After practice on Wednesday I was able to catch up with new OL Coach Joe Pawlak.
Pawlak’s passion and intensity for offensive line play is apparent at all times. In fitting in with the rest of the offense, Pawlak always hustles everywhere he goes. Including running away from me as I was trying to catch him for an interview after practice (maybe on purpose…?). Heck, even during the interview with me he talked fast.
The offensive line is transitioning to a predominantly zone-based blocking scheme under Freund and Pawlak. Previously the Hawks had done some pin & pull blocking, as well, but there will be less of that in the new offense. The zone scheme is much simpler and should allow for this young unit to play faster without as much pre-snap thinking and communication.
KH: You got a few practices under your belt so you now know what you have in your offensive line unit. What is your main focus as you proceed through spring ball with you being new and not knowing anything about your players?
JP: Well, I told them our three unit goals – we’re going to be Tough Smart and Physical. So I expect those three qualities or three traits to show up every single day and when we come on the field I’m looking for competition. The five best offensive line will play – I’m looking for a constant competition – competition amongst the five out there and then improvement every single day. If we can compete and improve every single day we’re doing something good.
KH: With that being said you have four starters back in your unit (Mortel, Tobin, Waletzko, Rooney). Are you are you approaching this like you didn’t know they were the starters and every job is open?
JP: Since day one for me it’s always been about the five best players. Right now I’m looking for the guys like Patric (Rooney) and Ryan (Tobin), those guys to step up and lead the way. They are taking a bunch of reps with the 1’s and they’ve done a great job. Pat is starting to be a more of a leader. So when you get those guys leading the way and then you got some younger guys like Nate (Nguon) and Kyle (Hergel), they’re giving each other great competition. The tackles across the board are working, you know, it’s a race to maturity. How fast can we get better? I told them I don’t have time to sit here and wait for you – we got to get better – it’s a race to maturity every single day we got to compete and get better.
KH: You played under Rod Carey at Northern Illinois – we all know Rod, great guy, and you coached at Iowa after that. How would you describe your offensive line philosophy? Did you take it from those two places and compile your own philosophy, so to speak?
JP: Everywhere I’ve been I took away something. I played for Coach Carey and that was great, I learned a lot of stuff from him. Then I GA’d under Joe Tripodi at NIU and learned stuff from him. I then moved onto Iowa where I coached under Brian Ferentz and Tim Polasek. The reason why he’s (Ferentz) such a great offensive line coach is for a reason -he’s developed so many great players and he’s a great, great teacher. Great coach. So I think a lot of that I learned from Coach Ferentz. I was very fortunate to get that opportunity. Everywhere I’ve been I tried to take a little bit of something and just you know, kind of add it into my own.
KH: As we look forward to the fall are you guys looking at adding any pieces or do you feel the incoming freshmen combined with the guys you have on roster are good to go?
JP: Right now, you know, this is what we’ve got – we got 13 guys but Noah (Mortel) is injured right now but we got these guys coming in. They’re working hard every single day and you know like we’re going to go into we’re going to fight and get better. This summer, we’re going to have some freshmen coming in, and like I told them on the hall to and, you know, same thing applies to you. So, you know, race material, how fast can you get better, and, you know, I expect a lot of those guys to, you know, step up right away and help contribute, you know, the users are going to be, you know. I never really believed in just having a freshman year to take off and learn – you come in here ready. I think their parents appreciate it being pushed and pushed hard.
KH: Have you ever played with true freshman offensive lineman or played them as true freshman as a coach?
JP: There was a couple we played at Iowa during my time there.
KH: So is it more of a physical thing, a mental thing or could be a combination of both?
JP: I mean, usually it’s both – you have to be a little bit ready physically and then mental. You have to pick it up fast.