Are you finding teams focusing on Jake [Butt] a little bit more as part of their gameplan, trying to take him away?
“There seems to be a little bit of that every now and then. Just, sometimes that’s how it shakes out, how the cookie crumbles, that the guy that’s the intended target of a route isn’t open and we trust Jake Rudock to get the ball to the guy who is open.”
What was your reaction when you found out about Jerry Kill’s resignation this morning?
“Sad. I figured it was something that had to be pretty serious. You never want to hear anything like that, and you know that he has the background of certain health issues so you hope and pray that he gets healthy and his family deals with everything alright, because that’s a serious thing.”
As a young coach, how do you have to learn to manage balancing the stresses of coaching with your health?
“I don’t know, I probably don’t do a good job. I had a donut today, so that’s good. I don’t know. I mean, I think a lot of it has to do with your work environment. The guys we work with are serious about football but they’re lighthearted guys, so it’s fun, it’s loose and serious at the same time if that makes any sense. I’m not a doctor, but I would imagine that’s helpful over the long term of not developing like hypertension or something. I don’t know. I probably should stop eating donuts, too.”
How have your dad and uncle managed to handle it? How have you seen them do it?
“Um, I don’t know. Not in any way that’s special or unique, I don’t think. They both find ways and time to spend with their family and exercise and stuff. They have fun doing what they’re doing. I don’t know. It’s a good question. Certainly it’s something to be aware of.”
[After THE JUMP: Did he use the two-costume strategy as a kid? Also, things about tight ends. And Jabrill.]
Do you have a goal for the tight end group in terms of something you’d like to see them take a step up the rest of the season?
“Sure. Blocking, all around just winning each play and being like a PGA golfer, where like the worst shots for them are on the fringe of the fairway. They’re not ideal, but you can keep playing. You can still win with that shot. I think kind of taking that approach, where our worst plays are still plays that we can win with as an offense and we’re not holding up drives, where that’s the very worst of it and the rest are excellent plays. I think just building up that consistency and dominating each play, dominating the guy across from us is the direction we’re trying to go towards.”
Have you been briefed on the history of the Little Brown Jug?
“Fairly well, yeah. There’s some interesting stories and all that. It’s fun to be a part of that.”
Who briefed you?
“TJ Weist gave me some. My dad’s told me some. Just hearing it from people around the program.”
What’s special about Minnesota’s defense that you’ve seen? What will give you the toughest challenge?
“They’re really well coached. They have good players, good personnel. Defensive line is good. Secondary’s very good. Their corners are excellent football players. They kind of have to be due to the scheme, similar to Michigan State. They have the right guys for the scheme and they play really hard, so they’re not a team that’s going to beat themselves. Certainly that’s a trademark I think of them year in and year out, though I’m not as familiar with them as you guys are.”
Do you expect anything different from them with coach Kill not coaching on Saturday?
“Uh, no. I think that’s probably very indicative of who he is and maybe the best credit to him is they would play like their hair’s on fire regardless. I think that says a lot about who he is and how he coaches. You’re not going to show up and see a different team. I think that’s how he would want it, too, and that’s how those guys play.”
I think we saw Wheatley Jr. out in warmups probably for the first time before Northwestern. What have you seen from him over the last few weeks now that you’re actually getting to work with him?
“Improvement, and that’s really all I’m looking for. Getting better at everything and a better grasp of the offense and football in general and understanding more than just [during] a play what his specific little job is [but] understanding what’s going on around him and being able to adapt and adjust better. So, he needs to get better at everything and that’s what he’s doing. He’s doing a nice job.”
What was the point when you saw this year that AJ Williams could be a different player than he’s been here before?
Was it immediately in spring? Was it as spring evolved?
“I think you certainly see potential right away, and I think that he got better and better as it went on and then at some point during this season it just kind of clicked for him. He’s sort of operating- mentally operating- at a faster tempo.”
Is there a trust thing for you to call his number to be involved in more pass plays and receptions? Was there a point where you saw something and said you can trust throwing the ball to him more often?
“Yeah, maybe. I think from the get-go, though, he has good hands. That was really never a question. His ability as a route runner has improved quite a bit. Him getting better in that phase makes you have more confidence that he’ll get open and get separation but I don’t think my confidence has ever been that low in that regard. He’s just been getting more opportunities and making the most of them.”
Was it as simple as Jim saying, ‘Just please run faster’?
“Is that what he said? That’s a big part of it, yeah. I said the same thing to him and he took it to heart and he’s done things that he needed to do to be more of a threat in the pass game and just, I think, having a good understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish and kind of getting rid of the mental clutter, just thinking faster and reacting.
“So much of speed- true speed and play speed are two totally different things of how fast a guy is in a race and how he plays when it’s 11-on-11. I think he’s surprisingly fast. If you just had a foot race with people I think you’d all be really shocked at how fast he is, and now he’s starting to play at that speed. It’s fascinating to look at. I think if he keeps on continuing there’s more opportunities for him.”
So did he become a faster route runner because he started to understand more what he was looking at? Was that from film watching?
“I think it’s a little bit of everything. I think it’s just having confidence in the timing of routes and knowing that you’ll be able to get your depth and trust that you don’t need to rush or alter the route because you think that you’re not going to get there in time. That’s what happens to a lot of guys.
“Maybe it’s understanding of the game or playbook. Like I said, it’s fascinating because you’re not really sure what it is exactly. You just hope that it clicks like that with everybody in terms of just playing the game at the very, very top speed they’re capable of.”
Obviously the last game was a big disappointment. Do you have a read on how your guys in general are approaching it coming out of there? They’ve all talked about how they’ve had good practices- just your sense of them.
“Really positive. Certainly there’s a level of disappointment and understanding that we need to do things to get better but they’ve been really positive, which is the same as it is every week. It was the same the week before that and three weeks before that I think that we had won. It’s just always about getting better, so I think that’s a cool thing about our approach and the guys have bought in to that.
“Regardless of what the outcome of the game is, the next week will transpire the exact same way regardless. It’s like Saturday is an isolated event. You might do different things to get better at certain things that did happen in the game, but a week of practice is a week of practice. I think when it starts changing on you is when you’re going to stink…eventually.”
What kind of spark did Jabrill give the offense in the Michigan State game?
“A lot. He’s so ridiculously explosive and gifted with the ball in his hand. It’s an exciting thing for us to have him involved.”
Is that something you had in your back pocket for a while and you were waiting to bring out, or did he need that time to kind of get up to speed with the offense?
“Probably a little bit of both. It seems like maybe you let the season unfold a bit and see how he fits in: is he going to play every snap on offense? Is he never going to play offense? How comfortable is he in the defense? Where is going to fit in there? I mean, you can’t start moving a guy around and try to ask too much. Then you end up getting less out of him, so that was above my pay grade.”
Can you answer this: how fatiguing it might be to play and be as involved as he is?
“I’d be tired. I don’t know. Certain guys- I mean, certain guys work really hard at their conditioning so they can go harder for longer than other people, so that’s a tremendous credit to him. I don’t know, maybe some of it’s biological, like they just have an aerobic capacity that’s head and shoulders above guys. He just seems to be able to do it and he loves to play, so he’s always- he always wants to do more: special teams, defense, offense, you name it.”
Wouldn’t it almost be impossible now that you see what he’s capable of on the offensive side of the ball the scale it back and not give him more?
“Uh…I don’t know that I’d say impossible. All things are possible. Yeah, I mean, you want to make sure you’re doing what’s best for the team, so if that means giving him the same or more opportunities we could do that.
“But, like I said, you’ve got to- he’s one of the best defensive players in the country, so you want to make sure you’re not disturbing that, getting too cute on everybody. We’ve got some really good players on offense, too.”
Were you aware of the two-Halloween-costume strategy growing up?
“Yeah, I never practiced that one but I heard it before. Actually, I’ve never seen it practiced but it’s a good one. I was a standard one-costume guy.”
Anything good? Did you dress up as your dad?
“No, I’m sure there’ll be enough people who do that. There’s some who do that every weekend anyway, so yeah, I probably won’t be one of those people.”