Video: Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys speaks with the media following the conclusion of fall camp on August 22nd.

Video on Gopher Illustrated of Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys speaks with the media following the conclusion of fall camp on August 22nd.

Q. We were in here probably two weeks ago. What have you learned about your team in those two weeks?

TRACY CLAEYS: You know, I think that -- I think our front seven on defense, I think we've got some depth there. I feel really good about that. They've played awfully aggressive and played awfully well. And then, you know, on offense, I do think that our first group has improved a bunch, and our issue there still is the depth in the offensive line. We have some very good young players there, from some freshmen and redshirt freshmen, but it's just a different beast to be ready to go. But the additions we've made with the junior college kids and the work that the other guys have put in, I do feel really good that we'll be able to put a first team out there on offense that can move the football.

Q. Has the optimism increased, stayed the same from where you were a couple weeks ago at Big Ten Media Days?

TRACY CLAEYS: It's increased. We've practiced now, so I've gotten to see them. So yeah, I think we're on schedule to be ready to play our first game as far as what kids would tell you. As coaches you can practice for a month and want to practice two more days to clean things up, but we're getting close here to where they're getting tired of practicing, and we need to play a game.

But by no means are we perfect. We do have a few things to clean up, but I do think we're on schedule to get that done to be ready to play the first game.

Q. The changes you've made with your offensive system, are the guys at a point where they're playing faster?

TRACY CLAEYS: I think one group is. Again, you know, depth is going to be a little bit of an issue probably, but I do think the one group is getting more and more comfortable all the time. It's going to be important up front that we stay healthy, that we stay healthy. I mean, on offense, that's my biggest concern right now.

Q. Does having played Wisconsin with Gary Andersen there help in this game planning?

TRACY CLAEYS: You know, Coach Andersen really is a spread offensive guy, but what shows you he's a good football coach, when he went to Wisconsin he adapted to what they had and did those types of things. They're a little bit different on offense than when he was at Wisconsin. It's more of what he's used to.

But obviously we haven't changed much on defense at all, and so he's going to -- they're going to have an idea of what they want to go after with the O-line coaches out there that was with him at Wisconsin. You know, they'll know more about us than some other opponents, but it still comes down to executing.

Q. You've got high expectations for this team; you said they need to be in the hunt at the end of the year. How do you match those expectations without the team believing that they're good?

TRACY CLAEYS: I still think it's just the one-game-at-a-time mentality. That's what you've got to keep preparing, and no matter what you're going to have to play all those games to get there, so it's one game at a time. The teams that play well each week and do what they're supposed to do, then they'll get what they deserve at the end of the season. It's all about still keeping focused on each game and playing your best each game, and everything else will take care of itself.

Q. Does this team have that mentality?

TRACY CLAEYS: I hope so. We'll see. We'll see. They've done awfully well. Just seeing the summer, our conditioning and weight lifting has done well, and with what we've had to deal with during fall camp, they've practiced awfully well, awfully well for -- some think it would have been nice to take a day off here and there, but that's not the way this world works, but they've stayed focused and practiced awfully well.

Q. You said two weeks ago it was 18 practices and you'd have a good idea?

TRACY CLAEYS: Yeah, we're just doing that now. I just got done meeting with the offense this morning, and I know where we're at there, and I'll meet with the defense this afternoon. We'll do special teams in the morning. So before we go to practice tomorrow, there will be a depth chart released, but I want to make sure I get all of them done. Special teams has to go last because you've got to count on the guys you're counting for on offense and defense and kind of plug them into special teams. Before we go to practice tomorrow, it'll all be set for the first game.

Q. When BTN was here, one of the updates was that it looked like Rhoda was maybe ahead, behind Mitch. Was there an update to that?

TRACY CLAEYS: Update from who?

Q. BTN put that out on Twitter.

TRACY CLAEYS: I guess you have to decide whether to believe them or not; you know what I'm saying? As they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder or however that goes, so I'll update it when we do a depth chart.

Q. How do you assess how Demry and Seth and Conor have played this camp?

TRACY CLAEYS: Torn. You know, I mean, obviously Mitch is ahead of everybody else, and it's the same thing. So now you've got to decide if you get into an injury situation who gives you the best opportunity to win. And for the first game, you make that decision based off what you've seen so far. That will probably -- that decision -- we're going to release a depth chart, but a true one will probably be decided after this week to see how those other guys handle the game plan that they put in. But Mitch is far ahead from those, and so, you know -- who would give us the best opportunity if Mitch is injured, that's what we've got to get figured out here by the end of this week.

Q. Jay Johnson, how has that been different than what you've had in the past?

TRACY CLAEYS: Like I say, it's different because everything -- they do everything together as a whole staff and Jay is in charge of it. I've sat in on a bunch of the meetings and they're really organized, and he knows what he wants to go through. As I said before, it used to be split. The guys in the passing game would go and do passing game stuff. The run guys -- so it's nice to have one guy. That's just what I'm comfortable with as you go through things and everybody is in there and hears the same ideas and makes those decisions.

Q. How would you assess Tyler Johnson?

TRACY CLAEYS: Done a tremendous job. I mean, for a true freshman, it's unbelievable, really is. Just because you're talking about a kid who played every sport in high school, including baseball, AAU basketball, hadn't had much time in the weight room. If we wouldn't bring in freshmen in June he probably wouldn't have a chance because of the strength thing, but he's added some strength, and he's gained some weight.

I do think that the AAU basketball has given him a mentality of competing against older kids. He's been doing that since he played AAU basketball, and so it didn't faze him to get out there and go against older kids. Tremendous hands, and he can jump and come up with the ball. He'll definitely be a part of what we're doing this fall.

Q. When you hired Johnson, just from an Xs and Os standpoint, you've been studying offensive coordinators forever. What was it about him that stood out to you?

TRACY CLAEYS: Well, like I said, just being a lot more diversified out of 11, one tight end and three wides. I just think you've got to be -- if you're going to get into that type of personnel, which everybody is, to spread the field, it can't just be to pass the ball all the time. That had a lot to do with it, his success in that personnel and spreading the field. Two backs and somebody makes a mistake, there's usually enough guys close enough to the box to cover up that mistake to where it doesn't turn into anything big, but when you spread the field and you make a mistake, it's going to get a lot of yards.

His experience in doing that and taking advantage of what defenses give you, that's why we did that.

Q. If you look at the success they had in the red zone, Louisiana, was there anything that stands out to why he would be so good at something like that?

TRACY CLAEYS: Well, I think part of it is any time you have a belief, and like you say, I was told by everybody who's coached with Coach Johnson before that he does a tremendous job of taking advantage of weaknesses and how people have to defend him. I have to think in the red zone everybody has certain ways they like to play, and I have to think that he made good decisions on how to attack what they were doing.

Hopefully we can continue to do that here.

Q. Is it fair to say that Shannon is ruled out for Oregon State, and is it going to be Rodney Smith and then Kobe or Rodney Smith and Kobe? How is that going to work out?

TRACY CLAEYS: I guess we'll see by tomorrow afternoon.

Q. Mitch wasn't able to practice in the spring, but he said he would try to get as many mental reps as he could. Have you seen that pay off?

TRACY CLAEYS: Yeah, he's a lot better. Where he lost the weight has made him better as far as moving around the pocket and that. He's played awfully well. And we have a lot more on our plate. We're much more of a quarterback being in charge, getting you out of bad plays and things like that than what we've done in the past, so the quarterbacks have a lot more on their plate. He's done a good job with that.

Q. Has it changed his mentality a little bit? He likes to run over linebackers and so forth. Do you want him to be a little more careful with his body this year?

TRACY CLAEYS: I want him to score touchdowns. You know what I'm saying? I do think -- with what you're saying, I think there's smart ways of doing things at certain times in games. There's no question. But if it comes down to a 3rd and 1 for us to keep the ball and that's what it takes, then I want him to run over the top of the linebacker and keep the chains moving. But I also think that you have to manage how many hits he takes. There's no question. If he don't have to take hits, you don't want him to take hits.

Q. Is there anything in practice you see from him whether it's a check or a throw or some kind of decision he makes where you think two years ago he wouldn't have been able to do that?

TRACY CLAEYS: Yeah, yeah. Well, one is that it's just -- as a -- how do I say this; the checking system is completely different from what we did in the past. They were pretty much told what to check to, and this it's really up to him. When he notices the defense is going to give us problems for what we've got called, there's no certain thing, he's got the right to check to what he thinks is the best play against that, and obviously they've talked about options, but we're not going to lock him into just saying you have to check to this one thing. So he has done a tremendous job with that, with everything he's seen in fall camp.

And I think a lot goes -- he'll also tell you that Coach Johnson, they've taken a lot of quizzes and video tests, and I know I've enjoyed sitting in on their position meetings and watching him and how he teaches, and it's been a lot of fun for me. I'm very confident in what we're doing.

Q. Is that a lot to put on a quarterback's head or is that just the system?

TRACY CLAEYS: That's just the system now. You see so many things on defense, and we do the same things. Not very many people play base defense. I don't know half the snaps maybe even. I talked about we had a bunch of negative yardage plays last year, and that's the one thing we've been able to eliminate by putting more on the quarterback's plate. Not that they break for a touchdown, but where you get two or three yards, and now all of a sudden it's 2nd and 7 rather than being 2nd and 15, 2nd and 14. So he's done a great job of that, of eliminating those negative yardage plays by turning it over to him a little bit more.

Q. How is Mitch throwing it?

TRACY CLAEYS: Really well. Really well. You know, somebody said the other day -- occasionally he's not on spot, but anybody you turn on and watch, nobody is on spot on every one. But he's really done a good job of making decisions and getting the ball out.

I think the things that Mitch still needs to improve on is in those -- you get to 3rd downs or play action passes on 1st down is when to pull it down and run it or throw it away rather than take the chance of getting sacked. It's hard for -- he's such a competitor, it's hard for him to surrender in those situations and go, hey, you throw the ball away 2nd and 10 is better than 2nd and 15, getting sacked because you're trying to make a play. But a lot of that is his mentality, not wanting to give in.

Q. You heard last night that Mike Sherels was released from the hospital?


Q. Can you describe what the last few days and week have been like? I know your mind is on football right now.

TRACY CLAEYS: Well, I just think it's kind of -- like you say, the world moves awfully fast, and the technology and everything is getting faster and faster and information is getting faster. You know, you have things like -- I mean, it was weird, it was pretty close to each other that I find out that Coach Sawvel's dad went into the care of hospice and then the thing with Mike happened, bang-bang, and you would, you'd like to take a day and have time to think about it, but that game is scheduled, and it isn't going to change, and so the kids have had to do a good job of managing things and preparing, which I think they have. But any time -- those guys are awfully important to the kids, and the kids know that, for preparing. We do, we try very hard to promote a family-type atmosphere, and it's important to me that assistants care about their kids, and more so than just football. So you take that away, and Coach Sherels just popped up so unexpectedly, so the shock of that. So every day it is, it's a life lesson. The world doesn't stop. You have to keep going. We make sure that we provide time during the day for them to think about and address those situations, but when we do football, they've got to do football, and they have done awfully well with that.

So it's good now that there's light at the end of the tunnel there. I don't have any idea on any timeline or anything like that, but I can just tell it's a hell of a lot better situation now than it was, and can allow us to get back to some type of normalcy and really concentrate on the first game.

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories