Big Ten Conference Football Media Days

Monday July 25, 2016

Tracy Claeys


THE MODERATOR: Next coach is Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys.

COACH CLAEYS: Before I get started I would like to express my sympathies and those of our players to the University of Nebraska, Michigan State University, friends and family over the loss of two great young men. Went way too early. Tough deal.

As far as the University of Minnesota goes, we're going to enter the season with what I think is our best football team since we've been here.

We have five years invested in the program and the group of kids we've got, like most teams, I suppose have had a great summer, competed extremely hard to make themselves better. And we're definitely looking forward to the season and competing in one of the toughest conferences if not the toughest conference week in, week out.


Q. When you look back at last year and the difficult schedule that you had and the injuries and you coming on mid-term, what did you learn about your team and the resiliency for you guys to be able to hang in a lot of those games and get a win in the bowl game?
COACH CLAEYS: I'm very proud of the way our kids competed. They had to work through quite a few obstacles, let alone the injuries. And everything we've built has been built on the principles with Coach Gil and we've been together a long time and everybody in the football program was at the University of Minnesota because of him.

So that was a tough deal. But I couldn't be prouder the way we competed as the year went on. You lose seven ball games and six of those teams have ten wins or more. But we had our opportunities in the fourth quarter to do some things in those games and didn't quite get them done.

So obviously the competition part and the way we played, I'm proud of. At the same time, we all know that it was great to win a bowl game for the first time in seven years and be a part of the Quick Lane Bowl, but that's not our goal. We have two goals at the University of Minnesota and that's to win the Big Ten and graduate all of our players.

So we've got some work to do there. I do think winning the bowl game gave our kids some energy during the offseason. Like I said, we've had as good an offseason as we've had and looking forward to see our kids compete, because they expect better themselves also.

Q. This is Mitch's third time here at media days. I'm just wondering, do you find yourself looking to him for advice on what kind of things you're going to expect here, and along those lines, just how much does that help you having a veteran quarterback with a change in offense and stuff?
COACH CLAEYS: People recognize him more than they do me. So that's a good thing. But he's done a great job and I think the return of veteran quarterback and we have him and being from the state of Minnesota. I'll tell you what, the way that kid competed last year through the injuries he had, I think it makes it easy for his teammates to get out there and follow him. And this summer he's done a lot of things with the kids in smaller groups to get our team close.

And it's easy to follow a kid like that who every time he steps on the football field gives it his best and all he wants is a win for the University of Minnesota. So we truly are lucky to have him back for another season.

Q. I'm just curious about the wide receiver, you guys lost K.J. Maye but have a lot of guys back. What do you see at that position?
COACH CLAEYS: We have to have somebody step up and replace K.J. He made a tremendous amount of catches a year ago, especially for first downs and touchdowns. And so obviously we need somebody to replace him. But I think with Rashad Steele and I think Gary Carter being a senior, will have a good year.

That is that right place, though, that we have to prove ourselves is at wide receiver. Hunter Register is a kid we redshirted last year. Very talented kid. But I think we have the talent there. But obviously they'll be judged on game day.

For our two running backs to have as good a year as I think they'll have is we're going to need Rashad and Eric and some of those guys to step up and make some plays for us to get people out of the box.

Q. I wanted to ask about Mitch and how his relationship has grown over the last few months with Jay Johnson, and what kind of positives, what are you doing to try to magnify his skill set and still maintain kind of the approach you guys have had since you came aboard a few years ago?
COACH CLAEYS: Well, you know, Coach Johnson was a great fit. Mitch was actually coached in the high school and junior high by Jay's dad there in the Twin Cities.

So that's been a pretty smooth transition. And as far as to Mitch -- I think we have to -- when you have a returning senior quarterback that's as good a leader as he is and you have to play to his strengths, and I think that's my only thing I've told the guys on offense, and Coach Johnson, hey, let's find out what he does really well. And that's what we need to do on game day.

We don't need to experiment. And if we play to our kids' strengths, I think we have a chance each weekend to have an opportunity to win the ballgame.

Only had 14 days with Coach Johnson there, the offensive coordinator, we need to make sure in the first 20 practices the number one goal would be to find out what Mitch does best to get him most comfortable to allow him to lead on game day rather than do a bunch of experiments.

Q. I read where the Ivy League is changing some stuff up with kickoffs. I wonder if you guys talked about that as Big Ten coaches and what do you see as the future of that? Do you think it's too dangerous to stay in the game?
COACH CLAEYS: We haven't talked about it as Big Ten coaches. My own personal belief is if that play obviously is causing that many injuries and it's that obvious from the data, then we need to replace it. Find a good way to replace it and get it out of the game.

I think the players' safety is always the number one priority. And so my own thing is that I would like to see them, rather than have the Ws and teams stuff like that, I would like to see them first, let's try to do it where it's all man blocking, so you don't have the two-on-one blockings at full speed and that, and turn it all into a man-to-man scheme and give that a chance first.

If the injuries continue to happen on that one play, I think it's in the best interests of the game to find another option.

Q. Where do you foresee this offense heading to or what are some of the improvements you'd like to see?
COACH CLAEYS: Well, I think that we have to get back to being physical up front and being able to run the ball on a more consistent basis. And the guys -- the thing that will help us the most is just eliminating negative yardage plays.

When you go back, some of those are self-inflicted with penalties. But a lot of times it's missing a block here, letting somebody run through.

Especially on first down. We had a lot of negative yardage plays on first down. Now you're behind from the very beginning and all the advantages go to the defense.

So we need to be more consistent on first and second down of not having negative yardage plays and make third down much more manageable. Because I do think with the wide receivers and Brandon Lingen at tight end and our two running backs, I think for the first time we'll be able to be balanced and spread the field and make people defend a bunch of different options. In order to do that we'll have to play better on the offensive line.

Q. Could you talk about Jack Lynn a little bit and his progression from being a redshirt freshman to now being one of your captains and one of the top linebackers around?
COACH CLAEYS: Jack, from Lake Zurich chose to come to the University of Minnesota. We were able to redshirt him the first year. What a big thrill for him to get the opportunity to come back to the Chicagoland area. But he's always worked extremely hard.

He's a great student of the game. He watches a lot of video. And he finally put on the weight that he needed and he's been one of our best leaders this summer on the defensive side of the ball.

So I'm really excited for him. Like I say, to go into this year with him being a senior and what we consider our best group, let's face it, you look at the teams every year that do well at the end of the year and their seniors have their best years.

And I look forward to our seniors playing well. If they do, they're going to get rewarded.

Q. With Travis, do you have to cut back on how much he's on the field because of that hamstring, or do you just let him go like he did in the past?
COACH CLAEYS: Just gotta let him go. Be careful in fall camp. But I think he's went through the rehab the way he should and he's been a very durable player.

All the time he's been here, kind of a freak deal the last play of the TCU game. I don't anticipate any problems. And again to win, you've got to have your best players on the field. And he's definitely one of our best people and we'll ride him as long as he can play.


FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Rev #2 by #19 at 2016-07-25 18:30:00 GMT

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