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What to take away from Big Ten media days from Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst

Digesting the interviews from Monday.

This week started the media grind for the Wisconsin Badgers with Big Ten media days in Chicago on Monday and Tuesday. It will culminate with Friday’s local media day at Camp Randall Stadium.

Head coach Paul Chryst met with reporters on multiple occasions on Monday, taking questions on his confidence in his football program, recruiting, and yes, that one question about Ohio State being a huge favorite to win the Big Ten in 2017.

One topic that came up in multiple interviews, both in the press conference televised on the Big Ten Network as well as at the sidebar podium with other reporters later on, was new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.

“I think that we’re excited that Jim is coordinating our defense,” Chryst said on Monday near the beginning of his press conference. “I think they got to know him certainly as a coach last year. He was on our staff. Our players have gone through transitions, this’ll be the third defensive coordinator in three years. I think one of the best qualities that Jimmy has is he understands football but more importantly, understands players.

“I think he along with our defensive staff—[outside linebackers coach/defensive run game coordinator] Tim Tibesar, [defensive line coach] Inoke Breckterfield, [inside linebackers coach] Bob Bostad—have done a great job of making sure that the transition is as smooth as it can be. Our players know Jimmy and they know how he communicates with them. I think it’s one of his strengths. He’s a tremendous connector—connector of people, so it’s been good.”

In the following media scrum, a question arose regarding Leonhard’s philosophy.

“I think Jimmy’s philosophy is very similar to mine,” Chryst said. “I think that’s why I felt comfortable with him. And then, what I love about Jimmy, what I love about Justin, it’s not about them. It’s about our players. How does it fit them this year? How can much can they learn? So I thought he did a good job this spring pushing it. How much can the DBs handle? Do we want to get some of the multiplicity in coverages, or what can we do pressure wise? How can the guys handle that? I think that all the good coaches I’ve been that, and I think Justin is one of those, I think it’s adjusting to our players as much as their philosophy is.”

Will there be “radical changes?”

“I don’t think it’s going to be a radical change unless we can handle something that we’ve been talking about maybe before Jimmy got here, or Dave and I were talking about something, and remember talking about that with Justin, and we kind of assessed I don’t think we’re ready for that right now. So I think that’s really changed. The players kind of drive the change more than Jimmy’s playbook driving the change.”

Recruiting

During the BTN press conference, a question came in regarding UW’s recent recruiting success in Michigan. The Wisconsin coaching staff has secured five verbal commitments from the Wolverine State for the class of 2018.

“I think for us in recruiting, we’ll always start in Wisconsin,” Chryst said. “If we can keep the best players in the state, it gives us a really good chance. Then it’s going out wherever we go, and it’ll certainly start in the Big Ten footprint, but finding kids that are good fits for Wisconsin. I think that’s the key to recruiting is finding kids that certainly athletically, but academically, socially, personality, all fit Wisconsin. That’s where you can kind of go in different states. But really in the end it’s about individuals and then finding the right fit for us the right fit for Wisconsin.”

More tidbits from the two media sessions:

  • On the level of confidence in Wisconsin football right now: “We’ve had really good players. I’m fortunate to be the head coach and do it in my opinion a really talented staff and a good staff. Certainly with the direction of Coach Alvarez and the athletic department, ton of support. but we’ve got players, I think are good players. I know they’re good players. .Team matters to them and they’ll work. They’ve been around, they’ve been in games—and been in big games. Like I said, we haven’t won all of them, but we can take things away from that, and one of the best traits of our team is that our older kids do a great job passing along messages that are applicable to the younger kids. I feel very fortunate coaching the kids we are coaching, and we certainly have an opportunity this year to have a good team. Now we gotta go do it. That’s the fun part. That’s the journey they call a season.”
  • On Ohio State being the overwhelming favorite and how the Big Ten West division shakes out: “Certainly a ton of respect for Ohio State. Obviously Coach Meyer and the players they have. We played against them last year, a really good football team, and yet I think that’s what’s great about this season is you have to go play it, and all the talk doesn’t really matter. So don’t spend a lot of time and energy thinking about what’s been said. You try to focus your energy and your players’ energy on what you can control, what you can best put your energy into, and that’s the fun part. In less than a week now, we get going in fall camp, and that’s a huge phase for us to get ready for the season and we just want to maximize that. There are a lot of good football teams in this conference. It’s what makes the Big Ten special. Great players, great coaches, traditionally great programs. That’s why I’m very thankful to be part of the Big Ten.”
  • On the selection of team captains, Chryst mentioned the program did it at the end of the spring: “I think it’s a good cross section. I thought they got it right.”
  • On the Penn State game and learning from the loss: “We’re never going to replay that game again. You hope to learn from all of your experiences as coaches, players, but you never take one game from last year, and I don’t care what the opponent is, what the situation is, and just say we’re going to replay that. We know what to fix now, we know what to do. To be, it was a good football game, and they made more plays than we did.”
  • On Alex Hornibrook’s improvement: “I think Alex has improved in a lot of areas. Some of it’s natural. He’s got that experience. He’s been through a season. Last year at this time, he never played in a college football game, right, so knowing how to approach that. I think knowing, he’s spent a ton of time, just knowing our...what we’re trying to do offensively. Continuing trying to study what defenses are doing. He’s one more year of knowing Jazz [Peavy], knowing George [Rushing], knowing ‘Fum,’ knowing our players. I think he’s always been a worker, I think he still is working, I think it’s just probably if you say it’s just one area I think the one area is more productive because he’s more focus on what he’s got to do.”
  • On Quintez Cephus: “I think Q has had a good summer. It’s for obvious reasons was a hard stretch. I think that’s one of the strengths of our team is they care about each other, so when you asked how the players helped him, I think it meant something, and yet you’re always going through that. Q’s not done learning how to deal with what happened, and yet, he’s got to own a lot of it and there’s things only he can go through, but he also has a ton of support if and when needed. I think Q has had a really good summer and I’m looking forward to seeing his continued growth. He’s a talented player.”
  • On the depth at outside linebacker: “I think we have some guys that are talented. I thought what ‘Dools’ [Garret Dooley] did last year coming in when Vince got hurt, his first start, now there’s a guy that played some but hasn’t had that year where you’re that starter. I’m looking for can he be what Leo Musso was for us last year? On the other side, is Leon Jacobs, kind of the same deal. Leon, here’s a guy on our team, really talented football player, always trying to find that home. I think he’s found one at outside linebacker. Can one of those two have that year that ‘Mus’ did where he ends up first year starting being your team MVP? I don’t know.”
  • Could Jack Cichy move back outside to OLB? “I think we can move him. There’s a few guys that you can move. We do that a lot with the offensive line. You can really do it more over there. I think that’s one of the strengths of the group is that it’s a pretty smart group and a number of them have done outside and inside kind of throughout their career. You never want to do something that would shake a kid, and I don’t think if you asked some of those guys to do something else it would be counter-productive, that it would get them off-edge.”
  • What excites him about JUCO transfer Andrew Van Ginkel: “I think he’s a really talented player, and the more you got to know him, the more I liked him as a person. We felt he was guy who could be a great fit at Wisconsin. We could help him, and he could also make a positive impact. That’s why we felt good about recruiting him. And since he’s been here, it’s been fun for me to see him get more comfortable with the players because you want, it’s a little bit different than a freshman where sometimes you kind of give him, right or wrong, you give them some time, right, to kind of get situated. I’m excited to see where he goes.”