As is a game week tradition, Northwestern held a Monday press conference in anticipation for Saturday’s opener against Nevada. Pat Fitzgerald fielded questions from the media, mostly about his newly released Week 1 depth chart, while the 2017 team captains took the podium right after him. Here are Aug. 28’s press conference notes.
Fitzgerald began by talking about Darren Rovell, this week’s honorary captain: “He’s a great friend of mine, great friend of the program. It’s hard to find a more passionate Wildcat fan...he’s definitely in the top 10.”
After praising the 4 captains that talked after him, Fitzgerald moved on to Nevada: “They’ve got a huge advantage against us. New coach, new coordinators, they obviously know a lot more about us than we know about them.”
Next, he was asked about the true freshmen (Rashawn Slater, Samdup Miller, Blake Gallagher and Charlie Kuhbander) who made the two-deep: “They had a great summer and came in ready to compete...I think there’s more than that that are close, not only true freshmen but redshirt freshmen. It’s a long season, and we’ll see how it progresses.”
He raved about Thorson’s improvement: “It’s night and day...there’s no doubt this is his offense, this is his team.”
After that, he moved to the subject of the offensive line: "This isn’t something where you set a depth chart and say ‘I’m done’...That competition is going to be ongoing, and we need to get the right five guys out there every snap, and I think there’s a lot of guys in that mix.”
On Kuhbander: “We’ve put Charlie through a lot of things during camp, trying to create crowd noise and distractions and things of that nature, and he’s been really consistent...I was really impressed with the way he handled things here through training camp.”
Fitz named and praised Kyle Queiro, Montre Hartage, Godwin Igwebuike, Keith Watkins (mentioning the long time he has spent away from the field), Jared McGee and Marcus McShepard after a question about the secondary.
Next, he talked up the competitive depth of both the receivers and the defensive front 7 before specifically mentioning second-team linebackers Warren Long and Blake Gallagher: “[I] thought Warren Long really meshed well this summer and really transitioned well into linebacker, and I think his confidence is where it was when he left running back...And then Blake Gallagher has really proven that he can play at this level as a true freshman.”
On Fred Wyatt, a first-time starter this year: “He’s earned that role this entire offseason. He’s a guy who has a great football pedigree... [he’s] battled injuries early in his career, and now to see him get an opportunity to get out there and start. You look back to what we were able to accomplish with moving CJ [Robbins] to the outside, we really got a lot out of that. We talked to Fred about embracing that role during the offseason and he’s really done a good job with it.”
Fitzgerald on the program as a whole: “I think we’re in a great place on the field, but we haven’t won a championship. And that’s the driving force. We’ve been close...but to get over that next hurdle is the next step for the program.”
On this team: “This group, they’ve shown a lot of focus. I’ve liked their discipline in practice. I can’t think to one day this camp where I’ve had to be a leader. They’ve handled that, and I think it’s a product of their experiences.”
Fitz wanted to make sure everybody knows that the depth chart is always up for changes over the course of the week.
Then, he took an opportunity to praise the Miller brothers, who are listed next to each other on the two-deep as second-team defensive tackles.
Fitz on the disaster in Houston: “Our thoughts and prayers are with those communities. To me, what’s been really cool to watch is that whole region of the country coming together. When we pop on social media today and see people trying to rip our society apart, to see that type of camaraderie and love and willingness to help those in need in your neighborhood is inspiring to me.”
Clayton Thorson, Justin Jackson, Tyler Lancaster and Godwin Igwebuike
Thorson on last year’s struggles: “We did a great job responding to it, but we started 1-3. That didn’t set us up for the season we wanted to have. We were 7-6, which is not a very good record. We definitely use it as motivation because we don’t want to repeat it.”
Lancaster added on: “We changed up how we worked out. There was a lot of adversity that came at us in practice lately, making us run at random times. We weren’t ready for that last year. We just thought that we were gonna walk in and take it away. Now we gotta play [every game] like it’s our Super Bowl. And we understand that with the way we’ve been working.”
Lancaster on Jordan Thompson: “Me and Jordan are actually roommates right now...this offseason Jordan’s had an explosive camp. He just keeps working. It’s a battle of who can work harder between me and him. I get him in some aspects and he gets me in others, but we’re just constantly pushing each other.
Jackson deflected leadership talk: “We have so many leaders on this team. Off the top of my head I could name four, five, six other guys who deserve to be up here as well...As a senior it just means you have more urgency, everything else is pretty much the same.”
Igwebuike on the relationships between members of the secondary and the team as a whole: “With us, camaraderie goes far beyond the field...that’s what makes this team special, even more than in past years...Watch camp, watch practice, we’re all out there having fun.”
Thorson on the offensive line: “They’ve gotten a lot better. I think their mental toughness is something that has improved from last season. The coaches have been really pushing them...its been fun to watch, but at the same time you’re thinking ‘man, they’re killing ‘em’...it’s been good to see. Got a few new guys in there, as you guys saw. Got the utmost confidence in those guys and I think they’re ready for the game.”
Link to full video of Fitzgerald’s press conference: https://www.btn2go.com/game/pat-fitzgeral-press-conference-15