Barry Alvarez verbatim

Alvarez sounds off on the state of the team, the incoming freshmen, Bret Bielema and more.

Opening statement

"The first day was yesterday for reporting. I really thought we really accomplished a lot as far as meetings and setting a foundation for meetings and what we want them to accomplish throughout camp and the season. All but two players reported. Randy Gyllin did not report yesterday because of a death in the family. We anticipate that Randy will be back sometime today (Gyllin was at the practice following the press conference). Jarvis Minton has had a couple issues with the (NCAA) Clearinghouse. We anticipate that that should be cleared up by, hopefully by Friday and he can be on the practice field by Friday."

"As I look at this team, I think we have a number of elite players and another handful of players that have a chance to be elite players. They've been very productive and have a chance to move to another category."

"I think one of the areas that I'm excited about are the kickers. We've been inconsistent in kicking the football, both punting and place kickers. I think for the first time in a while, we will have some competition in both situations and I'm anxious to see that competition and from that competition, I hope we can improve and become more consistent."

"We're anxious to get started this afternoon and I know our coaches and players are as well, are anxious to get onto the practice field and get going."

Who do you consider your elite players?

"I think Anthony (Davis), his numbers speak for themselves. I think Anttaj (Hawthorne), with how he has played, is an elite player. I think we have members of the offensive line that can be elite players. I think we have some defensive linemen, Erasmus (James) and Jonathan Welsh, that could be elite players. Jimmy Leonhard's numbers say that he is an elite player. We have some guys that are played in the back end, I would say Starks has the chance to be an elite player. Those are just some of the guys off the top of my head who have been very productive and their numbers, previous numbers say they are special. There are guys who I think can take that next step. Brandon Williams and some of our receivers who have been very productive have the chance to take that next step to another level."

How would you sum up the state of the program right now?

"I think we've been a very consistent program. We've had our championships. Have we won as many games as we've wanted to win? No, particularly in the last few years. Yet, we haven't been a peak-and-valley team where the bottom's falling out. We've been a team, I think since we turned the program in '93, we've been to nine bowl games in the last 11 years and have had good records in bowl games. The seasons that have been around .500, we've always had a number of very close losses and have always been very competitive. I really like this football team. I think this is a talented football team. I think we have good young players in the program. The state of the program, I think it's very good."

Could Anthony Davis contend for a Heisman?

"I think if Anthony would have stayed healthy last year, I don't think there's any doubt that he would have been in the race. Had his numbers continued, even close pace the way he started, I would have been surprised if he was not in the handful invited to New York. So the nice thing about as much exposure and as many times as we're on TV now and as much as college football is on TV now, you know who the good players are and you know the people that are putting the numbers up. It's not by billboards or media mail-outs, it's about productivity. I made the statement to our team last night as I spoke to them: ‘To have a chance to be in the Heisman Trophy hunt, you have to play on a good football team. There's no reason why Anthony couldn't be in the mix."

Barry, it's been about four or five years since you've had a quarterback with experience coming back, Brooks (Bollinger) for so many years and then (Jim) Sorgi last year. What does Stocco bring to the table and what do you like about him?

"First of all, he has all the athletic ability. He probably has as strong an arm as we've had, in any quarterback we've had. Physically, as far as stature, he's tough. He's not the fastest quarterback we've ever had but he's mobile, he's smart and the thing that he showed, the intangible that he showed in the offseason, is his competitiveness. I think it's been documented that we had a number of drills from the day we came back in the out of season and he competed every day. Sometimes it was one-on-one, sometimes it was groups competing against other groups, and he refused to lose, particularly on one-on-one issues and gained a lot of respect from his players. I really think it's important in the quarterback position to have respect because he's our voice, he's the coaches' voice in the huddle. He's the guy that has to look 10 other guys in the eye and get them on the same page and lead on the field."

Coach, it's your first year with the dual role as coach and athletic director. Can you talk about it?

"I was fortunate enough a year ago to have a transition year. There are not many directors that have that opportunity. My senior staff was in place before the season started last year, so in essence, we were running the meetings, we were making a lot of decisions, Pat (Richter) was still there and still was the director. Yet, we had a year to make the transition. I had a year under my belt to know the meetings and work out a schedule that is reasonable. Now the buck stops here but I know what the job really entails and the fact that I have—I would not have taken the job had I not had good people in place in two areas. The coaches that are currently on staff—I have all the confidence in the world in my staff, as well as the others, particularly basketball, men's and women's, and hockey. Those people were obviously very important in me making the decision, and also the senior staff that I have in place. In a position like this, you have to delegate and I feel very confident in doing that, that they understand what I want, that we've been able to communicate and be on the same page in what we do and we'll be able to stay on top of things. Quite frankly, I'm very excited about it. I enjoy dealing and operating as the athletic director. I've enjoyed managing and being part of and touching a number of other sports and all the things that go along with it. There are some things that obviously are not the most pleasant things in the world but that comes with the territory. The one thing that football prepares you for is making decisions and that's what the job is."

Barry, you mentioned the competitions. What brought that on?

"I always go back and you evaluate the year and then I take a look at our league and I looked at Ohio State when they won the national championship. There were probably at least four, maybe five teams in our league that though they should have beaten Ohio State, us being one of them. Yet, they won those games. If you look at any championship team, they win close games. Our league for some reason, we have a lot of games go to the wire. I don't think there's any clear-cut way to make a team learn how to win at the end. I'm just trying to find a way to teach our guys how to strain a little bit, how to compete a little harder, how to push themselves, how to rely on one another, who you can trust, who strains, who out-strains, so that was something that I tried to implement from the time we came back second semester. We carried that through spring practice, we will do it through our practices here. Each day we will have at least one type, once we put our shoulder pads on, one type of competition, offense against defense, in a different situation. There will be a winner and a loser. Try to cover every phase so that when it happens in a game, we've been there before."

Can you talk about the competition at the tackle between (Joe) Thomas, (Morgan) Davis and (Mike) Lorenz?

"We have two guys that have been solid starters for us in Lorenz and Morgan Davis. Yet, I think we really have a special athlete in Joe Thomas. To do what he did last year as a true freshman, to play, to play very well when he played at tight end and when he played at offensive tackle, and then at practice, just the few [practices] we had prior to the bowl game, to go in and start against a very good Auburn team and play as effectively as he did, he certainly showed that he has the right to compete for that job and will be in the mix. I feel good about all three of those guys and all three of them will play but I want to get the best ones on the field. That's a healthy situation to have and I'd like to have that situation at every position, where you have three guys that you feel very good about."

Barry, down in Chicago, you said when Joe first got up here last year, wasn't ready to play left tackle but you guys looked at him in the spring a lot. If something were to happen today and you did have to go with him, would he be ready to handle the job today or tomorrow at left tackle?

"Joe Thomas? I don't remember saying he wasn't ready last year, other than most kids aren't ready. When you first get here, there aren't many true freshmen that can walk in here and just have an understanding. The fact that we put him at our jumbo tight end position and how well he played, he showed that he was ready and he was ready. Really, he could have handled it at the end of last year, so there's no doubt in my mind after watching him this spring, how athletic he is. He went out and competed in track and did very well in track. He's even matured and understands the game better. I'll be surprised—and I probably shouldn't say this—before he leaves here, he has a chance to be one of the better linemen we've ever had. I certainly think he's ready this year."

Are there any true freshmen that will be able to contribute on the field this year?

"I think, without watching them practice yet, that's really difficult to say. But if I had to make an educated guess, I would say think that this group may surprise all of us, particularly when you have a veteran group back and not many holes to fill, I'll be surprised if there aren't more than a half-dozen that hit the field. I think that there are some linebackers that have a chance, a couple defensive linemen will have a chance, some secondary players will have a chance, the kicker will have a chance, a receiver will have a chance to get in the depth and play. I'll be very surprised if a number of them don't hit the field. And on special teams."

Will fans be able to tell the difference between Bielema's style and Cosgrove's style as far as schemes and stuff like that?

"I doubt it. I doubt whether a layman would sit in the stands and say, ‘boy, that's totally different. That's a different style of defense.' You may see more pressure, you may see more blitzes, you may see more pressed-up coverage. I think that remains to be seen. A lot will depend on what Bret sees and what he feels comfortable with with the group of players we have. I doubt, schematically, whether a layman can sit there and watch it and tell the difference."

Coach, your Rose Bowl teams predominantly ran the ball. They were smashmouth teams. Do you see yourself…

"That's a naughty word. We're not supposed to use that word. The AFCA says that you shouldn't use that word. They were physical teams. We were led by our offensive line but the strength of those teams were the offensive line and great running back and we could run the ball and keep the ball away from them. Every one of those teams could do that, although the '93 team was very balanced. That was the most balanced of those three championship teams. So what was the question?"

Can you see this team going back to more of that style this year, having an inexperienced quarterback?

"I would be very disappointed if we couldn't run the football. I think we may have as good a fullback-tailback tandem as there is in the country. We've never had a fullback who could block like Bernstein, and he's a pretty good runner, and we've got a veteran offensive line returning, everybody retuning, and good tight ends that block. I like to run the football. I think when you can run the football, you can play of the game. But I don't want to be one-dimensional. We've got too many people and too many weapons from wide receiver to tight end that need to be involved in the game for us. And also, John Stocco is a pretty good runner. I do not want to be one-dimensional and I don't think you'll see a team that resembles the Ron Dayne teams that we had."

What do you think of Joe Walker from Green Bay Notre Dame and his college career progresses?

"Joe initially was going to be a grayshirt for us but we started Joe. We had some scholarships available, we had some attrition on our football team, so we were able to bring Joe in. The thing we liked about Joe when we recruited him is he could play a number of positions. We thought he could be an outside linebacker, we thought maybe a safety, tight end or wide receiver. We're going to start him at wide receiver because we need a few more legs at wide receiver. But it's too early to tell. I would guess that it would be a year before Joe will have a chance to hit the field, get rested, give him a chance to mature. Then I decide where the best position for him is but he's a versatile athlete, he has excellent ball skills and that's the thing you like about someone like Joe. You can find a position for him sooner or later."

Coach, you said you wanted your guys to strain a little more. In the camp that you've prepared for them, does that mean that you're expecting more of them before or is this going to be a shock for them or anything like that?

"No. I wanted to compete. I wanted guys to compete and if you win, you celebrate. If you lose, you pay the price, whether it be sit-ups, pushups, running extra or whatever it is. It's just learning how to compete and maybe pushing a little extra. Our practices, if you've ever watched our practice, our practices are physical or up-tempo practices. But we will add, as I said, what we're going to do is add some type of competition at the end of at least one of the practices when we have full pads on. There will be a winner and a loser. It really adds a little excitement to the practice and brings a little enthusiasm to the practice and I think it helps train guys how to compete. I don't think it will be anything new."

You guys are only playing three non-conference games. Was that a choice on your part or you just couldn't get games? Why did you decide to go with three as opposed to more?

"I understand the last, I don't know, four or five years, we played 12 or 13 games. A couple of those years, we had an exemption to get a 12th game, whether it be the Eddie Robinson (Classic) or whatever. We chose to play those games. The year we had 13, everyone else could play 12; we took an exemption to play 13. Now it's back to only being allowed to play 11 games and I think there may be only one, no there are two additional games being played and we weren't invited to play in those games this year. I would be very surprised if next year everyone isn't back to 12 games who can."

Do you like those 11 games, or one less game, heading into Big Ten season, to maybe be more ready, less injured or no?

"I don't think it makes any difference as far as being prepared for the conference season. I used to be against the 12th game. But the longer I'm in it—if you talk to players, and I just read a survey, every time we play, had a chance to play those games, I always talked to the players because they have to come back a week early. That year we played 13, they were back and we were practicing in July. So you want to make sure that they want to play in those games first. They want to play. When players come here, they want to compete, they want to play. The Pac-10 just had a survey on their players and I just saw the results and it was overwhelming that they would prefer to play 12 games and so would I. I like to play 12 games because of the competition and getting out there to play."

Is that the athletic director in you talking or the football coach?

"It's both. As the athletic director, overwhelming, I'd like to play 12. No votes."

What qualities were you looking for in a defensive coordinator this year?

"I was looking for someone that had a background and played in big games. I wanted someone that had an experience of being around successful programs. If I could find someone that brought something extra to the table, whether it be youth and enthusiasm, a knowledge of the league, a knowledge of a different system, whatever it might be. I really had some excellent candidates. I had a lot of interest and some of the people that were interested would really be surprising to a lot of people. I think we found the right guy and Bret really brings everything I was looking for. His background shows that he's intelligent and fits in. It's very difficult to move from a player to a grad assistant to a full-time coach in the matter of a few years. That very seldom happens and that's only special guys that are able to make that move and do it successfully and then have the successes he had as a co-coordinator under another excellent program. He brings the background of the Big Ten, which I was looking for and hoping to get, played in big games as a player and as a coach, coached at another excellent university with a lot of success against top 10 teams and was in a decision-making process. All those things, plus a guy that gets along with people and players love to play for him. All those things were important to me and I think he brings them all."

If they go to a 12-game schedule, would you be in favor of playing a round-robin Big Ten schedule?

"No. I think we do have a lot of discussions about that and I think the league is talking a little more about that. If you go to a round-robin, less teams will go to bowl games. Less teams are rewarded. You beat each other up, you wear each other out. I think the Southeast Conference set an example of that and showed that years ago. If you study their model, they don't play everyone else in the league. Consequently, more teams are rewarded by going to bowl games. I wouldn't want to get us in a position where we would eliminate a couple teams from going to bowl games."

How much will it help John Stocco coming in to play being an experienced offensive line and having a tailback like Anthony Davis behind him?

"I think it will help make his development much easier because the bonus of moving the football and getting first downs will not be on exclusively John Stocco. There are going to be times where the quarterback has to be productive. The quarterback is going to have to make some throws. To move the chains, he is going to have to use his feet to get some moving chains. If you can establish your running game, then it takes a little more pressure off of him, where you can throw the ball when you choose to throw and play action becomes a little more effective, where it takes more pressure off of him. This is the ideal way that you'd like to break in a new quarterback, with veterans and a pretty good group of rounded, good skill players and really an offense that's been productive, veteran guys that have been productive."

Badger Nation Top Stories