CN: Well, Coach Chizik, thank you for joining us first of all, and I guess the first question I need to ask is between the end of spring ball and now, we know you couldn't have direct contact with the players, so what has your summer consisted of to date?
Chizik: Well, we're just doing a lot of evaluation of spring practice, and obviously our opponents for next year, for one. And you know, the recruiting never ends so we're really trying to hit the recruiting trail hard, even though we came off the road in spring, and we kind of put together our list of guys that we've prioritized at each position, and we've been working those recruits very hard with the text messaging that we're allowed to do up until August. Um . . . just been trying to work football camps and get all of our summer camps in order, and we still have another one coming up next weekend. So it's been real busy, Jon, but we've had a great summer and what we feel like is . . . is very productive.
CN: Now, let's begin with evaluating spring ball. You're about three months removed from it; looking back at that time now, give us your evaluation of how spring ball went.
Chizik: Well, I think that, you know, obviously we have a lot of room to grow as a football team in a lot of ways. But I think that there were a lot of expectations from our part that we had to impart on our football team and the things that are important to us that I feel like they learned, over a 15-day span. We learned a lot about them; we learned a lot about them as players and as . . . what kind of players they were on the field, personality-wise, talent-wise and things of that nature. Again, we evaluated offensively and defensively and special teams, where we need to go from where spring ball ended, until the beginning of the season, and that kind of got us . . . is getting us ready for what we're going to do here in two-a-days to prepare our football team for the long haul of twelve straight weeks.
CN: Now, Coach, one member of your staff, or the one area of your staff that was able to have contact with players was the strength and conditioning program headed up by Coach Sheppard. What reports have you gotten from him on the players as a whole, and then have there been any reports about some of the individual players that have stood out in your mind?
Chizik: Well, you know, the NCAA follows those rules real closely in terms of guidelines and monitoring our football team. All the work that our football team has done has been voluntary this year, so technically we can't check up to see who's there and who's not, but just when you watch kids coming in and out of the buildings and, you know, you see running groups out there, voluntary running groups, it looks to me like they've really done a nice job this summer.
CN: I've had a chance to talk to some of the players and there really seems to be a great deal of buy-in into the program. In fact, yesterday I had a chance to interview Bret Culbertson and he had mentioned that one of the big differences is just how hard guys seem to be working. To what do you attribute the level of buy-in that we're hearing from the guys into your program?
Chizik: Well, I think, number one, hard work starts in the weight room with Coach Sheppard. I hired what I consider to be the best strength coach in the country. I think his track record as an assistant certainly gives that a lot of merit. And I think they're just understanding the philosophy of what it takes to win a championship, and the fact that hard work is a key ingredient in that run, so I think they've bought in, up to this point, mainly because, again, they're understanding us much better than they did six months ago and where we're coming from, and hopefully it'll pay big dividends down the road.
CN: Coach, you mentioned recruiting as something that's constantly going on. What's the recruiting looking like right now?
Chizik: Well, we feel good about where we are, recruiting-wise. Obviously I can't talk about any names but I feel like we're very much ahead of, obviously, where we were in December when we first got here and we were in ‘scramble mode' trying to find out where the players were. We have great . . . we have intimate knowledge of where the players are that we want, and now it's just a matter of trying to out-recruit people to get them.
CN: We know that the camps are a big part of the program. How did the summer camps go?
Chizik: They really went well, they . . . it was a transition period obviously, here, and we got some of the information out a little bit later than normal, but for all of the transition and the change that's gone on here in the last year, we were really pleased with our camp numbers and we feel like those are going to continue to go up, but we just feel like we had a really good turnout for our one week of . . . basically one week of camp that we always . . . that we're going to do every year. We really feel good about the numbers, and again, we hope those will grow and we think they will.
CN: One of the things that you've not only made a priority but you've actually structured it into your staff, is making sure you're in contact with the prep programs here in Iowa. How's that process working in terms of making connections with Iowa's scholastic coaches?
Chizik: I think it's really gone well. As a matter of fact, this weekend is the Iowa High School Coaches Association clinic over here in Ames, and there'll be hundreds of high school coaches here and of course my staff and myself will be over there; matter of fact, me and two or three others from my staff are speaking at it, and we just feel like it's really gone well. We feel like we had a great clinic that we put on here in the spring and we had just a great response from the high school coaches on how much they appreciated the hands-on atmosphere that we had around here with them, and the willingness to work and clinic together. And then again we had a whole host of high school coaches from Iowa work our football camps, in addition to our own staff this summer. So I think that, again, it's all about relationships and communication and as time goes on I think it'll get better and better.
CN: You came from Texas, and my father was from Beaumont, so I grew up believing that there was Texas football, and then everybody else. But some of your key players are from Iowa . . . Todd, Bret . . . you know, talk about what you've seen in terms of the talent coming out of this state, both on your roster and just in general.
Chizik: Well, obviously this state has produced some very, very good athletes, both in college and that have gone on and played in the NFL, so I think that record speaks for itself. We've been very impressed with a lot of the players on our roster here, that are born and raised here in the state of Iowa, and have played high school football here, and very impressed with a lot of guys right now that are out that we're recruiting, so I think those numbers speak for themselves and, again, we're going to continue to recruit these Iowa kids and this will be our home base.
CN: I know that you've mentioned that no one has inherited anything with this program, and that really seems to have caught on with the players we've interviewed, but one guy I think we really need to ask you about . . . he's just been named to a couple of watch lists . . . and that's Ace Bowen. Just take a few moments and talk about Ace and your impression of him, and what your expectations are of him this season.
Chizik: Well, I think that Ace is . . . I think he had a really good spring practice. It was really fun to watch him grow as a football player. I feel like he's doing the things that it takes right now to become a better player. He's put on weight and he's put on strength. He's up to two-hundred and twenty-some-odd pounds right now and he was 209 the day I walked on campus here, and so I just think there's a lot of things that he's done to help himself as a football player, and help our team. You know, his leadership has been tremendous, just in everything that he's done here, both in the spring and continued through the summer, and he's just . . . he's a kid that I think has really bought into Coach Bolt and in the defensive philosophy that we have, and hopefully you'll see some big things from him this year.
CN: You've talked about the defensive line being the place where it begins. Talk about where you see the defensive line at this point, and just your philosophy on how to cultivate the depth that you described as being so critical to it being an effective unit.
Chizik: Well, I do. I'll go to my grave thinking that everything starts at the defensive line, and again, you know we're trying to build some depth there; we moved people around to some positions; you know Bryce Braaksma's been a starting defensive end and played defensive tackle this spring for us and did a nice job there, and you know was very much a team guy when it comes to a move like that. That's not an easy move, it's not an easy transition. You know, we feel like . . . that Tuba Rubin, he's got a chance to be a good player down there. He's got to keep working and keep getting stronger, and keep buying into what we're doing. Kurtis Taylor obviously is healthy and that's a great thing. We need Kurtis to have a big year, but he's healthy, he's put on some weight, and he's put on strength and he looks good . . . and I could go on and on with some other guys, but . . . you know we've got some junior college defensive linemen that are going to be here to help us, and it'll be interesting to see what they bring to the table. But, again, we've got some guys that we've got in place to create some depth on the D-line but they just need to get experience and get reps down there doing it.
CN: Going to the second part of that defensive unit, the linebackers . . . Alvin Bowen's somewhat of a known commodity, and we saw Banks this spring, but you have someone coming in who Coach Farrar talked a lot about when I interviewed him , and that's Michael Bibbs. And the one thing that we've heard from the players who've see him is he's fast. Talk about your line-backing unit, and also about this young man who's coming in with cover speed.
Chizik: Well, Michael Bibbs was a guy that originally signed out of high school at Arkansas, was a defensive back . . . um, believe it or not played corner some when he was in high school, just a guy that's got great speed. In junior college they played him a lot as a . . . almost like a cover safety/linebacker. You know, everything that we're going to try to do here with this defense at Iowa State's going to be built on speed, and we feel like that's a place that you can never have enough, you can never have enough speed at linebacker in the secondary, so Michael Bibbs is a guy that we feel, again, we feel like we can take advantage of his speed to be able to do a lot of different things on our defense. His challenges obviously will be, since he missed spring practice, is to be able to come in here and pick everything up in a short period of time, which we're hoping that he can do to get him on the field as quick as we can.
CN: As I look at the roster, you have a lot of defensive backs in here. That seems like a position that's going to have a lot of competition. I'm counting . . . almost a dozen, if not more. What are your expectations going into two-a-days from the defensive backfield?
Chizik: I expect a lot of competition; I expect these guys to battle for a job. I expect these guys to be a strong part of our defense. You know, last year . . . you know, I challenged them . . . last year, they were almost last in the country in pass defense, and you know, I just felt like that unit's got to be something that's got to make miles and miles of strides to get us where we need to be in this conference in defense. So the challenge has been set out there for them, they understand right now that there's nobody that's got any positions won, and I expect to have a very physical secondary at all times and guys that are very disciplined in what they do. So we're going to be very demanding on what we ask them to do, and again, we just . . . we want to build a situation where there's a lot of competition. Coming in, you've got Allen Bell, who's going to be a three-year player coming in, as an All-American out of junior college that physically is very talented, and a big corner, and we want him to put pressure on somebody for a starting job, so there's going to be pressure everywhere on those guys, but the four best will be the guys that end up starting for us against Kent State.
CN: You described your philosophy on the defensive line, that you want these guys playing 35, 40, 45 plays. Does that same philosophy apply to the linebackers and the D-backs in terms of how much they're on the field?
Chizik: No, not necessarily. I think those are a little bit different entities over there. You know, defensive line is different in the sense that it's so physical down there and then many times those guys are taking on 600 pounds, 700 pounds of double-teams, down in and down out, so that's a little bit different of an area down there, where you hope that your secondary guys can play, and your linebackers can play, most of the game, even though they're all highly involved in special teams. Obviously we'd like to be able to have more than three players at linebacker, and more than four players in the secondary to be able to get some blows in there. But philosophically, that's just a little different than those front four.
CN: Before we shift to the other side of the ball, there's a young man that a lot of Iowans and a lot of our subscribers are interested in, that's Adam Carper. How's he coming along?
Chizik: Adam's doing well, and we're just day to day seeing his progress.
CN: Let's switch to the other side of the ball. You brought in three junior college linemen and then also there were a number of players that were held over from the year before. Talk about where you see the line at, and also how did those three young men do this spring?
Chizik: Well, we were happy with what they did; again, they're no different than the rest of our offensive line . . . we've got a lot of work to do. We're a long way off in the offensive line from being, in my opinion, competitive in the Big 12 week in and week out. . . and that's just the reality of it. The junior college guys that we brought in, we think will help or football team. We think they were just about what we thought they were when we brought them in, so again, just looking at the whole offensive line as a group, we know we have a lot of work, Coach McFarland knows that they've got a lot of work, but we don't have to play for a while and that'll be our job in two-a-days to get that group ready to play.
CN: Are there adequate numbers at the offensive line? I'm looking at the roster and it looks like you have nearly 20 players there. Is there adequate numbers there to get the depth but at the same time to give the guys the kind of reps to really develop? How do you manage finding two-deep, three-deep with so many numbers? Or are the numbers a really positive thing?
Chizik: Well, I mean, you can have numbers, and numbers really don't mean anything. We've got to have players. And you know, we've got to find our first five and then we've got to find . . . philosophically we've got to find our first five, and then you've got to find your next two. We've got to have seven guys on our offensive line that we would consider our starting talents . . . and then you've got to work to go eight, nine and ten, and obviously in a perfect world you want to build to get ten. And so the numbers are skewed because some of those guys are redshirts, some of the guys are walk-ons and just may never get a chance to play . . . there's all kinds of different variables in there, but you know, obviously the more numbers you have, the more you have to choose from. But in our case right now, we're looking for players and I don't think that whatever you're looking at, 18 or 20, I don't think that's really indicative of the players that we have that we feel like can help us win a championship here.
CN: One unit that you have identified, or the coaches have identified as part of the offensive line is tight end. We talked to Ben Barkema last spring and he was very excited that they were actually learning how to pass block. He said that's something they hadn't learned before. Talk about where the tight ends are right now from your perspective.
Chizik: Well, I think Ben is a guy that's been in the action, and . . . has experience. Ben's done a good job for us, done everything we've asked him to do, had a very good spring practice, and we're looking for him to have a big season this year.
CN: One guy you have coming in from junior college is Collin Franklin. He's got height and he seems to have some athleticism. Can you talk to us about him?
Chizik: Yes, he does. He's going to be a big kid and very athletic . . . and he's really like a high school kid; he's got four years left and so he's got a redshirt year and then three after that, so he's not really a true junior college guy, but we're really excited about his size and his ability.
CN: Now, a 1000-yard back is something that this program said right from the beginning was essential and a priority, really having a strong running game. Where is the running game right now with the players that you have?
Chizik: Well, our running game is only going to be as good as our offensive line is. And, obviously we want to run the football. We've got to have the football in the hands of these tailbacks and hopefully they can get some yards for us, but again, it's only going to be as good as the offensive line. So . . . we're certainly going to do everything we can to run the football, but it'll depend on what the offensive line can do, and we've got to get some running backs that'll go downhill and hit those holes and create yards for themselves. And so it's a two-way street and, again, I think we made some strides in the spring, but we certainly have a long way to go in that regard.
CN: One of the things that we've been hearing from a lot of the players is they've been getting faster, more explosive, but they've also been putting on some weight and getting stronger, losing some fat. One guy who seems to have done that . . . he's listed at about 215 on your roster, but when we talked to the coaches, and Coach Sheppard and also some of the players, they said he's up to about 225, 230 . . . and that's Cameron Bell. Does having a big back like that . . . what would that mean to the program, or are you looking more for your basic quick kind of backs? What do each of these guys bring to the table that we're looking at as part of this running back corps?
Chizik: Well, you know I won't know until we get them on the field. We've seen two running backs. We have Jason Harris and we have Jason Scales here; that's all we have from spring practice. So the new guys will be a question mark until we get them out there. I‘m looking for a back who can get positive yards, and whether he's a guy that has the breakaway speed to break a 70-yarder and all that, I don't know. I want a very physical back, and I want first downs. I think that's very critical in moving the ball and eating the clock and making first downs and wearing the defense down. So whether it's a 240-pound tailback that can go downhill and hit those holes and make yards, or it's a 202-pound tailback . . . that's neither here nor there to me. I want the best guy available that's going to be able to take the football and get us first downs and be a physical runner so that at the end of the game, when he's got to get a first down to ice the game, that he's strong enough at that point in time to still do it.
Chizik: Well, again, I think Bret had a good spring, I think Austen had a good spring, you've got Phillip Bates coming in here. I just think it will be very interesting to see how it all plays out, but again, you'll be seeing the best guy that we have on the field on Saturdays and don't be surprised if you see more than one.
CN: Wide receiver . . . there seems to be a lot of speed on this unit, some size. Talk about your receiver corps.
Chizik: Well I think our receiving corps is a very good corps. I think that we had some guys really step up to the plate in the spring. You know, of course, Todd Blythe is very good and he's proved himself over the last couple of years that he can play in this league. R.J. Sumrall had a very good spring. You've got Marquis Hamilton there that really came on this spring, I thought, too, and showed us some things, showed us some promise. You've got a little walk-on, Euseph Messiah, that's really done a nice job for us. So, you know, there's some guys in that group that I think have a chance to help our football team, as long as they can stay healthy.
CN: Now one guy we heard a lot about coming in, too, was Wallace Franklin. He's got some size, we hear about his speed. Can you talk to us about him?
Chizik: Yeah, Wallace is a speed guy that we signed and he's ready to go, he's already passed all of his coursework and he's ready to go for the fall, but he's a 6'2", 6'3" receiver that obviously is a speed guy and was a 200 meter state champion in the state of Texas coming out of high school, so we're . . . Again, until he gets out on the field and actually does it we won't know, but we're hoping he can help our team.
CN: Special forces, Coach, both the kicking game and the general condition . . . where are they?
Chizik: Well, I think that, again, we've got some work we've got to do there, but we've got a punter and a kicker that have been in the battles and they've been there and done that, you know. Our long snapper has had some experience in this league as well, so we feel like we've got those guys intact, you know, our biggest challenge right now is going to be to be able to find some punt and kick returners that can make a difference in a ball game . . . and just keep working on the special teams and make sure they're sound, and we're doing a good job coaching those guys.
CN: Coach, a couple of last questions. First, in terms of the two-a-days, we know that the guys report on the 31st and they start on the 1st. What are the two-a-days and practice up to August 30th . . . what's that going to look like?
Chizik: Well, it's going to be like any other two-a-days; we've got to focus in and get a lot of things done in all three phases of our game. You know, our challenges obviously are going to be to make sure we're smart and we're keeping everybody healthy. It's going to be a long 12-game season with no break until the very end, so we're going to go straight through. And again, I have all the confidence in the world that they're all going to come in and they're going to be in good shape . . . uh, we've just got to coach them in the fine details and just get us ready to play in the span of three weeks, so it'll be fun and exciting for us and we're really fired up to get this thing started.
CN: What are two or three of the things that you're really going to focus on with these guys going into this year?
Chizik: Well, obviously the things that it takes, philosophically, that it takes to win. On offense, holding onto the football, don't turn the ball over, being able to run the ball. On defense, playing physical, trying to get turnovers, don't give up the big plays. And on special teams, be sound in what we do and make sure that we cover all the details . . . can make a big difference in games. You know, this year we're kicking off from the 30-yard line, so kicking off and kickoff return right now becomes huge, even though they've always been considered that, they'll be even that much more huge now because there won't be any . . . there will be very few touchbacks, so they'll be returned. So it'll be very interesting to see what that will change for offenses in field position and defenses in field position. So there's a lot of things with special forces that are going to be very important to us too, so we're just going to focus on the things that we feel like give us a chance to win.
CN: I ask this last question from just more of a selfish perspective. It was a real treat covering spring ball and folks were joking about me having my tent camped up there, or sort of being camped out at Jack Trice, but what's the plan as far as some of our access? Will it be similar to spring ball where after the practices we'll be able to talk to a coach or players, or how's that going to work out?
Chizik: Yeah, we're going to make sure that we're very friendly with the people who are interested in our program, in terms of talking to players and coaches, and we'll always be very open with that kind of situation and to make sure that you guys get everything that you need.
CN: Well, Coach, it was great covering during spring ball and we're very excited about this season, and one of the things that's got me so excited is just talking to the players. They've really bought into this program and just really seem very excited and enthusiastic, so we really appreciate it very much and look forward to working with you this summer and fall.
Chizik: Thank you, Jon, I appreciate it very much; I appreciate your interest.