Alvarez Verbatim: Big Ten media day

Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez was the third conference coach to take to the podium in Chicago Wednesday morning

Opening statement:

"A little bit about our football team. First of all, we're a veteran outfit. This will be the first time we'll have been a senior-dominated team for a number of years.

"As I looked at some of our better teams the one thing that's been constant and consistent with those teams was strong line play, particularly the offensive line play. We return all five starters. Both of our guards will be four-year starters. And Dan Buenning is a cut above, is really a special player. Our center, Donovan Raiola, had a tremendous sophomore year last year. I think he has a chance to really be outstanding.

"We have both of our tackles back—Morgan Davis and Mike Lorenz—yet they'll be challenged by Joe Thomas, who I really think as a true sophomore has a chance to be as good an offensive lineman as we've had. He's probably the most athletic lineman that we've had. We moved him to defense a year ago just in preparation for the bowl game, he started the bowl game as a defensive lineman and had an outstanding game. He's really just a special athlete.

"We have three tight ends that return and all three bring a little different package. Tony Paciotti is a blocker, a physical big tight end. Not a great route runner. Jason Pociask is a combination route runner, good speed, and blocker.

"Our staff is very excited about Owen Daniels, from Naperville here. Owen was a converted quarterback. Came to us as a quarterback, we moved him to a tight end a year ago. I don't know how much he bought into changing positions yet grew as the season went along and I think really chose to fit in the offseason. He gives you tremendous speed there and now has turned into a blocker. He's a full player—he can bump, do a lot of things as far as moving him out wide, playing him as a receiver or a tight end. He gives a lot of options.

"Moving to the backfield. I think we have an elite player coming back, Anthony Davis. I think Anthony, coming into last season, was the leading rusher, had more yards rushing than anybody in the country the two previous years. Was injured with an ankle injury (last season), as most of you know and missed most of the season. He had nearly 500 yards rushing after two games last year, when he hurt his ankle and really never fully recovered throughout the season. Played in the bowl game. But he's recovered now and he's a special back. We've had some pretty good ones come through Wisconsin and he's as fine a back as we've had: home-run hitter, tough guy, voted as captain. Keeping him healthy will be very important in our success. We have a couple guys along with him, and that's not detracting from Booker Stanley or Dwayne Smith. Those guys have come in at times last year, as young players, and won games for us, yet they don't have the home-run ability and big-play ability that Anthony has.

"Our fullback is probably the best we've had since we've been there. Matt Bernstein, a 270-pound fullback, the best blocker we've had, good receiver out of the backfield and can run the football. We're excited about that position.

"Receiver, we have some veterans at receiver. Brandon Williams stepped up as a true freshman, caught 52 balls for us. He's a playmaker. Darrin Charles is a 6-7 receiver who has played three years. This will be his fourth year as a contributor. We feel very solid at the receiver position.

"Probably the biggest question mark on offense, people want to ask about the quarterback position. Probably the most important position on offense. John Stocco is somebody we feel very comfortable with. Strong arm, a redshirt sophomore, played for us some at the end of last season. Really like the way he handled himself. Probably the biggest mistake a year ago was not forcing him to be the backup early on during the season. I really like the way he took the leadership. I think our players have really responded well to him.

"On the defensive side of the ball, getting started we have some people up front, majority of them are back, led by Anttaj Hawthorne, who I think's one of the better interior defensive linemen in the country. Jason Jefferson, from Leo High School in Chicago, will be a three-year starter for us. Another 300-pounder who has really improved. Very steady, dependable in there.

"We have a returner from an injury. Erasmus James a year ago was sidelined for a year. Didn't know if he'd every play again with a hip injury. But he's full back 100 percent. He received full clearance. Going into last season he was going to be our best pass rusher. ‘Ras' is 6-4, about 265. The last time we saw him play he was about 245. But really he could be someone that's truly special. He could really be a bonus for us coming back.

"In the secondary, we have three corners who have started and played well for us. Scott Starks played particularly well down the stretch last season. Bret Bell and (Levonne) Rowan are guys that have lots of potential and have played a lot of football for us." "Probably our most productive player on defense is Jimmy Leonhard. He's starting for his third straight season. He's been an all-league performer for two years, made some All-American teams. Led the nation once in interceptions. He's one of the top punt returners in the country. Very, very productive player.

"As you take a look at the kicking game—and that's probably been the most inconsistent part of our football team the last few years. A year ago we lost, I believe, three games on the last play of the game. We played a lot of games very close. And in this league with the competition as close as it is, you need a good kicking game. Our great years we had good kickers. Those are things that can come in play the minute they're taken for granted. And we've been inconsistent there. Hopefully we'll have more competition. I thought we needed to have more competition both at kicker and punter this year. Hopefully that will give us more consistency as we get into the season.

"Biggest question mark on defense is linebacker. We've got young guys, but guys that certainly are capable.

Barry, some of your best teams have been senior dominated, like this one is. Does this one remind you of any of those teams?

"It's hard to compare teams. I know the consistent things with our good teams is we had a good offensive line and a great running back. We had that in all three of our championship teams. I think we have that in this team. One of our teams was a great defensive team. I think we have a chance to be a solid defense. I'll be interested to see how far this team goes defensively.

"The one constant was a great offensive line and running back and I think we have that with this group."

As far as keeping Anthony healthy, given what happened last year, do you have to monitor his workload and maybe look at how many carries you are going to give him per game because of his size?

"I think we've had a lot of discussion about that. You like to put the ball in his hands—a typical game is 75 plays—you like to have the ball in his hands somehow at least 25 times. You want to keep him fresh. It's never been about being physical. His injury was just a fluke of the helmet coming in just as he was planting and hit him. It had nothing to do with being tired or not being physical enough or anything like that. It was just something that happens in football. But the one thing that we want to make sure that we keep him fresh. And we have quality backs that can do that. But you want to get the ball in his hands."

You are one of the traditional first division clubs that is replacing a quarterback this year. Can you assess the league in that regards? Is that essential to the performance of team's like yourself and Ohio State?

"I think that is the position that's the most important position on the field because they're the one you can put enough pressure him, that position has to move the chains for you. And you need somebody that doesn't lose games. I don't know how important it is to settle on one guy. I think back to the last one we one, we made a change and went to a first-year, redshirt freshman quarterback and won eight straight ball games and the Rose Bowl game. So, I think with someone knew you want to make sure that he doesn't lose games for you."

Could you comment on the proposed changes in recruiting and how that may affect the landscape?

"We met and discussed a number of the proposals as head coaches this spring. I really don't see anything that's going to affect us, personally. I don't know how much it's going to affect the other schools. Possibly (the provision banning) private planes. We don't use them. I think a couple schools in our conference have private planes and that would be eliminated. I don't see anything that was any new change in recruiting that will affect us one bit."

Coach, can you talk about the instant replay the Big Ten is going to use this year?

"I think it's, No. 1, I commend our league for taking the lead in something like this. I believe it's a measure that will help college football, as much as is at stake in every game. When you think about we have the one sport where every game is important. And as much as is at stake, when there's a mistake, an inadvertent mistake because an official is blocked out or whatever. We can correct that and just get it right. I think certainly it's worth it. We've all seen it happen, and it's no one's fault, but it happens and I commend our league for doing it. I think our coaches are excited about it. I'm interested to see how often it will be used. I think all of us are. Just to correct anything and get the game called the proper way or make the right call, I think that puts all of us at ease."

Barry, I was just wondering if you could give us your input on the changes that were made to the BCS and the added weight to the coaches' poll? Do you think there will be any conflicts of interest?

"I think every year there has been tweaking in the BCS formula. And it seems it's because we've had issues. And particularly the two different years we've had issues on the team's playing in that championship game. So anytime we've had it there have been changes to try to correct that. I think every time we've made change, they have been changes for the better. I feel very comfortable about it. I think they are getting very close to being accurate in naming the top two teams for a championship game. Personally, I feel very comfortable with as much emphasis being put on the coaches."

Is there anything about the replay system that you guys don't like?

"There really hasn't been. And we've talked a lot about how it's going to be played out. We sat down as a staff the other day, everyone in the league sent down a representative here to talk to the officials and how it would be managed and handled. Our staff, we just wanted to know what will be replayed and that type of thing. I think once we get all that cleared and feel comfortable with that I really don't think there are many question of it—I don't have any questions."

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