's do the rundown then. Quarterback?

    "Obviously, you have Kain (Colter). You know, Kain has more experience today than Danny (Persa) did going into his junior year. So, it's exciting to have him back. Now to see Trevor (Siemian) and Zack (Oliver), where's their skill set right now? Are they going to push to be in the top 11 players? Are they going to push Kain? And is P.J. (Carollo, a walk-on quarterback) going to be able to find a role? He's done a great job on our scout team, but is he going to be able to find a role? The running back position..."

    Let me interrupt, since I'm guessing everyone's interested in this. With Trevor having had some success throwing last year, is it possible you install packages where he's a quarterback and Kain's back at wide receiver?

    "Going into the spring phase, I'd say right now, "No." We're going three quarterbacks competing for the starting job and if we're playing Saturday, Kain's starting and Trevor would be the backup and Zack's third just because of rear view mirror. Now those three guys are going to play quarterback all through spring and see how it goes."

    So no Kain at wide receiver?

    "Not in the spring. He's a quarterback."

    How about (running back Mike) Trumpy (who's coming off a knee injury)?

    "We've got four guys who will be out all spring. Trumpy's one of those players, along with (superback) Evan Watkins, (linebacker) Damien Proby and (safety) Jared Carpenter. So Trump with be out as well as Timmy Hanrahan. With Treyvon (Green), Venric (Mark) and Jordan (Perkins), we've got three guys who are going to be competing through the spring to see who is coming out the starter. Tyris (Jones) will be a little dinged up at the start, then he will be added to the mix. We've got to identify that every down back, and then obviously we add Michael to the mix and our signees and Timmy once he gets healthy. So those three guys will get plenty of reps and we'll see where they are at the end of the spring."

    Would you prefer just one back rather than using a committee of backs as you've recently done?

    "You'd love to see somebody emerge to be that guy. I thought Mike was going to be that, I think Mike was a 4.5, five yards a carry until he got hurt. Then it came down to consistency, who's going to be most consistent for the lion's share of the season. It was Jacob (Schmidt, who has graduated)."

    Wide receiver?

    "We're deep and, outside of Demetrius Fields and Rashad Lawrence, we'll see how everybody else plays. I think it's very talented, I think it's a deep group. But I'm in no way, shape or form ready to appoint anyone to a position except maybe, from what I saw two years ago, Tony Jones (who was injured all last season). Obviously, the snapshot is exciting. (He caught a 45-yard touchdown pass against Minnesota on his first play as a 'Cat.) Where he's at right now is even more exciting. He's gotten bigger, he's gotten faster, he's gotten stronger, and I fully anticipate him being a big time player in our offense."

    Then you've got to replace Drake (Dunsmore) at superback.

    "Yeah, and we're going to have a hard time. To start off the spring, (former linebacker) Timmy Riley's going to get a lot of those reps. Brian Smith will be a little limited at the start and so will Mark Szott and Evan Watkins will be out for spring. So, might not have that answer (by the end of spring)."

    Then the offensive line lost a pair of starters (Netter and Ben Burkett).

    "But we've got three guys coming back. Pat Ward (a tackle) will be limited at the start a little bit. Then Brandon (Vitabile, the center) and Brian Mulroe (the left guard), I think Brian's really poised to take that next step."

    As he taken over as leader of the line now that Al's gone?

    "Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. Without a doubt. Then we're going to move Jack Konopka (who played superback last season as a true freshman) to the o-line and see how that goes."

    Defensive line seems deep to me.

    "Yeah. Again, you look at guys who've played a lot of football for us. (Tackle Brian) Arnfelt. (End Tyler) Scott. (End Quentin) Williams. I've been very pleased with the winter of (tackle) Will Hampton. (Tackle) Chance Carter's going to be a little limited to start, but he's had a good winter. Same thing with (tackles Sean) McEvilly and C.J. Robbins. Max Chapman (an end) thought had a great winter. Anthony Battle and Davon Custis (both ends) are two guys I thought improved this winter, and I'm real excited about the future (end) Deonte Gibson. So it's a deep group and we'll see how it works out."

    You mentioned earlier the need to get more pressure on the quarterback. Is this group capable of that?

    "I believe so, on paper. Now I've got to see it in spring ball. On defense, if you can get home in four, you look at the Super Bowl champs, they weren't bringing a lot of pressure. They had four guys who were getting home. That's the ideal. If you can get home with four, you've got a chance to be something really special on defense. That's what we're working our tails off to do in developing the group we currently have, and the same thing with recruiting. We're working diligently to get as much pass rushing ability as we can and still be able to stop the run in Big Ten football."

    At linebacker you seem set.

    "Yeah. We'll be a little dinged up to start the spring. But excited about Bus (David Nwabuisi) and Damien Proby, the way they finished the year, and I thought Collin Ellis and Chi Chi Ariguzo really made great strides as redshirt freshmen."

    Have you decided who will settle in the middle (where both Proby and Nwabuisi played last year)?

    "Not yet. But there's a lot of flexibility there."

    Then comes the $64,000 question, which is cornerback.

    "Well, competition's going to play itself out. Demetrius Dugar and Daniel Jones have experience back there. I think that C.J. Bryant and Nick VanHoose and Jarrell Williams all have a lot of talent. So I don't think it's a lack of talent. They all can run. They've got good strength, good size. Now we've just got to coach them up. We've got to get consistent out there."

    Then, at safety, I personally think that Ibraheim (Campbell) will be one of your breakout guys this year.

    "He's kind of indicative of our defense. I thought he really improved as the year went along. That's just a redshirt freshman getting better. Then you have Hunter Bates and Jared Carpenter coming back and Flem (Davion Fleming) who have experience, and then I think JImmy Hall has a real bright future and his time is now. So I'm really looking forward to watching that group, that whole group, come together. They've been the group, if you put a dart board up, you put the DBs on there. They're an easy target. It's a hell of a motivator."

    Have they responded to that? "Yeah. I think they understand you can't control what other people say about you. But you sure don't want anyone saying anything ill about you. So let's fix it."

    Finally, special teams?

    "We've got 'em all back. We've got long snapper back. We've got holder back. We've got punter back. We've got kicker back. We've got punt returner, kick returner, we've got lots of depth in those areas. But in the punt and kick return area, we've got to be more consistent there. We've got to get more touches in that game."

    Every spring we come to this question about the overall speed of the team.

    "I think we can run. We can run. We've recruited for speed now a couple years and our athleticism, I think we're gaining on where we want to get. We graduated a great group of seniors that left as the all-time winningest class in program history, but I'm real excited about the incoming group. It's kind of what you hope for. You hope next year becomes the all-time winningest group. That's what you hope, that you keep getting better."

    You mentioned earlier that the fifth years have never won a season's final game. So does that remain the mountaintop for your program?

    "Yeah, and we'll go there when it's appropriate. I'm not sure it's this time of the year. It's definitely top of mind. Yeah. But we've got to put ourselves in a position to get there and that's what we're working on now. You think about it. You have winter workouts, then you go to Winning Edge. Two phases down and now we're in spring ball, phase three. Summer workouts, fall camp, here we go. So you've got those five phases and we're kind of right here in the middle. I'll know a lot more about the team April 14th (the day of the spring game) than I know about them right now. But I'm excited about it. Yeah. You look at a class that's the all-time winningest group and you go, "That's awesome." But nobody's satisfied. We're not breaking down (in the huddle with), "Win a bowl game." We're breaking down, "Big Ten champs." That's what the young men have decided will be the breakdown for the team. That's the goal. But now, what are our actions going to be, what's our attitude going to be, what's our work ethic? So far, so good."

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