Petersen aware of Rutgers' uncertainties

On Monday, Chris Petersen addressed the press for the first game week of Washington's 2016 season. Their week one opponent? The Rutgers Scarlet Knights, and Petersen is all too aware of all of Rutgers' unknowns heading into Saturday's 11 am game.

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Opening - “We’re excited. Game week coming in today. Players are not here but the coaches are, and you could feel it…a little bit different. Different intensity, different mentality, a little more urgency. I think we’ve had a good week, a good fall camp, good week last week. We’ve done a little game planning but it’s game week. That always changes everything. We’re excited to have a chance to go play here shortly.”

What changes did you make to your mock game week last week compared to a year ago? - “This week was similar. One of the things we play close attention to was making sure our guys are recovered and fresh from fall camp. We looked really, really closely at that so we can work very hard this week. The one thing we’re not doing is backing off this week in terms of the reps we get in practice and those type of things. That’s one thing we’ve talked about with our guys when we come back tomorrow. We’re going out there wearing pads and we’re practicing and we’re getting better. And we wanted to make sure we were fresh enough to do that by the end of week we don’t wear them back down. That’s one thing that we’ve looked at really closely.

“And then just really in fall camp as well, the overall picture of how do we start, how do we start fast and how do you start better than we have? I don’t know if anybody has the answer when it’s not exactly how you like it to be but we’re always trying to make tweaks.”

What are the challenges with Rutgers considering a first year staff and head coach? - “A lot of uncertainty. There’s always uncertainties with the first game for sure, because everybody’s going to be a little different. Had a long off-season to work on some things, but then you couple that with a brand-new staff across the board…you’re watching tapes of where they came from, but then they are going to have their own ideas that are tailored to their personnel. So that’s probably the biggest challenge is, a team like this we wish we didn’t have right out of the gate, had a little bit of tape…yeah, this is who they are. So that’s probably the biggest thing.

“And I think the second thing is they’ll have new energy. I know that staff has done a great job of changing culture and getting those guys going. The combination of those things make it uncertain.”

Is that uncertainty even more so when they have issues at the quarterback position? - “I don’t even know if that brings more to the table or not. I think there’s so much…who are they going to play but what exactly are their schemes? What are the new wrinkles? So really it comes back to us just being…I was talking about the defensive coordinators in college football…you’re going to see it all. And you’re going to see stuff we haven’t totally anticipated every week. So you have to design the scheme that has rules and we have to play our rules and be ready to go. That’s where we are right now.”

How much intel can you do on a staff that’s completely brand-new? Talk to your peers? - “We really haven’t. We haven’t reached out to any of our guys. We’ve paid attention to where they came from and they are going to do what they know, what they believe in. We just have to be assignment sound and fundamentally good to play ball. We know there’s always going to be some wrinkles and we’re adjusting on the sideline every game, but certainly the first couple.”

How’s the buy-in factor for your guys now compared to two years ago? - “We’ll find out here in a week. At the end of the day it comes down to how do we perform on the field. But in terms of the flow of things, the organization of things, I think the belief and buy-in of things we’re about outside of football is 100 percent different. Just because they’ve heard it for a long time. I think they’ve seen and believe in some of the benefits of some of the other things that we talk about in terms of culture and this thing being bigger than just football. I think it’s opened their eyes and they’ve opened their ears and their hearts. So I think all that’s good.”

Any particularities to how the season schedule is laid out? - “We kind of looked at the big picture. We look at the pre-season as a season in itself and then we get started in our league and where that bye falls. Right now we’re so focused on…one of the biggest things about the preseason is game one, just there’s so many uncertainties. Not only with the opponent but with our guys. You’re always out there playing and we’ve done things a hundred times correctly and then all of sudden someone doesn’t line up correctly and somebody forgets to go out in a personnel group and you’re like, huh? That hasn’t happened at all. So working through some of those type of things. Game one is always interesting. We’ll see how it goes. We’ve just got to go out and play and go work through those things.”

Comfort level with OL and WR - “I think we’ve made progress through spring ball I thought there was progress made, through fall camp I thought there was progress made. So I’m real excited to see these guys go compete is where we are. They’ve been playing against our defense for whatever it is, 6,000 team reps, from spring ball to fall camp and we know each other pretty well, our offense and our defense, and I think that changes a lot of things. To not know the guy across from you like you do changes (things). Now it’s time to go see if we have improved.”

Joe and Connor listed as DE - “You guys know we’re multiple. We move guys around. I know if you look at this depth chart you’re probably reading too much into it. We have two-deeps on here. We’re going to play a lot of guys. Joe Mathis is a defensive end that plays like a linebacker as well. It’s that type of thing. To not overcomplicate things it’s easier to put it down on paper.”

Lavon Coleman - “Oh yeah, Lavon will play. We’ll play a lot of guys. That’s where coach Bhonapha has those guys ranked right now.”

Freshmen besides Rapp, Harris and Fuller - “We’re still looking at a couple of guys that we’re still deciding, but I think Aaron Fuller, Amandre Williams, Brandon Wellington, Taylor Rapp, Nick Harris all those guys we’re thinking about, we’re going to go with those guys.”

Lenius - “Brayden Lenius will not make a contribution the first three games. He is suspended for the first three games. We’ll see where he goes from there after those first three games.”

Why? - “Violation of team rules.”

Browning improvement - “I don’t know if there is a big difference. Like you said, we have to go play at certain positions. From this year at this time, to last year, there is a big difference. He knows everything we’re talking about with quite certainty. So I think there is a big difference this time last year going in to start the season. But I think you’re hoping it’s all these little subtleties to how he moves in the pocket, how accurate he is. His command of the system. And I think sometimes when guys command the system better there can be a tendency to do too much. I think that’s one thing we’re really trying to stress with him; because you know a lot more, let’s still try and keep it simple. It’s still one-two throw or run for your life. Sometimes you can make this game too complicated.”

Deep ball - “I have seen some. The deep balls are low percentage throws anyway. And we need to practice them more and we have practiced them more. They are hard to practice because you have so many routes that you are running during practice and you have only so many reps you can give these receivers. But we have made a conscious effort on it, I do think he’s improved and we’ll see how the season goes on.”

Buy in for off field stuff and an example - “I just think it’s some of the different things that we talk about outside of football. Life in general. Why it’s important to be a good student and I think guys get that; not just getting by. What this university is all about and the connections and the platform that football can be to the rest of their life starting with the awesome professors that are on this campus and the business people in this community. To the social issues that are going on in this world and how these kids think about those things. There is not easy answers for any of this stuff and we talked about it yesterday for about an hour and I think that’s what makes this really enjoyable is we get to compete at such a high level in a game that we really like but there is so much more to these guys than just football. And I think our coaches get it and I think we enjoy that and I think these kids appreciate it that it’s all about the whole person and this experience here, their experience in their quick four or five years here hopefully is game changing and life changing. I think they understand that, like why we talk about these things and I think they like to hear about them and they like to think about them and hopefully at the end of the day they can connect dots faster and they can be game changers when this whole football thing is said and done.”

What’s changed that requires you to spend an hour talking about these things? - “I think the world has changed, without question. Very much so. And I think it’s always changing. I think these guys care about things other than just football, and some of the guys that haven’t thought about them, I think it’s important for them to think about things outside of football and pay attention to those issues. It’s very easy for us to stay isolated here in this football building and just talk about football and getting good grades, and I think we’d be selling them short if that’s all we’re all about here. Like I said, I think we can hopefully compete for championships. That’s always the mission around here. But we can also be about a lot more than just that, if we do this thing correctly.”

Do you talk about things like Colin Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem? - “We do, and we’re trying to figure it out, because it’s really, really hard. Nobody has the answers. Maybe some people do, but I don’t think anybody will ever come to a consensus, like, ‘this is the way to do that.’ But I know our kids care about it. I know they’re frustrated. And so like every issue they’re dealing with, on campus, outside their football life, or inside their football life, we are always going to talk about those things. I’ll never be a guy or a coach that buries our head in the sand and acts like, ‘OK, back to first downs! We’re not paying attention to any of this other stuff!’ So if something’s, like, an issue with any of our guys, our team, things they’re seeing in society, I want to pay attention to it, I want to talk about it, and see where they’re at with it. These are, like, big, hard, issues to solve, that I certainly don’t have the answers to, but maybe some of these guys will down the road, if they pay attention and truly have the passion and knowledge and education to be a difference-maker.”

On this being a particularly difficult opener to prepare for because of the new coaches at Rutgers - “I don’t know if there’s been a game in the last five years – there probably has been – where we’ve played a team where everybody was intact, like the head coach and both coordinators. I think it’s always been, somebody’s new. A new offense, a new defense, if not a new head coach. that’s my recollection. I’d have to look back. So there’s always this uncertainty. Not sure if we played a brand new staff across the board in the last five years or so, but it’s like in the offseason, here we go again, something we’re going to have to figure out. We don’t have any tape on these guys on this side of the ball, or special teams, or whatever. So I don’t know in the last five years if there’s been this much uncertainty. Probably not.”

Does that make it more challenging? - “Yeah. It is. The coaches do what they do. They’re always going to have wrinkles, but you know how they’re kind of raised, the philosophies they believe in. They put it on tape somewhere, some way. Then it’s all the wrinkles they throw at you as well. The problem is, even with those guys having all of our tape, there’s a lot of offense, defense and special teams there, so it’s like, well, how do you get ready for all this? You’ve got to boil it down to the cores and prepare for those and deal with the new stuff and wrinkles.”

Anything special in your preparation for an 11 a.m. kickoff? - “I don’t think it’s so special for us. It might be special for our fans. So we need our fans there. That’s the one thing I just really want to make a big deal – I mean, this place is so unbelievable for so many reasons we were just speaking about. But when that place is packed up and our fans are there with passion and energy, it changes everything. And we don’t have our students here yet. So for everybody who has season tickets or game tickets, even if they can’t make it, to pass them on to their neighbor. It’s just really important to this program. I think about the Seahawks a little bit – it doesn’t matter if it’s a preseason game, or who they’re playing, the 12s, they’re there with passion. IT’s one of the hardest places to play in the country, NFL or college. I know this place (Husky Stadium) back in the day was one of the hardest places to play, because of all the passion that showed up in the stands. So I’m always making a plea to come to the games. Eleven o’clock kickoff or eight o’clock kickoffs are not, sometimes, ideal. But we need you.”

On balancing carries between Myles Gaskin and other tailbacks - “I think Keith Bhonapha, our running backs coach, does a great job with that. He really does, in practice. those guys, he spreads the ball around back there. all those guys get good, healthy reps. I think the one thing about the running back position that makes it difficult, certainly the first game or two – these guys haven’t been tackled a whole bunch, so ball security is always an issue for the entire team. Both teams, special teams. Because you start getting closer to the game, the live scrimmaging backs way off, the live tackling backs way off. And there’s no substitute for being tackled full speed, and that’s why ball security, you always see it early in the season, there’s a lot of turnovers and those type of things. So I think he does a great job of one, two and three, they get healthy reps, they really all do. But we’ve got to make sure we protect the football early on.”

Do you want to see Budda Baker on offense at all this year? - “I would like to see everybody that can help us score points on offense touching the ball, I would definitely say that.”

Is Budda going to play offense this week? - “Chance. Not trying to be coy on that. We’ve worked Budda on some stuff (on offense), and we’ll see if the package calls for it. But Budda was quite a playmaker with the ball in his hands in high school. We’ll see if he can translate that.”

Do other guys want to try offense too? - “They all want an opportunity like that. That’s a little bit of a problem with it — as soon as Budda (or) somebody else gets a chance, I got Elijah Qualls going, ‘Did you see my tape in high school …’ Vita Vea. All those guys. Everybody now wants a package.”

On first-year WR coach Bush Hamdan - “I think his relationship with the players is really good. I think he’s really connected to those kids in there. I think he’s a demanding coach that is extremely positive with how he relates to those kids, and I always think that’s a unique combination — to be a demanding coach, that the standard’s set and we will not budge from it, but to be on the positive side. To blend those two things together is tricky. And I think some guys have a unique style that can do that, and I think Bush does that.

On first-year D-line coach Ikaika Malloe - “He’s been great. I think, again, his players are connected to him. He has a different style than Coach Choate did, which I think is really good and really healthy for our guys. Because I think our guys got a lot of things from Coach Choate, and now they’re starting to get a whole ‘nother thing for Coach Malloe. And I always tell them, you’ve got to use this. Any time there’s a coaching change, that’s hard because you usually have some connections to the coach. But in the big picture that really can be a positive, because these coaches are all pretty good in terms of knowledge of the game, techniques and fundamentals. And now you’re going to get someone who does it a little bit differently, and there’s not one way to do things. So you’re just arming yourself with more tools to play more effectively.”

Does this opener feel different to you? - “Two years ago, you first time here. Last year, the return to Boise.) “Well, it certainly feels different than (Boise). That’s a good one to have behind us. But not really. I think there’s a lot of, for everybody, the uncertainty of getting back into it, the intensity of game week and then the first game, making sure everyone’s calmed down. Those first games, there’s a lot of emotion … and part of the trick is calming down and keeping it all in perspective so we can play and coach at a high level.”

How successful do you think you’ve been at tamping down the outside hype? - “I’m not really worried about that at this point. That’s been going on forever. Our kids have worked hard, practiced hard. No matter how this game turns out, that just doesn’t matter. It’s going to be a hard-fought, tough game; there’s just a lot of uncertainty. It’s one game and one game at a time and one play at a time — all that corny coaching stuff is true. Rutgers is going to show up here with some guys ready to play football. And they’ve got really good coaches and really good players and they’ve got 85 scholarships. So the parity — I think that’s one of the beauties of college football. And to start the season with all those unknowns, that just evens things out. So this is going to be a tough, good, hard opening test for this team to see, OK, can we play one play at a time and put that play behind us and go.”

Are you voting in the coaches’ poll this year? - “Yeah, I vote every year.”

Do you like doing that? - “I like it at the end of the year.”

On new pass-rushers after the departure of Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton - “I think one of the keys to great defensive football is being able to pressure the passers, and those were our two best guys at doing it. So that’s an unknown for us. Tani (Tupou) was a great leader for us. Everybody loved that guy and would listen to him — all the behind the scenes. When it’s Game 8 and 9 and it’s hard and we need to practice and turn it up and we need to win at the end of the season to even go to a bowl — that’s a Tani type of guy. Not that we don’t have those guys — I feel good about our leadership — but it’s still a work in progress. It always is. So we’ll see. We’ll see how we evolve. It’s Game 1, and if we’re not better Game 2 I’m going to be really, really disappointed — and Game 3, if we’re not making strides. That’s how we need to look at this. Not about ranking, not about anything (else). Are we coming out of the gate playing at a good level? And did we improve? Where do we need to shore up things?”

What do you lose with Constantine being out? - “Sean (Constantine) is one of the best team guys we have. He’s unbelievable. Hasn’t been a starter here. He’s the number one guy that I love watching on the sideline, how passionate he is about his teammates. When he practices, whatever it is, it is full speed, one speed. He’s a unique guy, in terms of how positive, how thoughtful. You talk about being a team first. That’s Sean Constantine.”

On Sean’s surgery - “It was a long one, it was a hard one. But I think it was kind of like what they thought it was going to be. We’re not expecting to get him back this season.”

Any other long-term injuries? - “No. No long term issues. We’re rocking and rolling right now.”

Have you named captains? - “No. We have a couple guys who will go out for the coin flip every game. That’s not captains in my mind. Really our seniors do it. I think Kevin (King) and Darrell (Daniels) will probably go out there most of the games. I think they’ve been really good leaders. We’re going to rotate seniors through there. We’re going to have the special teams player of the week go out there as kind of a reward for playing good. The seniors, for all they’ve been through. So I kind of think of that as a reward. They could be leaders, but I don’t think about going out for the flip of the coin as really being ‘those are our leaders.’ Because we have a lot of guys across the board, underclassman, juniors, heck we have some redshirt freshman who I think are doing a good job with leadership stuff.”

On the depth of the secondary - “That is definitely different. When we first got here, that is definitely different. So that feels much different. Different better for sure. We have some depth there, some guys that have played. All those type of things. But I always say this; I think on offense, I think the tight end group takes a pounding. That’s just my experience over time; that you have to have a handful – if you’re going to use tight ends, you better have a handful plus of tight ends. Those guys, from running to blocking to catching to everything, they take a pounding. And I think on defense, corners. Corners get beat up. I don’t know. Because they’re little, and so we better have some guys there. We haven’t played a game, so we have some depth right now. But we know how that changes.”

Do Will Dissly’s hands surprise you? - “No. Not really surprised at that, because when we were recruiting him in high school we were thinking ‘what position are we going to recruit him at?’ I think he even maybe in his heart was thinking more tight end than defensive line. So when we kind of kicked him over there, and he brings a unique skill set because he can catch the ball well, but he’s a big physical guy at the line of scrimmage.”

Has he played any defense since he moved? - “He’s been playing all offense, but he also is a really smart guy. If anything happened and we had to get some things done over there, we could kick him over there and practice him up and he’d be okay.”

Did camp feel different with John Ross? - “I think if John Ross stays healthy for us, whether it’s preseason, practice, that’s when you really notice him. He’s just a guy that people are going to pay attention too and is going to help the other receivers. Let alone us and him. He needs to get the ball; we need to figure out how to do that. Yeah, I’ve noticed a difference for sure.”

On kick return options with Budda Baker, Chico McClatcher and the like - “Absolutely, all those guys. That’s what is nice about that. We have some guys that have been pretty good with the ball in their hands. Austin Joyner can do some things. You’ll see all those guys probably back there during the course of the year.”

On Chico McClatcher - “Chico (McClatcher) is awesome. He is another one speed guy. He practices like he plays. He’s very competitive. We can play him at running back, slot, outside, kick returner, special teams. I just like those guys that I think of as football players. And that’s what Chico is. All he wants to do is go play, and play fast, and play tough. Those are the guys you really like to be around.”

On the helmet color plan - “I know that you’ll see (gold helmets) on Saturday. After that – we really haven’t gotten any further than that to tell you the truth.”

Do you care about helmet stuff? - “I care. If it wasn’t for the player, that’s my helmet too. That’s the one I like. I like the traditional uniform. But I really care about the guys that wear those uniforms and what they’re all about and how passionate they are about certain things. So as a coach we try to listen to those guys and balance the traditions with what the players of these days really like.”

Have you heard more from VICIS? - “No, we haven’t had another conversation. The first conversation was ‘you guys go play your game and we’re not going to bother you with the helmets and refitting them and how does this feel.’ So as we move forward we’re planning on using the helmets we’ve used in the apst and we’ll regroup after the season.”

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