COACH MORGAN: Before I talk about the guys, just a couple of general statements. First of all, it's really great to be here today. There's two of us who work with the defensive line, Eric Johnson. I'm just really proud to work with him. He does a tremendous job.
Eric played in this defense at Vanderbilt under Norm Parker. He was a GA. He did the playbooks. He knows this defense in and out. And he's been just a great guy. He's a great teacher, very humble guy, and I really enjoy working with him and value our time. I think we're a great team.
The second thing is that last season was extremely rewarding as a coach because of the players and the people you work with, and we've got a great group of guys. We love going in the room and working with and having the opportunity to do that, and I can say the same thing about our coaching staff.
In the defensive room, we've got some interesting characters, and everybody's got positive input, and we really feel good about that. I'll talk now about LeVar Woods. You've talked to him already before. LeVar has played here. He's played in the NFL. He's coaching here. And you won't find a better person, a guy that cares more deeply about people and has such an unbelievable background. Great teacher, excellent coach.
Jim Reid, you talk about a guy that's enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and has great wisdom. The way he got our linebackers to play last year, my wife was impressed. He did a tremendous job with those guys, and he's just a cornucopia of ideas.
Then you go to Phil, you know, he got back coaching a position last year, and it really was a benefit for us. He is an outstanding position coach. But the things you don't see probably is the leadership he provides for us in that room and the way he is in our meetings with our guys. I wish you could videotape that sometime because he does a masterful job of keeping things simple.
He's been around Norm, and he has identified that trait and characteristic to take a very complex task and make it simple.
And then it really all starts with our head football coach, Coach Ferentz. The thing that he's done in 25 years here. What he's done, his commitment to this university. His three sons have played and are playing here, are coaching here. His three kids are raised here.
Just the type of human being and the example he sets -- humble, intelligent, tough minded, pretty doggone honest, and does things right. It's great to be here.
Q. Coach, are you comfortable where the defensive line is now?
COACH MORGAN: No.
Q. Going back to two years ago when you didn't have much depth, do you feel like you've kind of built it back to where you've got some depth and getting it back to where you like it?
COACH MORGAN: We have a lot of work to do. We're still a work in progress. That first spring football practice, we were Custer, and the offense were the Indians at Little Big Horn out there the first 9-9-7 of practice. We had a lot of work to do and so forth. We had a great group of guys that bought in and so forth.
I think we're at the point now where our guys understand the expectations. We're trying to teach fundamentals over and over and over again. You would be absolutely bored to death trying to watch us teach stuff. We actually think it's exciting. We think it's fun. And we know it's the most important thing is to just go ahead and try to create muscle memory and do the same things over and over and over again until you get them.
I think we've gotten to the point where we are a more experienced unit, probably the most experienced unit on the team with three guys that started almost every game and one guy that started half the season.
We are not there. No, we're not comfortable with it, and I certainly hope nobody in our defensive line feels comfortable because I know the coaches don't, and especially after watching us the other day.
Q. What are your expectations for defensive ends? I know everybody attaches pass rush to them, and I think backs are so hard to get anymore. That's a whole different deal. What are your expectations?
COACH MORGAN: I'm glad you said that. The defensive ends, there's two different things here. We are playing with guys that in a lot of programs would be defensive tackles. Mike Hardy was a defensive tackle a year ago. We moved him out because of our needs.
We're playing with guys that, number one, take care of their job. They have a run responsibility. They have a key they're going to read. They have a certain way they're going to take on blocks and get off of blocks. That's the number one thing.
On third downs or passing downs, we, as many or most teams do in the NFL, most teams are doing in college football right now, you have a special package you're going to put in the game where you're trying to get speed on the field and so forth, and our package was very productive for us last year, and we feel pretty good about it.
So I think we have the group of guys that are going to be out there primarily down situation, and then you're going to have a special unit or group of guys which may comprise of other people outside the D-line that go in on passing situation, and I this I that's really helped us.
So at a defensive end, we want -- who's the number one guy? Clowney at South Carolina. Okay, we want to recruit three Clowneys every year, and defensive linemen are really one of the hardest things to find.
We just sat in this very room three hours ago and went through our top defensive ends. They're great athletes, but they also have offers from a lot of different places. So we do have to be realistic about who we can get and how we can develop him and what we can do within our framework to play our team defense because ultimately it's all about the team.
Q. Last year you had a healthy Carl Davis. How did that impact the defense, or how did that make better in a sense? Is that going to be the same case again this year having Carl healthy?
COACH MORGAN: That's a great thing, and last year was the first time he was healthy consistently. I think what happened, as much as the health, was that Carl really grew up and matured.
Carl spent a lot of time a year ago studying and understanding and learning the defense, developing a lot of knowledge about it and a lot of confidence. But once he got on the field, he backed it up with action.
I recall vividly one of our earlier scrimmages where we did a period called tempo, where we're going against the no-huddle group. Carl's going to be in there ten plays. Coach, after four, I'll tap my head or raise my hand, and you can get somebody in for me. After four plays, he's okay. After six plays, he's okay. Eight plays. He kind of looked to the sideline, and I just smiled at him and waved and kept going and going.
That was the defining moment for me that, hey,Icangoout,andIcanplay60,70snapsa game. Now, we're probably playing him more than we need to. We'd like to back that down maybe a few snaps, but Carl has really developed that and has taken a lot of pride in what he does there. And being healthy is absolutely paramount.
Q. Carl was talking before the Outback Bowl about how long it took him to get on the field. He was talking about how Jaleel Johnson was saying, "Boy, I want to play," and he was telling him, "you've got to wait your turn and earn it." I know you want guys that want to play, but as a coach, how do you temper it between wanting to play and showing what they have to do to play?
COACH MORGAN: I think the tape is probably the best way to do that. Hopefully, in the classroom we're doing a real good job of identifying this is what we're looking for. These are the techniques, the production. This is a good play. This isn't a good play. This is how we want to do this as compared to that. And then do your responsibility.
Over time, a young guy like Jaleel, who really has ability and desire to get on there, just understands that, hey, I've got to demonstrate in practice on a consistent basis that I can do this job. Once I get to the point where I understand that, I can execute it, and I can be productive within the team framework of the system, that's really good.
We want guys that are hungry. If that young guy is better than a guy that started for three years, he'll play if he knows what to do.
We're going to play who we feel, based on practice, are the best guys.
Q. You've had situations where two years ago it seemed like everything started to click for Louis, and then last year it was Carl. Is there anybody right now that you're seeing in spring practice where you see things are finally starting to be there for them?
COACH MORGAN: I think there's a lot of guys -- I think realistically, there's 19 guys in our room. One is not participating because he just had surgery. But the rest of them are just really -- everybody's showing some progress, and everybody's doing some things that are improving.
That as a coach is what you take pride in is the fact that, okay, we saw on tape. We just watched tape yesterday for 90 minutes. What we worked on, are we seeing a guy try to do that correct technique today, when we practice today? If we're seeing that, then we're on the right tack. If we're seeing the same old stuff or a guy that's maybe afraid to get out of his comfort zone and try something different, then we've got to find ways to get him to take that step.
But to identify somebody, I think Carl's improved. Louis is not with us a lot because Louis is in grad school, and he's got conflicts that interfere with practice. So it's hard to really put an evaluation on that.
I think both of our -- I'll tell you what, Nate Meier is really coming on. I would say that Nate Meier is a tough son of a gun. He's really doing things where he's a 235, 240-pound guy taking on a 300-pound tackle, and I think he's demonstrated to us that he can be an every down guy, and I think other guys have stepped up. He might be a guy that's kind of in that category.
I think our young tackles are improving. Riley McMinn is coming around, and he's finally healthy. In fairness to all our guys, I should mention each guy because I think every guy has really made some progress.
Q. Have you found it easier or more difficult to recruit offensive linemen or defensive linemen since you've been doing this?
COACH MORGAN: I don't know that. I know that kind of offensive linemen -- I think I have a pretty good idea what Coach Ferentz wants here, the kind of players that are going to be successful in it our system. I think that being said, we also have a pretty good handle on what we can -- the type of guys that we can get as a defensive lineman. However, in the recruiting areas that I recruit, there probably are more guys that would tend to be offensive linemen from that standpoint compared to defensive linemen.
Clowney isn't in Springville, Iowa. He's not there. But we can find a guy like a Matt Nelson right up the road that we think can be a great player. A guy that maybe he's a hybrid. Maybe he did some really good things in camp that impressed us, his tape was good. But I think it is a little tougher. I know a lot of programs have to go national to recruit defensive linemen.
I think you can find inside guys. We'd love to find all of our guys within a five-hour radius. That's probably the best thing so their parents can come watch them play. Sometimes you have to travel a little bit further to find those special guys.
Q. Brian Ferentz was talking about your prideful simplicity. What does that mean?
COACH MORGAN: It's something I wrote up on the board. I read it in a book. I don't know if that's a mantra, to be honest with you. I think as teachers, our job is to keep things as simple as possible, and if we can do that and we take great pride in what we're doing and we understand that we're just a small piece of the whole team and everybody's got a job to do, and, yeah, we want to make a tackle and we want to make -- but if we take care of our technique, that's going to free up our linebackers, that's going to help our cornerbacks, and so forth, and when we get that opportunity, we take advantage of it.
I have everything you can imagine written on my wall. We have kind of wall talkers. You can write on them like your grandkids did with crayons, only we do that as professionals. That's kind of overrated, to be honest with you.
Q. Are you searching for a number three defensive end? It seems like that's probably the hottest spot you have going.
COACH MORGAN: I think Nate has earned the trust and confidence. We've got three guys right now, 95, 98, 34, that can play there. I think there's other guys that are contestants. We have six practices to go. I think 94 and 49 are guys that are doing some stuff. 75 is going in and out and so forth.
You really want to play -- last year we played six guys predominantly, three inside, three outside, and then 34, Nate, was our special teams package. So we played seven guys.
Right now there's probably 11 guys where you say I think in some way, shape, or form, these guys have an opportunity to get on the field and be successful, but they have to demonstrate it in practice situations, scrimmage situations.
Q. Last year the three senior linebackers really were leaders of this team, and you mentioned the experience the D-line has. Do they have the potential to step up and be that vocal leader this year as well?
COACH MORGAN: I don't know about a vocal leader, but I do know this. We lost three great linebackers. In addition to being great players, they're great young men, and they were great leaders in their own right.
We've got some guys up front that are different kind of leaders. I think Louis is the kind of guy that, if I turned on tape and you watched it here with us for five minutes, Louis would stand out. But it's just with his effort and such.
I think Carl Davis is really becoming a leader for us. He's trying to be a vocal leader. He's one of the Hawkeye Challenge captains as elected by his teammate. So he's really, really working hard, and I think it's reflective in some of the ways he's playing. And he is, by his own self-admission, he has work to do to improve and so forth.
But I think those are two guys right now that are showing some leadership. They've been identified -- I think anybody that's been on the field has earned the respect of the other guys in the room because of that. Drew Ott, 95, he's out there. He doesn't say much, but he's extremely tough. This kid thinks he's a lot better than he really is, which is really a great testament to his high school program and his parents and what he's hearing here.
But he's a pickup truck. Reliable, he starts every day, he's tough, he works hard, you can load him up, he's not afraid of anything. You can take him on the interstate. You can take him on a dirt road. That's the kind of guy he is. And I think Mike Hardy is in that boat as well.
And a guy that doesn't play, a guy that's a senior that I just met with this morning, Wil Rathjen, senior, he's a leader on this football team. He's down on the other end of the field with the scout team, and he takes great pride in his role on the team. And hopefully the leadership -- and that's just something we talked about yesterday in our points of emphasis, everybody in the room has a responsibility for leadership, and the best thing that they can do as a leader is to do your absolute best every snap, every rep, study, treat people the right way, do things the right way.
It's more than just blocking and tackling. It really is. It's about preparing people for life. And that may sound corny, but I believe it.
Q. We got to see Nathan Bazata and Brant Gressel Saturday. They look like they're fun players for you. They're developing, and I think they take the coaching well. It seems that they're on the right path.
COACH MORGAN: I think they're in the right direction. Bazata is an interesting guy. He's working with the second group right now. He studies extremely well. He's really tough. He's a very quiet, humble kid. He's headed in the right direction. He's really showing us some things.
And Gressel, he's out there. He's improving. He's really shined here the past couple of weeks. But both of them are projects, please. They really are. But in terms of fun to coach, they're great to coach. I can't think of a guy in our room that's not fun to coach. There really isn't.
You may not see that or you may hear something come out of our mouths that may not sound like a fun adjective, but we are really having a great time out there.
Q. Your ability to look under rocks to find recruits. Do you have a blueprint for that?
COACH MORGAN: No, I think that's very overrated, to be honest with you. I really think coming from a background where you have to develop -- you're in Benton community, and you have to -- you're recruiting guys that come out for your team. You're at West High, you're trying to get guys to -- you have to develop the guys that you've got.
So some guys that may not be as pretty and attractive, may not have the stars, you may see, there's a guy that could really be good. And you look for him. Maybe you find him on a track. Maybe you see him on a wrestling mat. Maybe you see him on a basketball court or hear about him. But most of those guys that we find out about, usually we've been recruiting since they've been maybe in eighth grade, ninth grade, you hear about them.
And that's the luxury, the nice thing you have about recruiting in the Midwest, specifically Iowa, most of the coaches you know, and they can pick up the phone and say, hey, I got a call last night from a kid of a guy I played college ball with. Hey, there's a kid over at this school I'm coaching here, and you're going to find out by word of mouth.
I think there's a lot of different avenues, and I think good players are good players, whether they're from eight man -- we've got four eight-man guys on our D-line right now. Whether they're 8 man, 9 man, 12 man, 11 man, wherever, I think you can find players.
Q. I know you worked really hard to get Matt Nelson. In fact, I think at last year's spring game, you were hollering at him, hey, why don't you come in and play a couple of plays. I know you also don't rely on true freshmen to walk on and compete. It was only necessary with Drew Ott five years ago, but is he capable of walking in and competing for playing time?
COACH MORGAN: He's shown some things on tape that are pretty good. Gosh, we hope that we don't have to, but if there is a freshman, him or somebody else, that comes in and demonstrates that they've earn the opportunity, the right to at least take a look at and get some reps with the first or second group, that certainly could be a possibility.
It would be a disrespectful for our current players to say we're counting on a guy that's a freshman coming in and playing because everything has to be earned.
Q. What's it like -- you recruited Brandon Scherff. What's it like going up against him every day now in practice, and how is that helping your D-line get better?
COACH MORGAN: First of all, going against our entire offensive line. Our offensive line is very talented, extremely well-coached. Brian does a great job. He's much, much better than his predecessor at that position. That's a fact. He's done a great job with those guys.
And Brandon is a special guy, and he's that way. Brandon -- a lot of guys will come back, and he had an opportunity. A lot of guys will come back, and they'll just kind of, okay, just kind of go through and maybe worry about, hey, I don't want to get hurt. Every rep he's trying to go 100 percent. He's trying to punish guys.
Him and Ott have got a little thing going, and believe it or not, Brandon's winning most of those. But Drew and Riley and Mike and whoever's going against him is really a chance for them to improve. So it's a tremendous opportunity, tremendous opportunity for our guys, for any of our guys to go against him.