October 2, 2008

Young secondary continues to improve

MADISON, Wis. - One of the things lost in the Badger defeat at Michigan was the UW secondary's ability to slow the Wolverine passing game. While freshman Steven Threet is very young and still learning a new system, he never got comfortable in the pocket and was rattled for the majority of the game. When Ohio State comes to Camp Randall this weekend, the Badger corner's and safeties need to take another step up in order to be victorious.

The following is a question and answer with UW secondary coach Kerry Cooks heading into the match up with the Buckeyes:

With the events of last weekend and the way everything turned out, has practice been a little more crisp, a little more focused this week?

Cooks: Practice has been great, practice has been great. The kids have responded, you know, but obviously the loss was a tough loss. It felt like we left some things on the table, but they've kept…they've come out Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, (and) today was a great practice. So we just got to keep that tempo rolling.

Does it kind of help knowing that Ohio State is next on the schedule, and knowing you don't have time to dwell on the last loss?

Cooks: I think it does. I think the thing that Coach B (Bret Bielema) emphasizes about 1-0, you can't do anything about the past but you can control what you do in the future. Those guys come out, they really take that to heart, they're moving forward. Again, obviously playing Ohio State, night game, national TV, I mean, the guys understand that they got to prepare to work.

It's been almost a month since you guys have played at home, does it feel like it's been a bit too long?

Cooks: Oh my gosh, it feels like it's been a long time, especially with that bye week. So I think our kids are starting to get back into the swing of things, getting back into the routine of everyday practicing and getting back into the normal tempo of what they're accustomed to.

I don't want to focus on last week a whole lot, but the secondary only gave up 96 passing yards throughout the entire game, do you see these guys improving?

Cooks: You know, it's a daily improvement. It's been fun for me to watch as a coach from August to Akron, to Marshall, to Fresno State, to last week in Michigan. But obviously, regardless of the stat said, it wasn't good enough because we still lost the game and that's the thing that I'm preaching to those guys. Had we of won, obviously there would have been a different story. But, obviously, something happened, there was a breakdown in a couple of areas and just that one play, you could play 60 good snaps, but 62, 62, 63 are bad, that could be the difference in the ball game. So, what we're emphasizing right now is just finishing all the way through the game, four quarters.

Was one of those plays when Shane Carter took a bad angle when Brandon Minor scored the touchdown?

Cooks: Yup, that was. That was a big play for him and I know that Shane's disappointed in himself because that was his man. Had he done what he should have done, it may have been a five, six-yard gain instead of 30 or whatever yard touchdown it was.

So is Shane kind of looking forward to this game with Ohio State, and the family background he has there?

Cooks: I think from him being an Ohio boy and not playing four quarters up to his ability last year, and really, throughout the season, he's kind of been inconsistent. I'm challenging him to be a consistent player. A big team like Ohio State, coming into the game, I think that he's taking it as a challenge and I look forward to seeing how he's going to respond on Saturday.

Just noticing the special teams, Antonio Fenelus has been all over the place, is he getting close to making the field as a regular in the secondary?

Cooks: Well you know what, we got some guys that have really stepped up. With Mario Goins, with Niles Brinkley, with Lang (Allen Langford) and obviously Aaron Henry's situation is still in question. But Devin Smith and Fenelus are improving and they're accepting their roles right now. I think, if needed, then he would be able to step out and line up and play the proper technique. Obviously, he's going to go through some growing pains just because, he's very talented, but having not seeing anything. I would feel confident if he had to go in and play.

You mentioned Aaron, how is he doing mentally with handling everything, especially when he sees his team let one get away from them?

Cooks: I think it's tough for him, just because he's a competitor. He wants to be out there just like the next guy. Obviously, his injury is slowing him down a little bit and in an ideal world, he would have liked to been back in August. But it is what it is and I think mentally, he understands that. He wishes he could be out there helping his teammates and being out there competing and doing what he does. But right now, I think that he's just focused on getting his knee right and rehabbing and taking it day by day until he feels confident in it.

Does he still have an active role with the guys?

Cooks: Yeah, he's in all of our meetings. He's on the field and I've got him actually responsible for coaching the young guys up when they're not in there telling them technique and teaching them the right things. I try to keep him in tune that way.

Last year, you blitzed him a lot off the edge. We haven't seen that a whole lot yet this season, could this be the week we see that with Terrelle Pryor out there?

Cooks: Well, the thing about those zone read offenses is that you hesitate to blitz any of those things. If a guy misses on a bad angle (the field opens up), that's why you've got to pick and chose your spots. Without giving out our game plan, I just think that we have to be smart about what we do, to kind of have it as what we've done up to this point.

With a guy like Pryor, he can do so much damage in so many ways, is this one of those times where you absolutely have to discipline in the secondary?

Cooks: I think you do. I think you have to be disciplined as a defensive back and as a front seven because what the spread offense does. Having a guy like Terrelle Pryor, plus Chris Wells, plus the receivers that they have, they focus you. They make you be disciplined in every area, every aspect, every play. Anyone of those guys is big play potential.

A lot of the talk is always about Pryor and "Beanie" Wells, but is their wide receiving unit underrated?

Cooks: I wouldn't say underrated, people know about them. They're a great group all across the board from Brian Robiskie to Ray Small to Brian Hartline, I mean, they got some guys that can go. They're definitely not underrated. I guarantee you, any defensive coach understands what those guys are capable of doing.

You mentioned the team's attitude earlier, is that what they've done, just boot Michigan into the review mirror?

Cooks: You have to. I mean, the thing we emphasize, if we focus on what happened on Saturday and we carry that with us, then that's going to beat us twice. Anything in life that happens to you, positive or negative, you enjoy it, or you understand and you learn from it. If it's negative, you move forward but you can't carry it with you. Our philosophy is whatever happen, win or lose, if it's a win, you celebrate it, if it's a negative, a loss, you learn from it, you grow from it. Now it's history, you move forward into the next game. If you start dwelling on the past, you never move forward in the future.

I know every first quarter is important in a football game, but how important is this one, especially coming off a tough loss like what happened last weekend?

Cooks: I think it's going to be a great atmosphere and I think our kids enjoy playing at home. I think our kids are excited and obviously, offense, defense, or special teams, whatever side of the ball starts it off, you want to get off to a fast start. We preach that and emphasize that. Obviously being home field, you know, you want to get the crowd into it if you can.

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