Minnesota Football: Coach Kill Meets Media
Minnesota Golden Gophers football coach Jerry Kill met with the media on August 25th in advance of their Week One preparations for the UNLV Runnin Rebels.
COACH KILL: Thanks for everybody being here on I guess on a Saturday. To us it’s not really a Saturday. We’re preparing for a Thursday night game, and looking forward to it. We’re looking forward to the season. Our kids have worked hard, all the way back from when we started in the off season in January until now.
We have a lot of new faces, a lot of new people, new team, so to speak, and we’re looking forward to going out to the desert and kind of seeing where we’re at.
And the only way you can tell where you’re at is you gotta go play. And we’re looking forward to it, and I know the kids are probably at a point where we’ve been hitting each other, and I think they’re looking forward to hitting somebody else. So with that I’ll take any questions.
Q. You gave the players yesterday off and you met as a coaching staff. What kind of went on in those meetings? What did you kind of discuss ‑‑
COACH KILL: Well, we talked about basically ‑‑ we met with the players yesterday, and from 4:30 to 6 we had the scouting report walk through offensively and defensively. We just got done with the kicking game. We spent, you know, I guess it would have been Thursday after we let them go, we discussed UNLV. We discussed what we’re going to do with them for the kicking game offensively and defensively.
We talked about our personnel, travel list, what we need to get done this week to get our kids ready, talked about different issues with different kids, what they need to do throughout the week and still have some competition going on, which I think is healthy.
If you look at USC back four or five years ago and the coach was there and that’s all they talked about was having that competition all the time. That makes you better.
But I think we’re looking forward to practice, and you know, kind of putting the execution part of what we need to do.
Q. How much have you seen and learned about your team throughout the fall camp? Is there still a little bit of an unknown going into an opening?
COACH KILL: I think we’re a huge unknown because we’re sitting here taking a very, very young team. I think on our travel list we have 12 seniors, so we’re a very young football team, you know, and a lot of kids that haven’t played a lot, and it’s, it’s similar really to a year ago in some aspects.
But again, I think the kids understand what we’re expecting. You know, any time like ‑‑ you know, you look at the defensive side of the ball and we’ll have a totally new, you know, with Vereen, Thompson and Wells, those three kids alone have never played safety in a college football game. I think they’ll do well. They’re prepared well. I think they’re excited.
But again, you never know what you have until you go play, because again, we don’t get preseason games to evaluate your kids. We have to evaluate it within yourselves a little bit.
Q. From a position standpoint, which group (indiscernible)?
COACH KILL: Well, I think we needed to help ourselves, you know, skill wise. Certainly receiver, we’re working with a pool of kids, you take Barker has really emerged and had a good camp. It’s the first time he’s been healthy since I’ve been here. He’s a good athlete. Tufts, we knew he could do some things and he’s continued to improve. Jones is coming off major surgery and he’s played receiver and he’s much more experienced going into this season than he was a year ago.
You know, Green has had some knee issues. He’s practiced, but we’re trying to get him healthy. I’m anxious to see how he performs today.
And then probably the thing that’s been exciting for us is Harbison, young man from North Carolina, true freshman, has had an outstanding camp and he can go get a football. Isaac Fruechte, coming off the spring, his improvement in the fall camp has been very good. McDonald has done some very, very good things; and Hutton has stepped up his game. So we’ve got a pool of seven, eight kids there. We can give a lot of looks and those type of things.
So I think we feel better about that position than we did going in after the spring. It was a concern, because we weren’t making a lot of plays out in the field in some of those things, but I think we’ve helped ourselves through the recruiting process and then some guys getting healthy.
Q. Across the board is your depth still a lot better where you’re at today than a year ago?
COACH KILL: Yeah, I do. I feel like there’s some depth there. It’s young, and I think probably the biggest and toughest thing is until you go play, you really ‑‑ some things will sort itself out. We’re going to have to play. We’re going to the desert. You look, it’s going to be 90 degrees. We’re going to have to be two deep in everywhere we go and they’re going to have to play and through that I think we’ll sort some things out from playing.
We tried to get as solid as two deep, and even with some guys that are in the third group that we’re going to have to have, and I think it’ll sort out, you know, kind of emergence of kids as we play. But that’s how young we are. But athletically and skill‑wise, I don’t think there’s any question that we’re better than we were a year ago.
Now, again, the experience of how they’re going to handle it. Are they going to be nervous and jump offsides or are they going to be confident and go play, and I’m certainly leaning towards the second part of it because we’ve had a good camp to this point. And we’ll see how they handle things. I’m hoping we’ll have some ‑‑ get our legs back and next few days will be real critical for us.
Q. You’ve coached a number of years. You’ve been in situations like this where you’re five, six days out from your first game. Have you generally felt like you knew five, six days out how your team was going to play or have you found that you’ve often been surprised by how the team has played?
COACH KILL: I don’t think you ever truly know. I mean I think every year, you know, you just finally go, hey, gotta get them out there and go play and see what you have. I think you maybe have a gut feeling sometimes.
You know, I think it’s anxious to see where you’re at, what you have, even with a good veteran team, you know, until you go play. Each year is different, and for us, we’re building a program, and this is our second year with one recruiting class, and so you know, we’re trying to take the next step forward.
And I’ve compared it a lot to Southern Illinois being there the first year and where we’re at. And right now we’ve got some good kids that have been a joy to work with. They’ve worked hard in camp. They’ve done what we’ve asked them to do. I’m excited for them, and I’m certainly ‑‑ you know, feel good about their preparation at this point in time. I feel like they’ve done everything we’ve asked. So I think the harder you prepare, the better you feel going into a game, so I think our preparation to this point has been good.
Now, again, we’re a few days out, and we’ll see how they continue as young people, how they handle it, but to this point they’ve done a real good job.
Q. Can you do anything special with the heat out there?
COACH KILL: You know, it’s hard. I mean, you know, this is a great place to be now, in Minnesota. So you know, we’ve had a few warm days, but nothing like you’re going to have out there. There’s no way you can prepare for something like that.
The thing you prepare for is a lot of depth, and the other part of it you gotta plan on playing a lot of kids; and then the third thing is how you take care of your body. You’ve gotta take care of your body. As I told the kids last night at the meeting, you gotta make sure you take in the fluids now. You can’t wait until Friday to start doing that. You gotta make sure you’re eating proper food and all those kind of things. Getting your rest. You need to get more than seven hours of sleep. You gotta get rested up and ready to go.
So again, we’re educating. We’ll have a lot of guys that have probably never been on a plane traveling as a team like that. So it’s an educational process of getting the kids ready for the first game, certainly when you play on the road. It’s different when you play at home. It’s a whole lot different, but when you’re loading up, going on the road, it’s a tough thing.
Q. And last year, didn’t MarQueis have a dehydration issue?
COACH KILL: Yeah, he did. We’ll take care of that. We’re going to make sure that we do everything we can. MarQueis sweats a ton, so we’ll have to make sure he takes plenty of fluid in. And we talked to him about that. We’ll work through that process.
Q. Can you talk about the progress of the quarterbacks?
COACH KILL: I think Max’s progress through camp was ‑‑ I’ll talk about all four of those kids really. Mitch Leidner has probably made as much progress as anybody. We’re going to redshirt Mitch at this point in time. But he’s probably made as much progress at this point in time. I’m really looking forward to his future.
Nelson had had the hamstring trouble and got off to a slow start, but he’s had an excellent camp here in the past week. And Max got off to a great start and got worn down a little through camp. So that’s kind of where we’re at.
We’ll travel Gray and Shortell and Nelson. And I think that each one of them have improved. You know, Max is throwing the ball very well. He bends much better than he did a year ago, runs much better. I’m looking forward to seeing him today because he’s given everything he’s got over the last two or three practices. He locked just worn out. So I’m looking forward to seeing him with fresh legs.
But I think they’ve all had a good camp. They really have, and I think we’re in a good position to be in where we’re at with those kids right now.
Q. How about being the night cap on day No. 1? Under the lights. Something special about that?
COACH KILL: Absolutely. It gives us an opportunity to excel. It’s going to help you in a lot of areas. You know, playing on Thursday night, being the opening to college football, all those things help and certainly in recruiting. Certainly throughout the country. And it does nothing but help the University of Minnesota.
And it’s not just about football. It’s about our university and our state. So I think it’s a great opportunity for us to represent. Our job is to go out and play well.
Q. Last year you said that it took a while for the guys to buy into your program. Do you think that they’ve already all bought in this entire season?
COACH KILL: You know, you’re never ‑‑ it don’t matter what business you run, you’re never going to get 100 percent of people ‑‑ I mean you try to get as many as you can, get that 80 percent, 80/20 or whatever you want to call it. But I would tell you this. Our kids have worked hard. They’ve done what we’ve asked them to do. I’ve said that several times, and I think probably a lot of it had to do with the diversity we had through the spring losing Jerry Tinsley and all the things these kids have gone through. The program. We added new kids into the program. You know, I think we’ve learned a lot about each other, and I think the kids have helped each other, and it’s made us a closer group.
Q. With so many positions would you say you are legitimately still open or uncertain about who will start next week?
COACH KILL: I think, you know, again, we feel in the offensive line, you know, we’ve got ten guys in there. You know, Olson’s at left tackle. Younger Olson is there at the guard. The sister between Mottla and Epping, what we’re going to do there. And right now we’re going to run Mottla today with the one. Epping will be with the ones that guard and Campion will be with the ones. Bush will be Campion’s backup. Bush is in there battling with Mottla what we would do in that situation. Jon Christenson will travel and Joe Bjorklund. So that kind of Mottla and Epping we’ve kind of been switching those guys in and out of there.
But that’s what we’ll work today. As the pool of receivers I mentioned according to what personnel grouping we’re in, we’ll utilize those receivers. And so we’ve got a lot of flexibility there.
Running back, the pool of running backs that we’ll work with today with a lot of reps will be because we could be in some 20 personnel is Kirk wood, Gillum and Maye and Wright. There’s some combinations that we’ll use in those groupings.
Tight end, I think if we’re in a tight end, Rabe and Goodger, our H, and Bisch has done a good job and could be a backup for Rabe right now and Henry can work in as the H back. That’s kind of where we’re kind of at offensively.
Defensively, you know, I mentioned the safeties. We got two young safeties in there, too, in Johnson and Travis that will travel, and we’ll see how things work out with them. They played very well.
And then at corner we’ll travel all six corners, and you know, certainly that has to do with the heat and the type of packages that we’ll put together according to what they do defensively.
I think that’s the big thing in football that’s changed so much from ten years ago is you’re matching personnel all the time. You watch NFL; they’re in nickel, dime, so you’re carrying a lot of defensive secondary guys. Stoudermire and Carter at the corners, but they’ve you’ve got Shabazz will have his role, Baltazar, Murray and Boddy will have their role according to what package they’re in. So we’ve got some depth, they’re young and inexperienced, but we feel good about the speed. And then up front I think pretty much what you’ve seen at camp in the linebacker.
Q. The linebacker position of Keanon and James, are they pretty much interchangeable?
COACH KILL: Yeah. I think you take Keanon and James, and you got Rallis and Hill and Reeves and Edwards, those guys are very interchangeable. And again, they’ll all, as we talked today, again, you don’t know how many snaps you’re going to be getting on defense. You hope not very many. But in a game where you’re getting a lot, or somebody’s still huddled, you have to stay fresh. And we feel very comfortable right now with those guys. Feel good about it.
Really feel good about the camp Fields had. He’s had double knee surgeries. About a week and a half ago he broke a bone in his hand, but he hasn’t missed a beat. He comes to practice, dresses out and plays. So he’s had a really good camp. And as a football coach you root for a kid that’s been through so much. So I’m looking forward to seeing him play and those kinds of things.
But that group of kids have done a real good job. They got good camaraderie. Again, according to nickel, dime, what they’re doing offensively in terms of what’s on the field. Passing situation, third down. Same with us offensively, third down, back. A lot of situations.
Q. Coach, you mentioned Murray, Maye, Harbison and Donald, those four freshmen will definitely not redshirt?
COACH KILL: Well, I’m looking at my list here. I’ve gotta be prepared. At receiver, Harbison and McDonald, we will travel them. We will play Harbison and are planning to play Andre, but we’ll see how that works out through today. But I mean a lot of it has to do with this week in practice, but we certainly are going to play Harbison.
We will play K.J. Maye at this point in time. You know, Antonio, Johnson and Travis are both true freshman and secondary. One of them probably will play. I can’t tell you which one. We’ll see how this goes. Eric Murray will play. Got some redshirt freshmen. I think true freshmen, that’s where we’re at. Again, you get in a game and you may find out something, and if a kid doesn’t play, then you can ‑‑ but right now Harbison’s on special teams and he’s going to play. Eric Murray is going to play. Antonio Johnson is going to play. Travis is going to play. And Andre and K.J. both earned opportunities to play.
COACH KILL: Not the skill position. We just don’t have the depth. If we had the depth we may do something different. We’re going to try to redshirt our big offensive linemen. That’s really out of a class of about 30‑some. That’s quite a few guys you’re trying to redshirt. That’s a huge redshirt class. Shoot, I’d redshirt them all if you could. But right now, I think you saw in the spring we thought we needed some play makers; and Donald, Harbison, Fruechte, KJ, Maye are guys that have been able to ‑‑ the guy that’s kind of stuck in there is Harbison. If he can stay healthy. This is the first time I’ve seen him healthy. He can really run and make plays. So that helped us in that position.
And then in secondary I knew the situation. You gotta think special teams, and those guys can help us on kickoffs and punts, things of that nature on punt coverage, punt returns, things of that nature that takes a little pressure off some of the older guys. So even if they’re not playing major minutes in a position, they can help in special teams.
Q. What do you feel like you’ll use in kicking field goals?
COACH KILL: I think in the situation right now on the punting thing we’ll continue to we’ve been working Schwerman, Mortell, Christian, and Orseske, those four kids. We put them in scrimmage situations. We’ve done a lot of things with them. Schwerman is our No. 1 holder. I can tell you that. He’s done a great job. And he can punt the football. That’s a good thing. Travel wise, that’s an important situation. But we won’t determine that ‑‑ and I’m just being honest with you.
Hell, you know, about Tuesday before we get on the bus or before we ‑‑ that’s when I’ll make that decision. But we’re going to have a couple scrimmage situations. That’s a critical decision for us, and you know, we let their legs ‑‑ gave them some time today. We’ll do some things with them, put them in some situations and try to make the right decision on what we do there. And kicking I’m really not worrying ‑‑ Wetts had a great end of the season. He’s had a great camp. Chris is healthy. He’s done a good job. We’ll need both of them before it’s all over. That part I’m not worried about.
Filkins is our No. 1 snapper. That’s still good. Ramlet has done a good job of making himself better. But we’re certainly not going to travel four punters, and we’ll see how that works out as we go. Schwerman’s an ace in the hole because he can hold it. That makes a difference when you’re traveling. That’s the advantage that he has. He’s an excellent holder also.
Q. Would you maybe use two different field goal kickers?
COACH KILL: I’ll do whatever it takes to win. Again, right now, as I told Chris, Wettstein came in, and did a good job and Chris has gotta come in and win that war. One of them may kick and one of them may kick field goals, you know, kickoff. One’s struggling. The other one ‑‑ you got some choices there.
Those are good things. Those are good things for coaches. They really are. When you don’t have nobody else to go to, that’s a problem. If Chris Hawthorne last year goes down and Jordan doesn’t come through, we’re in a lot of trouble. We don’t win a game. So I don’t look at that as an issue at all.
Q. You mentioned with all the practices that the players are ready to get out there and hit somebody else. You’ve been coaching for a long time. How about yourself? Are you ready to get out on the field, as well?
COACH KILL: To be honest with you, I enjoy the process. I like what we’ve been going through. I enjoy that more than anything, because I like the journey. I like the process. I like building a program. I like watching kids develop. I like watching kids turn into young men. And so I enjoy the process. I enjoy practice.
Maybe I’m one of the few. I enjoying the grinding of the day‑to‑day camp. That’s when you’re teaching and coaching. That’s when you’re getting all your work done. The game pretty much because of all the computers and all the stuff you got, the game pretty much is taken care of at the time you get there. Then they just gotta go play.
But this is the fun time. This is the preparation and then they just gotta go out and do it. Games are won or lost right now in the preparation part.
Q. Coach, having a quarterback that’s never played the game before, do you do anything special to try to disorient him?
COACH KILL: I think any time you got a quarterback like that, you want to keep him off balance and don’t want him to get comfortable. Keep him uncomfortable as much as you can.
But again, they got a quarterback also on their roster that’s playing. I’ve known Coach Hauck a long time. So I know he’s a good ball coach, and all the stuff that’s being said, you better be prepared for both of them, just not one of them. So we’ll prepare for both.
Q. What do you know about UNLV? What are you preparing for? What have you seen on tape?
COACH KILL: They’re a team that again, I’ve got a little bit of history with Coach Hauck in coaching against him before and those kind of things. And I know what kind of football coach he is. He’s doing the same type of thing we’re trying to do here, trying to turn around a program and create a positive culture and those kind of things.
So I know that defensively they’re going to be a group that’s going to play a lot of eight‑man front. They’re going to try to get eight in the box if they can. Quarters coverage, cover one. They’ll play a little bit of zero. They want to put pressure on you as much as they can, but you know, they don’t like ‑‑ he’s pretty good at not giving up the deep ball and keeping things in front of him. He’s got a defensive background, and they’ll be strong and they’ll run well.
I talked to him ‑‑ we were together in Arizona visiting each other at a function, and I talked to him quite a long time, and I think he really feels like ‑‑ he’s been there for two years; this is year three. This is where he feels like they can make a big jump. They’ve had some younger kids, feels like they’re starting to buy into what they’re doing, so I think he feels good about where they’re headed, and I think they feel much better about their defense.
And then offensively they got all their offensive line returning. What they’ve shown in the past is being a pistol offense. And that’s been their scheme. A lot of 12 personnel. They like using tight ends. The new offensive coordinator they hired likes using tight ends, and when he was at Montana they were underneath the center more. At UNLV he’s been in the gun, pistol more.
I would be surprised if he doesn’t flip back in there with the bigger freshman quarterback, get underneath the center a little bit. So the unknown in the first game is always an issue when you go play somebody. It’s just an issue. Because they haven’t played. There’s no tape. They’ve hired some different people, moved some people around. So you can’t prepare against ghosts. That’s the hard thing.
So it’s a little difficult when you play that first game. Much easier to prepare for the second game. At least you got some tape on them. The first game, I think that’s why coaches’ stomachs are rolling a little bit now, and get a little nervous because you just don’t know what the unexpected is going to be.
Q. Kind of frustrating to have to go on the road to open the season?
COACH KILL: I’m just glad we’re getting to play. Would I like to play them all at home? You bet. I mean opportunities ‑‑ when you play at home, your chances for winning are a lot better when you’re playing at home, certainly in the first game.
But we haven’t made a big deal. I think the bigger deal you make out of things, the more problems you have, and we’ve just really concentrated on, hey, we got a great opportunity. We’re playing Thursday night, on TV; opening up college football. It’s a great opportunity for our school and those kind of things.
We went out last year and played at USC, and you know, we didn’t really play very well in the first quarter, hung in that game, and at that time MarQueis was a rookie quarterback. And like I said, he cramped up in the arms, and you know, he struggled and then kind of settled in, and we hung in that game.
So I think the best part about it is I think for coaches and players, you gotta play that first game, whether you play it at home or on the road, you gotta find out where you’re at. Now if you had your druthers and your pick, there’s not a coach in America that wouldn’t want to open up at home, because you don’t have to travel.
Q. If you (indiscernible) to have a road game to open the season?
COACH KILL: Again, I don’t control all that. I requested that we’d like to play at home. I mean I don’t think there’s any question about that. I mean I think, again, we got a beautiful stadium. We’re trying to build a program. That’s what we’d done where I’d been before, at Southern Illinois. When we went into the third year, we played three out of the four opening ones at home. It got us over the hump. We did it. We adjusted some things at Northern.
So I think it helps you build a program, and again, you’re trying to create enthusiasm within your fans and things of that nature.
But I do know this. I’ve had a lot of phone calls. I think we’ve got a lot of people going out ‑‑ if you’re going to play one on the road there’s a lot of people enjoy Vegas. Besides football, there may be some out there right now as we speak and enjoying Las Vegas. Anything else?
Q. Will your players have a schedule every minute that they’re there considering it is Vegas?
COACH KILL: Yeah. We won’t stay on site. We won’t be downtown Vegas. That’s the one thing, even through two‑a‑day camp, even now we got them on a pretty tight schedule. Right before you got here we had a professional team. We kept them pretty regimented and we don’t allow them a lot of time because this is the time you can. This is the time we can within the NCAA rules, and then you get into school it gets tougher because they go right from practice and have classes.
It’s just different than the NFL. This is kind of the time where we can be a little bit like the NFL and we can get a lot done. And we do a lot more than just the football part of it. We’ve had a lot of speakers and people come in and talk about life lessons and all the problems there is in society and so forth. We try to do that during this period of time. So we’ve kept their schedules awful heavy, which has been good and they’ve handled it well. Thank you. Appreciate it.