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    Competing With Opponents, And Themselves

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    * Early Saturday evening, after the 'Cats had defeated Boston College, quarterback Kain Colter was one of the players who appeared in the interview room. He had, as usual, split time that afternoon with Trevor Siemian, and so here it was only natural that he was asked if he felt he was in a competition for the starting job. "You're always in competition," he said bluntly. "Nothing in this program is set. If a guy's doing a lot better than you, then he'll play. The coaches are competitive. They want to win. They're going to put the best 11 players on the field. So you're always in competition."

    * Early Monday afternoon, at his weekly press conference, 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald laid out the theme-of-the-week even before he was asked a single question. He did that at the back end of his opening statement, which is when he declared, "We've got a lot of room for improvement. We've not put together a full game. Especially with the performance of the offense last week in the red zone, we've got a ton to work on. We've got a lot of competition on that side of the ball too. That competition's going to lead to who's playing as we move forward.

    "It's in all areas right now. I think we've got great competition in the backfield. I think we've got great competition at quarterback. We've got great competition in the offensive line. Same thing at wide receiver. Then we've got a young superback (true freshman Dan Vitale) that's pushing all those guys for more playing time. So all these reps that we have in practice are going to determine who we start and who we play as we move forward. That's kind of the approach we're taking right now offensively. I think that's a really good thing. That's a really good problem that we have. We've got good depth. We've got great competition. And I asked the guys who wanted to play and they all put their hands up. So I said, 'Great. Let's see who's going to go out and earn it now by playing consistently and executing consistently.' So it should be a fabulous week of practice offensively. I look forward to watching it."

    * When the Q&A portion of the program arrived, then, it was not surprising that the first question was about the competition between Colter and Siemian, who play the most-glamorous position on the field. "I think I've said all along we've got 1A and 1B," said Fitzgerald, which is true. "We've got a good problem. I think both guys are moving the ball. We went 30 out of 40 throwing the ball (combined against BC). So we're getting pretty consistent production there. With that being said, both those guys want to play. And I want to see those two guys compete as far as being able to put the ball in the end zone. We'll see how everything unfolds."

    To be clear, he was then asked, is it possible Siemian starts Saturday against South Dakota if he has a better week of practice than Colter?

    "Maybe," Fitzgerald said. "To be clear."

    * This stance is hardly surprising for Fitzgerald, who in the past has often asserted his belief that, "Competition makes good players great and great players special." But it was a tad surprising to hear him declare on Monday that, "The only three guys who I think have solidified their positions right now from the standpoint of playing pretty darn consistently are (center) Brandon (Vitabile), (left guard Brian) Mulroe and (left tackle Patrick) Ward. I like what the right side of the (offensive) line's doing. I don't think they're playing poorly. I just think they've got guys breathing down their neck. I know Chuck (Porcelli, who started the first two games at right guard before missing Saturday's with an injury) wants to play. I know Neal (Deiters, who took his spot) wants to play. I know (Matt) Frazier (a redshirt freshman) wants to play, and Geoff Mogus (another redshirt freshman) wants to play. Those guys are going to compete their tails off this week. Same thing at receiver."

    * The 'Cat receiving group, of course, has long been a prime center of attention. It is deep and it is talented and it is blessed with a variety of skills, and its position room has long had a competition that stretched from the undersized-but-combative Mike Jensen to the heralded USC transfer Kyle Prater. But in that room the unquestioned leader is the senior Demetrius Fields, who had this to say about the open competition now extant. "It helps a lot in terms of everybody staying focused and staying motivated, of course. I think it helps a lot in terms of our offense, as fast as we go. We can roll guys through and continue to stay dangerous. . . Overall, I think it helps the swagger of the offense, the confidence, to know that your backup can go out and put pressure on the defense.

    "For the entire team, it creates a confidence. Confidence in the ability of the players on the field and the overall confidence of the team that we can do big things. Like I said earlier, I think it motivates everybody to play. For the guys who are in starting roles, to stay on top of their games. For the guys who are just that close, to stay on top of their games because they are that close. We have a saying called pick up the flag. In many cases, whether it be at quarterback or whether it be with (running backs Mike) Trumpy and Venric (Mark) sharing time, the next person in is there to pick up the flag, do well, continue the offense as it was going before. So I think it's good."

    * Quickly noted: Speaking of the dynamic Mark, who sat out the fourth quarter of the BC game after getting dinged up, Fitzgerald said, "I expect him to practice tomorrow." ... Trumpy, who took over for Mark on Saturday, had a big afternoon, netting 106 yards and scoring the icing touchdown. "I think we've got a good situation there," Fitzgerald said of that competition. "I like the fact that both guys are practicing at a high level, and it's showing up on the field." ... Demetrius Dugar started at right corner against BC and, on the depth chart, is listed to do that again against South Dakota. But last Saturday he was spelled by both Quinn Evans and Daniel Jones and, when asked about that spot Monday, Fitzgerald said, "(It) will be determined moving forward through competition. I'm not ready to anoint anybody over there yet as far as being starter." ... A new name in the secondary mix is true freshman safety Traveon Henry, who debuted last Saturday with three tackles on the kickoff team. "He's a very gifted player," said senior safety Jared Carpenter. "When he came in, he was already big enough to play. Not a lot of guys coming from high school are able to make that leap physically, but he came in and was already physically gifted and ready to play. Moreso, what I was most impressed with, is how smart he is. It's very difficult to play safety in our defense because our safety is required to make a lot of checks on the move. But he's been able to come in and really grasp the system." ... Lost in the maelstrom of Saturday's game was an important contribution made by Vitale, the young superback from Wheaton-Warrenville South. With the 'Cats clinging to a two-point lead and facing second-and-eight on their six, he collected a quick screen from Colter and picked up nine and the first down. "He stuck his foot in the ground and went north," Fitzgerald said admiringly. "I think that goes back to the skills he had (in high school, where he was a running back). He was physical and dynamic with the ball in his hands. I think he's a little further ahead than Drake (Dunsmore, once a great superback for the 'Cats) as a true freshman. I really do. Don't write that the wrong way. He's not Drake Dunsmore. But comparing them as true freshmen, Danny's probably just a little bit stronger physically than Drake was."

    * And finally, this believe-it-or-not from Fields, on whether he adjusts his play to the quarterback who is in the game: "Not really. I don't notice a lot which quarterback's in. Even in the first game (when he caught the game winner late from Siemian), I didn't know Trevor was in until like maybe mid-drive. That might have something to do with me being oblivious. But at the same time, I have full confidence in both quarterbacks."

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