UW coach Chris Petersen addressed the media for his first Monday press conference of the regular season as the team prepares to play at Rutgers on Friday:
“Just a reminder, we get started on the injury thing. If a guy’s out for the season, we’ll talk about that. If he’s going to play for us, he’s week-to-week, day-to-day. So there’s no purpose in talking about that. If we have significant news I always try to tell you guys one way or another. We do have two guys that are out. David Ajamu, most of you guys know already, he broke his leg. He’s had surgery, so he won’t play this year. The other guy, John Turner has medically retired as well. That’s how football goes sometimes. I feel bad for Dave (David Ajamu). This team has a lot of respect for him. He’s been through some hard things in his life and he’s had a hard week. His apartment burned down, lost everything he owns. Two days later, he’s done playing football. But he’s had great spirit. We love that guy. He’s an inspiration to us. He’s got a great degree from the University of Washington and he’s going to be a successful guy, I know that. We have two guys that are not going to play in this game. One guy will miss the first game, is suspended for a violation of team rules, Azeem Victor. He won’t play in the first game. And then Austin Joyner will not play in the first two games. Other than that, we’re ready to roll.”
Austin Joyner’s absence is also a suspension?
“Yeah. Two games.”
Was that also a team rule?
How do you feel about the depth in the secondary now?
“I feel good. We have a lot of guys. The depth is not the issue. Experience. We’ll get that. Those kids are working hard and they’re getting better every day and every week. We get to that point where you have to go out there and see what we’ve got. But I’m excited to watch those guys compete. I’ve been proud of them. They work hard. They understand what’s going on. Still continue to play how we play.”
What do you know about your approach to season openers now?
“Yeah, I don’t know anything more now than I did then. You have to do what you do. You have to trust your rules. Every team has something that you haven’t really maybe worked a ton against. There will be a couple plays or blitzes that everybody’s got new on each side and you adjust on the run. I don’t think it’s anything new that hasn’t been going on for a long time. We’ve always had a, for whatever reason, a string of coordinators that seems like if we played somebody that was back for year to year to have tape on them, it was like ‘huh, what is this? We’re not used to this.’ It seems like at least there was always some change and so we’ve dealt with a lot and ready to go.”
How much does David Ajamu’s injury impact the three freshman tight ends and their playing time?
“Yeah. We may play one more. Yeah. We’re always looking to, like we say, this is such a long, hard process that goes quickly, that you have to live in the here and now. If a guy is like ready to help you, they want to play and so you play them. If they’re not quite ready or you have the depth, those type of things, then you hang onto them. We’re still looking at that at this point. Jacob Kizer has been here since winter and he’s done a nice job. He really has. I always say this. The tight end position is a really physical position. Those guys always get hurt. That’s what happens. They’re in there running routes and blocking 280 pound defensive ends and they’re right in the mix of everything at all times. You have to have some depth there. That usually means that a young guy or two will play. We went into this thing with our eyes wide open thinking, okay, those three kids have been around here for a while: Ajamu, Dissly, and Sample. We can’t just rely on those guys. Who are the next guys up? We’ve been looking at this before we even started”
What has true freshman tight end Cade Otton shown you so far?
“Yeah, he’s doing a good job. Again, tight end position being one of the harder positions to learn. There’s a lot those guys have to know. There really is. It’s different than o-line. They’re expected to block, and run block, and do all that stuff. They have shifts and motions, they have pass routes, pass protections. There’s just a ton on their plate. For a guy I always feel a little bit bad for those tight ends in this offense. When they come in as new guys it’s drinking out of a fire hose. But he’s a really sharp kid. He’s done a nice job. A lot of times you don’t give them everything if you’re going to play them. Give them little bits and pieces of it and kind of go from there.”
Does Austin Joyner’s suspension open up more playing time for the three true freshmen?
“That really hadn’t been a factor on our team at all. They’ve just been competing the whole time. That is what I like about these guys, they know this isn’t about somebody else. It’s about them just building skill, 24-7. That is the message when we recruit them, and if they are ready to play and they are good enough, it doesn’t matter who is around you. So all three of those freshmen had that mentality, and we are getting ready to play a game, but it’s not like we’ve had conversations with these guys. It’s not like. ‘OK, here we are.’ We have to practice to get better. That has been one of the things good teams in the past have done. They get that concept. It’s not like we are going out to sharpen the saw and get ready for the game. This is a long season. We have to get a lot better. These practices that we just had today, those kids walked off the field tired. And they’re going to walk off the field again tomorrow tired. And then we recover, and we recover and we get ready to go and go play the game. The games, a lot of times, are easier than the practices in terms of what we put them through.”
Has redshirting true freshmen now become the exception?
“I’ve said that a bunch. I think there’s a lot of people who think, ‘Old school thinking.’ It’s not necessarily the exception, but if guys are ready to play and they can help your team, then play them. A lot of them are much more advanced than years ago. The coaching is awesome. They lift weights year round. Some of these guys get specialized, which I don’t like. I don’t think that’s better for them. But they’re just more ready to play. And so you play them.”
How does this freshman class rank in terms of picking up the Coach Pete way?
“Similar to other classes. I’m always amazed when the guys are ready to play – first, physically; and then (two), mentally, can they handle what we throw at them; and three, emotionally, just the intensity of this whole thing. It doesn’t stop. That is what some of these guys don’t realize is coming – it is hard to catch your breath, especially when you get in the season. It’s like, you play the game, you start that intense preparation process right again. Then you factor in school here in a couple of weeks, it can be overwhelming. So I am always amazed when those kids play. They seem to be more advanced, some of these guys.”
What have you learned about new Rutgers quarterback Kyle Bolin?
“One thing I know is that Louisville (Bolin’s old school) always has quarterbacks. Bobby Petrino and those guys know what they are doing there. For this guy to be in the mix at Louisville, and then another guy (Lamar Jackson) came along who was pretty good – you know (Bolin) can throw. We’ve seen tape, this guy can play. So, that we know, that he has got really good skill. They wouldn’t be playing him if they didn’t think he made them better – a guy … who has been there such a short time. Obviously they think he’s got something to him as well or they wouldn’t be going that direction. He wasn’t there in spring an all of those things. It’s pretty impressive for a guy to walk in there and do that”
Will Rutgers offense be ‘massively’ different than last season?
“That is an interesting word, key word – "massively." I don’t know if it will be massively. I think it will be different. I do think it will be different. I know it will be different. They’ve got a new coordinator (Jerry Kill) that comes from a completely different background, for sure. And then another little wrinkle into it is the fact he hasn’t necessarily been the play caller and putting it all together for the last handful of years. Certainly he likes his style – his style in Minnesota – but still, it’s different. There’s a lot of unknowns. That offense is much different than it was last year, in terms of the quarterback, the running back, the wide receivers – and then they have got guys that played for them last year. They’ve upgraded, without question.”
Is it the same having a second of back to back games on the East Coast?
“I think it’s really different, just because we are there a much shorter time – but a little bit longer than if it was in the middle of the week type game, for sure. We’re still going in there to play a football game, and go over to 9-11 and Ground Zero and look at that. I think it is really important that we all do that. I am excited about that. I think this team, and this program, is mature enough to do that. We’ll focus in on that. And when that’s done, we’ll go back and focus on the game. And we’ll go play.”
Much of a recruiting base on East Coast?
“Not much. It is always about if there is a connection. It was kind of the same before. There will be somebody who know that has a strong interest or something. That is what we will pay attention to.”
Any benefit from playing in nation’s largest market near New York?
“I don’t really know. That’s a good question. I haven’t really thought about it like that. We’ll have a lot of people see us that maybe don’t normally see us. That can be unique and maybe open some doors.”
You like playing on a Friday after traveling cross-country?
“For sure. I’d prefer to play on a Thursday when you’ve got all this time in front of you and you can come back (earlier). The good thing is we’ll get back at 5 or 6 in the morning and so we can give the kids that day (Saturday) off and let them sleep and recover that way and go to a normal Sunday for us. We like to come back right away (from a typical road game) and put that game (behind us with a Sunday practice). But we’ll give them a day off and we’ll kind of flip that because of the travel. So it works good.”
What’s the mood of the team?
“You can feel it’s a little bit different. But I think that they’ve practiced well for the most part, so I don’t feel a tremendous amount of difference. It’s kind of business-like. They’re not super, jumping up and down out to that practice we just had. It’s different than the games, although we’re trying to recreate it as much as we can. … I think they’re excited: ‘OK, we finally get to go play.’”
When you have a relatively veteran group, do you have to do some things in practice to keep them off-balance?
“We’re still early enough that we’re not set in that routine, but I think we’re always paying close attention to staleness and boredom. That’s the classic example of, if you’re stale and a little bit bored, of you can work hard and nothing happens — there’s no improvement being made. So we’re continually — that’s my job, to monitor that and say, wait a minutes, we need to change this. And sometimes significantly. And that’s really hard. We’re creatures of habit and we’ve done it this way, but we pay attention to that as much as we can.”
The Pac-12 now has a centralized command center for replays … you a fan of that?
“I think we’re all kind of doing everything the same, and if makes the game better that’s fine. I mean, I’ve got to tell you I think they stop the game too much in college football as it is. They review every play as it is, and I think it’s too much. That’s just my two cents. I mean, they review stuff and get it wrong. Every single play seems to be looked at and it slows the game down. Everybody’s trying to figure out how to speed it up — well, that’s one way. Don’t look at every single play. But that’s my two cents.”
How much does that interrupt the flow?
“Between that and TV (timeouts), you know, when you’re stopping a lot — a lot. But it is what it is. We just get to the game, calls plays, do what they tell us to do.”
Any surprises with how program’s profile has risen since Peach Bowl?
“No. I’ve got to tell you. This is the honest-to-God’s truth: We kind of live in a bubble here. I don’t know a lot of stuff that’s being said. We pay attention to some things, or I get word of some things if it’s a big thing, but I don’t really know. We just kind of go about our business and I really want our kids to think that way as well. So I really haven’t been surprised by anything because we’re just back building a new team up. Last year was last year and there’s some things that we’re further along, just with how we practice and how we operate. But you’ve got enough new guys, always, that you’re trying to get them up to speed, so it never, ever feels like, ‘We got this.’ Those are like the three worst words a coach can hear: ‘I got ya." No, we don’t have it. We go back to Square One and start again.”
In hindsight, did the team do better than expected or as expected given the exceptions put on them by the end of the season?
“I just thought they handled their business like we wanted them to. They played hard every game. We got off to fast starts - in a lot of ways I didn’t like that as much because I think that’s easy to handle that. So maybe that’s what they are expected to do. The expectations going into this game is just that we play hard, and it’s going to be a hard-fought game that’s going to go down to the fourth quarter. That’s the expectations that these kids need to be focused on, nothing else, not what anybody else on the outside is saying. This program that we’re going to play is much improved. We’ve got to go across the country, completely different team, completely different environment. We’re not at home in Husky Stadium. The expectations are that it’s time to cut it loose, it’s time to go out and play and hopefully we can win the game at the end. That’s the expectations.”
Did Jimmy Lake really give you a ride to practice in his boat?
“What do you think? You think I superimposed pictures out there of somebody in a boat? I stole somebody’s else’s picture?” (smiles)
Did he let you drive?
“He did not let me drive. (laughs) He had me in the back where I belong, just enjoying the scenery.”
On David Ajamu losing his belongings in fire - where is he in terms of getting stuff back and will he stay with the team?
“He’s doing everything…we’re doing everything that we can do NCAA-wise and giving him as much money as we can and there’s some stuff that we can do as coaches and everything we’re clearing through compliance and we’re helping him as much as we can. It’s not good for him to just have surgery and then get on a plane for a five-hour plane ride, so that happened too close for us to be able to take him but he’ll be around and he’ll figure out what his next thing is. Everybody’s going to have to do that sooner or later. It just came a lot faster, but he’s got some time. I know this: Dave is going to be a successful guy. He really is. He’s just got great…he’s a smart guy, he’s got great charisma about him. I’m anxious to see what direction he’s going to go and help figure it out.”
How disappointed are you in Azeem’s suspension?
“Guys make mistakes, nobody’s perfect. It’s a mistake. The hard thing is, You’re in a public eye and it’s tough. Azeem’s a good guy. He is. Guys make mistakes and we have team standards and we live by them.”
On the evolution of Coaches Huff and Lubick and whether it still takes a few games for them to get fully integrated…
“They are all a part of it, but it does take a while. There’s a lot of nuances in terms of how we operate. Not so much even…plays are fine. We get to the game and the game plan, been though a lot of those type of things. But if you’ve never been around just how we operate, there’s a lot of little things that continually come up. I kind of always marvel at that, how long it takes. You assume stuff when you get your staff and you’ve been there and you get one guy and it’s like, he hasn’t seen this, he hasn’t been through this. Whether it’s how we warm up, how we travel or whatever. We haven’t traveled with him yet. There will be some subtle things that we do differently. That takes a year or two.”
Do you like the setup of having the main offensive coordinator up top and then having a co-OC on the field?
“We’ve always done it this way. Jonathan (Smith) calls the play, Jonathan is the final decision-maker at the end of the day. But it’s really a collaborative effort, on all sides of the ball, on all phases. There’s not one coach that sits there and says this is what we’re going to do. It’s really a great staff that can work together and everyone keeps their egos in check - which is such a key thing. We’re trying to make the Huskies better, not get their idea through. You have to have special people to do this the way we want it done. Titles to us or whatever…everybody matters. And if you can bring something to the table, whether you’re a graduate assistant or you’re a coordinator - we’re all ears. That’s really how we operate around here. The game plan is not any one guy that has all the answers. The run guys put a lot together, Jonathan has his fingers in everything…we all need to be able to help each other to get this thing done.”
Who starts in Azeem Victor’s place for Rutgers?
“We’ve got a bunch of guys, that’s the good thing, at those positions. I don’t even know who, we’ve been rotating so many different guys through there. I think we’ve got like, 10 guys or something that have played before. So all those other guys will get an opportunity.”
Will Victor or Joyner travel?