Sept. 14, 2009
By SKIP MYSLENSKI, NUsports.com Special Contributor
Last Saturday, while discussing defensive end Corey Wootton's return from off-season knee surgery, 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald admitted that his star was not yet his old self and then added that the big reason for that was mental. This was not surprising and here is why. When an athlete comes back from getting cut, and especially when he comes back from getting cut on such a vital joint, he must overcome the fear that the joint will fail him again. He must, quite simply, trust that it is fully healthy and just let it rip.
"It's not that I wonder if it's going to hold up," Wootton said Monday when that truism was posited to him. "It's more I feel my movements, my agility, certain movements don't feel quite the same. It feels a little awkward. I just think that comes with time, to feel more comfortable with it.
"Me being the player I am, I want to be the best I can. Right now, with my knee, it's just getting used to it. That's the biggest thing. I'm trying to do everything I can in the film room to get every advantage I can because I'm not the same as I was last year yet. So I've got to do everything I can to have an advantage on the guy across from me."
Do you feel you've cut it loose yet?
"I believe I did more this week than last week, but not fully yet. I definitely feel I need to just cut it loose and just have fun, like I did last year."
Are you having fun?
"Yeah. Definitely I'm having fun out there. It's just a little frustrating to me, just knowing what I'm capable of and how it is now."
So it's more like knocking rust off an old engine, something like that?
"Basically. Yes, yes."
The play Saturday, when a flat pass went right by you and you missed grabbing it, is that a play you make last year?
"No. That was a tough play to get my hands on. It's more in pass rushing, changing direction real quickly, different movements like that, it just feels a little awkward at times. With time, I believe it will feel a lot better."
You can't simulate that in practice?
"You can. But it's not the same. Practice definitely gets you prepared for the games, but the games are different. Games are faster."
Fitz said on Saturday you've got to "get twisted around, get bent around, get in a pile." Have you gone through that yet?
"Not yet. No. I believe once that happens, I'll be like, 'Oh, it's good.' I mean, I don't ever really worry about getting injured or anything. I think it's more with jumping than anything else that I'm a little hesitant on."
Are you frustrated?
"Yeah, yeah. It does get me a little frustrated. I was talking to my parents about it. But I've just got to stay the course and just keep working hard and just keep improving."
Do you have any idea when you'll feel like you did last year?
"I'm not sure. That's the part that's a little frustrating to me. But I'm doing everything I can to get back to that point I was last year."
It would be neither fair nor accurate to say the 'Cat coaches have used this season's first two games as NFL coaches use their first two exhibition games. That would demean both Towson and Eastern Michigan. But the schemes they have employed on both offense and defense have been largely as basic as first-grade math and they have gone deep into rotations at running back, wide receiver and on both lines. That, certainly, apes the early actions of their pro counterparts.
"We don't really know what our opponent's going to do," Fitzgerald said Monday when this theory was offered up to him. "Last week we wanted to evolve and do more things. But the hard part is now you've got to prepare for everything you think they may do and then they come out and, OK, they're doing A and B, so you have to do all this adjusting on the sideline. Now we're doing more adjusting than evolving.
"When you get more consistent video, when you get more consistent ability to scout what people are doing, you can be a little more aggressive with your scheme, with your ability to maybe hone in on some things. The offensive line, we didn't rotate as much as we did the week prior. On the defensive line, we just weren't having the same amount of success we were accustomed to. That's why we were trying to keep them fresh."
But even on your third offensive series Saturday, when you were pinned back on your one-yard, you shuffled your offensive line. I'm thinking that if it's the eighth-game of the year and it's a Big Ten opponent, you're not doing that.
"We might not be. We might, we might not be. But also we're trying to build some confidence, some trust in some guys. Now the ball's backed up, and we went into the game saying this is the rotation, this is when we're going to do it, now we're not going to do it because of the circumstances, what kind of trust, what kind of confidence is shown in those guys? It's backed up, we don't trust you to go in there and do your job. So will we potentially not have that kind of rotation? Yeah. But we feel we've got good depth. We feel like we're trying to evolve and gain some trust and build some confidence in guys."
It's insulting to your opponents to say you used these as exhibition games, I understand that. But with all the testing you've done, can you see why that thought came to mind?
"Well, you've got to figure out who can play. You think you have an idea when you go through practice. But you don't know until you get them out in the arena and things happen. Now how do they adjust, how do they overcome, how do they adapt to what's happening to 'em? I've been pleased with all but, put the two games together, one quarter of football. But that one quarter can cost you a game, as we both know."
Cliches are abhorred and ridiculed and regarded with scorn, but here is a point that should never be forgotten. They grew to become cliches because they are true. (Really. Think about it. Have you ever seen a team play two-at-a-time?) That is why we thought of one cliche oft applied to the offensive line, the one that says it must work as one to be effective, and asked Desmond Taylor if the constant shuffling we've seen in the 'Cats first two games has diminished its efficiency.
"I would say no," he replied. "Throughout the week we do rotations, we simulate game situations so if someone went down or something happened of that nature, we're ready for it. During the week, I'll get reps at left tackle, right guard. It's one of those things, the more that we rotate, it's something you get used to. I don't think it's been a problem, per se. We're all pretty excited. We have a pretty competent group of O linemen this year and, even if I'm out, I'm confident guys are going to step up."
"Everybody's still blocking," echoed running back Stephen Simmons when asked if the rotations in front of him caused any problems. "Whether they have a different form or a different style of doing things, you're still looking for the same creases. . . If anything, you don't even realize who's in front of you."
And finally, just in case you were off visiting another planet: The starting quarterback for Syracuse, whom the 'Cats visit Saturday night, is the former Duke point guard Greg Paulus.
And finally part two: Northwestern awarded six walk-ons full scholarships for the year: Zeke Markshausen, Kevin Frymire, James Nussbaum, Kevin Mitchell, Mark Ison and Jacob Schmidt.
Check out the full Skip Myslenski Archive!