News bullets and other important items:
Delonte Hollowell had his redshirt burned two weeks ago.
There will be some rotation between Thomas Gordon and Troy Woolfolk vs. Illinois regardless of which one wins the spot in practice.
Ricky Barnum still limited in practice. Hoke says he "will play," however.
Opening remarks: “I’m going to make a brief statement just regarding everything up at Penn State. One thing I can tell you, we have an utmost respect for what coach Paterno’s done on the field. It’s really a situation that’s obviously unfortunate, but it’s one that doesn’t affect us. We’ve got to worry about Michigan and the decision that we make in getting ready for this week and going to Illinois and winning a football game.
“Now practice yesterday was good. I like it. I liked how they competed. I liked how they came out, had a lot of energy, and they fought like heck.”
(more after the jump)
Do you see guys starting to hit the wall at this point in the year? “You know, you do with a lot of teams. I have seen it with different teams. The energy they had yesterday and how they came out was really uplifting because they did a nice job. I was glad to see it. Hopefully we have the same thing today.”
How big of a concern is Illinois’ ‘multiple’ offense? “I think it’s always a concern because they’re pretty daggone multiple in what they do and how they do it. Usually if you play your base technique and fundamentals and react to the things that your eyes should be on, then you’re going to be okay. I think for the most part, our guys have been doing that. If we stay within those fundamentals and within those techniques we’ll be okay. But they’re a lot to prepare for on both sides of the ball.”
How much pain was Kenny Demens in re: his hamstring? “I don’t know. I guess pain is something that they all tolerate at different levels, but he’s kind of been playing with this for a while. He played physical, he played hard, made a lot of tackles, so I’d say he’s pretty mentally tough. I didn’t feel the pain, let’s put it that way.”
Do you feel Kenny’s been overlooked due to lack of outright production? “Well I don’t know. I think he’s had some games where he’s played at the level that you’d love for him to play at consistently. He probably had a game or two in there where you didn’t feel him as much. I think he’s done a nice job with every week coming to work and really as a guy in the middle there, you’re making a lot of calls and getting guys set up and those things.”
What went into the decision to play Delonte Hollowell? “You know what, he’s such a pain in the butt all week, to be honest with you. On the scout team, how he competes, doing everything that we ask him to do … he’s got very good quickness. He’s athletic, he’s not big, but he’s very intelligent. It was just, we got to a point and we looked at some depth issues we felt we had, and [it was] an opportunity for him to get five good games under his belt, and the experience is going to pay dividends next year. He’s earned the right, believe me.” Was he receptive to it when you approached him about it? “Yeah. Yeah. They always ask, ‘Are you sure?’ I was sure.” Is that a tough decision to burn a kid’s redshirt this late in the season? “You know, I think it’s not as tough as it maybe used to be with the limitations in scholarship and all those things. A lot of freshman have to play. For a lot of those guys, and knowing Delonte academically and everything else, he’ll be a guy who will be graduating in four years and then he can help our team.”
Compared with your first impressions in the spring, how do you like how your wide receivers have progressed to this point? “The one thing those guys have proven -- they’re tough guys. The way they go down the field and they block in the run game. They constantly are running their feet through guys. I don’t know if I’ve been on a team where consistently you’ve got that many guys that are going to do that at the wideout position. A lot of them think they’re just out there to change the formation or catch balls, and I don’t see that from this group, and Heck does a nice job with them. They do a nice job. That part of it, I think we’re doing okay. I think we’ve caught most balls. We haven’t been perfect, but I like how they all come to play. Terrence Robinson, he’s not playing much out there, but he’s helping on special teams and he’s competing as a gunner and he’s on the kickoff team. I think Gallon, his role’s expanded a little bit. Junior’s done a nice job. He’s a wing on the punt team, and he’s probably the best wing we have because [of] his body type and also he blocks. They all do a nice job.”
Al Borges said the biggest reason you didn’t win was because there were no big plays. Are you concerned that you need big plays to win? “I think you always want some big plays. Do you need that to win? I’ll put the shoe on the other foot. You look at the 40-yard catch they had the first drive, that was a big play and a big part of why they got in position to continue the drive and score. I think it does help you from an offensive standpoint and team standpoint.”
Can you win without them? “I think sometimes you can. I think it depends what kind of game you have going on. But I think big plays are a big part of it or we, as defensive coaches, wouldn’t stress so much about giving up big plays.”
How close do you think you are in the passing game? Is it close to working itself out? “I hope so. Let’s put it that way. I think we had some opportunities and we’ve got to cash in on those. You’re going to take four or five shots a game depending on the opponent and what they’re giving you. So you’ve got to try and get some of them connected, let’s put it that way.”
At what point did you realize Countess would be your best corner or at least a guy who could play for you? “I don’t know if he’s our best corner. I think he’s a heck of a competitor. You obviously look at [him], through your recruiting process and all that, but then you really don’t know until you get him here. I think in fall camp, watching him move around, his willingness and eagerness to learn, his athleticism -- he’s got very good hips and very good feet, and that’s kind of what you need out there. He’s got a good amount of makeup speed that you have to have at a corner position. He’s tough. He’s tough. He’s physical. He’s not afraid to throw his body around. I think you saw that somewhat on the kicking game. He kind of started with the kickoff team. We became a better kickoff team when he started there.”
Does he have traits that you saw in Charles Woodson or Marlin Jackson … “Oh boy.” Guys who played as freshmen in the secondary. Obviously that’s a leap that you have to make. Are there traits in Blake that you’ve seen with other guys? “I think the best way for me to [answer the question] -- he’s got a great passion to play. He truly loves the game of football, so practice is fun. When practice is fun, you seem to play better and work better and learn better.”
Ricky Barnum’s status? “He did some things yesterday. A lot of the individual stuff. A little bit of the team stuff. We’ll see. He’ll play, but we’ll see how healthy he is.”
What makes Illinois’ rush defense so good? “Well I think they’re very athletic up front. I think the two inside guys do a good job. Buchanan and Mercilus I think they’re both very athletic ends. They do a lot with them. They take advantage of what they do well. Brown, the linebacker, and all those guys track the ball well. We think both their corners are really good football players so you can drop a safety down and play some more man coverage type concepts in the back end, so you can get that eighth guy in. I just think they’re playing extremely hard, and they give you a lot of different target points when you look at how you block them.”
Woolfolk vs. Gordon? “They’re doing good. It’s a great competition to have. We have that at every position. It never changes. You ask about Blake, and Blake’s earned that right. He’s competing like heck, so that doesn’t change.” Whoever wins the battle in practice, will they play the entire game or will you rotate? “I think you could play both of them, and I think that probably is what ends up happening.”