OPENING COMMENTS: Thank you, Justin. We're excited for game week to finally get here. I know as we entered fall camp there was a certain excitement amongst our guys, and the one thing that I felt they really held steady all the way until we go into our practice this afternoon is just that the work ethic and the attitude. I really believe they've approached things the right way. It's great to finally be in game week.
We gave them Saturday off. A lot of our guys, I think, took advantage of the time they had to get off their feet. We try to encourage them to try to get their legs back under them. I know several of our players volunteered their time, went out to be involved with the 100 Black Men, handing out gift bags out there with, I think, over 4,000 kids to help the youth. So they came back yesterday.
Just a little bit of an update with the injury report. Definitely will not play this weekend, Aaron Henry. And then Kevin Rouse, I'm not sure if I've updated his situation. He basically had a shoulder surgery later part of last week and will miss the majority of the season. Might be able to get him back in for some bowl prep at the end of the year, but won't be with us.
And then possibles for Saturday, Jonathan Casillas, Travis Beckum, Chris Pressley, and Antonio Fenelus haven't been ruled out. A lot of it depends on how they handle the next couple days.
Freshmen that are going to play offensively for sure, Jake Current and Kevin Zeitler, Jake Byrne and Bradie Ewing. Those four guys will play for us offensively. Defensively, Brendan Kelly, possible of Kevin Claxton and Antonio Fenelus, and then our punter, obviously, Brad Nortman will be a freshman as well.
We're excited about the opportunity to play Akron, a team that returns 43 lettermen from a year ago, 8 starters, including their quarterback, 5 defensive starters. They do return all of their specialists, their holder, their kicker, their snapper, their punter, as well as two of the best return men that I've seen on film, definitely together on the same field. And as a team that's preparing to start off the first time with our first punter and kicker, that's obviously a unique challenge. So Coach Brookhart, their head coach, takes the same lead that I do. He's in charge of all their special teams and has done a great job with that.
I've basically made reference to our kids. You know, this is a team that a year ago, the score of the Ohio State game at Ohio State was 2-0 at the end of the first quarter, 3-2 at the end of the half, so they're definitely not afraid to come in and play a team on the road in the Big Ten.
And with that, I know as we start this season, there's going to be a certain level of expectations, but I really was excited the other night, when we were doing our team goals, to be with our kids and to hear them talk about where their focus was and what their tasks are. And it was quite a bit of a different change from a year ago to where their tasks are right now. Nothing was more important than practice the next day and to focus on Akron. So we're excited about this opportunity, and with that, I'll open it up for questions.
QUESTION #1: Bret, did you list Pressley as a possible?
BIELEMA: Yes. The surgery that Chris had going into it, they basically said that they thought he would be back for our opener, but it would depend on a certain type of procedure that really, the thing that could keep him out of the game is basically open exposure stitch or something that wouldn't be healed on time. Chris has gone to myself and to Coach Settle to appeal to the doctors to allow him to play. So I'm still going to have a conversation. Obviously, we won't put him out there to further injury or put himself at risk, but if he's healed up and the situation or the doctor has cleared him to play, he'd be eligible.
QUESTION #2: Along those lines of being cautious with an injury, Travis talked about, you know, pushing himself a little bit too soon when he came back and aggravated that. And I know Andy Crooks had problems with a hamstring last year. Do you really proceed with caution with Travis knowing that there are going to be some more important games down the road?
BIELEMA: Twofold Travis, the first practice that he kind of got back in there and then reinjured himself, jumped into a situation that we didn't really want him to get into. He just, and I admire his ambition to get out there, but we want to make sure that we're in the right type of situation. I was standing next to him yesterday, and he was doing sprint work over on the side and, you know, basically, he knew where his leg was at, and I think we have to put a lot of trust in him to figure out where that's going to go.
You know, him an Andy are genetically two different kind of guys, you know, but Andy's was a fairly severe and significant pull early, early, early in camp, so a little bit different situation. Everybody's body is a little different.
QUESTION #3: What has Bradie Ewing done to get out on the field?
BIELEMA: Bradie has done everything we've asked him to do. He's a really intelligent football player. Nobody has a better work ethic than him. I can't remember if the media was in there or not, but he was basically knocked down on a play, it was towards the end of a practice, and we have a drill where we finish offensively, we finish through the cones. They have to sprint 30 yards past the line of scrimmage, everybody, all ball carriers, if you catch a route, if you are a ball carrier, if you run, if you're a quarterback and you run an option, whatever it is, and he got knocked down after about 10 yards and was laying on the ground, and he didn't pop up, and that was a little unusual for Bradie just because of his intensity.
The trainers rushed over to him, and what basically had happened is he had dislocated a finger. And the first thing he did when he got to his feet was sprint to finish the drill. And it kind of just gave a, everybody didn't know how to react, you know. Here's a true freshman, walk-on, non-scholarship player that knew the emphasis of that drill was to finish, and he did it, and I thought that just spoke volumes about what we expect or can anticipate when he's in the ball game.
Now, I don't know how much from the running back spot he'll play, but he'll be involved in all phases of our kicking game.
QUESTION #4: Bret, second year in a row you're going to have a one-year starter at quarterback. Are there some inherent problems with kind of a one and done guy?
BIELEMA: Well, obviously, any time that you can return, I think one of the great things that Akron has going for them in a returning quarterback. So you know, it's the same at all positions, if you're a quarterback, if you're a DB, if you're a D lineman, any time you can start from year one to year two, you're hopefully going to improve, but you got to deal with the cards you're dealt. We've had one-year starters at other positions. It's just the quarterback, obviously, garnishes a lot of attention.
Allan's done the most to earn this right to start, and that's where he's going to be. You know, it was great for us because last year, during fall camp, there was a point in time where we really felt Allan was going to be the guy over TD. The powers that happened, Allan tweaked his hamstring a little bit, and Tyler began to play better, put him in that position, otherwise he would have might been right back in it.
QUESTION #5: Is there anything about Allan, his makeup or his background or something, that makes you think he can get up to speed pretty quick?
BIELEMA: Well, I think he's already there. He's been a starter. He started during his time at Kansas State, and for him to be able to be where he's at right now to prepare for Akron, he's definitely performed as well as anybody, so. It will all be determined on Saturday.
QUESTION #6: Bret, (Dustin) Sherer is still listed as the backup on the depth chart we got today. Is that issue settled?
BIELEMA: You mean as far as who is number two? Yeah, if we played the game tomorrow, Dustin will be the second guy in, but I would also point out that, you know, James, probably the last two weeks, has played as good as he's ever played, and Scotty, early on in camp, may have fallen off a little bit, but those three guys really will probably get down to how they perform during the course of the week now.
QUESTION #7: One of the first things you did was list off some of the injuries and issues where guys were at. Right now, going into the season, would you characterize this team as a healthy team, a banged up team, or no different than any other year in terms of the number of injuries you've got to deal with?
BIELEMA: I'm going to give you a third adjective, a hungry team. They, you know, we're banged up at certain positions, but the one part that we've enjoyed, you know, all the defensive linemen that were nicked haven't really shown any signs that that injury is going to carry forward with them. Allen Langford is probably practicing as well as I've seen him practice during his entire time here. Aaron Henry, obviously, had the complication of a second surgery, and he's going through those issues right now.
But you know, those three guys that I mentioned, well, the four guys, Antonio Fenelus is not in that group, but, you know, Jonathan Casillas, Travis Beckum, and Chris Pressley are all potential starters. So any time you have someone that's listed as a possible starter who may not play, it will affect your time. But thankfully for us, we're very fortunate. Blake Sorensen has had a great camp, even before JC got hurt, at the tight end position. You guys know that we have a little bit of depth there. And then, obviously, Billy Rentmeester has started in Chris Pressley's place for an entire season when Chris was red-shirted two years ago. So we like the backups that we have.
QUESTION #8: Is there any comparison, Bret, with Brendan Kelly and where (Matt) Shaughnessy was as a freshman, and how deep do you think you are in the defensive line rotation-wise now?
BIELEMA: That's a great point, Tom, and I made that reference. None of these guys, none of my coaches defensively were here when Matt came aboard, but Matt jumped out at us right away just by his athleticism during the summer when he came to work out, during fall camp. I really believe BK (Brendan Kelly) has early on showed us that he can adapt really well to football knowledge. Not only will he play on the defensive line for us, but he'll also start on, I believe, three of our four special teams. So he's a guy that is going to get on the field for us quite a bit.
The last part was about the D-line depth? Well, Matt Shaughnessy and O'Brien Schofield probably set themselves apart from the rest just on experience. You know, OB, obviously, has only one start under his belt, but played very well during all spring football, played well in fall camp up until his injury. So I think Matt and OB (Schofield) are kind of set apart. Kirk DeCremer, for what he can bring, especially on third down and in special sub-packages, will give us a lot of quality reps.
And then Dan Moore and Brendan Kelly have had a nice little battle going here for the last two weeks. I believe, you know, Dan saw Brendan push a little bit ahead of him, and then Dan really had a strong week of practice, so we're excited to see those guys get out in game-time situations.
QUESTION #9: Coach, with the amount of depth issues you had with the secondary during spring football, what does a guy like Chris Maragos really done to kind of stabilize that position, kind of giving you a boost defensively?
BIELEMA: Well, Chris plays, you know, for us free safety. He'll also be a starter for us in our sub-package, play on every phase of the kicking game. Chris is a very hard worker. He's a guy that's accountable. I think he's very hard on himself. You know, it's going to be interesting to see how he handles game day speed. You know, he played in the MAC, and this will be his first opportunity. As many good things as he's done for us during fall, during spring and fall camp, it's still going to be the first time the bullets are flying out there in Camp Randall. We'll see what he can handle.
QUESTION #10: You're planning on the kicker still just to go through the week and perhaps even to game day before you know?
BIELEMA: Friday night, we ran our mock game, and the way we started out with Philip (Welch) would have handled our kickoff response or, sorry, our field goal responsibilities and Matt (Fischer), actually, handled our kickoff responsibilities. So if that carries forward, that's the way we'll start. Could that change between now and then? Yes. And very, quite honest . . . we may go with short long, you know, if Matt looks like, you know, from the 15 in he's a little more consistent, we can go with that approach as well.
QUESTION #11: Coach, what do you have to gain against, playing against a team like Akron and then Marshall the next week. what can you learn, if anything, from those kind of contests?
BIELEMA: Well, I believe, you know, a team that played in the national championship game a year ago, Ohio State, had a 2-3 ballgame going into the half, and obviously they made a lot of improvement from that halftime and to where they ended up to put themselves in a national championship game. So we have the same opponent, we have them in our home stadium, and we have the same aspirations and goals that Ohio State did, I'm sure, going into that opening game a year ago.
So we can take whatever happens on Saturday, it's not so much what happens during the course of the game, it's how we react to it, take that, move forward. Take that, whatever does end up being the final result, take it into Sunday's preparation and get them ready for an opportunity to play Marshall.
QUESTION #12: Do you ever have any second thoughts giving Jay Valai a camera and a microphone, and what impact do you think he'll have on the defense this year?
BIELEMA: The reason I gave Jay that responsibility is he's expressed interest, even going back to his recruiting days of getting into your line of work, into the sports reporting. Sometimes you put a mic in front of a kid, and he gets a little shy. Well, that just is sugar for Jay Valai. He needed about a quarter and he'll go a day. So he was excited about it. I think he got better at it. The little critiques I gave him, I thought he improved. My personal highlight was him and PJ Hill.
But what I think he brings to our defense is he does have excitement, he has energy, he is not afraid to hit anything at any given time. Has learned to play probably better disciplined football defense, just from a coverage standpoint, in the secondary. So any time you have a good player that has a little personality, that can really lighten up a defense.
QUESTION #13: Coach, you characterize your team as hungry, and in the team meeting you said they were, you liked what you heard from them. What sort of aspirations do they have? Did anything stick out that you liked hearing from these guys?
BIELEMA: Well, when we went to make our team goals, I basically kind of reiterated to them, you know, goals aren't just something you throw down on paper. Goals represent who you are, what you are, and what you stand for. I really liked some of the things that came out of their mouth. One of the first conversations or first suggestions was a 1-0 mentality, you know, surprise. But I really believe the guy, before I allowed them to say a team goal, I wanted to explain what that meant and why.
You know, Mike Newkirk talked about taking personal, individual battles, taking them personally, and I can't repeat the exact things that Mike said, but it was very apparent that he was, you know, talking about not only the three technique he's going to go against or the guard that he's going to go against, but, you know, battling yourself on a Thursday when you don't feel like practicing after maybe a night of hard studying and a test that you had to take. That's a personal battle within yourself.
So I really, really liked the focus of what they had as well as some of the tangible goals because they weren't, you know, win this or be a part of this. It was the task and the steps that were needed to make those things happen.
QUESTION #14: You said Akron's offense is a tough preparation because of all the things they do. Could you go into more detail about everything they do offensively?
BIELEMA: Well, they involve and incorporate, you know, all different kinds of personnel groupings. They involve the tight end. They have two backsets. They do some unusual things with their quarterback and using him as a lead receiver on certain around plays, on certain looks that are very unique. And what I think Coach Brookhart and, you know, I know him just a little bit. I've been around him on several different occasions, at functions, and talked to him on the phone, and the part that I like is I really believe they use their personnel as well as anybody.
If you dig into their media guide and realize, I believe for three years, three out of his five years he's converted a player from one side of the football to the other, and it's worked out great, even going into their senior year. So that really shows me that he's a coach that's keen on hitting on his personnel and what their strengths are and playing to those strengths.
QUESTION #15: You mentioned the bullets flying for the first time. Is there any concern over the number of guys making their first starts?
BIELEMA: Well, any time that you're doing it for the first time, there's always going to be concerns, but they are battle tested. You know, Jay Valai, even though it's only been three quarters, he played probably as good a football as I expected him to play or better in the bowl game. Because of that, they got a lot of opportunities. You know, Mario Goins was a guy that, will probably get his first start on Saturday, but, you know, got a large majority of reps during spring football because of the absence of Allen Langford and Aaron Henry.
So those guys have had a lot of reps. It's just a matter of doing it for the first time at Camp Randall. You know, the two biggest concerns probably are our punter and our kicker just because that's a little, I mean, all eyes are on you. It's much the same as being the starting quarterback or the starting tailback, you know, everybody knows where you're going to line up and everybody knows what you're supposed to do, and only the result will tell whether you've had success or failure.
QUESTION #16: Coach, there's obviously three running backs you'd like to get carries for on Saturday. Are there certain packages, certain situations, that you're going to put John (Clay) ahead of PJ (Hill) or Zach (Brown) ahead of PJ?
BIELEMA: Good question. With the three running backs that we do have, PJ has by far got the most experience, and he's got experience in all phases. He's got it in short yardage, long yardage, first down, second down, third down, and goal line. But when you characterize our tailbacks, you know, Zach is probably stronger maybe in third down situations, also good on first down, but maybe the last guy in the goal line situation.
Whereas, John Clay, first down, second down, and then, you know, has probably a role for us in short yardage and goal line situations. You say that because of his size and his nature, but for those of you who were at the spring game, you realize we were trying to teach him that when we want you to run inside, we want it to be inside. So it's going to be interesting to see how John handles and reacts to the game itself.