Aug. 11, 2011
Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
Northwestern Media Day News Conference
"Thank you all for being here; we appreciate what you do for our program. Obviously we're proud of what we've done in the last three years, going to three-straight bowl games, but I think more importantly, (we're) excited about this year and the direction in that we're headed. With the amount of experience that we have coming back, you mix that with the young group that played a year ago as freshmen and redshirt freshmen, and with a solid group in between, it's an exciting phase we're in right now as far as camp goes. We're looking forward to the second day of pads today and full pads tomorrow."
On the defense:
"We're looking forward to getting to Boston College and trying to go out and redeem ourselves, play the way we know we're capable of. If you go into the Iowa game, statistically we're pretty close to being as good or better in some categories than we were. So we've just got to get back to that. Hank, our defensive staff, but more importantly, the young men have worked diligently from a communications standpoint, from a physical standpoint, and then, I think more importantly than all that, I think an attitude standpoint. I talked about going into the spring, I thought we made some positive strides. You know the first four days are really easy for an offense. The guys aren't really getting hit. They're just kind of getting "lovetapped" so we'll see where we're at by the end of Saturday, but I like how we've progressed so far."
On Niko Mafuli:
"I'd say a year ago this time, we'd get to the mid-way point of practice and you could really start to see his fundamental and technique lapse. That was all mental toughness and mental focus because of his conditioning. Going on to our fourth practice, he's been focused and executing, at least the last two days, especially when it's gotten tough at a higher level. He's just going to continue to get into better football shape, but there's no question that he's in the best shape of his career here.
"He's working hard with his discipline and his nutrition. He's done some things in the weight room a little bit different than what he's done in the past with Jay Hooten
, from a standpoint of doing a little bit more. Instead of just going in and doing 450 lbs. on the bench press, he's been doing more speedbag and other things cardio-wise, really making it specific to him and what his needs are. He's really done a nice job. Also, he's really matured. You look at the past, and yeah, conditioning has been an issue, but yesterday I canceled the fun run, and he went on his own with Jay into the weight room on the elliptical. He's really matured, and that's really going to help as we move forward in camp and into the season."
On the PersaStrong campaign:
"Well Danny's just been relentlessly made fun of by his teammates, so I mean it's just awesome. I think it's hilarious that he'll do something and they'll all start making fun of him, so it's good. It's keeping him humble, but he doesn't need that. Outside of that, internally in our program, we're just going and doing what we do. It shows a commitment from the university, that when you put yourself in position to be in that kind of conversation, `we're going to support you and allocate resources to make sure' that not only you guys as our great beat reporters know about our players, but also nationally. You look back in time, the returning All-Big Ten quarterback has been in the Heisman race, so there's no reason why he shouldn't be in the talk, now he's just got to go out and do it. It'll play itself out.
"I think back with Darnell (Autry) and then Damien (Anderson), I don't know if we were as creative with the seven-pound dumbbells and things of that nature, but the university has allocated resources to us with a commitment to football like there's never been, so it allows us the opportunity to do that."
On off-site rule changes:
"It's changed, number one, from a standpoint of where our locations are, so we're going to really base out of Parkside and pretty much stay there the whole time. We'll go to an evening practice on the one Wednesday that is completely closed, and then we have to move our scrimmage, which has typically either been at Carthage College or at the high school the last couple of years, back to Parkside. With that, we've got to close the practice, because there's just not enough room for our fans, which is disappointing, but that's just what we have to do. We'll allow our players to have their families there for a scrimmage in a couple of weeks, and a lot of you guys as media, but we just don't have enough room there for our fans from a safety standpoint. It's disappointing but it's what we've got to do and how we've got to adjust. Hopefully we'll continue to be able to go to Great Lakes and talk to the NCAA. I understand why the put the new rule in, but I don't agree with the interpretation of it. We'll deal with it and move on."
On prepping for nonconference opponents:
"In all three phases, we do our different summer studies, really winter studies and then summer studies, based on our first handful of opponents. It's a little different with Rice being in the end of the year, so we kind of held off a little bit on them. And also a little bit of familiarity with playing them a year ago. But looking at BC, EIU and then Army, we'll work things that we're going to see in those three games throughout camp. We're not saying, `hey, it's Boston College period, here we go," but more of the techniques and the fundamentals that we're going to have to do from a standpoint of what to do conceptually in all three phases. So right now, really this first week and a half will be focused strictly on us, and then we'll start that second week on the different things we're going to need to work on. The real anomaly is getting ready for Army's offense. That's the challenge, and then they're a double eagle defense, so they present a lot of problems schematically before we even talk about the effort level and the discipline that they play with. A great challenge for us in the preseason, with out a doubt."
On NCAA rules:
"Maureen Harty and our compliance staff do a tremendous job of educating our coaches and our players. You can see from our program and our athletic department being one of only a handful of schools without a major violation; that's something we take pride in. Mo and her staff to a great job in keeping us up to speed with what's going on, and unfortunately through issues that have happened throughout the country, you've got to learn from those and educate you student-athletes and your coaches. I don't think we've had too much to learn this offseason, but we talk to our guys all the time about having character, and that's who you are when no one's watching, especially in their lives. There's a lot of people who want to hang out with them, just because they play football. They've got to be disciplined with it and make great choices, and if we make a mistake, we've got to take responsibility for it and be held accountable. From what I've seen with the NCAA and reading where things may be going, I think we're starting to figure out that too many programs are trying to find the gray area of everything and play in the gray, instead of, `hey, this is the rule, this is what we should do and shouldn't do, let's go move on.' It's really not that complicated, it's called common sense.
"Time will tell. I think in college football in general, there's integrity, great people in head coaching rolls, leading programs, great (Athletic Directors), great presidents. Obviously we get a black eye because of a few poor choices and mistakes, and rightfully so. How we fix things and where we need to go, I hope the coaches are involved. I'm excited that the presidents are discussing it, but I hope the coaches are involved. They need to be involved from a standpoint of `what's reality?' Yeah, there's a 400-something page book, but what's really going on? And how is that impacting, not only from a standpoint of major violations, but we talked a lot in the ethics committee I'm on with the AFCA, about putting a scoreboard behind the coaches like we do with the graduation rates and APR for their secondary violations. You know, secondary violations, that's where you're really, truly getting a recruiting advantage. A lot of coaches and a lot of programs say, `OK, it's only a secondary violation, that's alright, but we're going to get you to come play for us because we enact that secondary violation, but it's only a slap on the wrist.' How many secondary violations that are added up behind a coach should equal a major (violation). There's a lot of ways we can clean things up.
"Those rules are in there for a reason, and they go back a long time. Some of them are outdated. Technology has sped up at an exponential rate, so we've got to look at a lot of things. Where are you really gaining an advantage? Where are there real rule violations, and then where is the minutia? I don't think it's very complicated, I really don't. We've just got to roll our sleeves up and go to work and prove things. It's like any business: you've got to work hard and prove it and keep on top of it. I think we've fallen behind, and our new president of the NCAA seems like he wants to not only have a progressive NCAA, but also have one that's going to hold the institutions and individuals accountable. That's what it's about. That's what it should be about."
On the keys to reaching offensive potential:
"We've got to stay healthy and then we've got to figure out the second pieces to the puzzle, the guys who are going to be in those key backup roles in the rotation. We all know who (Jeremy) Ebert and (Drake) Dunsmore are. Demetrius Fields needs to come on, same thing with Charles Brown. Rashad Lawrence played well last year, and so did Tony Jones; (we've got to look at) how they'll grow and mature. You look in the backfield with Trumpy and Smith and Schmidt who've played a lot. Now we're going to see some other guys push a little bit. At quarterback, (we'd like) to see Kain (Colter) and Evan (Watkins) and Trevor (Siemian) really evolve, and see if they can start to come on, and you know Zach (Oliver) is just a freshman. And the same thing when you look up front: we're going to go from the most experienced offensive line six months from now to one of the youngest offensive lines in the country. Coach Cushing is doing a great job from a standpoint of not only developing that group of seniors and really trying to figure out who that best five is, but now who's six through 11, six through 12? It's one aspect on the field, but also in the classroom. He might be the smartest offensive line coach in the country, a University of Chicago grad. He's really growing that next group of guys to get them ready. It's a challenge I think for this year, but also for the future."
On the experience factor:
"Especially up front, the O-Line has been there and done it. They've been in a lot of battles; they've seen a lot of different schemes. (Boston College), schematically is going to present a lot of challenges, and then personnel-wise, they're very athletic up front. They have two waves in the front seven, great Mike (middle) linebacker, a very experienced secondary. We look at that challenge, especially early. In the opener, it's all about you. You've got to go out and execute. Typically in the opener, it's the team that executes the best and really limits the mistakes that ends up being successful. Not really pretty games. It's just part of the deal when you're playing for the first time against somebody else. But it's going to help us a lot to have that experience."
On what new Big Ten member Nebraska brings to the conference:
"Obviously the tradition, the history, their incredibly loyal fan base; a lot of things off the field that come with Nebraska. On the field, I've got the upmost respect for coach (Bill) Poleni and his staff and the job that they've done. You look at their talent, from when we did our offseason study. They've got weapons across the board on offense, changing coordinators. Carl Poleni does a great job with their defense, and the kicking game has explosive athletes across the board. Am I looking forward to it? Not really. I mean it's going to be a huge challenge for us. But I think it's great for the conference, and obviously makes us now go into divisional play, into a championship. The championship game in (Indianapolis), if you win that, you're probably going to be playing for the national championship, it's going to be hard not to be. So it's going to be a fun challenge."
On what he's looking for in the kicking game:
"Just consistency. I thought we made a big step last year. You look at where we were at, from the rankings nationally, and where you're at nationally, that was the best that we've had in maybe a decade in all four phases. We need to kick it a little bit more consistently with our placement field goals than we did a year ago. I like the way that Jeff (Budzein) and Steve (Flaherty) re kicking the ball right now. We'll start kicking off a little bit more starting next week. They're working on their fundamentals right now, but we'll get together as a team next week and do kickoff drills. And then Brandon (Williams), just to take the next step from a standpoint of consistency. I thought he did a pretty good job last year, but he's got the leg to be a 45-yard-plus average guy, he's just got to get that technique down. And then just get our next wave of guys to step up like we had last year. We had a lot of young guys, Venric (Mark) one of them, who stepped up and really played well in the kicking game. Jeravin Matthews, now going into a starting role at corner, we're going to have to limit him in the kicking game, but we've got a lot of guys who can run. More speed than we've ever had, so that's key to our increase. Like I told the guys last night, we were talking about some different things in the score as a team, scoring points, and one big area last year that we played probably the most consistent in was our kicking game."
On true freshmen playing:
"If they (true freshmen) earn the role, then yeah, absolutely. We played six true freshmen and a lot redshirted. If those (true) freshmen are going to play, they need to be in the rotation on offense and defense. I don't like wasting guys' years on the kicking game. I think that's a mistake we make as head coaches. If it's just going to be in the kicking game, I'm probably going to really try and limit that player and work like heck to have somebody else play instead of him if that's the case. But that's the whole `crystal ball:' is he going to be better week six than the guy he's competing with as he grows and matures?
"We had more guys come up this summer than we've ever had. We've got 13 scholarship players here of the 17 we signed. I'm not necessarily a big fan of that, you know, you've got to get the lay of the land, which way's north, and work with the strength coaches and be with the guys, but I'm more worried about them burning out in January, burning out at the end of next spring than I am about them helping us right now, but we'll see what happens. Those offensive guys and defensive guys haven't gotten to hit yet. They've been thudded, but they have been tackled, so we'll see how things go in the next three or four days. I'll have a lot better working knowledge of the freshmen class come Monday, after we go after it twice on Saturday, and have a chance to look at the personnel meeting on Sunday morning."
On the offensive line:
"They're knuckleheads. That's a really tightknit group. They're a piece of work. It's a fun group, and that's what you want out of an offensive line. They finish each other sentences, if somebody says a word, they all make fun of each other because of it. As we come into the start of fall camp, where people are at is based on not only experience and starts, but also what one particular man earned in spring practice, and that's Brandon (Vit). He's put himself in the starting rotation right now, and we'll see how that plays out.
On the outlook at linebacker:
"It's a young group from a standpoint of outside of Bryce (McNaul) and Ben (Johnson) who have played a lot of football for us. David Nwabusi has played a lot in the kicking game and been a little bit of a role player for us in nickel situations. He's, right now, the man in the middle, being pushed by Damien Proby. On the outside, Bryce and Ben are competing for a position, and then also learning the other outside, so they're double dipping as experienced guys. Then we're really having Chi Chi and Colin go at it for one of the other outside positions, and then Rod Goodlow. So we've got, I think, really solid depth. We'll see how it plays out. We can run there. That group can really run, they're really athletic. They just need to learn the little intricacies of playing linebacker. Bates does a great job coaching those guys up, and now adding and experienced NFL veteran like Tim McGargle, that poor group is getting over coached. Those guys are a good one-two punch."
On offensive lineman Brandon Vitabile's rise to the No. 1 unit:
"He was, No. 1, consistent. He understands that our center is going to make a lot of calls. Everything is going to start through what he has to identify, and he's going to get everybody on the same page from his right and to his left. So he grasps the system well, and he's got really heavy hands. That's a great quality for an offensive lineman. When he strikes you, you think about Muhammed Ali, you get hit with a bag of cement. Brandon's got really heavy hands, he's got good power, good base. He's just genetically built with leverage at about 6-1, 6-2. He's going to kill me, he thinks he's 6-3, but he's not. And what I like right now, after a couple of days, is that standing to his right is our center who started 39 games, so if he doesn't have the call right, Ben (Burkett) can get it right. So not only do we have the best five guys on the field, but also for the future, you kind of have Obi Wan and his young padawan standing next to him so to speak, so it's pretty good. I like it so far."
On the running back situation:
"I'd say that right now, if we were playing two days from now, that Mike (Trumpy) would be the starter, but Adonis (Smith) is pushing him, Jacob Schmidt is back in the mix. The thing about Jacob is he's consistent. There's no highs, no lows, you know exactly what you're going to get. He had a tough year last year with, obviously with the injury, and he did a little bit of things out of his character by putting the ball on the ground. It's nice to have those three guys. And I thought Tyris Jones, from a different kinds of role than maybe a feature back, had a nice spring. Tim Hanrahan is a tough guy, and we've got the two freshmen, but it's way too early to tell what their rolls will be. I like the group.
"You look back at the last six weeks of the season and I thought those guys really stepped up. Dan (Persa) wasn't out there for all of them, but I think we ran the ball pretty efficiently. I thought we improved there. I think it critically important that you have balance, but I think we're less concerned with balance thank we are about being efficient. Executing plays and putting ourselves into position when we run the football. Get four or more on first down, get half of it on second (down) and pick it up on third and fourth (downs). And obviously score down on the goal line in tight zone when we run it. We've got to run the ball better in the redzone, there's no question about that as we've looked at what we've done in the past."
On the possibility of player stipends:
"There's a lot of issues there from a standpoint of are we going to talk about the cost of attendance instead of the full grant and aid like we have now. If a young person is not assisted with the Pell Grant and things of that nature to be able to make ends meet, in my opinion, the first area we have to look at is can we help them get a job in the winter, spring and then summer. We've got a little unique situation compared to, not only our peers in the Big Ten, but to every other school: we're in the back yard of the best city in the world. Our guys can get good paying summer jobs, they can get good jobs in the winter and spring if they need to. I think you've got to really look at it at a case-by-case basis. And if you're going to talk about football, you've got to talk about all sports. You just can't say, well hey, football is on a full scholarship, so is men's basketball and women's basketball. And what about the equivalency sports? How do you look at someone who's on a 10-percent scholarship? Do they get 10-percent of whatever that stipend may be. That's a little bit more complicated than just the revenue sports or football."