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Oct. 13, 2009
University Park, Pa.: -
Q. Sean Lee was scheduled to test his knee yesterday. I was wondering, how did he do? Has he received medical clearance to play?
He hasn't received medical clearance yet to play. But I watched him a little bit (on Monday). We told him take it easy. Ron Vanderlinden, who is his position coach, stuck him in a couple plays. Monday's not a tough day. We don't do a lot of hitting or anything like that. But it's a good day to break him in. And I think he came out of it okay. I'm anxious to see how he feels today when we go out there.
But it's still not a done deal. I'm not sure whether he's going to make it or not this Saturday. But, he's working like a dog trying to, so we'll see.
Q. From your point of view, is it harder to defend a passing game that primarily features one guy, like Minnesota does with Eric Decker, or a passing game that really spreads the ball around?
Well, you've always got to be aware of the superior wideouts such as Decker. Decker is a great football player. There's a great chemistry with him and the quarterback (Adam Weber). And the quarterback has so much confidence in him, he'll make throws to him that you ordinarily wouldn't make. You've got to know where he is all the time. If you don't, he'll catch seven, eight, 10 passes for a lot of yards and a couple scores. That's one thing.
But, it's hard. When you say one receiver as opposed to three good receivers, offensive line, kind of pass protection, handle certain blitzes, quarterback, can he read certain things when he's working with three receivers, it's just not that simple to answer that question.
I think each one of them, depending on the cast of characters, gives you problems. Decker gives you a problem. He's not the only guy. You know, that No. 11 (Troy Stoudemire) is a good football player and return guy....No. 5 (MarQueis Gray), they've got a couple other guys that can go catch the football. Fall asleep, (they will) throw the ball to the tight end.
In the clutch, it's a one-man show maybe, but it's not a one-man show the entire game. You can go overboard trying to cover Decker. They can hurt you other ways. So it's a combination. When you're dealing against a team that's as well-coached offensively and defensively as Minnesota is, then you've got to be available to handle a lot of different things, and one of them obviously, top of the list, would be, don't let Decker beat you.
Q. How has D'Anton Lynn handled himself this season, starting in his second year?
I think D'Anton Lynn is doing well. He's doing well. He got banged up a little bit. We didn't do much with him yesterday. But I think he's going to be okay today.
Q. Where are you at with the right tackle situation now injury-wise there? Who do you think will be the guy to go Saturday?
Well, I don't know whether (Nerraw) McCormack can go or not. He obviously didn't go Saturday. He didn't do much yesterday. And I'm doubtful whether he'll be able to go. But (Ako) Poti did a good job when he was in there. He did a good job. Now (DeOn'tae) Pannell is getting healthy. It looked like he didn't favor the ankle as much yesterday as he had been doing it. Pannell could have played Saturday, but he would not have been at a hundred percent.
I think we're working our way out of what has been a really delicate situation for us because we really were running out of people who could play offensive tackle. We moved up young (Mike) Farrell, who didn't play much. I think he only played 10 or 12 plays (vs. Eastern Illinois). But he's getting better. He's getting reps. He has a chance to be a good tackle eventually. If we had to play him tomorrow as a starter, he'd have his problems.
Q. Is Justin Brown your new punt returner? Can you talk about how he did on Saturday.
Well, I don't know whether he's our new punt returner. (Evan) Royster and (A.J.) Wallace and (Devon) Smith have been hurt. He's (Brown) back there. He's one of the guys that's working at returning punts, and he's done a good job of it. He's a good prospect. But he's a true freshman. We're going to play some tough games now. We're going to be in some games that there's an awful lot that will be based on one play here, one play there. We lost one of those games to Iowa when we got a little sloppy on punt coverage and they blocked the punt for a touchdown, turned the whole game around. And you watch Iowa runs a punt back the other night against Michigan all the way.
So the kicking game is important. Whether we want to stick Brown in there for every situation, we'll probably make that decision later in the week after we watch him work.
Q. I wanted to know after you got a chance to watch the films of the game Saturday how you felt Kevin Newsome did, good and bad?
I think Kevin did well. He's a very enthusiastic, emotional kid. He's got to get in the game and he's got to get a little bit more awareness of what's going on downfield in the pass game. But, let him run with the football, he can run. I don't particularly want him to run that much. I think if he can get to be a good passer, his ability to run will only help him; help the football team obviously.
I think he did well. For a guy with an awful lot of pressure on him, a lot of people expect him to be great. He's not there yet. He's got a ways to go. But I think overall I give him a plus.
Q. With all the players that have come and gone along the defensive line, can you talk about the role that Larry Johnson has played in maintaining the consistency and keeping the standards high at that position?
Larry does a great job. I don't think there's any question, there isn't anybody that does a better job in the country with the defensive line than Larry does, and would do whatever we asked him to do. He's a great recruiter. He does a great job helping with some of the kids who have some problems. He's a great fundamentalist. I mean, if you watch him in practice, he really does a great job, as do all our coaches. You're tired of hearing me say it, but the staff has been just great. Certainly Larry is one of the guys that does a super job.
Q. I believe you've played nine (eight) true freshmen this year. I have a general question about that and a specific question about one of them. Has your thinking changed about playing true freshmen with the early enrollees, all that kind of stuff? Also with Gerald Hodges, I noticed he played linebacker for the first time I think Saturday. What was your thinking there? Does that have any connection to Sean Lee's situation?
We think Hodges' future probably will be at linebacker, to answer that in a quick way. I think he's a big kid who likes to hit people, and he can play in space. Nowadays with all of the spreads that you're looking at, you've got to have a linebacker who can handle some of the offensive sets at that position, which basically takes a kid who is a pretty good athlete, who is close to being a strong safety. Hodges fits that bill. I think that's where his future will be. I think he'll be a very fine outside linebacker.
As far as playing freshmen, not playing true freshmen, I've played true freshmen for years. Jimmy Cefalo played (as a true freshman in 1974). Joel Coles played as a true freshmen. I think maybe even Mike Archie, some of those kids.
I think it's just a question, you prefer not to. As I've said a thousand times, I would prefer to play a kid two weeks too late than one day too soon. I hate to put a young kid into a situation where so much depends on each and every individual in there. Here is a true freshmen, never been in a lot of football games, doesn't understand the magnitude of a mistake. I've been reluctant to do that. I don't want to have them come back into the locker room and feel as if they lost the game. I don't want to do that.
I want them to play with confidence. I want them to have some excitement about playing. I want them to be enthusiastic about playing. I don't know whether you can do that until you're sure of what you're doing and you're confident and you look forward to playing.
Even though some of these freshmen give you the bravado of, "I'm ready, play me" kind of stuff, deep down in you know they're not ready. But when they're ready, we play them.
Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit about Bill Kenney and his coaching style?
Bill Kenney came here as a G.A. (graduate assistant). He had been a G.A. at Nebraska. Tom Osborne did not have a position on his staff at the time. Tom called me and said, "I've got a young coach who is looking around for a good G.A. position. I think he'd be great for you guys. I'd like to see him get situated in a program such as yours."
I said, "Well, Tom, send him up and we'll talk to him." I really felt Bill...if you're around Bill, you know what I'm talking about. Bill is a delightful person; very people-oriented and a heck of a football coach and a recruiter. He's done a great job for us. That's been a real plus. I hate to admit that about an Irish guy, but that's what you've got to do once in a while (laughter).
Q. Bowman and Lee have not been on the field together, except for a few plays in the season opener. How much more effective do you think the defense will be when they can finally get on the field and get healthy? Do you think maybe that situation has been a factor in not being able to get as many turnovers as you had wanted?
No, not really as far as the turnover problem. I think we've played good defense. I mean, I don't know what more you can expect. The one game we lost, they had a 28-yard drive, had the field goal, the blocked punt, intercepted a pass that was taken to the 28-yard-line. I think we've done a good job with the kids who have played. I wouldn't want to take away from their efforts.
I think Lee is a superior football player. If we could put him in there with Bowman, that would give us two kids that are really great outside people. With Josh Hull inside, we're fine. But, don't count your chickens yet. Sean Lee may not play a down this coming Saturday. We're just going to go along each day and see how he's doing. We're not going to take any chances with his future, the medical people aren't and I'm not. I keep telling him, "Take it easy, take it easy, Sean, don't overdo it. " I think it would be selfish on our part and foolish on his if he went in there when he's not...when he just doesn't feel like it's a hundred percent.
When he's a hundred percent, he and Bowman in there give us two really outstanding outside linebackers.
Q. Johnnie Troutman was on a little bit earlier today. He talked about how motivated he was to lose weight. He wasn't going to play until he got down to the weight he wanted. How many big guys through the years have been similarly motivated when you said, This is the weight you need to be to play.
You guys must think I've got one heck of a memory. Matt Millen is doing the game up here Saturday. I can still remember kicking Matt off the field. He probably doesn't remember, but I do. I don't know.
There's always been a guy that is a little heavy. When he tell him, "lose weight," he doesn't pay much attention to you. "I'm so good, I can play..." We just think that if the kid can't have stamina, he can't be as good as he should be if his body weight is over a certain percent for different positions. We don't expect the body weight to be the same for a defensive tackle as an offensive tackle, or as a tight end. We constantly measure body fat. We're not interested necessarily in how much they weigh.
In Troutman's case, Troutman was 28, 29 percent body fat. We wanted him down to about 22 percent. We wanted him down under 310 pounds. We thought he would be best at 305. He was fussing around with 325 pounds. (At) 325 he's a lousy football player. (At) 305 he has a chance to be a good one. He's not there yet, but he has a chance to be a good one.
Q. What is the status of Brandon Ware? Is he back to practice or not?
He came out there (Monday) with a green cross, which means that he can do certain things. But he didn't do anything. Don't look forward to Brandon Ware doing anything this year. He's way overweight. He's cutting classes, all right? Brandon Ware right now is in my doghouse and I have no plans to use Brandon Ware (this year).
Q. Halfway through the season, how would you rate Stephon Morris' progress as a true freshmen?
I think he's done really well.
Q. What is the status of Knowledge Timmons for this weekend?
Knowledge practiced yesterday. I'm anxious to see how he feels today. I think he's going to be fine.
Q. On the Timmons thing, what would your plans be to cover Decker? Will you try to rotate cornerbacks?
Why in God's name would I answer that in any way? You sound like a Minnesota assistant coach. "What are you going to do with Decker?" You know, I don't know. We may put four corners on him, all right, let everybody else run for touchdowns. I don't know what we're going to do yet. We've got to look at some things. It's Tuesday. We've had one practice. We had a long discussion this morning as to some of the things they do.
Minnesota gives you a lot of problems. You never see the same offense two weeks in a row with Minnesota. They're very, very innovative. They've got smart kids that can handle different formations, different pass routes each week. They have that experienced quarterback who is able to keep everything together.
So, I don't know what to expect. We've got to play our game. We can't guess. There's no question Decker is a guy that's a very big concern of ours. But they'll jam that ball down your throat if you're not careful. They can run the football. This is a good football team. This is a good football team.
Q. You alluded earlier that the Iowa game was the only one you played so far that came down to one or two plays. Have you learned things about your team in some of the lopsided games or do you still feel like you have a lot to learn about this team at this point?
I felt better yesterday at practice than I have for a while. I thought we had some kids that went out there with the idea that, you know, we've been through this now, and now we're about to head into six Big Ten games. I thought they practiced with a little bit more - it's only Tuesday and I may change my impression after a couple more days - but I got the impression kids understand what we're talking about, what it takes to be a really good football team. We have not been a really good football team. We have the prospects of being a really good football team, but we have not gotten there yet.
I thought last Saturday was a good situation for us, not necessarily for the kids who have some confidence in themselves, but the fact that we got some younger kids in the game and the morale of the whole team is a little bit better now because some of the kids that didn't get in, were just going through the hard part of football, which is the practice part of it, I think there was a little different attitude yesterday. I hope I'm right because I think they've looked at Minnesota tapes and they've realized what a good football team this one is.
I felt Minnesota could have beaten Wisconsin. When I looked at it, they put the ball on the ground a couple times, did some things. I think Wisconsin is a pretty good football team. But anyway, I think we're a little further along. I don't think we're there yet.
Q. Can you talk about the progress of your secondary overall?
I think our secondary has been good, solid. Hasn't come up with the football as often as I'd like to see them do it. They've made one or two mistakes. Two big passes on us, and that's about it. The rest of it's been pretty good. We've given and bended and all those kind of things that the commentators, words they like to use. We've not given up a lot of scores. But there again, we really haven't been tested.
I think this week -- I think we'll know a lot more after this week. Although, as I said, I'm encouraged at where we are right now, particularly with the attitude of the practice yesterday.
Q. Sixteen years in the Big Ten now, do you see more balance now than maybe when you first got in the league (1993)?
I'm not sure about that. I think the Big Ten has been a berated conference the last couple years because I think the SEC and some other people have done a little better job. The fact we don't have a playoff game, the fact that the Big Ten is out of the limelight for a long period of time. We play, we're over with, and I'm sitting watching the Atlantic Coast Conference play for a championship, the Big East....everybody else is playing. The TV people have to promote the game, "this big game between..," that happens and the whole bit. So we've kind of gotten pushed out.
We've lost a couple of bowl games, I realize that. But that doesn't answer your question. I know where you're coming from. I think it is a little bit more balanced. I think when we got in the league, there were two or three teams that seemed to be, they're the ones you've got to handle. Now it looks like there's more, like Minnesota. Purdue had their ups. We're not playing Purdue (this year), so I haven't looked at them very much. But, Illinois was in the Rose Bowl a couple years ago. Iowa, Kirk (Ferentz) has done a great job there in Iowa. I think there is a little bit more balance in the league. I think it's tougher. I think it's tougher than it was.
Now, I'm not sure about that. I'll have to go back and look at records and things like that. But from my viewpoint, I think the league's tougher now than it was then.
Q. The play clock malfunction last week, did that contribute to your delay of game?
Absolutely. It's the only one we had. The problem was, one of the judges was looking down here, all right? The clock was working. The other one was looking down here and the clock wasn't working. So when I said, "Hey, you guys fouled that up," it was too late.
No, I think there's no question about that.
Q. Could you talk about the significance and the progress that Josh Hull has made from a local kid, a walk-on, to his significance and role on the team?
I think what he's done is obvious. He came here as a walk-on, and I think we talked about this last week. He's worked hard. He's been a great, great person to have on your squad. Good leadership qualities. Great personal habits. Outstanding student, in a tough curriculum, engineering. A solid football player.
He plays hurt. He's durable. I should keep my mouth shut. But he's just been a heck of a guy to have around. A real asset to this program on and off the field.
Q. A lot of talk has been about the Minnesota offense. What do they do defensively that might cause problems Saturday?
They do a lot of things on defense. They're a very multiple type of defensive team. They do an awful lot of blitzing and things that keep you off balance. They change up a great deal. It's a team that's not going to stay in one position and you can say, "Okay, here's where we're going to get every down, we ought to just tie our offense down to half a dozen running plays, five or six pass plays." You can't do that with these guys. You've got to practice a lot of things because you don't know what you're going to get.
But they run well and they hustle. They're well-organized. Even with all the things they do, they know what they're doing. Sometimes you see a team do a lot of different things, but half the time there's one or two guys a little bit out of position, a little late doing what they're supposed to do. You don't see this with Minnesota. They're doing a heck of a job.
Q. What are you going to be looking for out of Sean (Lee) this week before you know whether he's playing or there's certain things that you're going to want to know that he can do?
He can do everything. It's just a question whether he can do it and stay healthy physically.
The decision will not be mine. The medical people and Sean will make that decision. If we play Sean, Sean is going to play as if he were not hurt. I would not play a youngster in a game as big as this and as tough a game as it's going to be, with as many things that are going to come at particularly a linebacker, would I play him and feel comfortable that I'm doing right by him unless he's a hundred percent.
He did some things yesterday. He's going to do a little bit more today. Maybe let him do a little hitting tomorrow, I don't know. I talk it over every day with the docs.
Q. The team is halfway through the season right now. Looking at the team halfway through, what part of the team or individuals have been a pleasant surprise to you, to the coaching staff, and maybe what part of the team hasn't quite performed to expectations?
Well, the latter part of your question, the second part of it, I would not point a finger at anybody. I think everybody has done a pretty good job. I'd be a little bit critical earlier in the year in some of our kick coverage. But even that, we've improved on that.
I think overall we've just made normal progress. You can't go do some things too fast where people are able to go a little faster, because if you do that, you leave some other people behind. When I say that, I mean other people at other positions. I don't necessarily mean depth. If you decide you want to do certain things with the pass game, you've got wideouts that can do it, a quarterback that can throw it, that's fine. Can you provide pass protection? Is your offensive line ready to handle some of the pass protection things you need when you throw the ball certain passes? So you go a little slower until the line can do some things in the pass protection area. Same thing running the football.
So, I think I'd be very reluctant to be critical. The only game we lost, we had five turnovers. That part I would be critical. That's the most disappointing part of the whole thing. Have a blocked punt from midfield, go all the way in for a touchdown, interception come down to your 28-yard-line, then fumble the ball after you get it back. Outside of that, I think these kids have done about as much as we can ask them to do.
Q. A lot of former players will be here this week for homecoming. Do you enjoy that, meeting some of those guys? Does it make for a more hectic week for you?
I wish I had more time to spend with them. It's hard for me to do that. It's harder now than it used to be because Friday the Big Ten (Network) has their Game Day show here. Saturday, you've got ESPN, ABC, I can never tell which one. Matt Millen is coming here with Sean McDonough, that crew is here. They want some time. They want to talk a little bit about some things. So you really don't have a lot of time to spend with the former players.
I hope they get together and they have a chance to reminisce a little bit and enjoy coming back, particularly with their families. But, I really don't get to spend the kind of time I'd like to with them. Even when the '59 team was honored here, 50 years ago they took us to the Liberty Bowl. I saw some of them. I wanted to go over Friday night when they were sitting around shooting the bull, telling a lot of lies about how good they were, I wanted to straighten them all out, I didn't have time. There were a lot of things going on. I don't get to spend as much time as I would like to with them, but I hope they enjoy themselves.
I doubt it. I tell you, he's got a great leg. But, gee, he's inconsistent. I mean, it's the same way with punting. He's a backup punter. Some days I'll go over and watch him punt, he kicks the devil out of the ball. The next one he'll shank. He's got to get over that because you don't know when he's going to shank it. But he's got a great leg and he's a good kid. He's intelligent, a heck of a student. You would think he would one of these days be a little bit more consistent.
When he's more consistent, then I think we can start to count on him. It was nice when we could get him in the game Saturday, get the feel of it, because we redshirted him last year.
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