Aug. 11, 2010
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Full Coach Fitzgerald Transcript from NU's 2010 Football Media Day
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
The plan, 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald explained last spring, was "to solidify both lines and make that be our focus and then work our way out. If we can play and battle in the trenches, we believe we give ourselves a chance to win. So we've attacked that over the last four years and ... now we've worked our way out from the belly of both sides of the ball."
The plan, to translate, was to corral some big-uglies to do the dirty work and to then surround them with performers blessed with more-fashionable skill sets. So, really, it is no surprise that we find this as the 'Cats begin preparations for their fifth season under Fitzgerald: an offensive line that has six players who have started at least one game and three others who have appeared in games; a defensive line that has three players who have started at least one game and four others who have appeared in games; and, steps removed from the belly, a bevy of linebackers with myriad skill sets.
"You look around the linebackers' room, the room is full of high school quarterbacks and running backs," says Quentin Davie, who is one of them, and he is exaggerating only slightly. Just consider. He, in high school, also played quarterback and tight end. Roderick Goodlow, the sophomore, also played wide receiver. Ben Johnson, the junior, also played wide receiver. David Nwabuisi, the sophomore, also played running back. Stone Pinckney, the sophomore, also played running back and returned kicks. Damien Proby, the redshirt freshman, also played tight end. Nate Williams, the senior, also played running back and fullback. Which leaves only the junior Bryce McNaul unaccounted for, yet even he is nimble enough to have thrown the shot back in high school.
"You'll see a much faster defense," Davie says when asked what all of this means, and that too is a result of a plan.
"The game's changing. It's all spread out," he goes on to explain. "The old time linebacker's not going to do it anymore. You have to be mobile."
"With all the spread offenses and the tackling you have to do in space and stuff like that, we looked to improve the athleticism of our linebackers," echoes Mike Hankwitz, the 'Cat defensive coordinator. "We feel we've made progress in that area."
The 'Cats, on Wednesday, went public at their annual Media Day, that day when everyone's still undefeated and potential All-Americans abound and the outlook is as rosy as the weather outside. But the pads have been in storage since last spring and so anyone eavesdropping on the proceedings is well-advised to listen with at least a bit of skepticism.
Still, and we remind you of the plan, there was this consensus about this season's 'Cats. They, as a group, will be the quickest in recent memory. "Two things jump out at me," is what the offensive coordinator Mick McCall said when asked what he had noticed after two days of practicing in shorts. "On the whole, the entire team is in good shape. And, number two, we seem to be faster. I thought we ran OK last year. But we seem to be faster as a team now when we run our drills and do things like that."
"We always wanted to upgrade our speed," said Fitzgerald when asked about that. "It just took us a few years to get to that point." (Though, need we remind you, those few years were a clear result of the plan he had in place.)
It, obviously, is way too early to predict what (if any) true freshmen will contribute come fall. Still, when asked what jumped out at him after two days of frolicking in shorts, Davie said: "I'll go with the freshman (Venric Mark out of Texas) catching punts. He doesn't look like a freshman back there. It looks natural to him and he put a 70-yarder on us at the end of practice the other day."
"He can make some numbers with the ball in his hand," quarterback Dan Persa later said when asked about Mark.
Any other freshman he has noticed?
Six-foot, 185-pound freshman receiver Tony Jones out of Flint, Mich., he replied, is "a speedy kid who has a really good feel for the ball."
Now for some items from the potpourri cooked up at any media day:
Officially, the 'Cats have 16 starters returning from last year (eight on offense, six on defense, two on special teams). But, not unimportantly, they also have 15 others back who themselves have started at least one game. "They've been in the fray. They've been in the arena. They understand what they need to do to be prepared," Fitzgerald said of this latter group, which (it should be noted) includes such notables as Persa; running backs Arby Fields and Stephen Simmons and Jacob Schmidt; receivers Jeremy Ebert and Sidney Stewart and Demetrius Fields; safety Brian Peters; and defensive end Kevin Watt.
There's a bit of E.F. Hutton in defensive coordinator Hankwitz. (You know. You have to get his respect the hard way. You have to earn it.) Still. There was obvious enthusiasm in his tones when he talked of redshirt-sophomore safety Jared Carpenter, who has been tried at various positions during his first two years in Evanston. "He's like a young pup out there," Hankwitz said of him.
When asked if the 'Cats improved speed will mean he can expand his playbook even further, offensive coordinator McCall grinned mischievously and said: "That's what you hope."
Redshirt freshman Brandon Williams opens camp as the 'Cats punter. But Stefan Demos, who handled both the punting and place kicking duties last fall, is still around if Williams slips.
All queried about early revelations echoed Hankwitz, who said the 'Cats came to camp "in great shape and very eager." None was simply blowing smoke and here's the proof. Last Monday, in their first practice together since the spring, they moved through their drills so quickly they ended their afternoon two-and-a-half minutes early. "That puts us in the position to be a little more accelerated than we've been in the past," said Fitzgerald, noting the benefit reaped.
And finally, the ever-competitive Persa, when considering the team around him: "Everyone's taken to heart that we can do something special."
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