March 8, 2000
Q. What are the goals that you are setting for this spring?
A. "I said last year that it was important for us to lay a strong foundation to get this program to where it has to be in order to be competitive in the Big Ten. Now we have to start building the house on top of that foundation. With that, our players need to begin to make some strides, not only in how they play, but in having a better understanding of what we need to accomplish offensively and defensively."
Q. Last year during the season, many of your key receivers were injured and unable to play. How is the group doing heading into the spring?
A. "It's still an area of concern. Sam Simmons will not be available for spring football. Sam had surgery the first week of February to repair a nonhealing fractured clavicle and we are told that he should be full go by June. It is our expectation that Jon Schweighardt will be available come March 30. He is making progress in his rehab and every indication is that he will be ready for spring ball.
"We moved Kunle Patrick back to wide receiver. He started at that position as a freshman and we switched him to safety midway through the 1999 season. With that move, coupled with our other returnees, we believe that we've shored up that position."
Q. What did you hope to accomplish during the offseason and did it meet your expectations?
A. "We needed to make significant size and strength gains in every position. I feel like we accomplished that. I've been real impressed with their work in the weight room and the gains that our young football team has made in reaching their strength goals."
Q. You recently signed your first recruiting class, bringing in 19 players. It includes several who were rated among the best in the nation, if not at the top of the list. What is your overall impression of the 2000 recruiting class?
A. "I am very excited with the class. Our coaches did a great job of identifying quality student-athletes that fit our style of play and the Northwestern program. We did an especially good job of filling needs and building a rapport that is so essential in the recruiting process. I'm always reluctant to brag about any recruiting class, but I believe we have brought some outstanding players to Northwestern."
Q. Let's talk about the team position by position:
"This will be a critical spring for our quarterback position. We can't continue to claim youth and inexperience as reasons for the results that take place on the field. I expect a huge jump in competency and productivity in this position."
"It's good to have a 1,000-yard back returning for two more years. But it's important that we develop depth and have viable contributors to the offense at this position. Damien Anderson is a proven commodity and we feel that we have some talented players ready to emerge."
"This position is up for grabs. Mike Sherry returns after lettering last year, and we are also excited to see what Gilles Lezi can do. He is from our 2000 recruiting class and enrolled at Northwestern in January."
"I'm very confident in the young players we have. They all showed a lot of promise last year in a developmental roll. We basically will have a battle for playing time in four untested and unknown guys. David Farman, Ben Kennedy, Mike Sherry and Eric Worley all have a great opportunity to stake a claim to that position."
"It was disappointing to lose Sam Simmons and Jon Schweighardt at that particular time of the season last year as it really hurt their development. Jon and Teddy Johnson are back and healthy for spring ball and excited to build upon what they started last year before the injury bug crept in. Sam is doing fine in his rehab, but we will miss him this spring. We are excited about the prospect of Kunle Patrick and feel that he can be a very effective player in our program on both sides of the ball. We've recognized that and need to find a place for him to contribute."
"This should be a strength in our program. We return four starters as well as several players who should seriously compete for playing time. It is nice to feel like you have the ability to put eight competent Big Ten linemen on the field and that should be the case come this fall."
"By returning the number of quality players with the amount of experience that they possess, this should also be a position of strength for us. Bolstering this is the move of Conrad Emmerich to defensive end and a number of young players who have worked very hard and should compete for playing time. All-Big Ten Dwayne Missouri will lead this group that has a great deal of depth coupled with a high level of experience."
"We return another veteran group to our football team in the linebacking corps. This group includes the leading and second-leading tacklers in the Big Ten last season, and these two guys have two years of eligibility remaining. This gives us a lot of confidence in this position. In addition to Kevin Bentley and Napoleon Harris, Billy Silva's progress at inside linebacker has been exceptional and he should be a force on the field for us. In addition, it will nice to have the added depth of Chris Jones and Pat Durr. Chris returns from knee surgery and showed great promise in camp last August, and Pat showed signs of developing into a solid player after getting his feet wet as a true freshman."
"This too is an area where we return a lot of experience, as all of our starters return including All-Big Ten honoree Harold Blackmon. However, they all need to make significant strides this spring in order for us to be the kind of team we need to be in 2000."
"It will be hard for us to evaluate this part of our game as J.J. Standring is involved in baseball. Sean Wieber will get the bulk of the work this spring, and he will have the chance to challenge for the job come fall."
"We return a starter in Tim Long. But as is the case with several positions on this team, he must become more productive and show better consistency. This will be key for him in order to excel as a kicker."
"Due to injuries last year, we certainly gave people a lot of opportunity back there. Therefore, we return a lot of experience at this position as well. Sam Simmons showed he can be a spectacular punt returner. But with Sam out due to injury, the bulk of the work back there in the spring will go to Jon Schweighardt, Derrick Thompson and Marvin Brown."
"This is another area that was hurt by Sam's injury last year. We are going to try and develop some player in this area during the spring. Kevin Lawrence has the size and speed to be effective and could become our guy."
"We return a three-year starter in Jack Harnedy and have no worries. He is excellent at this skill."
"We expect the holder to be one of our two quarterbacks, either Zak Kustok or Matt Danielson."