Robert McFarland Post-Spring Q&A

In this Q&A, ISU's offensive coordinator/offensive line coach breaks down that side of the football following spring ball.

CN: Now Coach, at Central Florida you had two 1000-yard receivers and a 1000-yard rusher in the same season. Does Iowa State have those kind of skill players to repeat that feat?

MCFARLAND: Well, you know I think obviously on offense you always go to your strengths, and when we were at Central Florida our strengths were our receivers, and we were lacking tight ends and we were lacking backs, actually. So our strength was our receivers and therefore our offense kind of went around the receivers. We were able to get our running back 1000 yards in the process, with one-back runs and a spread offense, but primarily that was our offense over there. Here we have the opportunity to be a little more diverse. We do have tight ends, I think, that can give us more of a tight end type offense and that's been pleasing so far, so we're utilizing the tight end a little bit more than we did when I was at Central Florida.

CN: So how will you utilize the tight end in this system?

MCFARLAND: Well, I think obviously for them, we're going to involve them in the pass game, and they just give you a little more added run game as well, so you don't always have just tackles on an edge, you do have a tight end in there that people have to line up to. And it just adds a little more run game for you that you normally wouldn't have.

CN: Now, one of the things . . . I'm going to jump ahead on a question . . . one of the things that, I believe it was Schmeling, said was that the tight ends are getting acclimated to pass blocking because they just didn't do that in the past, so how are they coming along with developing those techniques?

MCFARLAND: I think, like most of the guys, they've improved as spring's gone on. We just finished number 13 and there's been a marked improvement, not only in their run blocking but their pass protection as well. And that's something they're going to have to do for us; we're going to have to find a way to utilize them more in our offense, and we look forward to them getting better the last two days of spring and then over the summer and into fall camp.

CN: Now, at Stephen F. Austin you had a relatively young squad, but they were able to have some success behind a resurgent offensive line. Talk about what can be done with . . . you know, experience isn't the strength of this offensive line, but talk about how you still mold them into a competitive and winning unit.

MCFARLAND: Well, I think for a bunch of guys right now, it's their moment. It's their moment in time and you know, I think that's when players step up to their best. And we're going to see just how good we are right now. But it's been a very competitive spring; I think we've got a two-deep that's in there fighting with one another to figure out who the starting five are going to be, and there's some jobs that I think that are still up in the air. But it's been something that I think we've improved, we've understood the offense pretty well, and we just have to get better, we have to get stronger in the off-season. We have to come back with a little more resolve, to understand what we're doing and get better and just see where we're at as players now. It's their moment; there's no one else in front of them now and it's those ten guys fighting out to see who those five are going to be.

CN: Now Coach, early on when I had a chance to interview you, you talked about you have 16 offensive linemen in here. You wanted to give everybody a shot, but you also needed to at some point get it down to a solid 10. How did that work out?

MCFARLAND: Well, you know you have so many plays that you're able to run, and then you have to try to put your offense in and get your first couple of groups as much reps as you can. But I think we've gotten an opportunity to see most of our players do what we needed to see on the offensive line. And I think right now we're narrowing it down to 10 guys that we think will sit there and be in the mix here in the next two days, and come fall camp, and we'll just see how we progress from there, and just see how it all sorts itself out.

CN: Coach, you stress technique and fundamentals. What are these linemen learning that may give them a competitive advantage in the Big 12 this season?

MCFARLAND: Well, you know, hopefully we're passing on to them things that we think will win, and obviously they have to believe in those things. Anyone can coach a technique and anyone can coach something, but if the coach and the player don't both believe in it, you're not going to have much success. So hopefully they're believing the techniques; we've had a good response from the players. I think they're excited about what they're doing and hopefully they'll work at getting better at those things, and hopefully it'll pay off for us.

CN: As the offensive line coach, talk about the desire that you've witnessed in these young men and how that attitude has helped the unit progress.

MCFARLAND: You know, when you first put in an offense, especially with inexperienced offensive linemen, they're really just trying to learn things and sometimes you just don't see that competitiveness in them, you don't see that desire in them right at the beginning. I really feel the last four or five days I've seen it pick up, in the sense that they're understanding more and now they're out there knowing what they're doing, and they're competing more and they're sitting there trying to become a cohesive unit and find the way they're going to fit in this offensive line. I think it's improved as time's gone on; I think now that we have the system down a lot better we'll see even more out of them the next two practices.

CN: Now let me just take a minute and talk about the young men that aren't necessarily going to break into the top ten as well as the four additional offensive linemen that you have coming in this fall. What type of numbers do you anticipate possibly redshirting as far as offensive linemen?

MCFARLAND: Well, I think anytime you bring players in, especially freshmen or players that have redshirt years left available, you don't play them if they're not ready, if it's at all possible. And so if those young men come in here . . . we're very excited about the young players we have coming in out of high school, very talented guys with great size already. Are they ready to play right now at the Big 12 level? I don't know, we'll find out when they get out here. But if not, hopefully we'll have the ability to redshirt those young men, give them a year of weight room, learn the college system, learn school and all that. So obviously that's what you try to do, but we definitely are looking for the starting five, then we're going to try to find three more after that, so once we get down to eight, then you start trying to find linemen number nine and ten. And so that's kind of the process we're going through right now.

CN: Coach, one of the concerns fans have expressed over the years is that they felt this offense at times could be predictable. How do you avoid the predictability and is that even going to be a concern once people see your offense take the field?

MCFARLAND: Well, I mean, obviously if you're predictable you'd better be very good; you'd better be more talented and so hopefully we'll have an opportunity to keep people off-balance, you know, with a good mix of run and pass, and hopefully we'll have that ability to keep people off-balance. I think right now as young as we are, and as inexperienced as we are right now, that's one of the things we have to be able to do. Are we good enough to go out there and line up in one or two formations and run four or five plays? Most probably not right now. But that's something through time you hope to get to. But right now we have to be diverse on offense, and hopefully we'll have that ability with getting the systems down and understanding what we're doing.

CN: Now, from '95 to 2001 Iowa State had a 1000-yard rusher, and since that time they've only had one. I know the running game has been a top priority of Coach Chizik and yourself. Right now with what you have in the backfield, do you anticipate having a 1000-yard rusher or more next season?

MCFARLAND: Well, I think that's a benchmark that we all look for, and that's something that you want to do is prove that you have the ability to run the football. Obviously you have to have a special player back there to be able to do that, and you have to have linemen up front that gives them that opportunity, so hopefully come fall we'll have the mix of both of those and it'll lead to hopefully a productive season running the football.

CN: Now, Brandon Johnson just seemed to come out of nowhere. Talk about his progress this spring, and how he's looking.

MCFARLAND: You know Brandon stepped in there at center; it's a difficult position to play, in the sense . . . not only physically but mentally. He's really the coach on the field for us out there and he has to direct those guys. I've been very pleased with his progress; I think he's really taken the challenge of learning it, and becoming the guy out there than can give all the answers. And he's learning every day and I see him progressing as a player, and I'm excited about seeing how well things finish up here in the spring. And then I think he needs to have a great summer and get himself ready, and hopefully he'll do that for us in the fall as well.

CN: Now Coach, on game days will you be in the box or will you be on the sidelines?

MCFARLAND: You know, right now, obviously staff-wise we've gotten a feel for ourselves and where we're at. That's something that we will discuss during the off-season, where we're at. As far as leaning one way or the other, right now I feel very confident in the coaches that we have on the staff that Coach Chizik has put together, that I'll be able to go up or down, wherever we see it best to fit.

CN: Now, where do you see Vargas fitting in? That's a question that we've had; we had a number of those inquiries about him. Where do you see him fitting in right now?

MCFARLAND: You know, right now he really hasn't stepped up there with the first unit that much, and you know, he's been a little hobbled the last three or four practices, so his reps got cut down drastically. So that's one bad thing about it, when you get a little twist here or there, sometimes it knocks you out of some playing time, so unfortunately for him, the last five or six practices we've just been very careful how much we've utilized him just due to just some little nicks.

CN: Now, what leaders are surfacing on the offense in general and the offensive line specifically?

MCFARLAND: Well I think right now, just starting off offensively, I think all the guys are really learning what they're doing. Bret actually is a natural leader out there for us right now, especially with the quarterback position, but you know really I think all the players are really sitting up there and getting a feel for what's going on and I think they're seeing their moment to try to step things up and be accountable, and I think that's what leaders are. And so I think that process is really starting now, once they've gotten a feel for the staff and what we're expecting and demanding from them. I feel on the offensive line I've been very pleased so far with Schmeling and Brandon Johnson; I think those two right now have really tried to step it up and pick up their game, and I've been very pleased with Doug Dedrick, the junior college offensive tackle.

CN: Coach, we had a question about screens. Where do screens fit in this offense, and then what are your two or three favorite plays?

MCFARLAND: Well, I think like we were talking about being diverse, I think running the ball, throwing the ball, we have to be able to mix things up and I think screens are a vital part of that, so we'll try to utilize some screens in what we do to tie in with our pass-protections and stuff like that, so hopefully we'll utilize those when we see fit to do those. So hopefully that'll be something we'll be able to do.

CN: Just some questions in general about the various units . . . the offensive line, you mentioned Schmeling, you mentioned Dedrick, you mentioned . . . Brandon Johnson. What about the other two positions on the offensive line and then, right now as of today, what are the two-deeps?

MCFARLAND: Right now we really, we're shuffling some players around right now. Right now with our first unit, pretty much Johnson, Schmeling and Dedrick have really solidified themselves, I think, in three of those five spots. Lee Tibbs has really pushed up some things. I think that Ben Lamaak and Stephens and Blaes are fighting for positions as well, too. So, like I said, it's still a little unsettled right now; we'll watch the film from tonight's scrimmage, we got a lot of good plays in it tonight, and we'll hopefully get a bunch Saturday and then we'll just really sit down and evaluate at that time and try to get a two-deep set.

CN: And Alvarez?

MCFARLAND: Alvarez is in the mix, you know. He's a young player, he has four years left, has a redshirt year left. He's really come in here and done well in school and sat there and is learning the offense. A young player, you know, once again that hopefully if we can get a redshirt year out of him, you do. But if he's ready to play, then you play him. So I think he's in there competing and he's in the mix as well.

CN: I know in talking to the tight ends, Barkema, he was very excited. Where are the tight ends right now, both as a unit and in terms of the depth chart?

MCFARLAND: You know I think one of the bright spots has been our tight ends, you know I think they've done a good job for us, you know, being as physical . . . not only running the football but being pass protectors as well. They've caught the ball well, also, and so they're versatile players and you need to do different things with them, and so far they've shown the ability to do that, so I'm pleased with them as an overall unit.

CN: Now how will the fullback be utilized in your offense and what are we seeing in terms of the depth there?

MCFARLAND: You know, right now we have a couple of guys that have been working at that, Brian Ekwelundu and Mansfield, and those two guys have stepped up there and done a good job, they really have. We've been pleased with those guys and so we look forward to watching those guys progress and just see where they're at. You know I think the last couple of scrimmages here are really going to be key for us in determining who we feel are going to be able to help us next fall.

CN: Now, in terms of the running back, we've heard a lot about Jason. Talk about Jason and then that unit and what you're looking for from there.

MCFARLAND: You know, obviously we talked earlier about 1000-yard rushers, and I think you have to have a talent back there, and Jason, what reps he's gotten, we've been very pleased what we've seen out of him. He's a very physical runner, and he's a downhill guy, and that's what you're looking for. And so we've been very pleased with him so far, and the other guys are in there, they're competing, once again, learning the offense. I thought tonight they picked it up a little bit more, and so we've just got to still . . . we've got to improve, we've got to get better at that position, and we'll see how tonight looked on film and see what happens Saturday just to get a better evaluation heading into that last big scrimmage.

CN: Now the wide receivers, a lot of folks know about Blythe; he was listed in the spring guide as a pre-season All-American. Has he lived up to the billing, and if so, where are the other players in terms of the depth and who's right now going to line up across from him?

MCFARLAND: You know, right now, Todd . . . from everything you saw on film and saw him produce since he's been here, we've seen the same thing here in spring. And so, he's a guy that goes up there and fights for that ball and makes plays for you and so it's great to have him around, it really is. He's definitely a bright spot over there offensively and a guy that we'll have to work on getting the ball to. And I thought some of our other players, R.J. Sumrall and Hamilton, I've been very pleased with those guys . . . Messiah has done a great job as well, too. So those guys, receiver-wise, have really shown some abilities to do some things; they have to do a lot of things on offense, as far as knowing their routes and all that stuff that they have. But they've picked it up pretty well, so . . . been overall pleased with the receivers, you know, consistency catching the ball with that group's been pretty good.

CN: You've already talked about Bret; can you just talk about Austen just for a moment?

MCFARLAND: You know Austen, really, after redshirting this past season and coming in here, and now it's his moment. He's one of those guys that competes every play; I think he's a great talent. He's going to have to learn the quarterback position a little bit more at this level and how to manage the game and do some things. But I think his future's bright, he's obviously going to have to go out there and keep making things happen when he's out there with the offense, but we're excited about having him and we're looking forward to him hopefully having a great career here.

CN: Coach, as we wind this down, just three more questions. First, what's the off-season plan and what goals and expectations do you have for these guys in terms of the off-season? And I also know you're hitting the road recruiting, so what are you looking for in terms of recruits?

MCFARLAND: Well, you know, obviously we'll have a full slate of recruits that we'll be looking at, to fill all positions. We've got, obviously, seniors that will be graduating and holes to fill. So I think every position's going to be recruited heavily for us. As far as the summer plan for our guys and everything, you know we plan on them being with Coach Sheppard and his staff. We look forward to him getting those guys in the best shape, strength as possible. And there's no doubt in my mind, what I've seen that's happened here in the last four months, he'll definitely get accomplished this summer. And we have to get players dedicated to that cause. They have to get in here and truly understand what it is that it's going to take to get themselves ready, and like I said, a lot of them, it's their moment to shine and so right now we're letting them know there's some issues we have to address, strength and conditioning-wise, for them to have a chance to sit there and compete and play at this level.

CN: Your coaches, Boulware, Fountain, Petersen, Rodgers, they handle parts of the office for you. How have they performed this spring?

MCFARLAND: Oh, I couldn't be more pleased. I mean, I sit in a staff with a lot of knowledge, coaches that have been in a lot of places, and it's really been a great transition coming in here and just being around coaches that . . . not a lot has to be said because it's already understood, and conversations don't last that long because things are understood so quickly. We bring in a lot of experience, and coaches that have been at a high level of football for a long time, and I couldn't be more pleased with all the help we have in that room and assistance, and the coaching that they bring to it.

CN: Finally, Coach, how is the staff settling in and how are the families making the adjustment to Ames?

MCFARLAND: You know, I think the staff has really gelled well, you know, we've had coaches that knew each other for a while, and coaches that just met one another, but I think coach Chizik hired a bunch of coaches that all have the basic values and work ethic and knowledge and approach to this game that makes it all so common for us that we all respect what one another does around here. So that has been very pleasing, and you know I couldn't be happier with where we're at right now. Our families, we're looking forward to getting them all moved up here, I think we've got about half of them right now. My family's actually coming in for the weekend for the spring game. I haven't seen them in about a month, so I'm looking forward to seeing them, and I look forward to getting them up here once the summer starts. So I think most of the families will be up by June.

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