THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Kevin Wilson.
COACH WILSON: Great to be back in Chicago. A lot of great coaches, players walking the halls, but a lot of great media guys, a lot of awesome coverage for Big Ten and appreciate you guys covering us today.
We're excited. Coming out of last year, not the season we wanted. Maybe made some strides on paper. Maybe a little bit better record. But we got a great school, making a great commitment and we want to build a winning product and start getting the victories that we need.
The way you do that is with recruiting and do it with player development. Thought we had a really good winter. Everybody always says that, but just the energy, leadership, we've worked very hard with the group to kind of cultivate some internal leaders with our football team to take some ownership. So we got someâ€‘â€‘ a very positive energy as we're working hard.
One of our sayings when I first got there was we're going to have fun working hard. Our kids worked very, very hard in the winter. Gotten a lot stronger.
There wasn't one day in spring practice that I wanted it over. I thought we went through the motions. We're getting more physical. We have a lot of kids now that are going into their third year of playing because we played 16 freshmen two years ago, 11 freshmen last year.
We've got 19 starters back, guys, and that's 19 offense and defense. We've got our kickers back, our punters back. Our long snapper's a big time player and returners.
We've got a lot of guys back. We've got a great recruiting class and we're looking forward to getting started with our guys.
We've had 130 players on campus this summer training. We'll have 105 for preseason. We've got a walkâ€‘on program that's kind of growing as well. Very, very good recruiting class, and we're excited to see those young men. There's a lot of good energy with what's going on.
Personnelâ€‘wise with our guys, we're very, very healthy. Came out of spring with no legitimate injuries. And as we came off some minor things, we've got everyone full tilt and looking to be ready to go as we crank up practice next Friday.
Our freshmen will report on Wednesday, upperclassmen on Thursday. We'll crank it up on August2nd. But we've got, I think, again, very much more mature team.
A lot of guys back. A lot of positive energy, and a very, very healthy team. We're unsettled at quarterback. Got three guys in a dead heat. It's not because I don't think we've got a good player. We've got three guys that are all very unique, can manage us. Haven't seen someone separate through spring. I don't know if anyone had any particularly horrible days. I think we can look at some stat days and say: This guy's stats were better or worse.
But I thought we had a very, very healthy competition. Those guys are great teammates, great leaders, all three of them. I think they're all capable of winning.
I'd love to see one emerge. The reason I don't have a quarterback here is because I'm not sure which one it is. If I did, I would have all three of those guys representing us because they're three great leaders. Until I know which one is going to be our leader, I wasn't going to anoint someone. They're going to earn it on the field.
Some depth at running back. Tevin Coleman out of Chicagoland, guy's a freshman, giving our returning starter a battle. Some quality receivers I think that can make some plays. Outstanding player tight end. I think our offensive line is extremely undervalued in this league. I think we've got one young man, for doubt, that will be a phenomenal player through his college and next year. And we have got four or five guys that are going to be upper level Big Ten players. We'll have a good offensive line.
Defensively, a lot of guys back. Lost two deep tackles. We're going to be a little young inside, but I think more talented. We have to make significant strides defensively. Quite honestly, it's been embarrassing about how we played in our first two years. So our effort, toughness, needs to be better.
I think that's going to increase because we did recruit some quality young players. There will be more competition in practice to get on our defensive field in games. We'll need to play better. And I believe we're going to field some quality, quality special teams.
Mitch Ewald, our kicker is here, and I think he may be the best in this league. He'll set every record at Indiana for points. I think he's an NFL type player, and you'll get a chance to see him while you're here.
Eight home games, all four nine conference games. And we're really looking forward to next week. A lot of positive energy and, quote, being in the Big Ten, it's time to take a big step this year. With that we'll go to questions.
Q. You guys have a lot of players returning. Seems like you still have a lot of youth on your team. I guess what is the approach working with this group and getting ready to take it to the next level?
COACH WILSON: Great point. And we have a lot of players returning that need to be better, because from where we were to where we want to be, that's why I think it's critical that we did have a positive winterâ€‘spring, and we'll see how summer's been. I think hopefully that's been very, very positive.
But we're still maybe a sophomoreâ€‘junior team. And we probably just signed on paperâ€‘â€‘ you don't play the game on paper and you can't believe every recruiting service and recruiting rating until guys really perform.
But we probably have got the most gifted class showing up as day one freshmen when we show up next Friday. But we're really a junior team. Offensively, offense has a chance to be pretty solid.
But if you look at it, you've got Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson. Kofi is here with us, a senior. Duwyce Wilson, a receiver. Ted Bolser, tight end. Stephen Houston as running back. That's the only four guys that crack the two deep. Defensively, our best players will be our young players, freshmen and sophomores.
So we're building. We're growing. We are, though, a veteran team. I think we're going to be fifth or sixth in the country with returning guys with starts. So we do have guys that are battle tested. We have guys that are getting more mature, but I do think we're a young team growing and there's a lot of growth potential with our football program in these next few years.
Q. Just what do you need to see at the running back position, what has to happen for somebody to separate themselves, or do you want to rotate a little bit?
COACH WILSON: You know, if there's separation, great. I do think, Pete, most teams are going to play with more than one running back. NFL college, whatever. The physicality of the position, the hits as you go through the year, the pace of play.
So we played a couple, three running backs every year. Stephen Houston is a quality player. Catches the ball well. Need him to be a very consistent practiced player, leader, and a very physical leader. For a big back, he plays with great speed and feet. Catches well. Love to see him. Great without the ball. Great in blocking. Great in route running to spread and separate the defense when he runs routes and really just be more, more consistent, quality player, very good player and good leader for us.
Tevin Coleman, a young man that's very young. He'll be a second year, played as a true freshman. Excellent returner, very talented kid. And looking to see how he grows and does he really take the next step to be an upper level player for us and in this league because I think he has a chance to be. He was highly recruited. He's very gifted.
Then we have a couple of complementary players. D'Angelo Roberts and a couple of freshmen we'll see and a couple of walkâ€‘ons. Right now looks like it will be those three guys. D'Angelo as complementary piece, and we'll see with Tevin and Stephen. Coming out of spring, it's those two guys. And quite honestly, Tevin probably had the better hands coming through spring. He had a tremendous spring practice.
Q. You talked about the quarterback battle. How has the criteria changed for you over the years? You had a quarterback battle every year you've been here. How do you look at it differently this time?
COACH WILSON: The first year, I didn't know if we could throw it in the ocean and whatnot. Last year we were kind of young and unproven. And Tre had played a little and we had those young guys. And the difference, I think Tre isâ€‘â€‘ Tre's back healthy and I think better than he was. But with Cam Coffman getting ten starts, which is actually our mostâ€‘â€‘ he's played more snaps than anyone, and Nate Sudfeld being extremely gifted, it's a pretty unique deal.
We need to playâ€‘â€‘ for our program to win, have the year we're capable of having, we need to be dynamic at quarterback. We can't be average and let the complementary pieces give us the victories that we need for our program and our fans and alums and school.
So our quarterback's gotta be a difference maker. Those three guys are capable, but who is going to be different and take it to the next step? We'll be a lot more mobile at quarterback.
We were going to be mobile with Tre. We were mobile with the other two guys. But when Tre got hurt and we just had those two guys left, that was really all we had, we had to be very smart last year as young players protecting them. The amount of hits they take and the exposure we put them through, the contact, and really just for confidence so they don't get out there and get shellâ€‘shocked and get battered. So we played a little leftâ€‘handed and wasn't able to play with a full deck.
We also did not handle the adversity of losing our starting quarterback. We led the league in passing, blah, blah, blah, all that junk. Once our quarterback got hurt, we lost five straight games.
A good football team needs to play with more than one running back and we need to have more than one capable quarterback. And this year we will see if we can because our quarterbacks are talented, but we haven't proven we're going to win a lot. So the criteria is we need someone that's going to be a difference maker, be dynamic and help us win.
At the same time, I'm excitedâ€‘â€‘ and I think the difference between our offense and defense is competition. We have quality players on offense that are fighting to get on the field. Our challenge is with our defensive recruiting this year, we'll start having some defensive competition to have better play from our defense. And hopefully have our offense start to go from being kind of average to being kind of really decent.
Q. When you look at what you were talking about the dynamic of your quarterback, what is the deciding factor in your mind in regards to the dynamics? Is it arm strength? Is it his moxie on the field, off the field? Can you expand on what you mean by that?
COACH WILSON: For example, with our three players, maybe greatest arm strength is Nate Sudfeld. Tall. Very smart. Young player, very good.
Maybe greatest moxie might be Cam Coffman. He's a little daredevil. He'll take some shots and take some chances. Great anticipation, vision.
The best athlete of the crowd is probably Tre Roberson.
So they're all uniquely different.
What we're going to do is run our spread offense, be a little bit up tempo. We'll throw the ball in space and try to be a team that can throw it pushing 70percent, which we have yet to beat. In the high 50s or mid 50s, first year, low 60s last year. This game has evolved with protection and quality route running and people understanding spacing.
You have got to throw the ball at 67, 70, 72percent. So one, the ability to complete the ball. Two, the ability not to move the offense but to score. Our offense moves the ball but we don't score points proportional to moving the ball. And good teams score points. When you score points, you win games. You don't win games by getting yards. You win games by crossing that G line or not letting them cross the G line. So it's points.
So what we're looking forâ€‘â€‘ they're all different with those different attributes. But a passing percentage that keeps us on schedule. A guy that gets to the fringe zone and gets his team in the end zone and a guy that's going to protect the football.
Q. You talked about the young defensive players and recruiting class coming in. Can you just elaborate on that and realistically how much of an impact can they have this being their first year of college ball regardless of how highly touted they are?
COACH WILSON: Their talent level appears to be seeing some of them in person myself as gifted as many guys we've been playing with. Watching them, whether it be a camp, watching them in person.
Now, again, since T.J. Simmons is the only one that's been here because he graduated early, that we saw, quote, lift, run, workout, practice, that's going to be a twoâ€‘deep impact player at linebacker. Young man from Lakeland, Florida.
15 of those recruits are on defense. The skill set's pretty good on defense. We promised no one you're going to play and start. But I think we'll have competition.
I think some of those young "D" linemen are going to give us competition and depth. And I think the linebackers, which we need to be significantly better at linebacker, are going to give us some competition, and I'm really excited about the corner and safety guys.
I think a lot of those guys are going to be, if not two deep, fringe two deep, we'll see when the bullets start flying some of those guys get on the field. My inclination says you'll probably see some of those guys on the field. Might be some growing pains, but we'll be growing with guys that are faster and more talented. That's exciting to me.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.