Huskers Kick Off 2002 Season With Annual Media Day
Media Day 8/2/02
Head Coach Frank Solich
Opening Statement: We feel very good about getting started. We?re all excited, as a staff, to gather the players up and start moving forward with a group of players that we feel has excellent potential. We are so anxious to get working with them. As you know, 105 is the limit that you can start off with. That will enable us to get a great deal of reps, in a manner that we?re used to doing, in terms of at least getting two teams, both offensively and defensively. We?ll probably go through the first three or four days with at least three teams at three stations, but eventually we?ll be forced to go to two teams.
We like the makeup of this club in a lot of ways that have shown throughout the course of the off season. There?s a great deal of leadership with outstanding attitudes. We have a great mixture of guys returning with some experience and a lot of talented, young players that we?re excited about and looking forward to getting on the field and being a part of the great tradition of Nebraska football.
The way we finished up last year was not something that excited any of us. The way the team operated through the first 11 games, we were very proud of what (the team) got accomplished, but no one felt good about the way things ended up. I think (this year?s) football team will be coming back with a purpose. I think that was probably stated in their theme where they want to start strong and finish stronger. You can take that as a one game at a time theme or as an entire season theme. The whole key will be to play each game and play well for four quarters and then play a season of excellent football. As I look at those last two games (against Colorado and Miami), I don?t feel like there?s any residue there in terms of how the players feel about the ability of this team to be a great football team. There are no attitude problems holding over from the fact that we did lose the last two ballgames. I think there?s going to be an attitude of wanting to do an outstanding job from day one to the final game. That of course is going to be needed as you look at the conference, which is once again a very strong conference. In the coaches? poll, four teams from the Big 12 are rated in the top eight.
On whether the team will have to lean on the defensive line due to the inexperience of the offensive line:
When you really look at it, very early on, most teams hope to have a defensive football team that?s going to be able to produce some turnovers, give you good field position and help put some points on the board. In reality, if you?re going to be a good football team, you?d better have a good mixture of offense, defense and special teams. Even though we?re going to be young in the offensive line and at the quarterback spot, we expect to put points on the board. We expect to hold our end of this up on what we get accomplished offensively. I think the defensive coaches are excited about the potential of the defensive football team. We did look at adjusting a few things, scheme-wise, that defensively did seem to play out well in the spring. The defense was aggressive and they worked to produce some turnovers in the spring. If you look at our season, we were seventh in the Big 12 and, I believe, 55th in the country in turnover ratio. To get into a national championship game and to be that far down the ladder in turnover ratio says something about that team accomplishing quite a bit. We need to get that figure well adjusted. We need to be one of the better teams, not only in the Big 12 in terms of turnover ratio, but we need to be one of the better teams in the country. If we can accomplish that, then I think we?ll have the kind of ability to produce the kind of year that we?d all like to see.
On whether it?s surprising that experts are saying this year will be the beginning of the end for Nebraska:
I think that?s a pretty strong statement. I?m not really sure what it all means, and I?m not real sure who?s all saying it. I do know what our players are saying and that means a great deal to me. I do know what the coaches are saying and that means a great deal to me and I know what you (the media) are saying and that means a great deal to me. I think you take those kind of comments, and you?re going to find that those are projections by some people and some people are going to be right and there is going to be a bunch that are wrong. I don?t see this being a situation where this program is falling apart or where this program is will fall apart this year. I don?t have any real concern about that kind of a statement. It?s obvious if you look around the country, and you look at the great teams, teams right in our conference, in the Big 10, the SEC and on the West coast who have outstanding football programs that all of a sudden had a losing year, or had two losing seasons back to back. To say that that?s not impossible to have that happen for any team in the country, I don?t think I?d go as far as to say that. I will say this, I feel very good about this football team, the make-up and the chemistry of it. We?re excited about the year and we think it will be a good year.
On whether the expectations are damaging for the players:
If you hear something repeatedly, pretty soon you take note of it, but the players, I think, have a true understanding that we have a good make-up of athletes in this program and they?re anxious to continue the tradition and to get things done. I don?t see that any of this has had a negative effect on any of our players and so I?m not concerned about that. For everybody who says that Nebraska has gone downhill this year, there?s at least one or maybe more who are saying you?re crazy, that we?re not going to fall off the end of the earth. I don?t let that bother me. If you do let that bother you, you?re in for a lot of headaches in this profession and there are enough built-in headaches without trying to add to them by worrying about that kind of stuff.
On the I-back situation:
That?s a difficult task. You want to be fair, but you also want to get to the bottom of who the very best athletes are in that group and make sure they?re getting reps and that they?re getting on the field. We will use a multiple number of sets. Some of those sets will allow us, because of the quality of athletes there, to get more than one I-back on the field at a time. It could very well be two to three on occasion, but who those three are and how that will all work still has to play out a little bit. I don?t want you to misinterpret that, feeling that all of a sudden we?re going to come out in an offense that you?re not going to recognize, you?ll recognize it for the most part.
On whether the top spot at I-back is solidified:
There?s never a top spot that?s solidified. That?s the nature of this program. If you speak directly about the I-back position itself, you cannot throw away the fact that Dahrran Diedrick scored 15 touchdowns last year, and led the Big 12 in rushing. You can?t take those and just throw them aside and say they don?t count. He put the ball in the end zone on a lot of occasions and got a lot of yards that were needed, but that still is a position that we will continue to evaluate and we?ll make the proper decisions as to what should happen there. There?s no question we have confidence in Dahrran and I don?t want all the talk that?s out there surrounding that position to beat Dahrran up because he had a great season last year.
On how he?ll avoid the looking-over-the-shoulder mentality at the I-back position:
You don?t. If you?re an I-back, that?s built-in. You?re always looking over your shoulder because there?s always someone who can run the football. That?s part of being involved in that position. You accept that. Dahrran?s a great competitor and he?ll battle to keep that position.
On how the offense not centering around the quarterback will affect opponent?s scouting Nebraska:
Eric (Crouch) was an instant offense. We would have been remised if we had not utilized his talents. In utilizing his talents, and they were multiple, you had yourself an entire offense with him. Now, the good thing about it is, even though he?s gone, we?re able to utilize the skills of people at every position. It?ll be fun for everybody to see that develop during the course of the season. What that means in terms of point production, I don?t know. I?m not a person that gets extremely excited about any style of offense. I would accept any offense that puts points on the board. That?s what you hope everybody accepts because when you put points on the board, your offense if working. Our offense has done that to the tune of leading the Big 12 in scoring the last three years. When you lead the Big 12, it says that the offense that we had was fine. What kind of adjustments will be necessary now without Tracey (Wistrom), Eric (Crouch) and Toniu (Fonoti) will play out for us. If you look at teams around the country, if you look at Miami, they had a great running offense. I don?t know how many people recognized that, but I think the majority or you did. (Miami) could run the ball with the best of them. You look at Colorado in terms of their running offense, you look at Kansas State, who has gone to a running offense more than they ever have. You can go right down the line. Texas runs the ball extremely well. People understand that in order to have success in this league and in the country, you?d better be pretty multiple, but you probably want to start with the premise that if you can run the football around people, you probably want to do it. We?ll continue to run the football, but we hope that we?re flexible enough to utilize people and to do what it takes to put points on the board.
On the preseason polls:
We?re ranked eighth in the coaches? poll and I see that as being justified in a lot of ways. We did lose a Heisman Trophy winner in Eric and we?re going to have a young (offensive) line. All of that leads to not placing us at the very top. Miami?s number one in (the coaches? poll) and that?s how I voted them. They won the national championship last year and that?s pretty consistent with what I?ve done over the years is put the returning No. 1 team at No. 1 unless there are some factors that would prohibit you from doing that. Where you put the rest of the people in the Big 12 is kind of a mystery and I think it?s been a mystery to a lot of people. If you look at a lot of different polls, you see some with Oklahoma on top and some with Texas on top. You see other Big 12 teams right within the mix of the top 25, and the order is scrambled. There?s a lot of respect for the Big 12 conference in general, but how that?s going to play out I think what everybody?s saying is their guess. Where we fit into this thing, in terms of starting out, (eighth is) a great spot. If we take care of things, if we win football games, we?ll move up. In the end, it will all play itself out.
On Big 12 match-ups:
If you talk to any coach, they will not perceive a game as a gimme. There are teams out there that you?d better have a special handle on and you?ve got to look at ways in advance to try to get some things done (against those teams). There?s too much talent around the country on football teams that you cannot take a team for granted and that?s regardless of whether you?re playing at home or on the road. We?ll be prepared for every team, but we?ll also have an understanding of what it?s going to take to be in the running for the Big 12 (title).
On how he?s evolved as a head coach:
It?s been challenging, interesting and fun because I?m doing what I love. I?m around a lot of great players and great coaches. As I started, I could explain everything, in terms of football, to everyone who wanted to listen to me out there. I?m not sure I could do that anymore. In fact I know I don?t even want to do that anymore. I?ve moved away from trying to explain everything that I?m doing and why I?m doing it and why it makes sense to me and why it makes sense to the coaches. I stopped taking for granted that everyone out there has a great handle (on it) and that if you speak to them about it, they?ll understand it. I move forward with what I believe is right in terms of making decisions that is in the best interest of this program. I?ve learned to block things out, which is something that is very hard because I?ve always wanted to rebut. I?ve always wanted to come back with how I see things, but you?re wasting time and energy, and I?ve learned to try to keep some of that energy bottled up and to move it in the right direction.
On whether he?s a players? coach:
Only the players can answer that. I think some people feel a players? coach is someone who is pretty easy (on players), who doesn?t discipline them and doesn?t drive them. That?s not me. I would drive them and demand discipline. I guess it depends on what you mean by a players? coach. I think the players know that I love the game and love being out there with them. To a degree, if that?s being a players? coach, then I am.
On being comfortable with Quarterback Jammal Lord at quarterback:
Jammal (Lord) is very confident and he had that (confidence) in the middle of last year. How will it work for him, I don?t know. He?s certainly got a much better grasp on the offense. I think he?s developed into a much better thrower than when he first came here and even what he was in the middle of last season. I think he?s been progressing as a player. I?m more comfortable with him right now than I was in the middle of last season, but could he have gone in and could he have responded and played the way that he needed to make that team successful, I believe he could have.
On whether the games will dictate how much Jammal Lord plays this year:
He?ll need a lot of reps to feel at ease with everything, and we?ll make sure he gets those reps. It?ll depend on the score of the game, the situations involved and at some point in time we would like to develop some backup help at the quarterback spot.
On whether Jammal Lord will be exposed to full contact during practice:
No, he will not be exposed to full contact going into the first game. We protected Eric (Crouch) and it didn?t seem to hurt him in terms of how he responded in each game. We will protect Jammal in a similar manner that we did with Eric.
On whether Quarterback Curt Dukes will redshirt:
I don?t know what the odds are on that. You look at the two guys who are battling for the backup spot, Curt and Mike Stuntz, and you see two guys who are very capable, they just need time. That will play out, you just take it day by day. I don?t think we will have to make that decision until the season, whether one of them redshirts or neither do. Ideally, you?d like to have only one of them use up a year of eligibility.
On Nebraska?s schedule:
I don?t see a problem with the length of the schedule unless we are hit with a rash of injuries or at several key spots. But that can happen to you at any time. Sometimes, through the course of a season, you may be banged up and it could be a third of a way into the season and then two-thirds of the way into it, you are a healthy football team again and it turns out okay for you. I know we have had teams who would have been able to handle a 15-game schedule. Weather this team will be that sort of team, I can?t be for certain, but our indications are that they have that kind of drive and attitude.
On this year?s running backs compared to the running backs of the mid-90?s:
When I was the running backs coach, we had several instances of having multiple backs who could step on the field for you and get it done. That can be hard on the backs, on the running backs coach and the head coach. We have been fortunate at Nebraska, and we have had guys who are very team oriented and have put the team first. I am sure that will be the case with these running backs, as I am sure it will be at other positions where we have a lot of guys. We need to have team unity and team togetherness to get it to work. You look at Colorado and they have four top running backs, so that kind of a situation can work very well. I do know that you don?t want to get caught short at the running back position, if someone gets hurt your chances go down the hill pretty quickly.
On Arizona State:
They are a very physical and aggressive football team and one that is excited. I do believe that their new coaching staff has moved that team forward. Their attitude is great. I believe that they are similar to us in a number of ways in that they are a very good defensive football team. They have a lot of talent coming back. They are going to be starting a new quarterback, with a young offensive line. So that is similar to us in those ways. It should be a very good football game.
On whether some of the current I-Backs will move to different positions:
Most of them are I-back type of guys. It?s tough to make a lot of major moves. None of them have said, ?Coach, how about looking at me at another spot?. There are a couple of guys who could maybe fit as both an I-back and a fullback position, but they are all where they really want to be.
On players not on the 105-man roster:
Part of the 105 just comes back from trying to provide depth at every position and having your best chance of practicing and surviving two-a-days. That doesn?t necessarily mean that you have the best 105 football players on campus at that time. Tim Green will not be a part of the 105 because of back problems that he has been experiencing, he?s doing well, but just recently had his back flare up. We?ll see what that means when we get him back. Another player that I might mention, Tony Tata is back in Hawaii and there have been some extreme problems back home and Tony felt that he needed to be home and with his mother. We have had great communication and appreciate that. He struggled coming off knee surgery and wasn?t full-speed at spring ball and that was a little tough on him. He has one more year left and he plans on finishing up. What his future plans are, I don?t know. It depends on what happens with his leg if he can apply for a sixth year, but right now, I?m not sure.
Defensive Coordinator Craig Bohl ?
I feel like our players made great progress this last spring, and they have dedicated themselves to off-season conditioning because we felt the need to get stronger at a lot of different positions. So spring went well and we are really encouraged for the players coming back. We are healthy. Every year is different, but we feel that we have the makings to be a very solid, even excellent defense this year.
On which areas are strong and which are thin:
Without question, we are deep in our interior defensive line. There are a lot of guys who have strength up front. Chris Kelsay and Demoine Adams have both put on some weight, and we have a lot of depth behind those guys. That has to be the real strength of our defense. We have an inexperienced linebacker crew, but we feel like we have some good ability there and the secondary we have several new faces there. We have an outstanding returning right corner in DeJuan Groce and on the other side we have a battle between Pat Ricketts and Lornell McPherson.
On Will linebacker Demorrio Williams:
In the spring, Demorrio showed that he has the ability to make a lot of plays. He has great instincts and a great desire to get to the football. He?s added 10 solid pounds over the course of the summer and that is going to help him. I think it gives us a guy at the Will linebacker position who is protected a lot. That really helps us. T.J. Hollowell is another guy at that position who didn?t play spring ball but is healthy now that played most of last year with a bad shoulder. That position ahs to be an impact position for us.
On Seppo Evwaraye:
He worked very hard this summer, and his conditioning is better. Playing defensive line is a hard position, you don?t have a lot of guys who can play the whole game there. He?s working hard. I don?t think he?s going to be playing 16 straight plays, but he has definitely improved on where he came in as a freshman.
On the defense?s zone coverage:
Every year is different. Last year we really relied on two great corners, Keyuo Craver and DeJuan Groce. We don?t have the experience on the one side this year, plus we feel like we need to come up with a few more tipped balls and interceptions. To say that we will drastically change and that you will see a bend-but-not-break defense out of us is not accurate. We will still challenge and play hard. We did diversify during the spring and every year you feel that you can do better. We felt that we were too dependent on man-to-man coverage last year and we will try some more zone this year.
On the defensive line:
We are really optimistic about this year. If you are sitting up front, you are going to create a lot of havoc. I think that in today?s game, an up front defensive player can create as much of an impact as a quarterback because you can create so much havoc. You also don?t play with just four guys, you play with 8 or 12. Guys have dedicated themselves.
On criticism from last year:
As a coach, you isolate yourself from that. Many times coaches say that their hardest critics are themselves. And we have addressed things from last year. What happened last year is past history. This is a new year and new start for us. That has always been our approach.
On this year?s defensive line compared to the defensive line from the mid-90s:
You are looking at some unique players, but I think since that time, we are as well-positioned as we have ever been.
Rush End Chris Kelsay ?
On criticism from last year:
Everyone is using it as motivation. We have a bitter taste in our mouths from what happened, it is just something that we strived on this summer, to improve as a group and individually. We are keeping it in the back of our minds, and always use it to motivate us on a hot summer day. We all have our goals on what we can accomplish.
On how big his senior year is to him:
The defense we have doesn?t rely on just one or two people. My role as a leader is going to be important as well as the other seniors, but as far as me having a huge season, that?s the goal of our defense. In this day and age, one or two guys can?t control the game. It?s got to take 11 guys on both sides of the ball, we have to be on the same page.
On the strength of the defensive line:
I am pleased with how the front four played this spring, and looking forward to being a part of it this fall. It is going to be exciting.There is a lot of depth there and it is going to be a situation where there is going to be a lot of guys getting a lot of playing time. It will be a big part of our defense.
On missing spring ball:
It was more mental than anything. I got a little down because I was used to being out there with my teammates but it gave me a little time to rest. I?m just ready to get out there with my teammates and start another season.
On being ranked eighth:
I don?t put a lot of stock in that or pay attention to that. In some ways, I think it is better than being rated high. We just want to play for ourselves, our team and our program and the people of Nebraska, and not worry about being number one or two.
On the difference between his senior year and his freshman year:
I?ve kind of taken the approach that it is our team, the seniors. This is our last go-around. We have to walk the walk and talk the talk. If we don?t we are letting the entire program down. It is more of a leadership role and I think that all of the seniors are taking that approach.
Split End Wilson Thomas ?
On the progress and confidence of Jammal Lord:
Jammal has waited his turn. A lot of people questioned his abilities, but he had a Heisman Trophy winner in front of him. I have the utmost confidence in him. Jammal is a great player and a great athlete. He adds a different aspect to the game for us. He?s going through a lot of things. He?s gotten some criticism from the media and the fans and that offends me. They have no faith in him and he hasn?t had a chance to prove himself yet. I don?t think that?s fair.
On how he?s improved from last year:
I don?t know how my improvement is going to be measured to last season. I feel like I have done a lot of things to benefit myself and the team. Going into this season, I?ve gotten a little bit bigger and stronger and I think that will benefit me and the team.
Quarterback Jammal Lord ?
On unfair judgments toward his play:
Well, I came here to play football and have fun and take care of the ball.
On the offense:
I really can?t say, but I know it is going to be a Nebraska offense. Teams are going to put eight or nine guys in the box. To be a successful team, we are going to have to pass the ball a lot more.
On whether he?s anxious to start the season and prove himself:
I have been waiting a long time for this, and now my chance has come. I have to make the most of it.
On the inexperience of the offensive line:
The guys up front are some animals, in case you haven?t seen them. These guys up front
can get the job done, no matter who is in front of them.
On running and passing:
I enjoy it all. I just want to play.
On whether he wants to be considered a playmaker or quarterback:
That?s up to you guys, you decide that.
On Dahrran Diedrick and Thunder Collins:
That?s going to help a lot. I believe that Dahrran and Thunder are going to get a whole lot more carries than last year, and that is going to benefit them and the team.
On whether he?ll be nervous going into the first game:
I?ll probably be nervous until the first hit, then it will just go smooth.
On taking hits:
I?ve been hit enough through my life that when the game comes, I get hit, I get hit.
On Coach Solich:
Coach Solich is a wonderful guy. On the field and off the field, he?s a wonderful person.
Cornerback DeJuan Groce ?
On the loss of Erwin Swiney, Dion Booker and Keyuo Craver:
It?s hard to replace those guys, they were all great leaders. As far as the secondary, they were the leaders since I had been here. You know your role. There are a lot of guys who are going to step up and be leaders. We have a lot of depth.
On being ranked eighth:
Rankings don?t bother me. It?s where you end the year. It gives you room for improvement and something to shoot for.
I-Back Dahrran Diedrick ?
On being ready for the season:
I?m really excited for the season. When you get around the guys, you just get excited and get ready to get on the field.
On Jammal Lord:
I think Jammal is a great quarterback and is going to prove it too. All the guys on the team know it, he has proved it to us that he is a great quarterback. It is just going to take until the first game when he can prove to everyone else that he is a great quarterback. He has a job to do, and I have the confidence that he can get it done, so do the coaches and so does the rest of the team.
On his experience from a couple of years ago:
I had to learn to be patient, I knew that I was going to have a chance to perform.
On the new uniforms:
I really like them, especially the all white uniforms.