Aug 26, 2013
Game week. Two words that when placed together can effect all sorts of emotions on the football-loving soul. So, how are the Wildcats reacting now that kickoff of the 2013 season is a mere five days away? Skip Myslenski was on hand at Northwestern's first weekly Monday press conference of the season to find out just that. His report:
* AUDIBLES ALL AROUND: The 'Cats normally practice in the morning. But, with their Saturday season opener at Cal kicking off at 9:30 central time, they will practice this week under the lights on Lakeside Field. The heart of the 'Cats team normally arrives at the Nicolet Football Building by seven each morning. But, in another adjustment, they have been ordered not to show up there this week until 10:30 a.m. Then there is this. "We've done an extensive sleep study during training camp. Our guys have been wearing armbands to see if we're getting our guys the right amount of rest," Pat Fitzgerald reported Monday at the first of his season-long weekly press conferences.
"We partnered with the School of Engineering to do that, so our guys are very conscious of the rest they're getting. We've recommended some sleep patterns. We've told our guys not to go to bed until midnight. They're taking naps about 3:30. Then dinner starts at five for the varsity, then we're in meetings at 6:30. So we've got a routine that we're hoping mimics what we plan on doing Saturday."
"We all love to sleep, take naps and everything. You guys know that," center Brandon Vitabile
later said when asked about this new routine. "When you're in college, you can sleep all day. So we're enjoying it and we know it's going to help us too. So they're telling us to actually sleep in and not get up and get going, it's pretty cool."
NIGHTY-NIGHT: Here is how that sleep study worked. "What we tried to do, instead of making it a Big Brother thing, make it more of a performance aspect that they can use as a tool to help them prepare..." explained Fitzgerald. "I think it gives them a great idea, `OK, I thought I went to bed last night at 10 o'clock, but I really only got into deep sleep for five hours.' Maybe they're thinking about too many things. Maybe change your sleep patterns, change the noise in the room, change the light in the room, things of that nature. So we've taken the nap to a whole other level this year. We're embracing the nap."
YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY: The `Cats, of course, are ranked in the Top 25 and are a familiar name on those lists that name teams-to-watch. So, inevitably, Fitzgerald was again asked on Monday about handling expectations. "That's the number one question I've been asked all off-season," he replied at one point. It's good to be asked that question. It's definitely a change from what our program's been asked in the past. So I think that's a positive thing, macro from a program standpoint. But we will always focus inward on who we are and what we're about and how we need to go about our business preparing."
Then later, handling a follow-up question on this matter, he said, "If you focus on other things, you'll get what you deserve. You've got to control the controlables, focus on what you can control, all those coachisms. It think that's really hard to do. That's why the number one goal (on a board in his team's meeting room) is consistent preparation. I think that's incredibly difficult for 17-to-22 year old young men with the amount of distractions they have on them from social media to being in the dorms to walking around town ... But it's not like Kain (Colter) or Trevor (Siemian) is in his first year being our starting quarterback. It's not like this is Venric (Mark's) first game. We've got a lot of guys who've played a lot of football here and I think they know how to go about their business of preparation."
Finally, wrapping up this issue, he eventually concluded: "Our internal expectations far outweigh external expectations, and they've been that way for a long time. Am I happy to see that external expectations are changing? Yeah. But, at the same time, everybody under the age of 40 knows Northwestern is a winner. We've got to control the 41-year olds and above. One game at a time."
* QUICKLY NOTED: The two-deep depth chart the 'Cats released Monday show Collin Ellis starting as the Sam linebacker and Drew Smith, who was competing with him for that spot throughout camp, backing up Chi Chi Ariguzo at Will. "I'm not so sure Collin separated himself," Fitzgerald said when asked how Ellis had done that. "I think we've got four starters and you're going to see Drew play a lot of football for us."
Emerging in good health is always a primary goal of any training camp. The `Cats did that. "We've come out of camp as clean as we've been as far as the two-deep guys," reported Fitzgerald. "We've got some bumps and bruises, like everybody. But from a two-deep standpoint, we're probably as healthy as we've been."
The only starting spot on the two deep listed with an "or" is defensive right end, where the choice is either Dean Lowry or Deonte Gibson.
Also on that line: Redshirt freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo, who has put on 25 pounds since joining the 'Cats, backs up Tyler Scott at left end; Chance Carter starts at left tackle, where he's backed up by Will Hampton; and redshirt sophomore C.J. Robbins backs up returning starter Sean McEvilly at right tackle. "I like our depth and I really like the fact that we're going to have a pretty solid rotation out there," Fitzgerald would say of this group.
There are no true freshmen on the two-deep and, when asked if one was close to breaking into it, Fitzgerald tersely said, "No." When asked, in a follow-up question, if this reality -- that no true frosh will play if no one gets injured -- was an indicator of his program's progress, he said: "Yeah. But we'll see how it progresses. From our standpoint, we're in a good place depth-wise today. That's subject to change. A year ago, Traveon (Henry, now the starting safety), I don't think played until week three. So we'll flight deck a couple guys and see how it goes."
Jeff Budzien, who made 19 of his 20 field goal attempts last season, opens this one handling kickoff duties as well.
Asked if it was an advantage to not yet have school in session, middle linebacker Damien Proby said, "Definitely. We have football the entire day. The day can be dedicated to football. You have extra time to get treatment or to get into film. There's nothing else for us to do, really, so it's still a bonding moment. Essentially it's camp extended with Cal being the focal point of it."
But later, when asked if there was a danger of overdoing it with so much time available, Fitzgerald said, "Yeah. That's why we don't stay in the training camp mentality. My first year here we did that and it was a mistake. We had them around here way too long, they were burned out, they got to the hotel on Friday and were like `TG (Thank God). That was a long week.` So we're kind of the other way around."
AND FINALLY: Ted Albrecht, the highly-respected analyst on WGN's radio broadcasts of the 'Cats, is a Cal grad, which explains why he appeared at Monday's press conference adorned in a credential that had his name Xd out. "Ted is not allowed at practice this week," Fitzgerald explained with a smile. "Ted was given a green light to be at practice through training camp. But we're questioning whether or not he will be able to call the game. We're thinking of bringing our alum, Sam Valenzisi, instead. But Sam'll probably be too stressed out for the day. So we'll see how things go."
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