Inside the Locker Room: Spring Game

Melvin Gordon (Siker/14)

Following Wisconsin's annual spring game Saturday, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen and selected players addressed the media.

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Wisconsin Football

Gary Andersen (part one) -

Gary Andersen (part two) -

Kenzel Doe -

D.J. Gillins -

Melvin Gordon -

Tanner McEvoy -

Chikwe Obasih -

Derek Watt -

Warren Herring -

Andersen transcript

ANDERSEN: Appreciate you all being here. The weather held, which was a beautiful thing, and we got a lot of good reps in and looks like we stayed pretty healthy for the most part. That's a huge positive. We were looking for a few things. Execution overall was pretty clean from an offensive and defensive standpoint, and we'll go back and make the corrections that we need.

We talk about administrative penalties and things that you can avoid pre-snap, those were pretty good. We played a lot of young kids at the end. There were a couple snaps on the ground. Our second center was ill so he couldn't be out there, so Trent (Denlinger) had to come in and snap and all that stuff. But I thought when the ones and twos were in there, it was a good football game, had good pace. It was good to see Corey (Clement) and Melvin (Gordon) get in there and get some reps.

So, overall, mission accomplished. Proud of the way the kids handled spring, all 15 practices. I don't think we had a bunch of ups and downs. Some days were better than others, but they always are. But it was a good group. Now the challenge will be to continually move forward and get the right pieces of the puzzle in the right spots and make sure the kids stay fresh and excited about the game of football and prepared for summer conditioning and then obviously fall camp.

QUESTION: What were your impressions of Tanner's (McEvoy) day, and will you go into the fall thinking he and Joel (Stave) are sort of battling for the No. 1 spot?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, I would say we are exactly where we started spring, but now Tanner has some reps. When we walked into spring, it was more of a situation to where I thought Tanner deserved that opportunity and he wanted that opportunity, and he saw himself as a quarterback, and I think he's proven through spring that he's continually gotten better. He had a nice day today. He threw the ball well. He showed you what he can do with his feet.

There was a lot of the offense that you have with an athletic quarterback that we'll have with an athletic quarterback that did not show itself today. That's by design. And there's a lot of things that you can do to open it up if that's the direction, but we haven't spent that time in spring football on that stuff except for the last, you know, four or five practices. No need to work with that today.

But I'm proud of both quarterbacks. I'm proud of Joel. Joel fought like crazy. He's got an injury, and it's hard to deal with and we expect him to be better. He's got a great attitude, so does Tanner, and it will be a fight.

QUESTION: I know you just start to build your identity in the spring. Do you think you're closer to an identity on defense than offense right now, and what would that be do you think?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, I would think so, especially the last -- probably Thursday before the last scrimmage they kind of started to really kind of gel together. I think they looked at themselves, the defense has the capability and the speed to make some big plays. They want to be physical. Are they going to -- stopping the run is going to be the big question, and that will be the big question when that offensive line comes back in the fall and they're at full strength and Melvin and Corey are running more and Derek (Watt) is back at the fullback.

There's a lot of that stuff there that you don't see that much in the spring. They have to stop the run against us, and then the first opponent runs the ball really well, also, LSU.

A little bit early, but I think they've gained some confidence. They've got a little juice when they take the field, which I like, and the defense is a little bit ahead right now.

I'd say that the biggest reason is because there's a lot more injuries on the offensive side of the football or a lot more pieces of the puzzle that I don't allow to be there, two tailbacks that we all know are special. It changes, and you see it when we thud them up; the game changes once Melvin is in there and once Corey is in there, regardless of what offensive line is playing.

QUESTION: Warren (Herring) played end a lot. Is he going to play inside, outside, or can he play both? What's the plan for him?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, that's a great point. You guys don't miss anything, do you? He was pretty good. The ability to move Warren from the nose to the end is something that we will continue to work with in fall camp. It may be by package. The fact that Warren plays a zero and a nose, he can do that. He's proven he can do that. If we have some other nose guards and then he ends up being the best end, he's spent many years of his career playing in 3 technique, and the difference between a 3 technique and a 4-I is about six inches, so not a lot of difference that comes with that.

So he's a valuable player, and we need to make sure we get him on the field in the right spots, and Warren's challenge is to be prepared to play upwards of 60 snaps a game, so he's got to get himself in shape to be able to handle that.

QUESTION: I know Jack (Russell) missed a kick early, but were you pleased with the way he responded? I think he hit one from 41 and 30?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, he missed the one. It's good to get those kids in that situation. We've been fairly solid in the kicking game, and they don't get challenged a whole bunch in spring. The kicking game, their challenge was the cold weather kicking that they had while we were in the indoor early in the spring and they were outside in the cold weather. But I thought those kids have worked together. They take a lot of pride as a group, and Jack, he's hitting the ball pretty cleanly. It came off his foot a couple times pretty nice today. He missed the one, but he also had some very good things going, and I liked the snaps.

We seemed to be in good shape there as far as moving forward with the snappers and the holders, and we should be. We've got the same guys we've had in the past, so that's good to see that happening.

QUESTION: Given the injuries you mentioned on offense and then how you limited Gordon and Clement, how would you evaluate the progress of the offense overall this spring?

ANDERSEN: Well, I think the two tackles -- overall as an offense I believe we got better where we wanted to get better and where we had kind of highlighted to get better, and that was quickly the pass protection of both the starting tackles. It did improve, and they will continue to take great pride in that. We got Corey and Melvin both better at what we wanted to.

We kept them healthy, but they got better at pass protection, and I think that showed up today. They got better at the screen game. The screen game didn't pan out very good today, but it will, and it'll be a vital part, and they're better at what they're doing.

I think the offensive line as far as depth-wise, you've got Michael (Deiter), you've got Ray (Ball), they came in, you've got Trent (Denlinger), those kids all grew and developed and took a number of snaps and definitely got themselves in a better spot than they would have been if we'd have had 14 or 15 healthy offensive lineman.

At the wide receiver we've identified the problem. We know the problem. It's through injuries; it's not because of lack of work, it's not because of lack of want-to, and we've got to get players in here that can make plays at that position. Tight end we got better. Sam (Arneson) did what he did. He's a proven player. I think (Austin) Traylor got better every week, and Troy Fumagalli showed he can make plays, and (Eric) Steffes also was doing some nice things, with also Derek who played tight end, so our numbers are good.

I think the offense definitely made the strides that they needed in kind of a difficult spring for the kids and really for the coordinator and all the coaches.

QUESTION: Going back to Warren a little bit, has Arthur Goldberg's play allowed you to kind of move Warren over and experiment with him a little bit?

ANDERSEN: Yes, it has. It gives you a chance to -- you want to be able to look and say you've got two nose guards if Warren is not in the mix right there and he is playing, then you've got two nose guards with Bryce (Gilbert) and with Goldberg, and then you've got Jeremy coming in as a potential -- see where he sits as a young freshman. Jeremy (Patterson) has the size and he has the strength, and we'll see where he sits mentally and physically as a freshman. He'll be given an opportunity.

It's just a luxury; it's kind of like we're going to ask Warren to get outside and rush on the edges in some of those sub packages, and right now he's definitely our starting nose guard and he'll jog out there with the ones but we'll see how camp goes, and a lot of kids want to play in a lot of spots. Warren gets a big smile on his face when he's an end, so don't tell him he's an end please; just keep him at nose. Keep him humble.

QUESTION: Back to the wide receivers for a second, I thought (Rob) Wheelwright practiced Thursday but he did not play today. Was that injury related, and given how much work he needed this spring for the time he missed, is he behind a little bit where you guys would have hoped at this point?

ANDERSEN: Yes, yeah. It's from the injury that he's behind. Robert, his care factor and his dauber is down. He wants to get out there, and you're right, we put him in some limited thud scenarios on Thursday, and I believe if I remember right, even on Tuesday he was in some of those, and we just today -- it just wasn't the time to take a chance.

It's still the knee. He's not 100 percent yet, but we project him and expect him to be 100 percent before he goes home for the three-week break in the summer, and that needs to happen. If that doesn't happen, then we've done ourselves a real disservice, and it's got to happen because he needs to be on the field to get any better. Right now he's not anywhere close to coming in a game and playing for us. He hasn't taken any snaps.

QUESTION: Why was Bart Houston unable to mount a more serious challenge to the quarterback job?

ANDERSEN: You know, I don't know. I think as we go through, you look at Bart, they had a lot of opportunities, and it just -- Bart is a great kid. He battled through there, and you look at the evaluations and the throws and you look at the whole situation from skelly to normal drills to live drills to the ability to turn around and run the offense. I think there's a lot of communication that takes place between Andy (Ludwig) and all the quarterbacks, and it's just like anywhere else, any position. It's the way it went. Bart is a tremendous young man, he's a tremendous kid, but he's not in the fight right now for the starting quarterback position.

We'll see what that brings for the future, but he's a vital part to this program and will continue to be, and he's kept a good attitude. But there's a lot that goes into that as far as like any position battle with who's in first place, who's in second place I guess you could say. But we'll just keep moving down the lines, and those two kids are going to get most of the reps in the fall, those two being Tanner and obviously Joel.

QUESTION: When you think about what you saw from Tanner today and compare that to what you saw in August at quarterback, what are some of the biggest differences?

ANDERSEN: He carries himself like a quarterback. I think when he walked in here before, he carried himself like a quarterback that was absorbing a very difficult offense and new terminology. So much of the run checks that he has to handle and the demeanor that he carried himself with last August and the way he carries himself today is really completely different. You can always have the athleticism ability to throw the football, but you've got to fit within the system, and what I'm most proud about Tanner is he has fit himself in the system. He's getting the run checks down, he's understanding the play action throws, and he's definitely improved in that area.

He walks up to the huddle, he looks more comfortable, and I think the football team is more comfortable around him, similar to how they were with Joel walking in and saying, hey, this guy can get it done for us.

QUESTION: When you sat Joel down, how upset was he, and what's his timetable moving forward now?

ANDERSEN: It was really difficult for Joel. Like I said, I called him a week ago today and we talked about it, and I just felt -- I think he knows it's best, and he's such a competitor that it hurts him to not be out there. He knows that he's in a battle and he wants to be out there. I had a conversation where I was able to communicate with his mom and just kind of let her know that we had our worries about his shoulder at this point and we were going to try to be cautious and careful.

Joel cares a lot about this team and about football and about Wisconsin, but I think he's more worried about getting back right now more than anything else. He'll be fine. I believe when we walk back in here June 8th and we have our welcome-back barbecue that he'll tell me his shoulder feels very good. That's what I'm hopeful for.

QUESTION: Jeff Lewis no longer on the roster. What's the story there?

ANDERSEN: Jeff is -- I talked to Jeff a couple weeks ago in the weight room, and he has actually not been in the winter conditioning since we started school again. He's going to transfer, and he wants to play somewhere, and I'm in the process of helping him get to a spot where he wants to be able to go play football. That was decided really even before the bowl game. That's something he wants to do. He's going to get his degree, so I've allowed him to get to school, get his degree, allow him to work out and get himself in a position to transfer. He wants to play tailback, and I think he's a tremendous kid, and I need to give him that opportunity to go play tailback somewhere his senior year.

QUESTION: Kind of a big picture question. Last year you came in and had to deal with a large senior class to kind of bridge things. This year is a little bit different. Is this going to be a different challenge, a more significant challenge of you've got some of your guys but not all of your guys trying to replace those guys and try and keep things going?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, I don't really feel it's any different. You walk in, and what's different is we've all been together for a year. That makes it very different. But as far as the number of young kids on this team, it is a challenge to get young kids prepared to be in the moment when their bodies are already physically prepared to be able to play at this level, if that makes sense, and that's something that's coaching. So when I say that on the field, that's the challenge.

Off the field it's having the young kids, and when I say young, maybe a sophomore, maybe even sometimes a junior, that hasn't had to be in a leadership role because this team had 24, 25 seniors on it, and those kids have never been asked to be in a leadership situation in the huddle, in the locker room, in school one day. They've never had to do that, and they've kind of got policed by the older kids. That's the challenge is for those young kids to be able to police themselves, make sure they're doing the right things on and off the field, take care of their business, and if they're a vocal leader, be a vocal leader. If you're a leader by example, be a leader by example, and a couple kids have really jumped out: (Michael) Caputo, big Rob (Havenstein) have done an unbelievable job becoming leaders, and so has (Derek) Landisch, and that's where we need to be. You don't need 10 great leaders, you just need a couple good leaders and we've got them on each side of the ball, and that's definitely moving forward.

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