CHICAGO — Big Ten Media Days have come and gone. And there's a lot to digest.
Later Saturday, we'll record a podcast featuring our reactions to the appearances of Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern players at McCormick Place, and we'll take a look at the top storylines from Friday. But first, let's get caught up on everything that happened after lunch.
In the morning session, Pat Fitzgerald spoke about the quarterback competition, the freshman and redshirt freshman classes, where he'll get explosive plays from, and Christian Jones' health. Fitzgerald spoke for about 30 minutes in all in the morning, and comprehensive notes are here.
Then came the afternoon session, in which Christian Jones, Nick VanHoose, and Dan Vitale all met the media, as did Fitzgerald once again. Short videos of all three, plus a slightly longer video of Fitzgerald, can be found here.
Here are the text versions of those videos, plus over 30 minutes worth of off-camera notes and quotes from Fitzgerald:
- Fitzgerald said the quarterback competition could be decided "internally" before the decision gets announced "externally."
- Fitzgerald had a lot of criticism for the current state of recruiting, some of which he has expressed in the past. Here's one interesting point on how early recruits are being pressured to commit (and how they are being pressured to take unofficial visits on their own dime before their official visits):
"That's whack to me. There's something wrong there. And it's definitely hurting the kid without the means. The kid that has money and can go jetset and travel around? Or gets caught by a shoe company and gets shuttled around? [He's fine]. But the kid without it, it's unfair to that kid and that family."
- Fitzgerald spoke at Jim Harbaugh's camp at Michigan in June. Fitzgerald said Harbaugh asked him to speak at it, but if his flight had been delayed, causing him to miss the Blackhawks game, he wouldn't have gone.
- Fitzgerald on recruiting: "I don't want anything to do with the [basketball] process. Talking to Chris [Collins] and Joe [McKeown, Northwestern's men's and women's basketball coaches], they're miserable. And they're only recruiting two a year. I look at them, and I'm like, ‘stop... try recruiting 24.'"
- Fitzgerald says the craziness of recruiting could see coaches potentially start jumping to the NFL. "You can't be a college coach unless you love recruiting," he said. "It's the lifeblood of your program. There could become a tipping point though. I've got a lot of close friends in the NFL, [and they say], ‘how's that recruiting nonsense going, buddy?'"
- Fitzgerald said Drew Smith was definitely a starter coming out of spring ball, but it's unclear where. "He's made a lot of plays in the nickel package, in the box. So I don't know, we'll see how that unfolds. I like Drew though. I think [defensive backs coach] Jerry Brown has got a nickname [for him], he calls him ‘Destructo' or something like that. He's pretty reckless."
- Here's what Fitzgerald had to say on the other outside linebacker spot: "I like what Jaylen Prater has done, I like what Joe Jones has done. Joe got married, and I think the pressure of all that stuff is off his shoulders. I like the things I'm seeing from Cam[eron Queiro] and Nate [Hall]. I like the things I'm seeing from Brett [Walsh], now that he's healthy. We have a lot of guys in that mix."
Fitzgerald says all those players are learning the outside linebacker positions. "The way [linebacker coach Randy Bates] teaches it, the middle position is kind of an anomaly. But you're going to learn SAM and WILL. You're going to learn both outside positions, because they're somewhat mirrored in our defense. And it's hard early on to learn two positions, but then you have position flexibility and multiplicity."
Could that last sentence be a hint that veterans like Jones and Prater are the favorites?
- Fitzgerald said C.J. Robbins is a starter at defensive tackle, and "after that, we'll see. I think we've got maybe 10 guys that I feel we can play with right now. And that's including getting [Tyler] Lancaster back. I really like where he's at. I really like what I've seen from Ben Oxley. I like it a lot. Another position I'm not going to be afraid to play young guys."
- Fitzgerald said he would much rather have media attention directed at him than players, and suggested two hashtags that fans could use to do that on Twitter: #DoThisFitz and #WTFitz
- Fitzgerald on all the Jim Harbaugh media hullabaloo: "I think he's embraced it and has fun with it. I think he goes home at night and laughs his ass off. I mean, I would."
- Fitzgerald gives the Vitale brothers and freshman Steven Reese a hard time about their long hair, but told them, "If you guys think you can meet girls, or whatever you want to do, with long hair, you go ahead and do it. But on gameday, we're going to have our hair up inside our helmet. But you're style and all that... if you want to look like Krusty the Clown, go ahead man."
- I asked Fitzgerald if Jack Mitchell is definitely the starting kicker. His response: "Yeah. Today." I asked if Mason [Weissenhofer] was competing with him. His response: "Who?" He later said, "Oh I've never seen that kid kick. I mean, I've seen him kick in high school, but he hasn't kicked in college yet." Fitzgerald said he'd look to somebody like Arthur Omilian or Matt Micucci before Weissenhofer.
- Fitzgerald on sports science: We do "a lot of it. It starts with Katie Knappenberger, our sports dietician. We've been working with the guys on campus on a comprehensive sleep study. That's evolved from armbands to monitors in the guys' beds. It's constant. It's continual. And it's going to continue to evolve."
Fitzgerald said the players have taken to the sleep monitoring: "If you do something, and you see success because of it, you're going to continue to do it, and be intrigued to do more."
- Fitzgerald said four starting positions on the offensive line are still up for grabs.
- Fitzgerald said it hasn't yet been decided whether Geoff Mogus will play left guard or left tackle, but said, "I think if we were practicing today, he'd be playing tackle."
- Fitzgerald confirmed he sees Miles Shuler as an outside receiver, but noted that they can "change the formation and move him around." Shuler spent most of spring ball playing outside.
"He's got good top end speed to blow the top of the defense off to give us some space," Fitzgerald said. "Last year, we didn't have anybody stretching the field, and now we've got people sitting all over us, and mugging the you-know-what out of us. So we've got to have some speed to make defenses play honest against us."
- The Big Ten has imposed new scheduling parameters on its members that will take effect once schools are free of current contracts. They require every Big Ten team to play nine conference games, three non-conference games, at least one of the three against a fellow Power Five school, and none against non-FBS teams. Here's Fitzgerald on the new rules:
"Do I agree? No. The way that we've structured that, we've tried to keep that [FCS] game in-state. And I think it's been really good for the kids that go to Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois, [Illinois State], Western, that are from Chicago or the Midwest, to play a Big Ten team. And especially for Chicago kids in their hometown.
"When you look at future scheduling, we're running out of inventory. We're kind of negotiating against each other for games, which makes no sense to me." Fitzgerald said he would've like the rule to require each school to play one 'academic comparable' Power Five team, one MAC team, and one FCS team.
- Fitzgerald on graduate transfers: "The intent of the rule was, if I'm at university X, and they don't have the graduate program, I'm going to transfer to University Y to go play that fifth year to get my graduate degree. The numbers of completion of graduation of those transfers is nonexistent. It's very, very low. So it's my understanding that the intent of why the rule is in place is not the true practice of the rule. So I would think that we probably want to look at the meaning behind that.
"We've had guys reach out and say, ‘I'm really interested in transferring for my fifth year.' And we say ‘great, you have to go through the graduate admissions process.' And that conversation did not continue... that's not the way it works at our place."
- Jones on his recovery from a torn ACL, and a second surgery during the spring on the same knee: "I'd say I'm getting close to 100. Very close. This process is very interesting because even when there's weeks off or days off, I have to keep building and I have to keep working on certain things that I've gotten used to doing."
- Jones recently won a FIFA tournament played on the Welsh-Ryan Arena video board. I challenged him to a game on Twitter, and he said he'd "destroy" me.
- Jones on the hardest part of coming back from the injury: "Confidence. Until you get used to running those routes and doing everything you do over and over again, it's hard to really get confidence back because you constantly think back to when you tore that ACL or did whatever you did to yourself."
- Jones said the mental aspect of recovery is more important than the physical aspect for him.
Teaser: Our Michael Odom will have a profile on Jones next week.
- VanHoose on whether or not this is the best secondary he's been a part of at Northwestern: "I want to say yes, but then again, I want to say no because losing Ibraheim [Campbell] is huge. [But] if [Godwin Igwebuike] can step up and show the leadership and work ethic as much as Ibraheim, then yes, I'd say it could possibly be." VanHoose did say it was definitely the deepest he's been a part of though.
- VanHoose ran through a few names of the younger members of the secondary and had rather generic compliments for them, but then singled out true freshman safety Jake Murray and compared him to Brian Peters. That's, um... high praise.
- VanHoose on the difference without Campbell: "Godwin will kind of look at me a little bit more for play-calling and what not, but I can't hold his hand forever, so I feel like he's gonna get his hands on the reins a little bit. He can always lean on Traveon."
- Vitale said he loves playing Iowa. Naturally, a reporter followed up with, "is that because Fitz hates Iowa?" Vitale's laugh and big grin was a good enough answer.
- Vitale on having younger brother Tommy, a true freshman, on the team: "I like to think I treat him just like everyone else. But I'll give him tips here and there.
- Dan noted that he and Tommy are the only set of brothers on the team that has one on either side of the ball. "The funny part about it is, if I beat him, it's just the senior beating up on the freshman. But if I get caught once, I'll probably never hear the end of it."
- Vitale on the different roles the superbacks occupy within the position: "Garrett is more of our true tight end — hand down on the line, trips formations, trey formations — but he's also a phenomenal athlete so they'll split him out as well. Jayme's more of a receiver-type superback. Never really a hand-down type of guy but he runs phenomenal routes, is a great pass-catcher. And then myself, I have to do a little bit of both but also being able to line up in the wing in the backfield, kind of like a fullback too. We all have our niche."