Iowa State vs. UNI Quotebook

Iowa State opens the 2004 regular season in Ames Saturday afternoon against Northern Iowa. Head coach Dan McCarney previewed the game with the local media during his first weekly press conference Tuesday morning. Here is a complete transcription.

Opening comments:

"Our special teams captain for the Northern Iowa game will be wide receiver Ryan Baum. He has had a tremendous camp. Everyone is aware of his special teams performance last year, and he hasn't missed a beat. He has really done a great job."

"Overall, our health is good. You know about the guys that are out for the season. With the exception of those guys, we think everyone else will be available, barring any new injuries that come out of the next four days of practice."

"It doesn't get much better than Cael Sanderson, does it? It's really amazing. What a great example it is to all of us. On and off the mat he is an unbelievable champion. We really applaud Bobby Douglas, Cael, Kevin Jackson, and the job they did over there. It's great to have that Iowa State representation so strong in the Olympics."

"The dedication of the Bergstrom Facility is this weekend. We have not been in there a lot, but we've been in there some through the last three weeks. The weather has cooperated pretty well. It's an unbelievable facility and it really is first class all the way. You have a different approach to coming to work every day knowing that it doesn't matter what's happening outside. We set our schedule and go. We can get it all done. It's very important for now and the future of the program."

"Todd Fitch is doing real well. He's going to get a re-check on Friday. Things are going real well. Each day that goes by he spends a little more time on the job, but I still have to temper it, keep an eye on him, and watch him. But he went through major treatments this summer, and then went through very serious surgery at Mayo before he rejoined the team. Cancer is cancer and it's very serious."

"We're always looking for living examples amongst us. No matter what the magnitude of the obstacle, you can overcome it and go on and lead a very significant life and improve people's lives around you."

"UNI is an outstanding program and won 10 games a year ago. A majority of that team is back. Even when they lost a starter from last year, many of those positions if not all of them may have some experience. They lost a couple real good ones at linebacker, but yet all of the four linebackers we expect to see here Saturday have starting experience. This isn't a young football team; it's a very experienced team coming in here."

"Mark Farley has done a great job with that program and team. We read the same things you do and hear the same things. We know they're coming down here very confident, and I don't blame them. You look at the season we had a year ago and the season they had, the experience they have coming back, and the newcomers we have in our two-deep. I don't blame them coming in here very confident. I just have to make sure this team is ready to play."

"I really like the preparation of our staff and team. We've gotten a lot accomplished. We need every minute that we can get the next four days until kickoff. We still need a lot of preparation, mental checks, and some good physical work. The two-deep you see today is the one we'll go to the game with on Saturday. There are not a lot of adjustments. I'm real happy with the progress of this team. We really have improved since last March and the spring game."

"I counted 30 freshmen, sophomores, or newcomers that we think will play in the game on Saturday. That's a high amount, a lot of guys. Some of those sophomores and freshmen have played, but at least a dozen of the newcomers have never played before. We'll know a lot more about our team after Saturday when those guys hit the field for the first time."

On running back situation, with Tyease Thompson backing up Stevie Hicks:

"It's a great problem to have, because all the newcomers are good players. (Thompson, Jason Scales, and Stevie Hicks) were our top three freshmen from the day that we got started with them. There is no doubt that they were our top running backs behind Stevie Hicks, and it was just a matter of how they fell.

"Scales missed some practices. You're not going to move up the depth chart and could move down when you miss practices. He's back now and we definitely think he'll be available Saturday. Coleman is a big, strong, physical running back.

"Tyease is a guy that will make you miss. At times he looks like a Darren Davis-type back. He's not as physical, strong, and is only 170 pounds, but he can make you miss. He's shown a lot of toughness for a guy that's 170 pounds. Tyease gets better every time we practice. He'll be the first one off the bench, then we'll see how the game goes. We fully anticipate Scales and Coleman playing."

"I don't know if there is going to be enough carries for all four of them, but those kids will play. Three of the four are really involved in special teams right now. But we know it's going to be a long season and don't want to wear Stevie Hicks by having him carry the ball all game long. We've made up our minds we're going to play Tyease and those other guys are going to be ready to go as well."

More on Thompson's progress:

"If you ask my staff, and the offensive and defensive players who in the last 10 days has made as much progress as anybody on this football team, and it's number four. He's made great progress since we stopped installing, made it all review, and stopped throwing new stuff at him. He's really making strides."

On decision not to redshirt any of those backs:

"There is no question, they're all over our special teams. Coleman is a guy that could play running back or fullback, because he's so physical, strong, and tough. It's not out of the realm of possibility that we could still redshirt one of those guys, but right now our plans are to play those guys. They are some of the better players on our special teams. It's hard to put a redshirt on a guy when you watch him perform out there in practice."

On offensive guard positions:

"Kory Pence and Seth Zehr will start at guard. Pence has really gotten better and had two good scrimmages in a row. When we go ones-ones, and that's (Nick) Leaders and (Brent) Curvey that he's blocking inside, then Tim Dobbins, he's doing a nice job. He's really gotten better and earned that position. As always, you want to build depth and play those backups as well. But he is clearly our starter going into the game."

On decision to move Tyson Smith to rush end:

"A lot of it had to do with the emergence of Tim Dobbins, because we didn't know if he would be able to start, play, or redshirt. We didn't know before he got here. But he's jumped in there and learned an awful lot. He's put a lot of extra time in on his own to learn the system. He brings a real physical presence to our defense.

"That was more of a factor than the disappointment of any one player out there on the edge of our defense. Shawn Moorehead has had a good camp, Tyson has had a real good camp, and Collins Eboh is one of the better young guys that we brought into the program. Cephus has had his best three weeks of practice since he's been here.

"It's not like we've had all these major disappointments and our only choice was to throw Tyson in there at rush. I think moreso than that it's been the emergence of Dobbins. If he has made any mistakes, it seems to be aggressive mistakes. He's going to start at MIKE, Brandon Brown will start at WILL, and Tyson will start at rush end."

On utilizing tight ends more:

"We want to. They were non-existent last year. We were so spoiled with Mike Banks as a blocker and receiver for four years, and then we were solid two years ago and way below average last year. Everybody knows that when you watch our team. It wasn't just blocking, but also being more physical. The offensive line takes all the heat from last year, but those guys next to the tackles block a lot too. They weren't even average last year.

"The tight ends need to step it up a lot. Our top two guys are seniors and they'd better play like seniors. But we hope we can get the ball to them, and both Brett Kellogg and James Wright have caught the ball better."

On team's mindset going into first game:

"I sense that they're excited to play. All of us are tired of hearing about nine months worth of last year. It's easy to relive the past when you've won bowl championships, gone to bowls, and won big games. It's fun. That's human nature. But when the memory is a bad one and a disappointment, then it's not a lot of fun.

"It's like today's headline in the Des Moines paper about one good defense and one that's not. I didn't know that we even played a game yet this year – how can we be a bad defense or not a good one? But we know what it is – a reflection back to last year. That's the way it is. Until you play and do good things, they're going to keep going back to the last time we played. So let's start giving our fans a reason to rally behind this team."

On quarterback situation with Bret Meyer getting start:

"We'll find out how he plays the first time he takes a snap Saturday. There is concern, but I have a lot of faith and confidence in Bret Meyer and Austin Flynn, the emergence of the quarterback position, and the improvement. We'll find out more Saturday. Bret can't go in there so uptight that he can't execute. He can't go in there with the pressure of having to be Randall Cunningham or Dan Marino. We're going to play as a team, and win or lose as a team."

On how defense looks up the middle:

"I think they've got a chance to be a darn good one. I like the heart of our defense right now, with Leaders, Curvey, Dobbins, (Nik) Moser, and Greedy Paris. You'd better be pretty good in the middle of that defense, if you want to be good everywhere else. I like the way those guys are practicing right now. They're doing a lot of good things.

"Curvey has made a great move. All of his playing time last year was outside, and this will be his first start inside. He reminds me a lot of James Reed, who is playing in the NFL. (Curvey) is not ready for the NFL right now, but he reminds me of that style of player that's physical, fast and quick. He is really getting off the ball. I'm real proud of the job he's done in camp."

On emergence of Collins Eboh:

"He's got a great look in his eye. Whether he does something real good or got blocked and knocked around physically, he's always had the same look in his eye. His maturity level is real strong and real high. But to sit here and tell you in February that I thought Collins Eboh was going to be here in our two-deep – it goes way beyond Jason Berryman's absence. Collins would have been playing whether Berryman was here or not.

He would have been in our rotation, based on what I've seen in these four scrimmages and 25 practices. It was us and nobody else, Division I. Watch him and his career now. He's going to be a fine player. We can't bring enough guys like Collins Eboh into the program, in-state or out-of-state. He is going to play a lot this year."

On status of freshman Travis Ferguson:

"We are definitely going to try to redshirt him. We know that he can be a defensive end, rush end, or tight end in his career. All of those are possibilities. He's a quality young man, but unless we get some injuries we're going to hold him this year."

On if this is youngest team he's had in Ames:

"Not since I've been at Iowa State. This is the youngest one. You know there are going to be some highs and lows, but going to work every day I don't know that I've ever had a group that's been on the edge of their seat more and want to be coached. We all want kids that are coachable and will listen to you, and that sure seems to be what this team is doing right now."

On need to have balanced offensive attack:

"We want to be able to do both, and we've done that every time we've practiced, scrimmaged, and gone against our defense. There are lots of reasons we want to upgrade our running game, and get back to when we had a real strong, sound running game. We've put an emphasis on it and hopefully it will look like it Saturday – that we can run the ball again here at Iowa State consistently."

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