Monday press conference: Barry Alvarez

Wisconsin coach discussed his relationship with Mike Stoops, the upcoming week with Arizona, Jamil Walker, special teams and more

Barry can you talk about your relationship with (Arizona head coach) Mike Stoops…how close you guys are? I think you said you recruited him?

My first year at Iowa, I was responsible to recruit western Pennsylvania and Ohio, primarily eastern Ohio, so which included Youngstown. And Bobby (Stoops) was a redshirt freshman at the time at Iowa. Mike's father was a defensive coordinator [Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio] and his uncle was a head coach at Youngstown South. His brother was an assistant at Boardman. . . so the natural tie for me was to go back and visit with him about players and use them as resources. So I got very close to the family. And every time I went back to the area, I'd go by the house, and I think Mike was in our second recruiting class...the '80 class was when I believe we recruited Mike. And then his younger brother, Mark, who is the... defensive coordinator on the [Arizona] staff, I recruited him my last year there. But I've known that family very well, all the uncles and aunts, and have a very close relationship with the entire family.

From your standpoint, can you gauge his rebuilding job versus the one when you took over, both defensive coordinators from pretty prominent schools, first coaching jobs: there some similarities there.

You know, it's his first job, it's a big-time conference, prestigious conference. In your first job, you want to make it go, so I don't want to get back and compare where our program was or where his program is, but in all those states, it would be very similar - defensive coordinator, a very successful program taking on his first head coaching job at a very prestigious university and conference.

When you think of his defenses, what are the characteristics?

No. 1, they're coached very well. They're sound. And they try to put pressure on you. They run to the ball very well. And then you can see they're coached very well. Good fundamentals.

Is there any more significance to this game to you or your players because it's a Big Ten-Pac-10 game?

Every game's important. Every game, whoever you're playing that week is the most important game on the schedule. That's the way you have to do it. You only have 11 of them, so every week is a totally different focus and they're all important. And we won't put an emphasis on that game... put a label on it because they're Pac-10. It's a good team, it's been a good program and very good athletes and we have respect for this team, and for the whole outfit. We know several guys on that staff and they're good football coaches.

How much of a concern is the weather, the heat?

I think you have to address it. I think it'll be between mid-90's and 105. Someone told me they were there... at one o'clock this past Saturday, it was 104. So we have to address that and we'll start hydrating today. We have a plan to deal with that as best we can, but they've got to play in it too. I don't think there's a guy, a player on their team, that's ever played a one o'clock kickoff there. You'd be foolish if you wouldn't recognize that it's an issue. You have to deal with it.

Do you do anything more than just drink water? You guys don't do any of the weird stuff like the pickle juice?

Well, we're not going to do the pickle juice, but (athletic trainer) Dennis (Helwig) has some other electrolytes, some other things... I don't know all the names, but every day, we've got something, and it's more than just water.

Along those lines, this might seem like a minor point, but do you know, are they going to wear their light uniforms and make you wear your red? I know they were in their blue uniforms against Utah. I don't know if they have an option or...

We're taking white.

What's harder to prepare for extreme heat or cold?

Cold. For me it would be.

Does that impact the game more too, do you think?

Probably.

After looking at tape, can you talk about Jamil Walker's performance on Saturday?

I thought the first time, in action, when the game's in balance, to come in and... do the things he did. We try to be very safe in where we gave him the ball. We primarily didn't want him between the tackles other than a couple times. I really thought he did a nice job. I thought he showed things that we had talked about and why we've been impressed with him. I thought the one run that he made where he hurdled somebody on the ground and then you saw his explosion coming out of that, just shows you some of the ability that he has and the threat he can be. But I was really pleased with him. And he's a guy that I anticipate getting better and better, week by week.

You may have addressed this in the past, but in the schedule on this game as an afternoon game, was it the TV and was there an opportunity to say, we'll turn down the money and we'd rather play it at night?

No, I don't think we're going to get much money out of the TV... I think we were obligated through contract to move the game certain hours, but I didn't have any say in the game. The schedule was moved because of TVs was the way I understood it. I didn't have a vote.

After the game, Brian White said that you guys would look at Walker more between the tackles during practice this week. What are you looking for when you run? Their ball is secure? You see how he handles the contact?

Just teaching him how to read things. It's not like he hasn't run between the tackles, it's just to be efficient. We wanted to try to give him... some way he could have success. And we felt the best thing with his speed, get a good change-up... toss plays and the plays we got him outside. We are just getting more reps between tackles now, just so he can read it, he has the vision, can get the tempo down on his cuts and that type of thing.

You guys always talk about improvement from week to week. If you were to take the offensive line and the running backs, which unit needs to step it up a little bit more, the line blocking or the backs reading the block?

Well, you know, you're doing a lot of grading. Maybe you should grade that and see what you think...I'm not going to divulge my grade. We've got to get better, particularly in short yardage. But on the fourth and one, I think you saw a guard and a fullback go around the corner untouched into the end zone. So that's not hard to figure out.

Two games in with no touchdowns scored against your defense, is it too early to say that this a dominant defense or at least has the makings of a dominant defense?

I think it's way too early. We'll seem much better offenses than you saw the last two weeks as we go through the season. I like the things that we're doing. I'm not going to try to diminish that. I think it all starts up front. We're able to get pressure with four guys and I see offensive linemen hanging on, and I don't think we've had a holding call against our opponent in two games, which is difficult...for me to understand... but that's where it all starts when they can pressure you and you don't have to blitz and you're getting pressure and they get penetration and do those things. But I've been very impressed with their productivity. They've been very productive... They like playing. They're enthusiastic. They have spirit about them. And the important thing is...I think they realize they can get a lot better. We're certainly not satisfied with how they're playing. There are a lot of things we can improve on, but it's a very good start.

I think you were optimistic about them coming into this season is what you brought to the table, but are you even surprised a little bit about what they've been able to do the first two games?

Well, that defensive front, particularly with [Erasmus James] coming back I thought they that could be very effective. You've got a veteran secondary, I expected them to play well, yet we really had a question mark at linebacker, but we're getting very good play out of (Mark) Zalewski and Dontez (Sanders) is always around the ball. That group is really filling in and understanding where they have to be and where they fit into defense. When you have the returners who have been productive in the past returning, you expect them to be effective. To say that I expect no touchdowns after the first few games, I'd be lying if I said I expected that.

If you see your, in your view, your defensive linemen are being held during the game, do you share those thoughts with the guys in the stripes

I do.

Ever get any feedback?

All you can do is tell them that they're holding your guys. And I tell them before the game, my guys need a fair chance. They're good pass rushers and I don't expect somebody to be hanging on their back and you have to call that. We just haven't had any, but I'm going to send some clips today of some things that went on in that last game--I just couldn't, in a couple cases, you have to protect your players. And I think it's good--I think David Perry has a meeting and every Wednesday night and they show clips of games, and it's just to show the officials what's going on in the game, the good and the bad. He may disagree with me on some things, and that's okay, but I just, I'd like some feedback. I talk to David frequently and he's honest with me.

So the clips you're going to send are going to be to Dave Perry?

He meets with his officials every Wednesday night. They review different clips from... and Dave takes some himself. They have a central headquarters in the Big Ten Office where they film all the games and if they see some things that they want to talk about with the officials. It's an educational thing. And I'm not sending them to complain, I'm sending them to make guys aware and we're all just trying to make it better.

How do you feel about the job that Dontez Sanders has done so far?

Well, for someone who hasn't played linebacker before, the No. 1 thing he brings us really personality to the defense. He runs very, very well. He has tremendous range. He can move out in space and give... you a defender out there, so you don't have to substitute for a nickel, if you choose to do that. But more than anything else, is his enthusiasm for the game and his range.

Barry, what degree will the heat change your rotation? Will you try to rotate more guys? Will you be more cognizant of how many plays, say, Booker (Stanley) has consecutively before you may trade off at tailback?

I don't think there's any formula for that. If you go back and look at the last few games, it was a little over 100 degrees on the turf... Sept. 4... When I was driving home after the game Saturday, it was 87, so, I haven't talked to Dennis (Helwig), but I would anticipate the temperature on the field again was approximately 100 degrees. Every coach is going to have to judge his players and try to keep them fresh. If somebody sees somebody tired, we're going to rotate. John Palermo does probably as good a job as anyone. We've probably played nine or 10 defensive linemen already and they're in there. It doesn't make any difference what stage of the game, he's going to keep his guys fresh. We've always tried to do that with our running backs.

Instant replay was a pretty big deal last week. Do you think there were any plays Saturday that warranted a review?

Not really. I didn't see anything when I went through tape. Anything that could have been overruled, I didn't see anything.

Any word on (Joe) Stellmacher? Do you think he'll be able to play Saturday?

I don't know yet. I haven't seen Joe. It was an ankle. It wasn't severe. They thought it might have been just some scar tissue, so, hopefully, he'll be back soon.

Scott Starks talked about a meeting with Brian Murphy and requested to be on special teams, what does that say about him and you talk about his contributions beyond playing corner right now?

You know what? Sparky's really having a lot of fun playing. I mean, in all phases, you can see that he just has so much confidence. And the way he's playing, he's effective and he's a factor in the game. He's playing well at corner and he's playing with a lot of confidence out there. He feels comfortable jumping up, playing press man. Same thing with running back kickoffs, for the first time in his career here, he did it in high school, but first time in his career here. He does it with authority. And then he was just fantastic finding the ball and his awareness on pooch punts.

You guys are keeping your penalties to a minimum this year, I think, just about 22 yards a game or something like that. Does that generally happen that way with veteran teams? I know coaches always strive to avoid penalties like that...

You know what? I think a lot of that has to do with how prepared you are for a game. When you see a team jumping offside and making foolish penalties, sometimes it's lack of focus and lack of concentration. I don't think there's any guarantee that you if have a veteran team that they're going to be penalty free.

You talked Saturday about (Marcus) Randle El's punt return in comparison to Jim (Leonhard). You had some pretty good punt returns at Notre Dame and here. Is it instinctual what Jimmy does that makes him so good?

Yeah, probably. Jimmy has deceiving speed and just a good feel and he gets north and south. He sees things very well. So even though it's not real flashy, he's productive and he can pick out his blockers. He plays off the blockers well and he fields the punts. There are a lot of guys, you kick that punt short, a lot of guys are going to stay away from it. But how many times have you seen him run up to catch a ball that's 15, 20 yards in front of him where if it hits the ground and you had a chance to get it rolling. But he's not afraid to come up and make that play.

He said after Saturday's game that you have the right people on special teams. And he said that they all seem to have a street-smart sense about them, about how to do the little things like special teams. Could you talk about maybe what you see in that sense?

Many times, you're trying to put young players in there or you have older players that don't really want to be there. They're playing 70 snaps. They're tired, so their coach is trying to get them off the field, so scrimmage downs that they're fresh. The young guys aren't quite ready so you have a constant change every week on your punt return, your kick return. All those teams are you're changing people and it's hard to get better if there's a constant flow of different people playing. We've got a bunch of guys who have played before who like to play in special teams. And so, consequently, we can have consistency with the depth. With repetitions, you get better. You have more awareness and you can do more as a coach.

So I think there's a lot to that and I tried to make that a point of emphasis with the guys last week. I like their attitude. My whole thing on special teams: it's attitude and effort. Anybody can do a lot of it. If you're a good enough athlete to be here on a scholarship or good enough athlete to be on the field, you ought to be able to execute through those special teams, but it's about effort and the attitude that you bring with you.

Is this continuity rare in your teams?

Yeah, it has been.. Some of our teams, we've been consistent with it. I can remember we've had starters be involved. They wanted to be involved. I can remember going back to Donnel Thompson and (Jason) Doering and all those guys, they all played it and so, consequently, we were probably pretty consistent. But I would say over the 15 years, more years than not, you're changing personnel every week.

Barry, for some of your guys this will be their first start or first time getting playing time on the road, with Arizona coming up this week. Is there any concern that your guys might have the full attention to know what it takes to win on the road this week?

Well, they'll understand that when they watch the film, they're playing a good football team. I don't think that it has any bearing whether it's on the road. It always concerns me the first road game. We've got a number of young guys that are playing...We'll give a good plan. And our guys have been pretty good. They follow instructions pretty well and I think they want to do what we want to do. They want to do what is right. We haven't had any issues. Normally, you worry about freshmen. The first time in a hotel, first game, you worry about all those things, just simple things. You get up in the morning for breakfast and we always go with a shirt and tie to the stadium. Some freshmen will forget a tie or someone will come in there with a suit and tennis shoes on or no socks or guy forgot his belt or they forget something because they haven't done that before. They don't have a checklist, but they've been pretty good. You're always holding your breath. Coaches, if we're going to have to be at this specific time, most of my guys are there 10 or 15 minutes early. Now there's somebody, now everybody's watching, checking their watch and there's always some freshman come straggling in, just before we close the door--we're not going to wait for them--but everybody's always waiting for that. So we haven't had any of those issues. So I think they'll be fine on the road.

What stands out about Arizona when you see them on film?

I think they have a lot of speed on both sides of ball and (Rob) Ianello knows it. He was there and knows a lot of these players. So he's verified that they do have speed. The receivers are talented and I think they get their best one back this week. The secondary can really run. I think their defensive line is very active and athletic. So more than anything else, I think the thing that jumps out at me is their speed and the fact that they're coached well.

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