"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
How do you feel about your unit here going into the first game?
“You know, the thing that’s unique about the kicking game is the first time you really test it is the game, and we don’t have preseason games in college. So, I feel great about the practices we’ve had so far. We get 29 of them. We’ve had whatever, however many we’ve been allotted. The head coach has given us incredible meeting time, practice time, and availability and so to this point I like the focus of our players and what we’ve done and look forward to the contest, but you get to see what you’ve got when you play. It’s very hard to simulate a kickoff or a punt in practice and the intensity of the game.”
Who’s leading at the kicker spot?
“Well, you know, we’ve got three. This competition is going to go all the way up until pregame. And there’s really no need to pick one at this point because there’s none of them that have been in a game. Coach Harbaugh really believes in competitive excellence at every position, and those guys are duking it out. They’ve been taking- they took equal turns today in team. Each of them got four kicks. They’ve taken equal turns pretty much through camp.”
Who are the guys working there?
“Kyle Seychel and Kenny Allen and Andrew David- you know, the new guy, the freshman. They’ve done a nice job. Once again, we get the opportunity to practice 29 times so we’re going to take that opportunity. There’s not an established starter or whatever there, so…”
What about at punter?
“Well, at punter, Kenny Allen and Blake O’Neill are both punting. They will both punt, okay? They will both punt for Michigan this year. Blake has some skills Kenny doesn’t have, [and] Kenny has some skills Blake doesn’t have. And we’re a pro-style team on offense, defense, and kicking game, and Blake came here to want to be a pro in one year, and Kenny has really embraced being accurate. So here’s the thing: they’re both good. Kenny’s improved a lot. Blake adds some nice depth there, and they’ll both play. Don’t know how often you see a two-punter system, but we got one.”
[After THE JUMP: Kick and punt returners, and a personal connection]
[I jumped in mid-answer]
“We’ve got two coaches who love to hit. With coach Drevno the O-line is real tough this year. On the D-line we've had a lot of guys step up and play real hard, so it’s been a real hard-hitting camp.”
Talk about yourself and where you’ve made progress since the end of last season.
“I think Coach Mattison has helped me with my technique a lot and also coach [Will] Carr has helped me and Mo [Hurst] with our technique a lot. He's helped us out a lot. As far as technique, I feel like our effort has always been there but we haven't always been the sharpest technique-wise, but I think that’s been a lot better since last year.”
What makes coach Mattison such a good coach?
“I think it’s experience of coaching. He’s coached every type of line.”
And guys like Ray Lewis.
“Yeah, he’s coached every type of guy. He knows how to get to it with coaching. He’s not going to coach everyone the same. He knows how to push buttons in the right way, and he has really constructive criticism and I think that’s what makes him a good coach.”
Last year you did have a scholarship. Are you still technically a walk-on? Have you heard anything about a scholarship?
“No, I actually got one last year after the season.”
[After THE JUMP: Chesson, Rudock, and Bolden]
Kyle, a lot’s been made about your maturity and now you’re in your third year here. Just talk about how you’ve grown and how you’re ready for this role as a leader.
Kyle Kalis: “I think a lot of it was the offseason condition. You know, we grew a lot as a team through coach Tolbert’s workouts and stuff, and a big thing not only personally but as an O-lineman and concerning my unit is coach Drev’s ability to coach us.
“He’s taught us stuff that we had no idea was even out there, and his experience, his vast knowledge of O-line play and the way you have to do it, the way you have to take that mentality every day has been huge for us. So that’s probably the biggest thing is coach Drev.”
I know that you guys are probably tired of the offensive line improvement talk, but last year it was said that the offensive line had improved. Do you feel that this season there is real, tangible improvement? Is this finally the year that the offensive line will come together?
KK: “Yeah. I mean, the past couple years we’ve been good. It’s just hard- it was hard to find…to look through the cracks and see us doing well. But this year I think as a team us being able to come together [and] have all the parts working together as a cohesive unit is going to be huge to not only be successful as a team, but also, you know, get the big guys some love. That’s the thing [is] you have to be successful as a team to let everybody have the spotlight.”
You mentioned the spotlight. Are there any guys out there that have impressed you? A lot has been said about Mason Cole. Talk about some of the guys who you’ve seen a lot of improvement from.
KK: “Yeah, Mason’s definitely…Mason’s Mason. He started all last year as a freshman. That’s huge. I mean, no one does that really anywhere, and so that’s huge for him. He’s improved a lot. Again, with coach Drev he’s been able to make some strides. Dave Dawson did really good. Tulley- Logan’s been doing really good. Blake’s [Bars] had a really good camp. A lot of guys have been really coming along and it’s been good.”
[After THE JUMP: More Kalis and Houma, plus Desmond Morgan and Chris Wormley]
“Nice to see everybody. I just spent a nice 45 minutes over at the Weber’s with the M Club of Ann Arbor. Now I get to be here with you to follow that up. It doesn’t get any better!”
What have you seen from your offense so far, and what do you like about the competition?
“What I love about the competition is that…oh, where you talking about offense?”
“It’s been good. Intense competition, which it always is on a football team. There’s a great deal of honor and satisfaction to be one of the 11- a starter. Competition for those roles has been intense, as you would expect. Offensively, defensively, and on special teams.”
Any updates on the quarterbacks?
“I was informed that our competition for Thursday night’s ball game, Utah, would be sending us their official depth chart Monday, and in the interest of fair and healthy competition we will also send our official depth chart on Monday as well.”
Does that mean you’ll have made up your mind by Monday, or are you still hashing it out?
“Like a lot of positions there are some that are very close, some are closer than others, some are still being competed for, and some positions there’s individuals that are ahead. To give you an example, the kicking position is very tight right now and still playing out. At some positions it might continue into the ball game itself. Yeah. I think we’re getting a good idea of things, whether it’s even, close, or someone’s ahead at this point.”
Is it important for you to tell your QBs or team who that is so they can rally behind that one guy?
“To the team? Yeah, I think that’s something that’s been ongoing and that takes place.”
I don’t know if you-
“And they do. They do. It’s been a tight, close competition. Especially at that position.”
[After THE JUMP: “You can also say we really enjoyed each other’s company in a football fashion”]
Your impressions of Jake Rudock?
“Yeah! All those quarterbacks are doing a great job. This is day 21 of practice. I guess it’s 10 days until our first game, and all of them are competing and doing a great job.”
With him taking the majority of the reps Saturday is that an indication that he is the No. 1 guy?
“No, there’s no decision that’s been made.”
How close are you to having five linemen that you’re settled on?
“We’re not. You know, every group is competing and we want that because it brings the best out of everybody. So we’ll just keep tinkering around and putting guys in there in and out, and when the time comes we’ll make that decision.”
When do you want to have it by?
“I don’t know yet. I don’t know that yet. Like I said, we’re 10 days out from game time, so when the time comes we’ll make that decision.”
Can you sense that build up? You’re going to be on a plane a week from tomorrow. Can you start sensing the excitement?
“Yeah, you do. You do. It’s always fun to go play somebody else because you’ve been playing against each other. It’s one day at a time right now but you do sense it, yeah.”
Looking at your receivers you have an interesting mix. You have a bunch of young guys who’ve not played at all and some veterans as well. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about your receiving corps?
“I think they’ve got very good speed, they’ve got good hands, they catch really well, they’re disciplined in their routes. A lot of positive things. A lot of guys making a lot of catches. Blocking really well.”
[After THE JUMP: A (very) rough timeline for announcing the starting QB]
What's the status of Bryan? Can you comment on Bryan Mone at all?
“Yeah, Bryan is a great kid and a great player for us. We really like him.”
If he’s not able to play how does that affect how you use Hurst? Do you use him more at the nose tackle spot?
“A great thing about our team right now, when you go through camp, is that we’re building depth at all positions. That's what this time of year is for is find where we’re strongest at and where our depth is and so I think across the board you've done a good job of that. We've developed some guys and we've got depth at all positions.”
So how do you expect to use Hurst then?
“Mo Hurst? Mo is definitely part of that depth up front and he can play all the spots too. Really he can play inside [or] outside, so he's a guy we’re counting on. He'll play a lot for us.”
What were some of the positives that you took away from Saturday as far as the defensive line is concerned?
“I think it was good. I think the biggest thing is probably that was the first time we were out with crowd noise and it was good seeing them communicate on their own. You know, coaches, we like to– either you're standing out and you cheat a little bit, you're yelling and you're kind of helping the guys out because you're into it, and we weren't able to do that. That was the first time they were out there on the field on their own, no one out there helping them make checks, and they really communicated well and for the most part were assignment-sound.”
What's the most interesting thing you’ve learned about your secondary in these last 2 1/2 weeks?
“The best part is we’ve been finding out the competitors, because there's good competition back there and we've put them in a bunch of spots where they’ve got to show up. And they know its competition. We've moved guys around a little bit and so I think it's been great. You find out the guys who really thrive in that type of environment.”
What do you like most about your defensive front?
“I think just their work-type mentality: blue-collar. We've brought it every day. This has been a tough camp, and they've responded every day. I mean, they've been locked in in meetings and done well on the field. There've been a few instances where I could say it wasn't that type of mentality, but really when you look at the whole grand scheme of camp they really brought it. They've done great.”
[After THE JUMP: I ask about the secondary and someone asks about Freddy Canteen. Also Jabrill, because there’s always a question about Jabrill]