Last year there were a lot of excuses - what caused the fall out last year?
We weren't a very good football team. That's the bottom line. It doesn't matter if your young, get some guys hurt, we needed to play better than we played obviously, but as difficult as it was, playing a lot of young kids and having some injuries, the silver lining to that could was that we played a lot of kids - you play a lot of kids who come back for 2 or 3 years.
I kept reminding the young players we were coaching that they need to keep the destination in mind, we're in a tough place right now, we're in a place we're not ready to deal with but we can't lose sight of where we're trying to go.
You can always say we struggled today over center, we have a lot of good players, some players who have played a lot of good football and its amazing what a winter and growing up can do for you.
I think our defense, who was much malaigned a year ago, the front seven, I think 4 freshmen and 3 sophomores, they grew up a little bit. They're bigger and stronger, I think they've matured, I think that if things click in without even practicing.
So I think we've matured, and I think we have a chance to be a lot better football team. I know we expect it and the kids expect it, and I know since January the attitude in the off season's been great the work ethic's been outstanding, and we're ready to get better this spring - a great 15 days of practice. I think we can be competitive again in the Big 10.
Jason Wright: Excuses are Excuses [lets move on]
Which team is ahead, offense or defense?
There's different aspects, I think our defense with so much experience coming back they have a chance to basically make strides.
You know we lost Austin King, you take a guy like that for granted, a four year starter, a kid that plays real well [we had some bad snaps today]
Then again, a guy like Bret Basanez, a young player a year ago is really starting to come into his own as the season went on, he's playing better and better, Jason Wright and Noah Herron coming back at running back - both these kids are quality backs.
I think we have quality receivers returning so, we've just got to tighten up a couple of guys on the offensive line - we'd like to think our offense will be really good.
I'm pleased with all the progress I've seen out of all the returners - we have a lot of guys who can play, and they didn't play very well last year. I'm pleased with where they're at so far [after 3 practices] and what they've done.
Is there something different about this year? or is it same story, different tune,
I don't know how you can say that - we lost a bunch of good players (2 years ago) - we had 9 guys go to the NFL from that team. Last year we had a lot of new faces, we had a new QB - we lost a couple 2 or 3 offensive linemen that played a lot of snaps for us, defense, we graduated a whole bunch of players.
So last year this time we had a bunch of guys who asked, who's our quarterback, who's our running back - we lose Damien Anderson and Zak Kustok - who is taking their place so there were a lot of new faces out here.So this is a much different situation to be in.
So its like 4 years ago?
This is as many guys as we've had coming back since 2000. We have a lot of kids coming back who've had a lot of experience - when you're 3-9 there's not much good about that experience but they took the snaps and they learned some things so hopefully they've taken some of those things and matured and done some of the right things in the weight room and I think they have.
Did you change anything on Defense?
We're doing some new things. We're trying to be more attack oriented, we're coming after people more. We just tried to get them on the bike and ride a little bit and we didn't try to go too fast because we still had our training wheels on.
But I think we've got enough of those kids - they're all back - virtually the whole defense and lets pick up the speed a little bit, we can be a lot more diverse as a defense - we're going to try to do some more things.
What about the Center Situation?
Carl [Matejka] is not with us anymore. Carl decided not to keep playing and that's it
Was that a surprise?
No, we talked in December and I didn't think he was going to come back then. But he decided to come back at the beginning of the year, and I told him he's welcome to do it, and he came to 2 practices and he just doesn't want to play anymore, and I didn't try to talk him into it.
There's no hard feelings, at least he knows when he's not doing the things it takes - this game takes a lot.
I don't think you talk guys into playing this game. But we feel like with some of the guys, Jim Devine is working there now, and Vince Clark. I think they're both going to be very good football players, don't have any experience,but I feel good about where they're at so I think they're going to be OK.
There's also another kid who got hurt in the off season, Joe Tripodi, we had a lot of confidence in him. It was one of those things where he was doing a little change in direction drill and he had a stress fracture. He'll be back in the fall, he was a guy who would be in the mix too on the offensive line.
What about the freshmen coming in - at least one of them expects to start...
Oh, probably - and you know it would be unlikely, I think its a really hard position to start at in the offensive line. But we think we signed a couple of pretty good ones. They'll probably be in the 2 deep, or have a chance to be. But I don't know. My goal is that by April 26th - OK these are the guys. We have some things pretty set, and some things not.
And maybe finding a Center is maybe as big a priority as we've got.
What about starting with only 3 or 4 RBs, are you worried about that?
To some degree, in a pinch we have about 3 or 4 guys at other positions now who hav played a lot of running back. Jeff Backes, Louis Ayeni, have played a lot of running back Torrey Stuckey. We haven't changed the offense, so they could proably go back and in a short time.
And the reason we moved those guys around is we think they can help us. All three have a chance to be starters somewhere else.
So I guess I'd say I'm a little scared about it, but I think we'll be all right and if we're not, we make one of those guys come back.
Playing tailback isn't the toughest thing you'll ever do in terms of what you have to know to play it. I don't try to minimize them, but it isn't a tough job, and then having played it, all 3 of those guys - in a week we could have them up and going and be OK.
When are other teams going to solve the offense?
We've had some success offensively, and when we've stayed healthy we can move it. I think its difficult, especially when you have a quarterback run, and the only thing that's ever hurt us in this offense is when we couldn't run the quarterback, because that keeps people honest.
Now that Bret's over his broken leg, and Alexander's [Webb] liver's healed, Derrell's thumb - we got a lot of quarterbacks hurt last year, and on Pro Timing day, Derell and Alexander both ran a 4.5. Its nice to have a couple of quarterbacks who can run like that.
So we're going to keep running the quarterback - we've got guys who can do it - and they can throw the ball well so we really do have a good situation at quarterback and we're going to utilize those guys and get 'em playing and we're excited about all of them.
Does anyone other than Bret stand a chance as long as Bret stays healthy?
You said the magic word, you've got to stay healthy - he didn't last year. But we're not adverse to playing more than one QB, maybe 2 at the same time. People have done it. When you put Alexander Webb out there with Brett Basanez, and Alexander runs a 4.5 its not like you've got a "stiff" out there. I mean he can play, he's as fast as any wide receiver we've got and if I was on defense, I'd cover him, cause you raise up and throw it he can run pretty fast, so can Derrell.
We've talked a lot, we haven't got to that yet, but we'll probably have some 2 quarterback offense.
If your goal is to get the best 11 guys on the field, I'm not sure our 2nd QB isn't one of those 11. Then you really give people problems I think, and you give them some things, if nothing else you're going to have to adjust, and make some things to think about.
Other teams Opening up their offenses?
Our defense oughta be used to playing against them - 'cause thats what we've been doing for four years.
No I think that's the direction of football. I don't think its all that unique any more. I make no secret about it - I want to run the football. Its just we're doing it a different way than we used to - we still go into every game thinking we have to run the football to win, now we just do it differently.
We're not a lead back, I formation smash it up the middle. We've got QB run, tailback, where we do some things to be creative. So I think a lot of people are going to go to it - it makes defenses defend 53 yards in width and 100 yards of length and it forces defenses to do some things. Defenses love it when you play in a phone booth, but if you make them expand and play the field they've got some work cut out for them.
Any other position changes?
I think the biggest goal in the spring is to identify a center. There's no question that it was a big loss - we didn't have too many losses, but that was big.
Part of that was being a center because its difficult, but he's [Austin King] a great player. I thought he was one of the most undervalued centers in the country - he's going to play a long time beyond this league so that's a big set of footprints to fill.
So we've got to find that. I think we need to keep bringing along our quarterbacks and everywhere else I feel pretty good about the guys - they're all guys who've played - that's part of that silver lining of that dark cloud because we played a bunch of guys 'cause guys got hurt - guys are young and lets play them.
Defensively, we didn't lose as many guys, but still we have to identify some players, we'll try to do some different things. But by and large, we're pretty confident about some things I think we have a chance to be a lot better.
Is the 3 man defensive front part of that?
Its part of that, but we're going to play the 4 man too. We're going to be more...gosh darn, we're supposed to be a bunch of smart kids here at Northwestern, we aught to be very diverse. Now we couldn't - we had to put training wheels on that bike last year and kinda get 'em up and going - lets take the training wheels off and do a bunch of things because we should be able to do it -
That's one of the secrets to our offense, we are very diverse - we do a lot of stuff. And I think we have to take the same approach on defense. Hopefully we can take that diversity and create some confusion and as long as we're not confused.
Jason Wright gives the O-line a lot of credit for his success last year, and he is a little worried about the changes up front, but he seems confident that the coaches will work it out. His success depends on the O-Line.
His other comment that is important is that a lot more kids spent the Winter Quarter watching film than in the past.
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