Any time you play an opponent like Michigan, a team that has won more games than any other program in Division I, as an opener, you certainly can feel the focus. You can feel that the kids understand that the stakes are high right out of the gate. We get that feeling from the coaching staff as well.
On points of emphasis: We've made a couple of key points of emphasis in
regards to the (upcoming) season. Number one is to fair much better on the
road. We struggled on the road last year, so we are going to work hard to
try to make sure that we play better. That doesn't necessarily always
guarantee victory but we don't want to feel like we just went into a foreign
environment and laid an egg. Number two is defense and keeping people off
the scoreboard. That is going to be a huge point of emphasis. Number three
is to establish a running game. A year ago we had some dynamic numbers in
the throwing department. Some newcomers to the offense group, Reggie
(Williams), Paul (Arnold), and Cody (Pickett) all kind of played for the
first time along with four of our starters on the offensive front, I thought
there were some great things that came in. But we need to establish a
running game. We need to have the ability to control the ball, control the
clock, and help take some pressure off our defense. Our forth point of
emphasis is to try to become dynamic on special teams. We've always been
kind of good at special teams, but I want to make sure that we have the
ability if necessary on special teams. I think we have some real speed in
terms of returners, but punt protection has to improve dramatically and some
other facets of special teams play could really use some tuning up.
On the 2002 schedule: Our schedule is really a good one in terms of a great
opening opponent. Real excitement in terms of making sure guys are getting
done what they need to get done in the offseason. A chance to be home for
the entire month of September which allows us to grow as a football team in
anticipation of conference play. All our players can be at every game. We
can find out about ourselves, and then we begin conference games with
two-straight home games so hopefully you get a chance to get off to a great
start, although Cal and Arizona would have a lot to say about that. We are
eager to go, eager to play, eager to get started and I feel like we are on
track right now.
On playing well on the road: It's a concentration. It's a mindset. It's
not so much a physical thing as it's a mental thing. As I look back on the
road last year, when any kind of adversity struck we kind of went in a
tailspin for a while. We didn't really respond to that. There are always
going to be ebbs and flows during a ballgame, but for whatever reason when
we got behind and the crowd kind of got into it, we were almost in shock a
little bit. That can be attributed to the fact that so many guys were
playing for the first time, but I want to do a great job of talking about
how we're going to a better job of playing on the road. We are going to use
our indoor practice facility a good amount during fall camp with noise so we
can get used to it. We want to get familiar with how noise makes it more
difficult to concentrate and we're going to really rely on those who've
played to lend that calming influence or to say let's just play right
through it. For us to achieve what we want to achieve, we've got to play
well on the road because we've got some great road games.
On problem areas: The place where my attention is is on the defensive front.
We've got to play well up on the front so that our linebackers can run
around because I do think that we are gifted at linebacker. We've got some
guys that can really run, that have great instincts for the game, and if we
can cover on the back end like I think we can, then I think we'll have a
chance to run around and make some good plays and get back to the top end of
the defensive statistics in the conference.
On off-season workouts on campus: I think that everybody wants to talk about
it as reason for optimism, but I think it's been pretty consistent here. I
think there are two reasons, one because summer in Seattle is a pretty nice
place to be and, two, everybody is excited for the upcoming season and this
is a nice place to work out for that kind of thing. It's not unique to hear
it, it kind of happens all over the place.
On Rich Alexis' condition: I think he understood that he had maybe made some
mistakes in training for last year. He went home again this year but maybe
pushed away from the table a little earlier. He just looks like he's in
much better shape, and part of that is maturity. We expect so much from
these young people, and yet sometimes we forget that they are 18 or 19 years
old. I think he's grown up and he's figured it out, so hopefully we'll be
the benefactor of his hard work.
On fall camp in Seattle: This is a little bit different in that this is the
first time since I've been here that we are not at Evergreen (State
College). There are some logistical changes for camp, because they are in
familiar surroundings and we are trying to make sure that we keep them close
and develop the camaraderie that is normally a part of camp atmosphere.
When you are close you can find those little windows of time to go and spend
time elsewhere when your next meeting isn't for a couple of hours. We keep
trying to tweak it so that guys want to stay and keep try to develop the
glue that always separates the good teams from the great teams.
On dealing with injuries: We are not being more cautious (than last season).
Maybe we don't give them enough down time, I've really got to make a study
of it, but we just come into camp with our skill guys having a lot of
track-like injuries like hip flexors, feet, hamstrings, and ankles. We've
really got to evaluate ourselves as a program because obviously it slows
down the process when you don't have all your players practicing.
On when Reggie Williams will return: The plan is probably he'll miss the
first week, and then he'll get going. That will give him two weeks to get
On where the team's at: I think we are more ahead of schedule in terms of
knowing our personnel. Obviously as we've been here and kind of been able
to coach guys and know what they can and can't do, I think we know who we
have. Maybe in years past, we were kind of wondering. I think we know who
we are, and hopefully we are right.
On naming captain: On Friday night the rookies will entertain for the
varsity. Saturday we will scrimmage. The following Saturday is a picture
day where we will come in here and go through what is kind of a mock game so
we can do all the unusual substitutions and get guys where they are supposed
to be on the sidelines and check communications. After that, we will have a
team meeting where the team will vote on team captains for the season. We
will announce those probably on the Monday prior to the Michigan game.
On the weight-training regimen: We've tweaked it certainly. We went and
bought a bunch of machines that are designed for the shoulder for the weight
room. We have included the bear crawl during some of our workouts to
strengthen the sockets. We are not leaving stones unturned in terms of
learning how to better protect our kids.
On who's returning punts: We'll certainly open it up for competition.
Charles is back and is doing well. He'll be a guy that will be in the mix.
Nate Robinson I know is anxious to show what he can do there. There are a
couple of other guys that are trying to get into the mix. Interestingly
enough, a lot of our freshman have a real natural ability with it. Both
Shelton Sampson and Matt Fountaine look pretty natural back there.
On the return of Justin Robbins: He looks great. He's wearing a brace which
is a little cumbersome, but he's a very natural player, a very heady player.
He can play any of the positions at wide receiver. We're happy that he's
made such great progress. Hopefully he'll be ready to go.
On players finding their positions: Right now we've got Nate (Robinson)
playing corner. As you know Roc (Alexander) tweaked his other shoulder, the
non-surgically repaired one. It doesn't look to be a significant injury, I
think he'll be okay. But certainly it alerts you to the fact that you can
never have enough guys there. So we've got Nate playing corner right now,
and he's got the desire of a bull-fighter. He's got swagger so I think
he'll be alright there. We just moved Scott White today from linebacker to
fullback to compete for the backup fullback spot. I'm anxious to see if he
can do that. I think he's natural in terms of catching the ball, which is a
big part of the fullback position. We are just trying to upgrade ourselves.
Adam Seery is doing a great job, but I want some competition there. Adam
was a quarterback a year ago. Cory Jones, because he can't participate this
season since he's a transfer from another Division I-A school, we're going
to look at him at linebacker. We're going to look at a variety of things
with Cory before making the determination of where he's going to play at
On the offensive depth chart: With respect to the tackle position, we've got
Khalif Barnes at the weak tackle backed up by Ryan Brooks. Hopefully Nathan
Rhodes will also fit into that position and we'll feel real good about that
spot. At the strong tackle position, we've got Nick Newton. Newton played
weak guard last year but as you recall he was unable to play against
Washington State and Aaron Butler started. Butler graded out very well, so
in an effort to get five starters back, we've moved Newton to strong tackle
(and put Butler at weak guard). (Newton) right now is backed up by Robin
Meadow. At the strong guard we've got (Elliott) Zajac, backed up by Dan
Dicks. Dicks played center all last spring because Todd Bachert wasn't
available. Bachert is our starting center right now backed up by Brad
Vanneman who had a great spring at center. The weak guard backup spot right
now is a fight between Willie Kava and Jason Simonson.
On the leadership of the team: I think that's one of the strengths of our
football team. I think we've got a great senior class and a number of
juniors who've played now for a couple of years and also have great
leadership abilities. I don't think there will be any one or two people, I
think there is going to be a whole host which is exciting when you are the
head coach. You know you've got some guys in the locker room who are going
to make sure that the attitude is as it should be. You look on offense and
Cody Pickett has got to the position now where he can start being verbal.
You look at Reggie Williams, even though he's only a sophomore, and I think
he's got the kind of work ethic that will cause people to look up to him.
Pat Reddick being back for a sixth year is a great thing for us, and Wilbur
Hooks has fought through a lot of adversity for a fifth year. Kevin Ware
has never been a real verbal guy, but in terms of what he's done to prepare
himself for his senior year everybody stands up and notices, he looks
terrific. Elliott Zajac, in his last year, is anxious to be the leader of
that front group. And Braxton Cleman, having him back helps the young two
tailbacks. And Paul Arnold outside. He's been through thick and thin here,
and heading into his senior year is a neat thing for him. Defensively, Ben
Mahdavi and Jafar Williams. Both those guys have kind of assumed leadership
roles. Greg Carothers is not a senior, but that's a leader in the back end.
Up front, Kai Ellis leads more by example. I'm looking for somebody in
the trenches to take over and get everyone's attention. That's maybe the
one place where I'm looking for somebody to step up. I feel very strongly
that we've got a really good group of guys to grab each other and make sure
that everybody understands what's the deal.
8/12 Neuheisel Press Conference
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