April 24, 2010
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WATCH: Spring Scrimmage highlights
WATCH: Fitz Discusses Spring Scrimmage
WATCH: QB D. Persa Discusses Spring Scrimmage
WATCH: S D. Arnold Discusses Spring Scrimmage
WATCH: LB Q. Davie Discusses Spring Scrimmage
WATCH: WR J. Ebert Discusses Spring Scrimmage
2010 Scrimmage Statistics
By Skip Myslenski
NUSports.com Special Contributor
The mind is a tricky plaything, which Jeremy Ebert now knows full well. Last fall, coming back from hip suirgery, it haunted him and bedeviled him and hindered his production. "I was just a little nervous. I didn't trust it (the hip) as much," the wide receiver will recall. But Saturday, in the 'Cats last scrimmage of the spring, that was not the case and he put on a performance that promised he will be one of their featured weapons come the fall. "I was just just trying to have a good spring and today I was able to make a couple of plays," he would say after catching four passes for 43 yards and carrying an end-around for 11 more. "I felt I had a pretty good spring overall, not just one single day."
What's different about him now from last season?
"This year I'm a lot more confident. I feel my hip's 100 percent, so I don't feel I'm holding back now. I'm going 100 percent now."
What percent was the hip last year?
"I don't know. About 80, 90 percent sometimes. It all depended how I felt, if I tweaked it, whatnot."
How frustrating was that for him?
"Very frustrating. When you're a speed guy and built around running fast and then you're held up by something, it's annoying."
Were his problems psychological as well as physical?
"Yeah. Yeah. Trusting my ability. I was a little nervous coming back. It lingered in the back of my mind. But I'm over that now and feeling really good."
Was there a time you basically said screw it, I'm going to let it rip and what happens happens?
"Yeah. This winter, once the season was over and we started winter conditioning, I said, 'Let's just do it and see what we've got.' It came back to me. It's felt real good ever since then. I feel real comfortable. I feel really good."
Does he like the idea that it appears the team will be counting on him to produce big time next fall?
"I like that responsibility, that role. I feel I can be a leader. I want that responsibility on my shoulders."
Has he patterned himself after any player?
"I take a good look at (former 'Cat receivers ) Eric Peterman and Zeke Markshausen. They're great role models. Looking up to them the last two years has been great for me to study and grow up."
Is he primed to be the next Zeke?
I don't think you can be a Zeke Markshausen. But I'll try to do my best to step into his shoes."
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Ebert was the offense's brightest light on Saturday, a day that truly belonged to the 'Cat defense. It surrendered a mere 253 yards on 85 plays, an average of just 2.9 ypp. It allowed only 92 rushing yards on 47 carries, an average of an even-punier 1.9 ypc. It racked up four sacks and picked off Dan Persa in the end zone (corner Mike Bolden made that play) and allowed just one touchdown-scoring drive, which itself was kept alive by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against it. (It gave up another in red-zone drills.)
Part of the reason for its dominance was a rare appearance by senior linebacker Quentin Davie, who had been limited throughout the spring by a tender ankle. He would not end the afternoon among his unit's leading tacklers. But, significantly, four other linebackers were atop that list, which he was asked about first. "It was good to see," he said. "I saw the depth we have at linebacker grow before my eyes. As you sit back and look, you realize we have a lot of guys who can play this year."
Was he frustrated that he got to play so little this spring?
"Oh, yeah. Definitely. Every time I'm not on the field I get frustrated. But I was getting myself back healthy and helping guys out on the sideline. That's another step I took this year. I can go out there and help out mentally in my leadership role."
What did he learn about the defense during the spring?
"I still believe we don't have our identity as of yet. But I know we've got a lot of young guys who are willing to run to the ball and have an attitude. That's all we need. We can teach all the technical stuff at camp and during the summer."
What does he want that identity to be?
"I just want to be known as a defense that never backs down, that gets to the ball every plays. (Linebacker) Coach (Randy) Bates always says, 'When we turn on the tape, we want to say wow.' I just want us to wow people when they turn on the tape."
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And what did defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz learn this spring? "I like our work ethic and our attitude. We made improvements in areas that we identified from last fall that we needed to improve in. We've got better depth at some positions than we did a year ago. But we still have areas we need to improve in. We've got to learn how to play when we're a little tired ... We've got to learn how to execute when we're tired, we've got to learn how to be mentally tough when we're tired and not succumb to the fatigue aspect of it and fail to do what we're supposed to do. But we did make a lot of strides in the areas where we felt we needed to."
What were those areas?
"We felt like we needed to execute better. We made some mistakes last year that we didn't think were typical of what we do. We didn't communicate as well overall a year ago. The tackling started off not as well in the early part of the year as we thought it should ... so we focused on trying to make that not happen. We experimented with some new things. But the main thing was we felt the young players who are going to have to step in made great strides and are able to play at the level we need."
Does he agree with Q's statement about the defense not yet having an identity and, if so, what does he want it to be?
"I would agree with that. We want to be a defense that's fundamentally sound, that doesn't beat itself, and executes, and doesn't get out of position, and plays hard, and plays with great effort, and keeps fighting. What's that gestalt? The sum of the whole is greater than any of the parts. That's what we want to have. Yeah. We may not have a super player at every position. But if we all play as well as we can and play together, we can be something special."
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Some final words from head coach Pat Fitzgerald:
On what he learned this spring: "I learned this team is really driven and really focused. You know, we're coming off a season and have some unfinished business and I thought our attitude going into the winter was in the right spot and we continued that over. I thought each time we got together this spring, we got better."
On his offense: "I like where the offense is at. We're ahead of where we were last spring at this time. I like both quarterbacks (backup Evan Watkins as well as Persa). They both throw the ball really well. They take good command of our offense. They're both a perfect fit for what we try to do."
On Persa's progress: "First of all, Danny took command of the offense. The quarterback position demands leadership, it expects leadership, and you've got to not only be the straw that stirs the drink on offense, but also lead the team. He's always had that work ethic in the weight room. He's always had that work ethic in the film room. Then he made plays this spring and I think the young men have really rallied around him."
On expectations for Persa: "I think Dan just needs to go out and be himself. He's an extremely good leader. He's demanding on himself as much as any player in the program. I expect a smooth transition."
On his receivers: "We've got a lot of guys. We've got a lot of guys. We've got plenty of weapons on offense, without a doubt. It's like rewind and play. Look at your notes from a year ago and hit play. We have a lot of receivers getting their first opportunity to play and a new quarterback. So we've been there, done that."
On his running backs: "It's a little bit different with Arby (Fields) playing baseball (which he was doing on Saturday). He hasn't been involved in as many scrimmages as the other guys. But I thought he had a really good spring. Steph Simmons and Jacob Schmidt and Scotty Concannon were all coming off injuries in the spring. They really finally got to full speed only here in the last week. So I like the competition there. But am I poised and ready to name a starter yet? No, not yet. I like the spring all of them had, especially Arby. I thought he took some real positive steps."
On everyone emerging from this final scrimmage in good health: "Mission accomnplished."
On what he sees up ahead: "I think we've got as much competitive depth as we've ever had and that's exciting to me."