Aug 19, 2013
Northwestern held its annual training camp scrimmage Saturday in Kenosha, where Skip Myslenski was on hand to both observe the personnel the action and to chat with some of the veteran leaders who were given the day off. Read on for the latest from several key position groups, as well as senior defensive end Tyler Scott's reflections on his final stay at Camp Kenosha...
Defensive end Deonte Gibson, a redshirt sophomore, talks of taking on an offensive formation called Split Zone. "Last year I would have have run upfield, and tried to run and get the quarterback, and gotten completely destroyed by the sniper (a tight end or fullback)," he says. "This year I'm a lot more cautious and smarter. I know he's going to try and take my legs out, so I have to be smarter. I just know he's going to come get me, so I'm ready for it."
Superback Dan Vitale, a true sophomore, does not choose one play to show the difference between him now and last fall. But, he says, "I'm catching the ball a lot more in practice, which is awesome. They're looking for me, Kain (Colter) and Trevor (Siemian) both. So catching the ball more times in practice is the biggest thing I've seen."
Defensive end Dean Lowry
, another true sophomore, does not pick any play at all when dissecting the difference in him between now and then. He instead references watching film of himself as a true freshman last fall. "Why'd I do that?" he here will ask himself.
"You go out there and you think a lot. 'Am I doing this right?' You kind of second guess yourself," he explains. "I know what to do now. I know what's going on. So this year I'm just going out there and playing."
The late Ohio State legend Woody Hayes is generally credited with authoring the old saw, "The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores." He, clearly, had little use for them, but last season Vitale and Gibson and Lowry each had a role in the 'Cats march to a 10-3 record and a Gator Bowl win. Still. Still. Each was experiencing the collegiate arena for the first time and so none played with the freedom, the ease, the alacrity that characterize the best of performers.
"Oh, definitely. Last year I was very much second-guessing myself," Gibson says when asked if he thought too much last year. "We'd work on the defense and I knew the defense when we got tested on it. But sometimes I'd go into games and over think everything, and there was just one, simple thing to do. That slows you down. It slows you down a little bit and you have a lot of missed plays, a lot of big opportunities you have out there. Looking back on it, I left a lot of big plays out there. You can't get them back now. But I'm trying to come back and do better for the team this year."
"Just being able to be yourself is the big thing," echoes Vitale. "Last year I was more playing not to disappoint the coach or not to disappoint my teammates, something like that. Now I can just kind of play my own game and more react to the defense, which is very important. You can take it to a whole different level that way."
"Last year I went out there and knew what I was doing. This year I know what the d tackles are doing, I know what the linebackers are doing, I know the whole defensive scheme," concludes Lowry. "That helps you play faster. You're not going out there just going through the motions. You're reacting. You're playing fast. It definitely helps you make plays more."
There is another old saw that applies to this trio. This one avers, "If you have to think about what to do, it's too late to do it.
"Definitely. Definitely," says Gibson. "Through reps, it's kind of like your craft. You learn you craft by doing it over and over again and eventually that just takes over. The repetition. So the down block. You've got a certain thing to do and you just do it without thinking. It's a comfortability thing, especially in the d line. It's more of a rep thing than just a jumping in, diving into thing. Natural talent takes over initially. But to be better at the position and to be a great player, like the players before us, like Corey (Wootten) and Vince (Brown) and even (senior) Tyler (Scott) now, you've got to get older. Your experience, combined with your natural talent, makes you a better player.
"Exactly," Vitale says upon hearing that saw.
And was he slowed down by thinking last year?
"Definitely. It still happens sometimes this year when you get one of those easier plays. You start thinking too far ahead. I do a lot better when I just react to what's going on. Don't make it too hard. I think last year, like I've said, I was more going through the motions, thinking, overanalyzing too much. This year I'm just reacting to what I see and playing football."
"I'm definitely playing freer," agrees Lowry. "Not having the burden of being a true freshman out there. People know that. It's just going out there and being a sophomore with experience. So I have more confidence out there to play fast and make plays."
"They are playing a lot faster," the fifth-year defensive Tyler Scott will attest when asked about Gibson and Lowry. "They're understanding the defense a lot more. When they get asked questions in meetings, they're popping off answers like this"--and he snaps his finger -- "That's a huge step. That first year you're just out there trying to do the right things and you're always thinking, `What technique should I be doing here? What should I be doing there?' It allows you to play faster when you have that experience and know what you're doing. I've definitely see that in those two guys and they're only going to get better as the season goes on."
Later, after talking with these players, we ask Pat Fitzgerald if performers traditionally make a major leap in their second season in the collegiate arena. "It depends on the player," he begins, and then he moves on to discuss the difficulties confronted by freshmen. But finally, after wrapping true sophomore safety Traveon Henry into the conversation, he concludes: "You've got a group of guys who, having been through battles, I think are ready to take the next step. We expect them to continue to improve, and if they do, they're going to have great careers. I expect those guys to do that."
QUICKLY NOTED: The 'Cats began to wind down their stay at Camp Kenosha with a Saturday scrimmage that included few of those expected to play major roles this season. The notable exceptions were safety Jimmy Hall, Lowry and fellow defensive linemen Will Hampton, Chance Carter and Ifeadi Odenigbo.
"We wanted to push that group a little bit from the standpoint that we've practiced really well, but I believe that's the hardest position to play in football," Fitzgerald explained when asked about that group. "We wanted to make it a little challenging on those guys going through the weekend. I thought they responded really well." And why does he think d line is the hardest position? "Not only do you have to take on 300 or 600 pounds of people. You then have to disengage and run to the ball and try and make a play. The o line just kind of waddles. We yell at them to cover and Cush (offensive line coach Adam Cushing) is all over them, but they still just waddle. The D-line's got to get to the ball after getting their lips knocked off. I've always felt that way. I've got a little soft spot in my heart for the defensive line maybe because they made me what I was as a player."
Asked about his day off, Gibson said, "It was nice. But it's kind of hard to watch your boys go out there and fight when you can't fight with them."
Vitale is up to 232 after playing last season at 220. He also said he is faster and stronger than last season before concluding, "I'm definitely in the best shape I've ever been in."
We wondered if Scott would get sentimental departing Kenosha for the fifth-and-final time. "Probably," he said with a smile. "No. I mean, camp's always fun. It's where you build the camaraderie and the chemistry and get to have fun with the guys and bring in the freshmen and really get to know them. It's definitely special and it's going to be weird not coming back here. Knowing this is my last one, I've had fun with it. It's been a good time."
And Scott, when asked to recall his first Camp Kenosha: "I was really skinny. I had a torn shoulder. I was all drugged up with my shoulder. I think I've come a long way."
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