Video: Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys at his Fall Camp opening press conference

Video from Gopher Illustrated of Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys at his Fall Camp opening press conference.

Transcript from GopherSports

TRACY CLAEYS: Looking forward to getting started. The kids have worked hard, had a great summer, so we need to make sure that -- camp can get long, but we've got to keep everybody focused, and these first 18 practices will really set the tempo for what happens all year long, and after that then we'll start moving towards the first game. But very pleased with the way the summer has gone and the work that our kids have put in. Look forward to going to practice tomorrow with the group of seniors who have done a great job of leading our kids through the summer. With that, I'll take any questions.

Q. Tracy, you talked on the radio the other day about Hugh McCutcheon and some of the advice you got from him. Can you go into where you think that could help you guys this spring?
TRACY CLAEYS: I just think that -- I'll tell you what, it was interesting when I visited with Coach, that the first thing out of his mouth was, Coach, if you're going to do things how things are done traditionally, then I can't do you any good. So it's all about he's invested a lot of time, and I think they probably have in other countries more so than the United States when it comes to coaching, just learning behaviors and applying it to athletics.

So we just talked about what he thinks are some of the best methods and ways to organize practice to where kids can -- at times when they're supposed to be learning things that they learn, and at times when they're supposed to be competing at a high level and doing things right, that all matches in the way that you organize practice.

I think you'll see him out there Friday. He's going to come out on Friday and watch us practice, so he has some neat ideas.

Q. What were your reactions when he said you can't do it the traditional way? Is it a different thought process or what do you have to change?
TRACY CLAEYS: You know, we've always tried to find best practices and things like that. The world is changing. It's changed a lot in a hurry, so you've got to be willing to keep up with things.

But the best example I can give you is like so many times as we do things at the end of practice, the last 30 minutes may be new stuff preparing for the next game, you know, and when kids are more tired towards the end, which isn't the best time to be teaching things, so we're going to move that more to the end of practice -- I mean to the middle of practice, do all the new things and adjustments in the middle of practice, and at the end of practice is the more full speed, competing against each other, because at those times you can expect kids, even when they're tired, to do things that they've done in the past. You're not asking them to learn anything new, you're just asking them to compete and do their job while they're tired, and you can do that.

So that's kind of one of the examples of organizing practice which is a little bit different than what we've done.

Q. You talked in the spring about changing the mindset of your offensive line. What did you accomplish there?
TRACY CLAEYS: We'll see. You know, when I visit with Mitch and the guys who have been in charge of doing the practices and the guys in the weight room right now, they love the mindset of up front. I mean, those kids have put in a tremendous amount of work, completely different type of lifting and that. You know, sometimes -- I don't have all the details to that, but sometime when you get a chance and visit with Bart, is that Coach Miller met with the strength staff and shared what he would like to do and have them do over the summer, and it's a lot more demanding and challenging, and from what I hear, we've had a great response from them. So I'm looking forward to seeing them.

Q. Whether it's Jonah or others, are there jobs locked in on that offensive line?
TRACY CLAEYS: There's nobody that's locked in. We start out, it's a position chart, and then you know, we don't have to make any decisions until we get through about 18 practices. And then after then, you have to in my opinion. I mean, the guys you're going to start and depend on -- I think they need 10 days to prepare for that first game, and I think it's only fair to everybody, so we'll try to have all the roles defined and that by the 18th practice, and I tell kids all the time you don't have to like them, your roles, but when we play the first game, we expect you to accept your roles and do your best, and that role can change as the season plays on or after the first game. We might be wrong. And all of a sudden something shows up.

So after that 18th day, then we'll definitely lock in things where we're going and start preparing.

Q. Can you talk about the receiving corps?
TRACY CLAEYS: You know, I just think that we have the talent there. Eric Carter, Drew, I mean, with Rashad Still there, we're going to add Hunter Register, who was a redshirt a year ago. I think we have the people there, but obviously somebody has got to step up and make some of the plays that K.J. made. He caught an awful lot of balls that moved the chains or scored touchdowns. But I was watching Rashad, his catches the other day on film, and in some big games he had some big catches, and he's a true freshman. There's a big change between those freshmen and sophomores, just even mentally.

I feel good about the receiving corps. But we've got to prove it on game day.

Q. You talked about the O-line and the receivers. Are those the two position groups that maybe you have the closest eye on?
TRACY CLAEYS: I mean, the O-line really is the most -- we definitely have to play better there, and we don't have as much depth there yet as at -- with our tight end groups and wide receivers, we'll be able to put those skill guys on, but O-line you've got to have five of them that step up and play all the time. I do, I have some concerns depth-wise just because we've got some awfully good freshmen and even some redshirt freshmen, but it's tough in the Big Ten to play those guys. They have to block some monsters, and it's always better if you can wait a little bit longer and do that, so hopefully we can do that.

Q. From the start this season, does it feel more like your program than last year?
TRACY CLAEYS: I don't know, I've never worried about that. Somebody can come in here and watch us practice, it's the same as Jerry Kill, and that's a hell of a compliment to me. I'm not worried about what people recognize being different from me or whatever. That's far from my thoughts.

You know, as a coach he went and -- of course I wasn't a head coach, I was just an assistant, but he kept every document, he kept everything in these three-ring binders as he went through the season, and I'll just tell you, thank God he did, because I've been able to pull those out and go through them and make sure of all the little things. When you go through something 21 years, there's -- obviously there's little personality things that you always change, and you'd probably have to ask the kids what's the most different there, but I'm glad all those three-ring binders, I think there's 15 of them here. It takes about three of them to get through a year, and that all came in helpful over my break.

Q. Is that what the quantify the value team-wise of starting camp with a quarterback who's played in 35 games?
TRACY CLAEYS: Yeah, I think that's huge, the experience. There's two places experience I think really pays off, and that's in the secondary. I think it's important. And then at quarterback. Those are the two positions that have to make plays in order for you to win ballgames nowadays with the way the game is played.

And I'm really excited because Mitch is healthy. He hasn't been healthy in a long time, and when you see him, he's lost probably 20 pounds. He still weighs 230, low 230s and looks good, and he's put a tremendous amount of effort in, so I'm excited to -- I'm glad we have him back because we're pretty young, obviously, at quarterback after that, and so we need him to stay healthy and let those other kids develop.

Q. Tracy, what have Coach Miller's impressions or comments been to you about the offensive line?
TRACY CLAEYS: It's just, I've only seen them 14 days, so all's I can go off of is our strength staff says that the guys up front have had a great summer and a great mentality. We bought a new sled that makes you work, and that was one of the first things he wanted, and we bought it to get it here for summer, and I know they've been putting in time on that new sled, and so they've had two days a week where even besides captained practices, they've done things on their own as an O-line group. I think they'll really see the results of it.

But obviously in the first two days, it'll be hard to tell. You know, I mean, you don't have pads on, anybody can play for the most part, and so I'm excited we get to day three and put on the pads and see how much progress we've made there.

But everybody who's worked with them this summer has said there's no question that they've made a lot of progress.

Q. Have you been satisfied with the collective aggressiveness of the unit?
TRACY CLAEYS: I don't know if you'll ever be satisfied, but that's a good thing. They can always be more aggressive in what they're doing. But again, from the workouts and all that, I think those kids from what we hear, they've done good.

Q. You talked about experience in the D-back field. How much of an onus is on Jalen with the youthful corners that you've got otherwise?
TRACY CLAEYS: You know, the corners part is that he'll get those young guys and work with them. More the safeties, they're the guys who make the calls and get everybody lined up and let everybody know what they're playing. You know, that's where, again, we just go to awfully young people in a hurry, and they have the skill to play the position, and so that's why that's my second concern is behind Kunle and Damarius is who's going to step up and be able to make those calls and get people lined up and adjust to motions. So that's my second concern.

Q. Is there anybody who won't be available going into the starting camp?
TRACY CLAEYS: No, not that I'm aware of.

Q. How do you feel in general about your defensive end spots right now?
TRACY CLAEYS: I feel good about it. I do. I think that Gaelin has worked awfully hard in the summer, and Hank has. Those guys -- again, maybe we don't have as much depth, but at the same time, if we have some injuries there, I think we have some bigger linebackers that could help us out if we need to do that, you know, and so I'm okay with where we're at on defensive line. I look forward to those guys playing.

Q. How did you like Rodney Smith catching passes out of the backfield? I know you did that a little bit. Did you like it? Did balls in space seem to go well with him, and would you use him more in that capacity?
TRACY CLAEYS: I think you have to get the ball to your best players in space, and both Shannon and Rodney can both catch the ball. It's all taking advantage of what people give you, and the best way to get the ball in their hands.

I'm not at all afraid of that or opposed to that, and I think it makes them another threat. I'd like to see both of them on the field at the same time. I've told our guys on offense that, that I'd like to see them both on the field at the same time. They're just two dynamic players, and it's more the people have to work on.

Q. What's most ideal for your offense, having those guys basically 50/50 on carries or one guy kind of taking the lead?
TRACY CLAEYS: Whatever works. Balanced offense is whatever they give you, you take advantage of. If we can line up and we hand it off 72 times and we have 500 yards and score 40 points, then it's been a good day, you know, but it's no different. If people are going to stack the box and make us throw it and we've got to throw it 40 times and we're able to move the ball, I think that's what a balanced offense does. It takes advantage of what the defense gives you. I've coached defense a long time. That's been the side ball, and there's a weakness in every defense, and you've got to be able to take advantage of it.

Q. Does their relationship remind you of any running back you've had in the past where they don't really have animosity and they're really good teammates as far as who's going to have the carries, who's going to start?
TRACY CLAEYS: Yeah. I think one thing which helped with Marcus is kind of everybody is going that way now as they're playing multiple tailbacks. Even in the NFL they're playing multiple guys, and it'll be interesting I always say when you get down to the red zone; you know what I'm saying. The guy who does all the work and sometimes the coach's first thought is hey, put somebody in with fresh legs, so I don't see with those two kids it being a problem because they do have a great relationship and know who's going to play and they know they can't take every snap.

But they're both extremely talented.

Q. You saw Herbstreit picked you guys to win the Big Ten. Do you embrace high expectations?
TRACY CLAEYS: That's why I get confused is because you're anywhere from last to - I didn't even know that - to first. Hell, good thing we play the season. It all comes down to the same thing is we told kids we went to the Big Ten meetings and I didn't see them presenting any preseason trophy to anybody. We'll let the season play out and see where it is. I'll just stick to what I said. This isn't like we're starting all over. I don't feel like the football program is broke. I think we're in good shape. We've got -- this will be our sixth year and best in it. We've got a group of kids that I think can compete in the Big Ten and we'll all be disappointed if we get to the last couple weeks in November and we're not in the discussion still to go to Indianapolis, and we're all going to be disappointed in that.

But you've got to prepare during fall camp for the season and then it's those teams that are disciplined enough to prepare each week for their opponent and have respect for their opponent, that they do the things they need to do during the week that allows them to win on game day. If we do that, I think we've got a chance.

Q. There was a great event last night at U.S. Bank Stadium. Is there any efforts to get your team in there to play a game?
TRACY CLAEYS: You know, I hate to take away games on campus. You know, TCF Bank, it's a great stadium, and so I would hate to take away anything from our own campus, you know, that -- I don't know, 20 some years here we played without an identity. We didn't have our own stadium. I think it's great that both teams have their own stadium. But to be able to play on campus means a lot to the alums and people in this state.

I would be open to, however, with that being said, that if we could get to where we host a National Championship game and we could find a way to have eight home games to play a non-conference team in the U.S. Bank Stadium, and that's where the National Championship is going to be, I think that would be a neat scenario for everybody involved as long as we didn't lose a game at TCF.

Q. I was going to ask you about a couple new guys, Eric Amoako and Donnell Greene. Can you just talk about what they might be able to bring to you guys?
TRACY CLAEYS: We'll see. Eric has played in the same system, fifth year. He falls under the graduate transfer rule. He's played quarters a lot, 4-3, so excited to have him give us a little bit of depth for how young we are there in the secondary. He wasn't here in the spring, so we'll have to see there.

With Greene, he's not here yet. He's got to finish up his school. I think his school gets finished today, and then you've got to go through the transferring of transcripts and all that type of stuff. It'll be a week or 10 days probably for him, and then I'll get you updated on that.


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