MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst met with reporters after practice late Friday and discussed a number of topics two weeks before the season opener against Utah State.
Chryst addressed the injury status of wide receiver George Rushing, where the backup quarterback battle stands between Jack Coan and Kare Lyles, freshman running back Jonathan Taylor’s fall camp and how injured linebacker Jack Cichy still can help the team this season.
Here is what Chryst had to say:
Chryst: It was good work [Friday night]. It was fun being under the lights, and we were able to play, get into a lot of different situations. There’s good things that come out of them and then things that we didn’t do well that are great lessons. So we’ve got two weeks to clean some of those things up, and we’ve got to take advantage of that.
Your guys on offense have talked about hoping for more explosive plays this year, both run and pass. Do you see enough personnel to be able to generate more than you did a year ago?
Chryst: Yeah. Hope’s not a method. But I think we do have pieces, and what’s really neat is for those to come, no one has to do something that’s not within their ability. But what’s really neat about it is all 11 guys have to do it together. Those are where your big plays, the pretty things come from is when all 11 execute. And because of that I think that we’re capable of it. But it doesn’t just happen. We spend time going back and showing the kids, you’re one play away. It’s a guy straining on a backside. It’s a guy making sure that he’s a little thicker on the block. It’s the quarterback getting it out a little bit sooner. It goes back to the details and the things you can control.
How has kicker Rafael Gaglianone looked this fall, and how important is he to this team considering the youth behind him?
Chryst: I think that he’s had a good fall camp. I think Raf is really important to this team. That’s what I like about this team is that they’re all important. That sounds really kind of trite, but it’s the truth. For us to be good, we need everyone, and Raf certainly is a big part of that.
Last fall, you moved Zander Neuville to tight end from defensive end. He said his head was kind of spinning for a while. What should he be able to do more now that he has a year under his belt?
Chryst: He’s probably coming close to his anniversary right about now. I think it was one week, it might have been right before, near the end of camp. I think he’s a really talented football player. He’s an explosive athlete. He’s smart, he’s tough, and I think that he can put himself in a position to be really important to this team.
As a blocker and a receiver?
Chryst: Yeah. You can see now where he’s comfortable with it. The first time he was running routes, heck, he’d been in individual with Nokes [defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield] hitting the sled, and he’s learning. I think he’s trying to learn the subtleties of it. He’s fun to be around.
How long do you expect to be without George Rushing?
Chryst: I don’t know for sure. But I think it’ll be another week, maybe two. Kind of see then when he can start doing more. You don’t know on the cuts and all that. But George has been doing all he can with the number of rehabs. But I don’t know exactly how long it’ll be.
Have you made a decision on your backup quarterback?
Chryst: Haven’t made the decision yet and I really, we’ve got still six practices left. Both Jack and Kare, they’ve just got to keep growing and learning. I think they’re doing the best they can, which you appreciate from them. I don’t think either one is at that point where you can say hey, this is where it’s at.
Do you know at this point whether freshman running back Jonathan Taylor is ready to contribute?
Chryst: I think he’s done enough stuff where he’s earning those reps. There’s so many that aren’t clean, but those are good moments if you can learn from them. So I think we’ve got to keep putting him in those situations, because he’s done some really good things, and yet there’s a lot. You don’t want to start too quick simplifying because you want to keep helping him grow.
Punter Anthony Lotti has talked about feeling more comfortable since he changed his hand placement on his drop. What kind of improvement have you seen from him?
Chryst: He’s had some really good days. I think he studies it, and he works at it. It’s been fun. Here’s a guy that really is now just finishing kind of that first year, and you see the growth that he’s making. Any time you’re talking with any of our players, because they’re all young, there’s so much room to continue to grow. But I think he’s doing some really good things. It doesn’t just happen. He’s putting time into it. He’s had some days where he’s been really good.
How has linebacker Ryan Connelly looked coming back from injury?
Chryst: It’s been good having Ryan back. Ryan’s a guy that, it’s been fun to see his growth the last year, year-and-a-half. He comes back now, and he’s trusting himself. I think he’s certainly feeling better. He’s a good football player, and it was good the last probably three practices, he’s been able to go. And we are starting to get some of the guys. [Wide receiver] Jazz [Peavy] has been back doing some things. That’s been nice. So we’re starting to get some of the guys that have missed some time back.
Last year when Jack Cichy and Chris Orr were out, they were on the sideline trying to help out. Will Cichy plan to stick around and do what he did last year to help?
Chryst: We haven’t had that specific conversation. But I do know he’s in every meeting. He’s in the special teams meetings. Indications are that he’s going to do everything he can with this team. And that’s the thing that Cich can’t play, but it’s not like he’s not around and gone. And yet I think as logistics, you want to be smart so nothing bad happens.
In the spring, you said you expected a bigger role from tight end Troy Fumagalli. What kind of specific aspects can he bring to the offense this year that he didn’t last year?
Chryst: Fum was a big part of what we did last year. So I don’t want to say. You love coaching really good players. I think part of your job is to keep pushing them. If you look at like receiver yards, that’s tricky because you’ve got games that are kind of bunches in it. Fum is not going to sneak up on anybody. I think they know that he’s a good player. I think we’ve just got to keep making sure that he’s continuing to develop and, obviously, what we do, you’ve got to fit to the personnel that you have. I don’t know how it’s going to look, but I think we certainly want to push him and want to make sure that we’re pushing ourselves to maximize the contributions that I think he’s capable of making.