Ash: I think it's a group that plays hard and has a lot of fun playing. We've got a lot of guys that have played in the past with a lot of experience that are playing with a lot of confidence right now.
CN: Harold Clewis added an interception to a list of big plays from your secondary this fall, while Ellis Hobbs nearly picked off another ball. Were you happy with the number of turnovers forced by defensive backs in the last three weeks?
Ash: There weren't as many as I would have liked. That was a big point of emphasis for us at the start of spring. A year ago we were in position to make a lot of plays and didn't make as many as we wanted. That was a goal that we set. We made some plays this spring, more than a year ago, but still not as many as I liked.
CN: It seems as if the depth at both cornerback and safety is more plentiful than years past. As many as five cornerbacks could figure into the mix, while four safeties are making a strong case. How do you plan on divvying up the playing time this fall?
Ash: We're going to put the best guys on the field. I'm not going to be taking a guy off the field just because somebody else has played for us. The best four guys will play, but we will be playing a lot of dime packages where we've got six DBs on the field and some of the other guys will be in on different situations. We've got a lot of guys that have played, and the best ones will play out of those.
We've got more DBs that have played in the past than we do linebackers, so in certain situations we're going to get into having six DBs on the field a lot more than in the past. We'll use more guys from that standpoint.
CN: Who would you say has improved the most this spring out of the secondary?
Ash: The guy who played a lot a year ago was JaMaine Billups, but he was thrust into action at the start of two-a-days and he really didn't understand the position and know what he was doing a year ago. Yet he still did pretty darn good. But this spring he has a much better understanding of the whole picture, scheme, how he fits and everybody else fits. He is playing faster right now than he did at any point last year. So he's made a lot of improvements.
Another guy that didn't necessarily play a lot a year ago, but has made drastic improvements in our group is Henry Poullard. He is one of the most improved players on the team this spring. He's tough as nails. He's had a back problem that he's been dealing with, but you never hear about it. He goes out there everyday with the same workman-type attitude. He'll come up and try to hit you, which is nice to see from a corner.
CN: What have you noticed in particular out of Poullard since the light has turned on for him?
Ash: He's always been one of the tougher guys, but what he's done is reading his keys better, believing what he's seeing and playing faster and reacting faster. He's getting in position to make more plays. That's kind of the thing that's stood out this spring.
CN: Is one guy distancing himself from the other at that starting cornerback slot opposite Ellis Hobbs?
Ash: They're both playing pretty good right now. We sit down and grade every scrimmage and evaluate every practice. The production and number of plays those guys have made is pretty much even. We've got another big evaluation tomorrow to see how they do, but I anticipate that being a race that goes on through two-a-days.
CN: What about at safety with Marc Timmons, who's 17 pounds heavier than a year ago, and Humanitarian Bowl impact player Stevie Paris?
Ash: Marc right now is playing as good as he has at any point in his career here at Iowa State. He put on some weight and made a commitment in the off-season that he had to get bigger, stronger and faster. He has done that. You can see the difference in Marc out here at spring practice.
Stevie Paris is playing with more confidence than he has at any point. He didn't play a lot last year, except for certain situations. Then we had him starting in the bowl game and that gave him a lot of confidence heading into the off-season and this spring. He's playing better than he ever has. I'm happy with the progress we've been able to make.