News bullets and other important items:
Brandon Moore and Stephen Hopkins still have unclear injury status. They may or may not play Saturday.
The staff is wearing the Chuckstrong t-shirts on the way to the stadium.
“Uh, thanks for coming. Good practice yesterday. Liked how we’re preparing right now. I think the intensity level hopefully will be the same today from an offensive standpoint. I think talking to Al, they got a lot of good work done yesterday. Defensively, I’d say the same thing. I think both coordinators were pleased. I mean, not happy, but pleased with the preparation that we have.”
Were the practices as good as they were last week?
“Uh, I think it was comparable. I think coming off the bye week and not playing for a week, I think you always have a little more intensity it seems like. I think they’re comparable.”
Do you do anything differently to prepare for Scheelhaase?
“You know, we do -- and I’ve always done it with defensive linemen -- we do a little at the end of practice some chase the rabbit, we call it. Drills where you instill a mindset, a mentality, I think. With us going so much against each other, obviously 16’s kind of hard to corral once in a while. I think that helps us as a team when you’re playing against a guy like Scheelhaase.”
You don’t do too many ones on ones, do you?
“Yeah we do.”
During the season?
“Oh yeah. Gotta have that speed. We’ll do full line for 16 plays on Tuesday. We’ll do first down drill and third down drill today. We still get after it.”
What do you mean by chase the rabbit?
“You ever try to catch a rabbit?”
“They’re hard to catch. You have to stay after them and take angles.”
Have you ever tried to catch a rabbit?
“No, I have not.”
Do you sense Devin Gardner getting more comfortable at receiver?
“Yeah I think so. I think it’s the experience factor. You play against our guys a little bit, and we give them different looks, then you play against new people every week, then it’s a little bit different how they want to play two-deep, how they want to play man inside or outside, how they’re going to be physical at the line of scrimmage, are they going to play off -- there’s a lot of different ways. The more he sees it I think the better he gets and the better he reacts.”
You left a lot of points on the field against Illinois last year in the red zone. Have you discussed it much?
“Well, we did last week, too. So that’s been a big part of it. I think right they’re the second in the league in red zone defense, so they’re playing well down there. I think it’s second. They’re playing really good third down defense.”
How would you rate how Tim Beckman has done with the transition?
“That’s not for me to say. I’m not there every day. I know he’s a good football coach.”
From your standpoint of having gone through it yourself though?
“I think everybody’s different and every situation’s different.”
How would you like your returners to judge punts?
“I’d like them to catch them all and judge them correctly.”
What do you tell them?
“Well you give a lot up to that guy. It’s important. He’s the one doing it every day. He’s the one practicing it. Jeremy’s done a nice job. I have a lot of faith and trust in him. Dileo’s pretty good back there. Darboh’s a guy who does a nice job, you know, practice-wise while we’re going through it. ‘Fleet’s getting better. I think there’s four guys back there that we have a lot of faith in. Obviously we think Jeremy’s the best.”
How happy are you with the tight end position in general?
“I would say we’re a work in progress there, too. You have two youngs guys playing big boy football. They’re learning every week. I think we can be more physical there. As they grow and they’re Wellmanized and all those things, you’ll see that with them, which will lead to maybe a little more movement at the line of scrimmage. I think Mike Kwiatkowski has really done a pretty good job. I think he’s gotten better. He’s been called on to get better. And then Brandon’s practicing and he’s kind of back out there.”
Could Brandon Moore play this week?
“Could. We’ll see.”
How has Craig Roh done so far?
“I think Craig’s had a good first third of the season or guess we’re over that a little bit. He’s done a nice job. New position, all that, leadership-wise, effort, how he comes to work every day. All those things I think he’s done a nice job.”
Craig is starting to call plays at the line of scrimmage. Are you pretty comfortable with him doing that?
“Yeah, Craig’s really a sharp guy. It helps being smart because it’s not easy to be honest with you. It used to be easy when I played. You played two defenses and that was it. One offensive scheme. Now you see a lot of different things and you have to have an intelligence to play.”
Do you expect Stephen Hopkins back Saturday?
“We’ll see. We’ll see how we keep moving through it.”
How does he change the run game?
“Well it depends. If you’re in two backs. I think him and I’ve really been happy with Joey. He’s done a really nice job of blocking the point of attack, going to look up linebackers. He’s doing a nice job. Paul [Gyarmati] is still there. We’ve got some depth. And then Sione, who is taking reps and getting better.”
What’s your relationship like with Chuck Pagano?
“You know, I know his brother John better from being out in San Diego. Chuck, I met years ago. A long time ago. But coach Mattison and coach Mallory, there’s a strong relationship, family ties with the Mallorys obviously. Greg, coaching with him. He’s one of ours. He’s our kind of guy. So we want to pay a little tribute to him and also for the cause.”
When did you make the decision to do the ChuckStrong thing?
“Probably Sunday night.”
Will you wear them to the stadium or during warmups?
“To the stadium.”
MGoQuestion: Are you seeing the ability to call plays at the line of scrimmage from the rest of the defensive line?
“I don’t think we’re there yet with the entire line. I think we’ve got a little better idea when you look at formation sets, backfield sets, all those things that you try, and you know there’s a whole ‘nother couple variables when you start looking at personnel groups and down and distance. So there’s a lot you can overload, and I’m one who doesn’t like to overload unless a guy can handle it, and Craig’s one of those guys who can handle it very well. Ryan a year ago handled it very well.”
MGoFollowup: Do you think it’s possible the rest of the line gets to that level?
“Yeah, I think so.”
What kind of development have you seen from Ondre Pipkins?
“Well, he takes a couple steps forward and takes a half step back now and then. He’s young. His technique is flawed to some degree, and that’s daily -- work at it. He’ll be fine.”
He played a little more last week.
“We were a little more in base defense, and that helps. Dovetailing off what you said [Ed: Who, me!?], you don’t want to overload guys. If we started teaching him all the sub package stuff, the dime, the nickel, whatever you want to call it, it would probably set him back a little bit. Again, I don’t like to set guys back. I want to see them keep moving forward.”
Any guys stand out from Illinois’s defense?
“Well [Michael] Buchanan. He’s a good football player. He’s a guy who’s active. Brown, the linebacker, is active. I think their whole front is pretty good. They lost a couple guys from a year ago -- one for sure -- but I think they’re an atheltic front and they can be physical. You can see what they’re doing in third down situations in changing up coverages. It’s a little new defensively because it’s a new coordinator, new deal. They’re working through it, but you know, from an athletic standpoint, they’re athletic.”
Kovacs looked nicked up a week ago. How’s he looking these days?
“Good. Good. Jordan, you know, he’s a pretty tough guy.”
Taylor said Monday that he’s ignoring what people are saying about the offensive line. Were you getting the sense that the line was feeding into the negative talk? Secondly, Borges mentioned that the offensive line practiced much better last week. Did you see that?
“Yeah, and that’s where it’s got to come from. I think from both sides of the ball, your fronts -- game day or practice -- they’ve got to set the tone in leadership and everything you do. I’m a big believer in that. Buying into the negativity? I mean, if they do that, then they’re not going to be any good. What do other people know? They’re the only ones who know. And us.”
Did you see them slipping into that early on?
“I didn’t. I didn’t see that.”