March 13, 2014
Skip Myslenski caught up with Pat Fitzgerald after practice Thursday to get his thoughts on the team's progress at the midway point of spring practice. Next week, the Wildcats will wrap up winter quarter final exams before dispersing for spring break.
What were you're goals entering these last two weeks and have your reached them?
Pat Fitzgerald: "First of all, we wanted to see what kind of shape the guys were in. I thought they did a nice job in January and February. Second of all, we wanted to see how much retention we had. Upperclassmen were good. Younger guys, it looked like install number two. So I think we're a big work in progress there. Then the third thing we wanted to do was create a physical mindset, and create the right mental habits with that. I would say we're a work in progress there also. So. I think the guys are coming with the right kind of attitude, and I think Saturday will be an important practice. I thought today was much better than Tuesday, but Saturday will be really important. Then obviously we wrap up the most important thing, which is our finals, next week, and have a safe spring break. So I think we're trending in the right direction."
We won't see Saturday. Why is it so important?
PF: "We'll be back in full pads. Then anytime you have the opportunity to finish anything -- so finish this first set of spring ball practices -- where's our focus at? Are you focused on spring break? Or are we focused on the task at hand? I anticipate the guys'll come ready to play, so that's why. And then you have a limited amount of full-pad practices in spring ball, so that's why there's got to be a great sense of urgency."
SM: You mentioned creating a physical mindset. Has that been difficult with so many players (11) not participating in spring practice?
PF: "No, I don't think so. We've got enough guys to go practice with. It's been more on us as coaches to organize it properly, to make sure structurally we don't get to that point of diminishing returns and, because of the structure of practice, get guys put on the ground because they're over-fatigued. Getting them fatigued, it's important to get them there. Fighting through that creates that mental and physical toughness. But there's also that law of diminishing returns based on our numbers. So we've got to make sure we're delicate, and cognizant of that line. I think we've done OK with that."
SM: How do you maintain that mental and physical toughness over spring break?
PF: "You don't" -- and here a laugh - "I'm going to be focused on my family and recharging. We'll take next week as a staff and really organize the last half of spring ball. Kind of see what we've done well, what we need to improve on, what things we need to get in to get them mentally and physically exposed to it prior to the summer. And then, most importantly, make sure the guys finish up strong academically, and then to travel safe and have a nice opportunity to recharge and get ready to finish spring ball."
SM: With four defensive linemen sitting out, redshirt freshman Eric Joraskie and redshirt sophomore Greg Kuhar are getting a lot of work. What have you seen from them?
PF: "They don't have a choice. We only have six guys, so they're going to play a lot. But I think both guys are improving. I think Eric, in particular, first time having to be out there running our defense, I think he's really learning a lot and doing a great job of it. And I think Greg Kuhar is starting to come into his own. I think he's getting in better and better shape, I think he's getting stronger and stronger, getting more comfortable being a college football player. I've been very pleased with the first, what is it, eight practices with Greg. I think he's really starting to come on and I fully expect for him to be at the minimum a rotation guy next year."
SM: Part of spring is you seeing how players have grown, changed since the end of last season. Any of them jump out at you?
PF: "I like the way the safeties have played. (Redshirt freshmen) Kyle Quiero and Godwin (Igwebuike) have done a really good job. There's a lot on that position's plate mentally and to watch what those two guys have done -- now they're far from ready. But they are growing and getting better. I've already talked about Kuhar and Joraskie, and I really like the spring C.J. Robbins (another defensive lineman) has had. Linebacking corps, we'll keep those guys quiet for a little while. Offensive line, we're coming along there a little bit. On the skill set, I think we're going to be fine. Quarterback-wise, I think all three guys are doing great. We'll see how we progress as the spring goes along."
SM: Some players have said the offense suffered from a lack of leadership last year. Do you agree, and how's the leadership this year?
PF: "Well. I'm not going to be one to ever give excuses. I think it is what it is. I think last year a lot of guys learned and grew through the experience and if that's the way the guys felt, obviously there's an opportunity for a solution there. I think Paul (Jorgensen) and Brandon (Vitabile) have done a nice job up front (on the offensive line). I like what (receivers) Tony (Jones) and Cam (Dickerson) and C.J. (Christian Jones) are doing on the outside. And I really like what all the quarterbacks are trying to accomplish, especially Trevor (Siemian) as the senior. So I think we're gaining on it. I think guys are working hard. But it's not now. It's when things get hard that leadership is really exposed. So we're trying to make it challenging for them. But still put them in a position to be successful."
SM: You often talk of how of building a team is a process that begins with the end of the previous season. How far along are you as you head into this break?
PF: "We're about 12 or 13 years old" -- and here another laugh - "We can't even go see a PG-13 movie. We've got a long way to go. But I think our guys` awareness level of the little things is up. And I think they see the habits that we're trying to reenforce, the details. And they're working their tales off to try and create that to be a habit."
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