CN Transcript: Robert McFarland

For those of you that don't have access to the audio, please feel free to click here for the transcript of our recent interview with ISU's offensive coordinator.

CN: First of all, Coach, thank you very much for the interview today. I know we're all excited about football. The first question I have to ask you, though, is what's been going on since the end of spring ball?

RM: Well, you know, we had a late spring heading into spring recruiting, which the NCAA gives you six weeks here at the end of April and May to get on the road recruiting, and you work for those weeks, so we were . . . once we finished spring ball we had to kind of jump into our recruiting, spring recruiting, and do a couple of weeks of preparing and then we were on the road for about three weeks. So as coaching staff we were pretty busy doing basically our recruiting for this upcoming season and evaluations. As far as the players, they were finishing up school and trying to get as much workout in as they could back in that weight room before we headed into the summer.

CN: Now in terms of the team, it's been nearly three months since the end of spring ball. Look back now on that time and give us your assessment of what was accomplished last March and April.

RM: Well, I think definitely what happened . . . anytime you come in as a new staff . . . March and April was really just a big ‘getting to know one another' situation, players getting a feel for us as coaches on the field coaching them, and in the meeting rooms coaching them. Unfortunately you only get 15 days where you get to sit down with them and really talk to them and work with them, but I thought is was very much a valuable experience for both of us, getting a good feel for our players and our players for us. Obviously you get to put in the offense and introduce it to the guys. I finished in the spring and after going back and looking at cut-ups, you know, I'm pleased with where we're at right now. I think as a coach you'd always like to be a little bit further ahead. But I'm definitely pleased, for a new offense coming in, new terminology and new coaches, where we were once we finished the spring.

CN: Now, in terms of your evaluations between the end of spring ball and now, what were the strengths of the team that you saw, and where are the areas where the team clearly needs to work on improving? And I know in general coaches say, "We've gotta get better everywhere." But what are two or three of the real specific points you're going to focus on improving, and what are two or three real positives that came out of spring ball with the offense?

RM: Well, I think definitely starting with the positives, it was exciting to sit there and see that you have a quality quarterback coming back a senior, in Bret Meyer, that came in there and I thought did a great job of picking up the offense and really did a great job, I think, of getting the guys to understand what we are trying to do . . . so Bret was definitely a highlight for us and I think that helps. I think that we came out and tried to get a working two-deep, I think is what were trying to accomplish. We didn't totally get there coming out of spring, but I thought for the most part we kind of know the team that we're going to field this year and then see if hopefully some of these guys we brought in since can help us, but getting a two-deep I think obviously was one of the things we wanted to try to get accomplished and we did. When you talk about negative, you know really there's no negative right now because we're still just moving forward, still trying to get better. Are we lacking maybe in some areas, depth-wise? I think we definitely are. I think number one concern's got to be in the offensive line, and right behind that I think is our tailback position. I think those are two positions that's lacking a lot of experience and lacking some bodies as well. So if there were two areas I thought we were lacking a little bit might have been those two areas. And hopefully through recruiting and some freshmen coming in we could maybe get some more help going into summer camp.

CN: That was going to be my next question. . . . the offensive line, what your assessment of it was. You mentioned that that's an area of concern, but did any players distinguish themselves during the spring ball season on the offensive line that you feel go in as anchors or strong components of what will be the offensive line this year?

RM: Well you know, I thought we had . . . we didn't really, like I said, come out with a true, working two-deep out of spring, and that's something that . . . we basically have what we're wanting to go, but just wasn't totally settled or comfortable where we were at. I think definitely anchor-wise, I thought we had some players I thought stepped up and established themselves, guys that are ready to take that move to be full-time starters. I think Tom Schmeling coming back is a huge positive. He has played in some games, probably the most experienced player we have, and I thought Tom really had a good spring finishing up. I thought Brandon Johnson coming in there at center, and really trying to be the guy that's going to help run that offensive line to get it directed in the right direction; I thought that he kind of established himself as a guy that's ready to take charge of his position. And so those I guys I definitely felt better coming in. Dedrich, I thought, did really a great job . . . coming in as a junior college player at mid-term, I thought he came in here and did his best as far as getting acclimated and getting used to school here, getting used to Iowa from Arizona and just getting used to the offense. He obviously had to get in that weight room and get himself bulked up so he's been asked to do a lot of things, and I thought Doug Dedrick did a good job as well of establishing himself. After that we were a little unsettled. We experimented with Tibbs at tackle; it looks like we're going to end up moving him in at guard, maybe. And then, uh . . . Ben Lamaak, who was a tight end for us most of the spring, we moved him over that last week and he really showed a lot of promise and, like I said, it was just really a little unsettling because we weren't totally established, but those guys right there kind of worked themselves into a position. Reggie Stephens I think is another guy that's going to be in the mix for a lot of things going on . . . and Joe Blaes as well. So those seven, eight guys right there are in the mix. I think Matt Hulbert, the freshman tackle is the young man that we're going to have to count on. You hate to count on redshirt freshmen, but Matt hopefully is having a good summer camp and preparing himself more physically to get ready to play.

CN: Now also, you had mentioned in one of our interviews that the tight end position is part of the offensive line, so where do you see the tight end situation right now with Iowa State?

RM: Well, you know I think we have some young men that came in and did a good job this spring picking up the offense as well, and . . . it's probably our most experienced position as far as guys that might be physically ready to play; now it's just their turn to play. So I think we've got a good mix of talent right there and I know that all those guys will figure in somewhere, and now they just have to do it once we get on the field. But I think we have two or three guys really at that position, and combined with our fullbacks, that'll be able to sit there and possibly help us even do a little more tight end-oriented offense.

CN: Now, you mentioned running back, tailback is a position that isn't fully settled yet in terms of depth. Talk to us about that; I know that one of your priorities is getting back to a 1000-yard rusher. When we talked to Coach Pelton he said, you know, the run game is where your manhood lives, so talk about where that is, and about Jason Scales and then what needs to happen with that position to get the depth you're looking for?

RM: Well I think basically we just have to have somebody step up. You know, nobody really stepped up this spring and said, "It's my position." And, you know, we ran a bunch of guys through there and Jason Scales, you know he was a little banged up, and that's kind of been his history from what we understand and that's what it was this spring, so we need Jason to really build himself up this summer strength-wish and conditioning-wise, and just hope and pray that he stays healthy for us. It's a position, though, especially playing in the Big 12, where you're not going to survive with one tailback, so you'd better have some other guys in there that can sit there and help you, at this level. And right now it‘s just a position where I don't think . . . we didn't come out feeling totally sold on one guy, much less two or three. So these guys need to have a great summer and we've got some freshmen coming in that are going to be given some opportunities. Fortunately tailback is a position where usually freshmen coming out of high school sometimes have a chance, and so we're excited about the young men we signed this year and that's going to be a position where we're going to have to hit the ground running once we get in here. Someone's going to have to step up and take total control of that job and say it's their job.

CN: Now, in terms of two of the positions that are clearly strengths, you talked about Bret Meyer. Talk about him a little more and about Austen Arnaud.

RM: Well, I think dealing with quarterbacks, I think that for Austen . . . it's a great situation for him. He's got a senior that has played three years in the Big 12, that has shown that he can compete and play at this level, and you know we're hoping that this is going to be Bret's biggest season, and he's had a great career up to this point, not only on the field, but in the classroom and off the field, and what a great ambassador for Iowa State football. What a great ambassador for Iowa State University and what a great ambassador for Ames. I mean, Bret I think has just done an outstanding job as a person. And I think that's great for Austen to see those things. But, I'll tell you what, Austen has stopped in there and competed. He has really worked hard to try to understand this offense as a redshirt freshman . . . truly got to learn an offense, he's kind of going through some growing pains with that but he picked it up, I thought, towards the end., and he's going to be given opportunities. We've got to see just how good he's going to be and we have to give him those opportunies to prove what he can be, so we feel good going in with both those guys, and I'm really excited about the future of Austen.

CN: Now in terms of the wide receiver corps, it seems that this is probably a strength for the team, but just talk about your wide-receiver corps and then also, of course, Todd Blythe.

RM: Well, I think when you talk about a receiver corps, I think the number one guy that comes up is ‘Number One' . . . Todd Blythe. Todd has really gained a great reputation with the Big 12. Visiting with other coaches, and just from an outsider looking in, he's really put himself in a position to have a great year and finish off a great career here and look forward to possibly playing beyond Iowa State. It's been exciting to have him; I think anytime you have a dominant guy it definitely helps you on one side of the formation and it gives other guys on the other side of the formation to have good seasons as well, so I really believe our other receivers will benefit from having a guy like Todd in there, and I think we definitely will benefit but . . . the challenge for us will be getting the ball in Todd's hands, giving him opportunities to make plays for us, and obviously that challenge will be challenged by opposing defenses. They're going know that Todd's going to be someone they're going to have to defend and try to force other players into making plays for you, so . . . you could get caught in trying to get somebody the ball all the time and really limit yourself. And so hopefully the other players will come through like we think they will, and have good seasons for us, and Todd, if we can get a great year out of him, I think that will be a major plus for us on offense.

CN: Now what about some of the other receivers that you have coming back?

RM: Well, I think all the guys really have stepped up and had a good spring for us; they came through. I think R.J. came in there . . . Sumrall, and did a good job of picking up the offense. Milan Moses came in and did a good job. I thought all the guys did a good job for us. Hamilton . . . there's a guy that you know you just look forward to seeing what kind of season he's really going to have, being given the opportunities we're going to be giving him. So, they're solid guys that are just now going to . . . it's going to be their turn to shine. Especially in a position like that, much like the tailback position, you're going to be given the opportunity, it's what you're going to do with it. But we did feel good coming out of spring and them understanding the offense, and them understanding what we were trying to get accomplished, and we were excited about some of the productivity we got out of those positions.

CN: We've heard a lot about the spread offense and people anticipating what kind of offense you're going to run. Have you settled on an offense? And if so, just talk about what that's going to be.

RM: Well, for us obviously we're going to have to find different ways to move the football. And we've got an offensive line that's young and inexperienced and there's going to be some growing pains there. Obviously you can only do what the offensive line is going to allow you to do. So we're hopefully going to put those guys in the best position to keep our quarterbacks healthy and give our skill players an opportunity to maybe make some play up front. So I think that is going be the key to what we will be able to do offensively, but for us we're going to want to spread people out, we're going to want to throw the football, but there's going to be times where we're going to step in there and run it at them as well. So we plan on being very versatile on offense and not just sit in the same formation all the time, and not sit there and run the same plays all the time. So we want to try to get very diverse on what we're trying to do and get proficient at it as well.

CN: Where are the players health-wise and academically at this point?

RM: Well, right now we are really excited . . . just the reports we're getting back. I think health-wise I think we're sitting in good shape. Academically we feel very solid with everybody. We're not sitting here on pins and needles waiting to see if anybody's going to be eligible and all that stuff. All the players, I think, have taken care of their business and, you know, you've really got to tip your hat to our academic support system here, which is really great. And the players have responded and they're taking care of their business, so you know you always have one or two guys that . . . might have some issues they have to clean up, but nothing major right now we feel like is going to affect us.

CN: A couple of last questions . . . First, what reports have you gotten from Coach Sheppard about the strength and conditioning program and where the offensive players are in that process?

RM: You know, it's been really great reports. You know Coach Sheppard, he doesn't use a whole lot of words when they're not needed and early, when he just got here, he just kept saying, "We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do." But I know he's been giving some reports that have been a lot more positive, about how hard the players have been working and how they're responding, and you know, the strength coaches are just so important because they sit there and they help develop your leadership a lot during the summer, because they're the ones that have contact with them, and so Coach Sheppard and his staff are just invaluable, especially at this time. And I'll defer to him as far as where the guys are at . . . but the reports he's given us, there's no one he's disappointed with right now.

CN: I know one of the things that was very interesting to observe this year that I hadn't observed in the past was just how excited the players were about the whole strength and conditioning process. They just really seemed very excited about what was happening and about how it was impacting their game and their progress, so it was just interesting to see early on how much the players have bought in to this process.

RM: Well, and for those who haven't met Coach Sheppard and his staff, you really need to try to take the time to do that. I don't know if you have a choice not to be excited. Coach Shep and his staff do a great job as far as motivating those players. And as the strength coach and the strength staff, they really take it like it's coaching a position; the only thing is that their whole position is the entire team, getting them strong. And they take great pride in what they do, and they just take ownership of it, and I think that they have just been such a positive influence to our young men. And that's what you need, because they do spend the most time with our players. Basically we're on a three-month sabbatical right now; we're not allowed to sit down and visit with our guys as far as the fall, or we're not allowed to . . . go in there and watch them work out or be motivators for them in their conditioning drills or any of that stuff. That all comes from Coach Sheppard and the staff . . . nothing from us, football coach-wise, due to NCAA regulations, so it is critical and it is good when you have that kind of rapport with your players and your strength coaches.

CN: What newcomers are on campus, and who are some of the newcomers that you anticipate competing right away? We've heard about players like Wallace Franklin and J. J. Bass and some of the others, but what offensive newcomers are on campus and which ones do you anticipate competing for playing time right from the beginning?

RM: Well, I think obviously your skill players are going to be the ones that help you, usually, the quickest. Wallace Franklin, a receiver we signed . . . phenomenal speed, I mean, he's just going to bring a whole new factor to the offense, and somebody who can take the top off the defenses for you. Wallace is going to be a guy that we expect to get in here and compete for some playing time, and challenging some guys. So he's a very talented young man that was highly recruited and someone we were excited about getting. He's now down here this summer and he's getting acclimated to Ames and hanging around the players and starting to develop those relationships which are so important, especially for a guy, so he's giving himself a good bump-and-a-half to try to develop relationships with our players before the season starts and tour days start.

CN: Coach, before we get to a couple of the others, can I ask you just this: how excited are you about thinking at times of having Blythe on one side and Franklin on the other? I've gotten excited thinking about that from the reports on him. How excited do you get at times thinking about those two creating nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators?

RM: Well, and like I said, when you've got Todd Blythe, you take care of one side of the field. If we can get another guy that can dominate a game and make plays like Todd on the other side, and then prove themselves at this level, obviously it‘s huge, and like you said it puts a stretch on defenses. And Wallace has that ability; he has this phenomenal speed and so they're going to have to deal with that, and he has great abilities . . . as well.

CN: So we've talked about Wallace Franklin. Who are some of the other newcomers that you're looking forward to having compete?

RM: I tell you it's exciting at the tailback position, a position where we sat there and said we need some competition to happen, and we've got a big freshman tailback coming in here in Cameron Bell out of Texas, a 225-pound tailback that's really very physical, has very good speed. The guy physically probably is ready to play; we'll just have to see if he's ready to play Big 12 ball right now at the tailback position, but it's exciting to have him there competing. J.J. Bass . . . we're looking forward to getting J.J. here to compete at that position as well, a very highly-recruited player that we felt good about getting. And so there's some competition coming in at that position as well, and you know, we have some young players on the offensive line that have come in here; they've been here all summer. Three huge freshman offensive linemen, two of them 6'6'', one of them 6'7". They're all right around the 280 to 295 pound range and they're guys that really have great careers in the future . . . I don't know how much we can count on them early making that big of an impact, but it was exciting to see those guys come in here.

CN: I don't know if you mentioned Collin Franklin at all.

RM: Collin's a guy that we're really counting on. We're excited about having him here; he's making the transition from California to Iowa. He's a young man that's got a lot of potential. He a guy that we feel will be able to stretch the field at that position. He's very athletic, but has good size at 6'6", 235. A great thing about Collin, he does have three years left to play, with a redshirt . . . so we really are excited about Collin Franklin.

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