Q: Coach, bring us up to date on the defensive line. Where do things stand right now?
PELTON: You know, the guys are working really hard, and they're trying to do everything we ask them to do. I‘ve been pleased with the effort; I've been pleased with the guys. Right now we're on practice 9, and we've improved from where we started, and that's always a positive with those guys. Great guys, they come to work and, just like I was talking to them after practice, somebody's got to step up and lead the group, and right now we're still searching for one and I think they understand somebody has to do it.
Q: Is anybody in particular standing out right now?
PELTON: You know, Bryce Braaksma has been a guy that's made some plays, and, you know I could say good things about all of them; Ahtyba, Rashawn, Kurtis Taylor, Ferguson . . . I could say something good about all of them, but we're trying to be more consistent with those guys, and understand they have to come to work every day. I talk to them all the time about a lunch pail. In the country when I grew up, you put a bologna sandwich and an apple and some juice in a bag and you went to work; and that's what I'm talking about, every day just coming to work.
Q: How's Kurtis doing coming off that knee injury?
PELTON: You know what, he hasn't showed any effects of it. I'm sure he's not fully confident with it right now, but he's been a guy who's came to work every day. I haven't seen any effects of that knee, because I don't know what he did beforehand, so he's done a good job up to this point, he's still learning. We're teaching them the game; these guys just got to learn the game. That's what Coach Chizik's doing with all the situations, putting them in situations to understand the game, so hopefully when we get in a game there's no situation that they haven't been in, that they won't know what to do. And that's what we're trying to accomplish here.
Q: Could you just talk about that a little more, what kind of situations you put those guys in and how they're responding to it?
PELTON: Well, the thing about it, you know, a lot of times defense is going to get . . . you know, something happens where they get their back up against a wall, and the more you're in this situation the more you feel comfortable with it. The thing about teaching these guys, you try to teach them about life, because life . . . you're going have your back against the wall and a lot of times, just like tonight, you're gonna be up in life, you're gonna be down in life, you've gotta come to fight whether you're down or whether you're up. And that's what we're trying to get these guys . . . and the biggest thing about them is a lot of times it's easy to fight when your back is against the wall. What are you gonna do when you're up on somebody, what are you gonna do when you get a chance and you're up? Do you relax or do you keep pushing the button. That's what we're trying to instill in these guys, you know; you're gonna be down, you gotta fight, you're gonna be up, you gotta finish. That's what we're trying to accomplish here.
Q: Are you seeing some depth emerge?
PELTON: Um . . . right now, all the guys are competing and that's what you try to establish and they're competing hard, and nobody has moved any guys out of the first group. But there are some guys who are making some strides out of that second group . . . Bailey Johnson, he was the third team and he's made some noise, and Nick Frere, I've been really impressed with those second guys, so all the guys, like I said, I can get up here and I can say good things about them all or I can say bad things about them all. But the biggest thing I'm proud of is they're a lunch pail group, they come to work.
Q: Rashawn Parker, he did a lot of strong things early in the season last year, and then kind of tailed off at the end. How have you seen him maybe be more consistent? Have you seen that in him at all?
PELTON: And that's a thing that he understands, he knows that he started out strong, and he finished . . . so the thing he's trying to do now is be more consistent and the thing about these guys . . . These guys want to learn so much. They ask questions. They come in, and the thing that I try to get them to do as a defense, is understand who you are. Rashawn's a 5-11, 6 foot defensive player, and there's certain things he's going to be able to do and certain things he's not. Once he understands that he's going to be able to hone in on what he can and what he can't do. That's all I try to them him to understand is who you are. And what you can do and what you struggle with. Don't worry about what you can't do, do what you can do very well. And I think they're taking that, and it's my job as a coach to find out what he can do, and coach him in the way, "Okay we're gonna get good at this and we're gonna work on the things that you're not good at." So to answer your question, Rashawn has showed consistency, and that's a year older, too, so he's been in . . . you know, a different coach. And I'm trying to be just extra hard on them, because it's easier to be hard and lighten up than it is to be coming in light and then try to pick it up. So they understand what we demand as coaches, and hopefully that will help them off the field also.
Q: Now Coach, our subscribers . . . you were one of the people they really wanted to hear from. They sent me a number of questions, so I'll just try to get through some of them. First of all, size, strength, quickness, technique; which of these do the current players on the defensive line need to work at the most, and why?
MP: One thing about the size is . . . you are what you are. And I think Coach Sheppard, our strength coach, has done a great job with that. And my job as the defensive line coach is to give them technique. And that's what I just got through talking about, making sure these guys know how to be defensive linemen, and giving them the attitude and just giving them the technique and just keep working them. And they're a great group to work with and the biggest thing now is just probably technique, understanding techniques and situations. And I think they understand that, and they ask questions and that's what we're working on right now, just technique.
Q: Now Coach, what would you say your main philosophy as far as defensive line play is?
MP: You can build a great defensive lineman. And I say that because I was a linebacker and somebody had to teach me how to play defensive line. And I told these guys when I first came in I wasn't worried about talent, I wasn't worried about ability, I wanted you to understand that you can be a good defensive line by playing the right technique, placing your hands in the right places, the footsteps, it's the little things. It doesn't help that, you know, you being a great athlete, but I want them to understand that you can be taught how to really play defensive line and that's my philosophy. You can teach anybody something, and defensive line, you know, you have to run and hit to be a great one, but as I tell them all the time . . . they're a great group. There are no great individuals in this group, but you're a great group working together.
Q: How have some of the players, specifically Ferguson, Neal and Frere, progressed, including how they've responded to the strength and conditioning program?
MP: Well, the thing about it right now is we've put them through a very strenuous strength and conditioning, and Ferguson and Frere and those guys, they all work, and that's the thing, as a staff, we're trying to get them to understand, that whether you're in the weight room, the classroom, in our meetings, or out on that practice field . . . come to work. Come to work, it pays off. And that's the thing about them, they're all working and they're seeing results so it'll be easy to get them to work, continue to work, when they see results.
Q: Rubin, a lot of people have questions about him. How is his conditioning and how is he adapting to what you-all are teaching?
MP: You know what, Rubin has probably been a pleasant surprise, because you always hear stories before you come about the guys, this and that, and you go back and watch them on film, but his conditioning has been excellent. He's one of them guys you had to push along, but I never questioned anything about what he'd done. In the winter workouts, he took out the last couple of days, and he ran so hard, and it impressed us. So once I seen that, it was my job to make sure he does that all the time, and he has responded to conditioning and just everything we're trying to teach him. I'm very pleased with his work ethic. We've just got to continue to work on those little things like use your hands, step the right way, play hard all the time, just the little things. And he's responding and . . . I expect him to be a very big cog in the defensive line this fall.
Q: Now, Braaksma, how's his size and where do you see him ultimately, ending up playing on the defensive line?
MP: Well, the thing about Braaksma is, he's small, he's 260 in the defensive line, but he plays with such technique. He's a technician, and size-wise you would say he's too small to play in there, but you see him day after day after day, just compete and just shoot his hands and get better, and get them guys off him; and he's one of them guys, you know, if you asked him to run through a brick wall, he would do it, because he knows if you ask him to do it, it's going to help him get better. So we don't really talk about size a lot, we just teach technique and the rest of that stuff will take care of itself.
Q: Now in terms of Alburtis, are we going to see him this spring, or is he out until the fall?
MP: Well Alburtis . . . Austin probably will not be out there this spring because you know, he tore his pec and right now he's rehabbing, but he attends all the meetings and he knows what's going on, so the biggest thing, I told him just make sure you get well, make sure you're doing your rehab, and all this stuff will take care of itself. He's a young kid and he has a chance, so just don't get impatient, you know, take care of your body. Take care of your injuries and all the rest of the stuff, there'll come a time you'll be out there on the field, but don't get frustrated. You know you're a part of this group. And I include him and I want him to be at all the meetings and like I say, you know, just be patient, you know, take care of yourself and rehab that injury and let's get at that, and this fall we can compete.
Q: What about Frere? Is he going to be a fixture on the defensive line, or is there the possibility he might move over to the offensive line?
MP: Which one . . . Nate? Right now, Nate's learning defensive line and whatever decision Coach Chiz makes, to do with him, I don't have any control over, but I tell you what, now, he's really came along as a defensive lineman, and a lot of it is different teaching for them, so a lot of times, they're trying to understand what I want, and what I demand and how I coach and how I teach it, which he's really . . . he's made some plays this spring, and like I say Coach Chiz controls all that. He's got us two-deep right now, so we'll see when the fall comes.
Q: Now Parker, we want to know about how he's developing, but this fan had a specific question: Has Parker got Yonda's helmet print on him yet?
MP: I guess that's a deal with the guy that blocked back on him?
Q: I guess so.
MP: You know, just like I tell them all the time, everything happens in life for a reason. When that happened to him, he knew it was a downfall for him, he knew it was something that affected him. Things that happen to you, they either break you or make you, and I think with that happening to him, it's in the back of his mind, but he knows that he can come back and this is a second-chance world, and he's in a position, starting, and tell that fan that you don't get no tougher than Rashawn Parker, so whatever happens to him, he'll be back.
Q: In terms of strength, where did these guys start out in terms of their bench-pressing reps and some of those things at the beginning of the conditioning program, and where are they now?
MP: You know, I don't really know because Coach Sheppard handles all that stuff. I get them when they're done and . . . all of them have improved in what they did when they first got here. January, we tested them and when they came in not all of them had percentage increase. Coach Shep does a great job on that, and those guys come to me and work or go down there and work. This is a work environment around here, and they're going to keep working and continue working, and they'll be fine for this fall.
Q: Coach, at Troy your defenses were known to really get after the run. How is this unit responding to that challenge?
MP: Well, you know, I can't take credit for all that, it was some great coaches at Troy, Coach Bolt . . . me and Coach Bolt were fortunate enough to coach down there, but you know, it's just attitude. That's, like I tell these guys, you can come with the attitude to work, or you can come with the attitude to not work. Stopping a run is an attitude, period. What you've got to do, in your mind, to play block, to get off block, is just come in with the, like I said, lunch-pail attitude, to stop the run. And you know, playing technique has a lot to do with it, but you've got to be a man and just get up in there and say, "You're not running the ball on me."
Q: Can you go through the two-deep for us at each position, real quick?
MP: Right now, probably at the weak end we're playing with Rashawn Parker, and behind him is Nick Frere, who just moved ahead of Patrick Neal, so Patrick and Nick got a thing going, but they haven't been able to pass Rashawn, and inside right now we're playing at the three is Bryce and behind him is Nick Howe, Bryce has been the front-runner, and behind Nick Howe is Bailey Johnson. Bailey Johnson has been behind a nose and a three. And at the nose guard is Tuba and Nate Frere, and Bailey's been subbing with those guys. And the strong end has been Kurtis Taylor and Ferguson. You've got two young guys in there, Hurtig and Slifka; those guys are competing too, but that's the two-deep and . . . got a good competition but nobody's really took over anybody in the first group.
Q: Coach Chizik said on the Saturday press conference that one of his main goals was to develop depth on the defensive line, because that's where it begins, but also two-deep so that when the new players get here in the fall, they'll know who they're competing against. What's it looking like in terms of the JuCo's that are coming; is there anybody that you think might be able to compete to break into the depth or . . . what are we looking at in terms of that?
MP: Well, anytime you go to a junior college, you're looking for some kind of immediate help, right then. And all the guys we signed, you know, we're thinking they'll be able to come in and compete. But . . . we think they're great players. Now, whether they come in to compete? If they can't come in and compete, then that means you've got some good players here. So the only thing we're trying to create, and when they come in here, they're going to have to come in and play in a competitive environment. It's not like they're going to come in and they're gonna be penciled in as a starter; these guys have been working, and they're going to have to beat some guys out. And I think they understand that. I don't think they would want to come in here and be gave a position, and to keep the integrity of coaching and defense, you can't come in here and place the guy, but they'll have the opportunity to compete and that's what it's all about. You come in and you gotta hold your position . . . or you gotta take one. And that's how we want to coach it around here, you're either gonna take it, or you're gonna have to hold it. You don't inherit a position. In fall, the guys are going to have to get back out there and compete again. And that's the way it should be.
Q: Just a few more questions . . . Coach Bolt wrote an article back in October of 2005 for "American Football." You know the article I'm talking about? Have you read that article? What did you think of it?
MP: (Laughing) I didn't get a chance to read it, but a couple of coaches told me about it. I have not . . . I've been trying to find . . . I have not read it.
Q: Have you ever thought about writing down some of your philosophies as far as defensive line play, and if so, what are some of the things you would share if, say for example, you were talking to high school coaches, or just writing an article that might be read by some folks about the importance of defensive line play?
MP: Well, the thing that we hang our hat on here . . . keep it simple. Defensive line, and I tell them all the time, is head, hands and feet. Understanding that . . . play with your hands, punch, pat hands and feet and move your feet, and be physical. The rest of it, you know you can come out there and create all these drills, but if they're not getting better with head, hands and feet, then you're wasting your time. Because that's all that defensive line is; it's punching, it's locking out, and it's getting off block, whether it's pass rush or whether it's against a run. You know, defensive line, it's a physical man game and the thing about it, you're gonna hit every player and you've gotta love it. If you're faint of heart, you can't play defensive line. So my philosophy on defensive line is keep it simple, and make it physical.
Q: How's the pass rush coming along? Is this going to be a unit that going to be able to mount a serious pass rush?
MP: You know what, the thing about it is, the biggest thing we're trying to install now, and we're piecing the pass rush together, is you've gotta stop the run. Pass rushing is fun, because you get in the field, you're running, but like I said, you've got to stop the run, if you don't stop the run, nobody's going to throw the ball. Everybody's just going to go ball control on you and pound you and pound you, because if you can't stop the run, that's one of them taking your manhood, so we've really, really emphasized stopping the run this spring, and then along the way we're piecing together the pass rush, because I'd rather have a group that can stop the run and limited on the pass rush, than play pass and can't stop the run, because you've got to be able to control that, and they'll learn . . . and like I said, it's a process. You see them do some things and then you add on to it. And it's identifying what guys can do, also. Because every pass rush is different. So I don't just get out there and just teach a pass rush move, I see what a guy's capable of doing, and then you teach like that. So it's about who you are and what you can do, so if you're a speed rusher, I'm not going to get out there and have you bull rush, you know, we set stuff up, but pass rushing to me is like personality. You either got it or you don't, you know what I'm saying, and you've got to fit in what they can do. So right now we're just trying to figure what guys can do and build on that, so hopefully by this spring we'll have a good idea about what type moves these guys can do and then get them to understand that's what you do.
Q: Coach Sheppard, I had a chance to do an extensive interview with him and he said this will be the most physical team in the Big 12. How's the physicality of this unit?
MP: As you know . . . you've got to teach them. That's why Coach Chiz is out there, patting hands, shoot, run the ball, run the ball, stop the run. That's how you learn to be physical, and it starts in the weight room . . . bench-press, power cleans, it's all that stuff. And just shooting your hands and understanding that this is a physical man game, you've gotta be physical. If you're not, you don't need to play this game. The corner's got to be physical, safeties, running backs, receivers. It's a physical man game, but it starts in the weight room, and that's what we're trying to install with them. You've gotta be physical, you've gotta be a tough man, because you're going to be put in situations that . . . you're gonna have to stop them or they're gonna just . . . take your manhood. So that's what we're trying to make sure the guys understand about being physical.
Q: How mean do these guys need to be? How much attitude do they need to have? Obviously not off the field, we had some problems with that in the past, but on the field physical is important, but how important is it also for them just to have that sort of ‘junk-yard dog' mentality . . . or is that important?
MP: Yes it is, it's all attitude. It's just like me and you sitting here talking and you slap me . . . well, I got choices the way I react. I can either just take it, or me and you can get it on. So the thing about it is, being tough is an attitude and it's something that you learn how to be. These guys, I don't know how tough, and I don't worry about what they did before we got here, but teaching them how to be tough, the attitude. Like I told you before, stopping a run is an attitude; it's a ‘bad man' game, you've got to be a bad man and when you get off the field, shake people's hand, "Hey, let's go to dinner." But when you're out there, you've got to be a bad man. It's all attitude, how you approach things, how you approach stopping the run. I can't be soft; I've gotta be a bad man. So just trying to promote, you know, attitude, being tough, being physical, and getting to the ball, and loving your teammates, and all that, because together you can accomplish a lot more than you can accomplish as an individual.
Q: How hungry are these guys? I talked to Coach Sheppard, he said that these guys didn't like losing last year. How hungry are they, you know, you mentioned a little earlier they ask you questions, what kind of questions do they ask? What kind of initiative are these guys showing in terms of taking advantage of the expertise that's been made available to them with this staff?
MP: I don't think they like losing, but losing sometimes creates just a different attitude. Do you settle for being a loser, how do you handle it? If you're tired of being a loser, that means you're going come to work and do something about it. That's the thing about it, they're hungry, but they still gotta learn how to work, you know. It's like they be hungry and be trying to find consistence. If you're a good defense, you don't come out here and let the offense drill you one day, or offense, you don't come out here and defense drill you. Every day you try to do these things, and I think they're hungry, but they've still gotta learn things and they've still gotta develop an attitude. And that what we're trying to teach them, every day, every day you're going to work. When you come out here on this football field you're gonna work. Nothing else is acceptable but work. So they are hungry but at the same time, they've gotta be taught.
Q: Now, you just have a few more practices left. What are the two or three things that you really want to accomplish with the time you have remaining this spring?
MP: Well, I just want them to be more consistent. I don't want them to come out here and feel good half a day and then have to take a day off. And I want to try to find a leader in the group, you know, just like I told them, I said, "You know, I can run out here, and I have a good time doing it. I can rant and rave and push you, but I can't be the leader of this group. I'm the coach." Somebody's got to step up, take'em by the horn and say, "This is my group, y'all follow me, and I'm gonna do it." So, if I can find a leader, and we can identify . . . it could be two or three guys, it might be one, it might be all of them. But I've got to find somebody to step out and say, "When something's going wrong, we've gotta do it right," and be the cool head of the group. Biggest thing, just continue to get better, continue to try to do technique, and find a leader.
Q: Now, in terms of . . . and I asked Coach Bolt this same question . . . you-all are now hitting, you're going against the offensive line. Give us an assessment of how you think the offensive line is developing from your perspective as a defensive line coach.
MP: Well, the thing about the offensive line, I'm sure Coach Mac would probably say the same thing that we're saying, we're just teaching technique right now. They have their days against us, and we have our days against them. I think we're both probably trying to find the same thing, and that's being consistent. You're not going to win every rep, I tell them guys all the time, you're not going to win every rep, but are you getting better? Did you get better even though you lost the rep? A lot of times, you don't learn nothing from when you win, you learn something from when you don't do it as well. ‘OK, I didn't do that as well, what did I do wrong?' And that's probably what, as a defensive line and offensive line, we're trying to be more consistent, and compete. Come to compete. As far as those guys, I've seen those guys get better at what we're doing, but the thing is, it's probably consistency with both groups. I know Coach Mac . . . I hear him get on them and we coach so much together that we're saying the same things. And basically he's trying to teach technique, I'm trying to teach technique, and we're both just trying to keep the effort there. As far as being physical, they came off and knocked us off the ball, and it's a good thing, because they've got to understand we've got to play leverage, and when we don't they come off and knock us off. And they protect, when we don't do what we do, they protect. So the good thing about it is you've got a group good enough to knock you off, and a group good enough to pass-block you, so you've got a good group to work your technique and when you don't do it, the results ain't there.
Q: Last couple of questions . . . first of all, after spring ball what's going to be the regimen before you can reconvene for fall practice?
MP: Well, probably the biggest thing is getting them back in the weight room, and understanding that, "OK, what do I need to do? Do I need to get stronger? I know I need to get stronger, but do I need to gain weight, do I need to lose weight?" You know, identify what your strengths and what your weaknesses are and making sure that you get that done, because in the spring, somewhere in April, you're talking about getting maybe three months then you're back at it again. So within that three months, what can I do to improve myself as a football player? I went through the spring, I wasn't strong enough; I went through the spring, I wasn't big enough. Can I get the weight on? Can I get the reps? Can I get this . . . because this is what's going to be demanded of me. I know I've gotta go in the weight room and work, because when I get back, them guys are gonna work me. That's what it's gonna take. And that's the only thing. Once it's over, then it's up in school and get yourself eligible, you know, all the things that a student-athlete has to do once spring ball's over.
Q: Last question . . . what made you want to come be a part of Coach Chizik's staff and how do you like the Ames community so far?
MP: Well, the thing that probably enticed me about coming back to Coach Chiz' staff was being able to work with Coach Chiz. Coach Chiz coached at Auburn, which I played at Auburn, so I kind of knew what kind of person he was and being able to work up under Coach Bolt. Coach Bolt brought me into coaching and I worked under him as a graduate assistant, and I knew what kind of guy he was, and I knew what kind of mind Coach Chiz was, so I knew that I was going to be around two of the best defensive minds in the game, and I knew once you put them together, I was going to be able to learn and they were going to make me learn. Because my ultimate goal one day is to be a defensive coordinator; why not learn from two of the best defensive minds in the game? But the Ames community's been awesome, once that snow left and I could really see the Ames community, they've been very receptive and I can't wait to get my wife here, and I think she'll love it and I've actually played in a game here, Troy, and I know they're very supportive, so I knew that wasn't going to be an issue. I knew if we put a winner out on the field, they're going to love us, so that's all our goal is, is just to give them something to be proud of.
Q: Now I did ask all the coaches this, including Coach Boulware. They hadn't taken care of him yet. Coach Chizik, Coach McFarland, Coach Bolt knew what I was talking about. Have they introduced you to the Iowa chop and the Iowa steak yet?
MP: I've got the Iowa chop.
Q: What'd you think of it?
MP: Awesome. I haven't got the Iowa steak yet. But if you can tell me where I can get the Iowa steak, I will go get it.
Q: I will tell you where you can get an Iowa steak.
MP: Where's the Iowa chops at?
Q: You've got a few places. You've got the Iowa Beef Steak House down in Des Moines. You've got Rube's in two or three places now. So there's some places you can get them. You can cook'em yourself or they'll cook it for you.
MP: No doubt. I love pork chops. Y'all gotta find me where they are, and I'm goin'.
Q: We'll get you and Coach Boulware the hook-up.