Northern Illinois football coach Jerry Kill sat down with Daily Chronicle sports reporter John Sahly to talk about the state of the Huskies entering spring football. This is part two of that conversation. Click here for part one. The following is an edited transcript:
John Sahly: In recruiting, did you target kids that had that base strength that you talked about earlier?
Jerry Kill: I think we did. Every once in a while you'll take one that's a little below the base strength that you want. (Freshmen offensive linemen) Tyler Loos, him and Tyler Pitt, they'll get huge. Tyler Pitt had to keep his weight down because of wrestling. He won the state championship in wrestling. He's 280 now. He's growing. I would say we recruited some guys with some pretty good base strength. (Defensive end) Joe Windsor hang cleans 380 pounds coming in as a freshman. He's 230 pounds and he's built like Larry (English). He's not Larry. He'll maybe be 240.
John Sahly: You guys met with some some other college football coaches this year like you do every year. After those meetings, do you stick with the basics of what you're doing? Do you make any major tweaks?
Jerry Kill: Defensively, we're still doing stuff. We had a guy in that's been in the National Football League. He had been tight with Dick LeBeau and Wade Phillips and so there are some things we looked at there. Our staff had the clinic that they shared ideas. Basically what we've done is we've taken a list of the defensive things. What did we not do well? How are we going to fix them? If we don't know how to fix them, where are we going to try and find out how to fix them? That's what we did. Have we got all of those answers yet? No, but we're working on it.
Offensively, same thing. All of us started talking. We want to get better at third down. We're going to go out in the spring and put the ball down at second-and-8 and hand the ball off, see where it goes. Then it could be third-and-2, could be third-and-5, could be third-and-8. Last year, we really concentrated in the red zone. (NIU was the top offensive red zone team in the MAC last year).
What we've done is a self study of what we did well and what we didn't do well. You go back, and (quarterback) DeMarcus Grady played his [rear] off. DeMarcus did better than what I think people perceived. He made some plays. But you go back and look at film and you think some guys played really well and you go 'They didn't play very well. What happened here?' But when you work those long hours, sometimes it just runs together. So we've done a self-study to get better.
Offensively we played pretty good football for the most part, and then you get into [the International Bowl against] South Florida and you feel terrible. But then they've got five guys that are going to go in the NFL Draft. Then you look at those things and go 'We're going to run into those teams. What are we going to do when we're outmatched? What are we going to do to try and even that up?' We looked at that and just tried to figure out the answers to the problems.
John Sahly: What kind of opportunity does Grady and the three redshirt freshmen (A.J. Hill, Jordan Lynch and Tommy Coughlin) have this spring?
Jerry Kill: They've got a great opportunity. All of them will rep and do well. I'm excited about seeing them because they're all athletic. If it does anything, it makes that position deeper and better. Then [Weston] is a real special player. We'll just see how it all goes in the spring and concentrate on the kids that are here. Then when the fall comes we'll get those guys involved and hopefully [Weston] is here in the summer early and learns the system. He's been in a similar system, so it's not going to be something that's going to be hard for him.
John Sahly: What is an ideal spring for Grady?
Jerry Kill: Just keep doing what he's doing. If you talked about improved football players from the day we walked in to now, I'd say he's got to be up there as one of the most improved players. I think he's pretty confident right now. I think that's the key to playing quarterback. I think the big thing this spring is who can capture their team?
John Sahly: I think by now I probably expected Jordan Lynch to be moved to safety. I think a lot of people are in the same boat on that one. What did you see out of him that he's still at quarterback?
Jerry Kill: I think he could be special. There's something there. I've got to see what this spring, but there's something there. Our defensive staff will tell you that. I'm excited about watching him play. It's easy to do it as a freshman and he didn't get tons of reps, but the reps he got, he can make some plays. And he's strong and he's fast. We're deep enough at safety that I said 'Let's not jump on this too quickly.'
John Sahly: Bringing in Jim Zebrowski to coach the quarterbacks and moving Pat Poore to wide receivers coach, how will that affect those two positions?
Jerry Kill: I think it's great for us. I've coached the quarterbacks most of my life. Early in my career I was a defensive-coordinator and a linebackers coach but once I converted over to the offense I was a quarterback guy. Pat's coached quarterbacks, he's coached receivers... Pat never wants to upset the apple cart, so when P.J. [Fleck] left, our whole staff, they all knew about Jimmy. Pat was willing to give up a part of his salary to get Jimmy because Jimmy was offered a job at Central Michigan.
Our staff wanted him. He's contagious. He's like the measles, in a good way. He doesn't have bad days. He's naturally polite. He's an off the sleeve guy and him and Pat are a perfect fit. They're like two peas in a pod. He's staying with Pat now when he's not staying in the office because a lot of times he works so darn late he just stays here. He's a ball coach.
He's coached at Southern (Illinois) before I got there... Jimmy was the offensive coordinator of the year at Division III and everywhere he's been, they've been good on offense. He just brings stuff to the table, enough to where I've got enough confidence that I've stepped out of that room a bunch more than I have before. It was really not coach Kill's pick, it was the offensive staff's pick and that's important.
Losing P.J., a guy that was a legend here and a great player, great enthusiasm, good person, good football coach, good recruiter, you have to replace him with that kind of guy or close to it. Jimmy even recruits the same area. You lose a very good football coach and a good person and really the face of the Northern Illinois program for a long time, you've got to go out and get another guy and we felt like we got the best fit for us after we lost P.J. without a doubt.
John Sahly: Who gets the first shot at replacing (left guard) Jason Onyebuagu and (center) Eddie Adamski?
Jerry Kill: I don't know. That's a good question. I don't know if there really will be a first shot in there. We've got eight of them, maybe nine, going through the spring and they're all going to have to play. Out of the spring, we're hoping we can come out of eight offensive linemen we can rely on. If we come out with seven we'll be excited.
Eddie was strong. [Center Scott] Wedige is 300 pounds. He's up to benching 365. He's squatting 525, so he's got a little bit to get as strong as Eddie was. But he's [power] cleaning 335. He had a great offseason. We need him to do well. [Jared] Volk is 308. He's benching 350, squatting 585 and cleaning 282. That's pretty good strength. But that's a freshman. [Matt] Krempel was sick when we maxed out, but he weighed 296, is benching 365, so he's up and that's when he was sick. He squatted 500 and cleaned 304. So that's not bad.
John Sahly: What led to the decision to move Adam Coleman to tight end?
Jerry Kill: I want a physical, mean, [player] over there. I need somebody with a defensive mentality over there. He could play offensive line. He's more of a guy that can lock on you and hold you then he is getting off a block. He'll tell you that. He had trouble getting off blocks on defense, but he was great in the gap. So on offense, that's a natural thing. We thought about playing him at tight end at the bowl game, but we couldn't get him up to speed fast enough. But he's a physical son of a buck and we need that. That's been a weakness since we've been here.