Huskies Insider Blog

Chris Petersen talks John Ross, Rutgers, Janarion Grant and more

By Christian Caple

Huskies coach Chris Petersen met with the media this afternoon for the final time before the Huskies’ 2016 season opener against Rutgers (11 a.m. Saturday). Here is what he said.

(Opening) “It’s time to play. We could practice another month and not make any progress. It’s time to play.”

(Players getting antsy?) “I think it’s like this every year. It comes to a point where you just gotta go out there. You’re not going to improve until you play a new opponent, someone that’s going to play a different speed than what we’ve been practicing at. It’s time. They’re excited. They’ve worked hard. It’s college football time.”

(Couple things you don’t know about your team until you see them in a game?) “There’s a lot of things because it’s brand-new. We haven’t played for a long time. One is the level that we’ll execute at. That’s the first thing. It’s one thing in practice to reload, back on the ball, something happens - it’s only practice. Second thing is, how hard and how well they compete. Teams are going to move the ball, teams are going to score points. How do we respond? All those things are really hard to simulate in practice. You need to play games.”

(How has the transition been on special teams from Choate to Gregory?) “We’ve all kind of been in this together for a long time. Coach Gregory’s been with us a long time and been a key part of what we do, not only defensively but on special teams. It’s good because everybody puts their own unique spin. They all have their own different teaching styles. When somebody new comes in it’s a healthy thing. You always got to keep that message fresh, and by having a new coach take over I think that adds some freshness to it.”

(Two experienced kickers to help) “We do. We have a new punter, which is something we’ve got to figure out. Kickers are hard to tell. It all looks good on the driving range out there and then you go play for real and, how did that happen? Cam Van Winkle, he’s kicked a lot of field goals and extra points for us and Tristan’s kicked off and he’s a good kicker as well. He hasn’t punted a whole bunch in live situations so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles it.”

(On Rutgers kick returner Janarion Grant) “They’ve got a phenomenal returner. And not only a returner, he’s just a really, really good player. So we have our hands full, without question, right out of the gate. But we told our guys, who we play, the league we play in, everybody has a really good kick returner. And so we’re starting the season business as usual, and got to pay close attention to him. that’s a hard thing, because it’s hard to practice live special teams a lot. When the bullets are flying for real, a guy that’s elusive and a strong runner, like he is, will challenge us right from the start.”

(Do you have a routine for getting in the game mindset on gameday?) “I think the coaches – you’re asking two different questions, routine and then game mindset. Practice is so important to us. That’s our gameday. The players, on Saturday, that’s their time to shine. We’re there to cheer ‘em on and make some adjustments and those type of things, but our day is Sunday through Friday, correcting mistakes and being on them. Our practices, we try to be very intense, very detail-oriented, but on Saturday, that’s the players’ day. They’ve got to go. We’re there to cheer them on and help them the best we can.”

(John Ross said he hopes you guys lose the coin toss so he can return the opening kickoff. Any thought to changing your strategy and choosing to receive if you win it?) “No, but I like his mentality, and that’s how it should be when you’re a guy who can make plays. You want the ball as soon as possible. And so either way, we’ll be fine. If we take the ball or we kick off, it can work fine for us.”

(On where the offensive line is at right now) “Hard to tell. Just a lot of practice. Like I said, I think we’ve been pleased with their attention to detail. I think they’re playing better as a group than they have. But it’ll be a good first test. I think one of the strengths that Rutgers has, one of their strengths is their D-line. So again, they’re going to be tested right out of the gate, and it’s time for that.”

(On Dante Pettis and John Ross as the returners) “Yeah. John Ross is, as we all know, real explosive. He’s like their number one (Janarion Grant). We’ve got two number ones that need the ball in their hand on both sides of the field. That will be interesting. Dante (Pettis) to me is an athletic, kind of acrobatic type player. But the reason he’s our punt returner is he’s a really solid, really good decision maker. I think kick returners and punt returners are completely different. There’s a lot of guys running down at you at once; you have split seconds to make decisions, where that’s not the same on kickoffs. We trust Dante a lot to make great decisions for us.”

(What’s going to give you a sense early in warmup that’s going to show your guys are dialed in?) “I don’t know. That’s probably the main thing is you don’t want to hyped up, but I think warmups are overrated. I see guys come up and they act like their going to be world beaters and don’t do anything. I see other guys kind of lay in the weeds and you’re thinking ‘are these guys ready?’ And they come out and they’re just focused and dialed and play. Hopefully the energy level is under control, we get warmed up - I wish warmups were about five minutes - and we just go out there and play. But we have to take about an hour to go through that and then we play. I don’t know. I think energy level is important to manage this first game for sure, but we’re not there to win warmups.”

(Have you found any correlation on what it takes to get started?) “We’ll find out. We’d like to get out to a good start. So would Rutgers. There will be some adjustment period, because they’re going to lineup a little different than maybe we anticipated. The hitting and intensity is going to be different. There’s an adjustment period probably on the offensive side of the ball to get in sync. The line has to fit blocks together and figure out how they come off the ball. Are they charging? Are they coming off stronger than we anticipated? All those little things, it does take a little bit of time to get in a rhythm.”

(On watching film of Rutgers, Ohio State and Houston) “Yes. In fact, we also were watching Rutgers vs. Ohio State and it was like, wait who are we looking at here? Are we looking at their players? Are we looking at their scheme? They knew who they were looking at, but it’s all that. The first games are always like that. Like I’ve said before, the last four or five years somebody (on the opposing staff) has been new — usually a coordinator or two coordinators. It’s never been like everybody’s back intact. So we’ve had to work at this for the last few years.”

(What does Rutgers do offensively?) “They’re a power-spread, we anticipate. A power-spread team. They go fast and get in unbalanced-type formations and try to get you not lined up correctly. It’s a little bit unique. I don’t know if anyone in our league is exactly like this — nobody’s exactly like anybody. They are a go-fast, spread-type team that can run the football.”

(Other than getting the win, what would you quality as a success in getting the season started?) “I think that’s a big part of it — is getting the win. I really do. There’s going to be a lot of things that turn out different than you think, so you know there’s going to be a lot of ‘How did that happen?’ type thing. So I think we’re into learning and improving from things we haven’t been able to recreate in practice, and so if we can get the win, execute at a high level for a good part of the game, clean up the things that we weren’t good at — I think that’s what we’re looking for.”

(Do you need to be cautious at all with Ross?) “No. When you’re playing guys, they gotta go play. There’s no such thing as kind-of in there. Sometimes you can limit guys’ reps or something like that. But when he goes — if they can’t play 100 percent full-speed, then they shouldn’t play.”