Lincoln - The Nebraska football team opened fall camp Wednesday morning, as many of the coaches and players met with the media for two hours inside Memorial Stadium. The annual media day kicked off the start of fall practice, as the Huskers conducted their first workout later Wednesday. Read what Head Coach Frank Solich, Offensive Coordinator Barney Cotton, Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini and Assistant Head Coach Turner Gill had to say about the upcoming season. In addition, HuskersNside subscribers can watch the entire press conference, which also featured several Husker players.
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Good morning. Yesterday, we had 104 players report. Darren DeLone is flying in today on a 2:00 flight from California. He finished up some academic work and will join us tomorrow.
When we look at the three stages of it, offense, defense and special teams, it is obvious that from the offensive side of it we have to throw the ball better. With that in mind, we have to protect better and in general we need better line play. We also feel that we need more production out of the I-back. Those are some of the things that we are going to work very hard to get in our 29 practices.
Defensively, we just need to be a better coordinated defense. I think that will help us in a lot of ways. Tackling is something that you always want to work on, so that will be a major emphasis as we go through fall camp.
We had an excellent special teams team last year, and we need to duplicate that. The problem with that is that we need to find someone to replace DeJuan (Groce) who was arguably the best punt return man in college football last year. You look at losing Josh Brown - our kicker, field goal and extra point man. Sandro (DeAngelis) and David Dyches will get all of the work in fall camp and we hope that from those two and Dale (Endorf) as well that someone will emerge and will be the kind of kicker that when the game is on the line will go out and get things done. So there are some holes to fill in the special teams area.
I feel very good about the attitude and the makeup of our team as well as our coaching staff, as we go into fall camp, and a lot of optimism in terms of what we are going to be all about. I think that is coming from the players and the coaches. The next month, leading up to the first game will be vital to us, only having 15 practices with this team and with this coaching staff in spring ball always makes you a little concerned when you are putting in a new system, both offensively and defensively. We made as much progress as we could in the spring and I feel good about what the players were able to accomplish in the summer.
On the new practice schedule:
It will have an effect on every program. There was some reasoning behind it, of course. We?ll abide by it. The first five days are one-a-day practices, we?ll go in sweats the first two days and half-pads the next two days and on the fifth day you are allowed to put on full pads, then you are allowed to go to a 2-1-2-1 format for the rest of fall camp. The problem with it is you are still trying to get in 29 practices, but you are not getting as many 2-a-day practices as you did with the old schedule. So, if you aren?t careful you are going find yourself practicing every day leading up to your game, and what you don?t want is to have a leg-weary, not fresh, not a great mental situation for your players when we open with Oklahoma State. There will be times when we adjust the schedule, but we have to get an awful lot of work done in a short period of time.
On the coordination of the defense:
We need 11 players playing football the way that we want them to, taking care of their position and playing as a unit. We feel that we?ve got talent on the defensive side of it. We have a football team that can run and a team that will hit you. If you get them running to the right place and hitting the right people, you stand a good chance of getting stuff done.
On the punt returners:
There?s about eight or nine guys that we will start off looking at. Cory Ross, Josh Davis, Kiffin Wigert, Mike McLaughlin are some of the players already on the team, Andy Birkel, Donald DeFrand, Titus Brothers and Adrian Turner are new guys that are coming into fall camp, so we?ll look at those guys. We really need to narrow that group down pretty quickly, so when their turn comes up they need to catch the ball and they need to run with it. From that, we?ll end up working with about three or four guys at the most who can help us.
On the freshmen who can come in and play:
I think it?s a great freshmen class. I?m really excited. I?m not going to mention any names, because there could be quite a few of these guys who surface and could play. Within the next two to three weeks it is going to be obvious who?s going to be able to help us and how quickly that they will be able to help us. There?s probably more in this group than any that we have had when I was head coach. You also look at the three junior college players, which is more than we have had for some time. You recruit a junior college player with the idea that they are mature and they can step on the field and give you some immediate help. You add to that the guys who are true freshmen who have the talent to play and we could have more young guys contributing then we have had for some time. That doesn?t mean that the group of athletes that we have already in the system are not talented athletes, it just means that I feel very strongly about this freshmen group and what they are all about.
On the quarterback situation:
Jammal will get the most snaps, of course, but we will try to come close to equally dividing it up among Mike (Stuntz) and Joe (Dailey), although Mike will get some time with 2?s and 1's, Joe will spend most of his time with the 2?s until things start to clear themselves up.
On true freshmen playing:
I think around the country, you are seeing four to five players contributing. You need to get your best talent on the field. As a coach, you need to be able to coach them in a manner that, although they are inexperienced, they can step on the field and play. That?s what coaching is all about, getting your players ready to play.
On getting the fullback involved:
We tried to get the fullback involved last year, but it didn?t quite materialize the way that we wanted it to. It?s kind of like the throwing game, if you are throwing 46 percent, do you want to throw the ball 40 times a game? If you are averaging 2.5 yards a carry, do you want to give the fullback 10 to 12 carries a game? We will be a more experienced offensive line, and I think that is going to pay big dividends in a lot of areas. One of those areas is the fullbacks being able to become a threat in our offense. There are very few I-back-oriented offenses where the fullback becomes a threat. Most of those guys are strictly blockers. We have very good fullbacks. Judd (Davies), of course, is a very experienced fullback, an excellent blocker, and an excellent runner. Steve Kriewald is coming off an ankle injury that hasn?t allowed him to play at the level he can play at. He had surgery and is healthy to the point where we are going to see an excellent football player in him. DeAnte Grixby, we moved him to the fullback spot, and that will give us a guy with great quickness, he can change direction. He?s tough and can block you. He?s not a big fullback, but he?s tough enough to get it done for you from the blocking aspect of it and will give us an excellent running threat. We hope to get the fullback involved in the offensive game.
On getting the passing involved in the offense:
We?d like to complete 55 percent plus. Ideally, you?d like to have it closer to 60 percent, but if we?re throwing the ball and completing 55 percent of our passes, we are going to be a very effective passing football team. As you know, we do use a fair amount of play-action passes, and you?d like to think that the percentage of those is a bit better than a drop-back passer in terms of completion, so we?ll mix those into it. I think that Jammal has another year of experience under his belt and I think that Mike and Joe can throw the ball and throw it well. We have excellent young receivers. I like what Barney is doing in the throwing aspect of the game and in the pass protection part of the game. We would like to throw the ball a little more, but don?t think that we aren?t going to run the football. We will run the football and we will slam it at people and slam it at people and slam it at people, but we?ll also try to mix in passes a little more.
On true freshmen offensive linemen learning the offense
I think it is a little less complicated, and from that angle a young player ought to be able to pick it up quicker. I think Barney, as Milt and Dan were, is an excellent line coach. If anyone is able to get players on the field quick, it would be a coach like Barney, as it was with Milt and Dan.
On the offensive line:
I like the way that Josh Sewell has come along at center. I think that proves what our walk-on program is all about. Josh had a great spring, I expect that you will see an outstanding center in Josh Sewell, and that?s a pivotal area of the offensive line and our offense. I think that you?ll see Richie Incognito have a great year. He?s ready to go physically, he?s excited about this season and we?re excited about Richie this season. We?ve got a bunch of other players with experience. You look at Dan Vili Waldrop who has trimmed down and will have more quickness than he has had in previous years. You look at Mike Erickson and Nick Povendo, these are guys who have experience. I feel very good about their capability. You always have to work on developing back-up players and I think we have the players who can develop. Injuries always play a factor, so you always work at trying to provide as much depth as you can.
On Quarterback Jammal Lord:
I think just the fact that now he is an experienced quarterback, he?s much more mature, he?s much more confident, he?s wanting to be a leader. Hardly anybody is wanting to run down to Kansas City to go to Big 12 Media Days. He wanted to go. He wanted to lead the pack, he couldn?t wait to get down there. I think that comes from him wanting to display himself as a leader on this team. When you look at first-year quarterbacks and what they do the next year, usually what you see is a much better quarterback, a much more polished quarterback. He spent the off-season up in our office on his own studying film, looking at playbooks, looking at opponents, doing the things necessary to be a great quarterback.
On the leaders on the team:
That remains to be seen. As a coach, you are always concerned about the leadership on your team. I think we have potentially great leaders on both sides of the ball as well as special teams. You?re not allowed to watch summer conditioning, so it is hard to see who is out there and who is leading and pushing the guys. That?s one of the reasons that we pick our captains as late as we do, the week before the opening game. That gives us a chance to see them come through fall camp and it gives the players a chance to see each other and select their captains. I think that we have a great group of guys who can lead this team and yet you have to have more than just a few individuals. You have to have a team, when you have guys willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the team, you get better.
On Joe Dailey and Jammal Lord:
Jammal has earned the starting job, but there will continue to be competition, and at every position. We will put the guys on the field who are getting get job done. Joe and Mike (Stuntz) will be thrown in that mix. You cannot discount what Jammal did for our team last year. He kept himself on the field last year, he took shot after shot and he came back play after play and made some big plays in the passing game, to the point where he showed the potential to turn into a very good thrower. He needs help from receivers running good routes and he needs some protection and those are some of the things that we are going to offer our quarterback this year.
On last year:
Last year is obviously on everybody?s mind. We need to have a football team that isn?t dwelling on last season. We need to have a team that is confident about what they are going to get done this season. We are building on that one day at a time. That?s one thing I learned from Tom (Osborne) is that you?d better not dwell too much on the past. It?s not good for you, it?s not good for the players and it?s not good for the organization. You?d better put your mind on what?s out in front of you. If you played good in the past, that?s great, but another game is coming up in front of you. If you lost, or in our case, you didn?t have the kind of season that you wanted to, you learn from that and you have to move on.
On Oklahoma State:
They are a talented football team. It?s obvious that they played well throughout most of last season, and at the end of the season when they won six of their last seven games and their bowl game. They are a confident football team, so we will have a team come in that will be an outstanding team that will be difficult to open against. But on the other side of it, we will be ready for that opener, and I think the fans will, so we are excited and looking forward to it.
On being unranked:
Nothing bugs me anymore. You really get that question no matter where you rank. If you are ranked at the top, how do you feel about that? If you aren?t, how do you feel about that? I really don't have any feelings about that. I just want to play great football and have us max out our potential. I want our team to look back at the end of the season and see what we have accomplished.
Goals are something that when you start to lay them out, to some degree you keep coming back to the same goals. Here, they have always been very lofty and they will remain that way. We have a confident group of athletes, and if your confidence was to be shaken, it would have happened this year, but they know that when that ball gets snapped, those 11 guys are going to be giving it all they?ve got and those guys on the sideline are going to be jumping up and down. We?ve got an enthusiastic group that has goals, with an intent of reaching their goals.
Pressure is always a part of college football these days, not matter where you are. You are under constant self-pressure to get things done at the level that you want to get them done at and to be the kind of coach that you want to be and have the teams you want. That?s the pressure that I have and it?s self-imposed. Beyond that I feel no pressure whatsoever. I've got a great deal of confidence in myself and in my staff and in my players. I have always been that type of coach and I will always be that type of coach.