Reid Assesses Iowa Linebacker Position

Jim Reid met with the media on Wednesday. The Iowa linebackers coach talked about what he sees at his position for 2015 and beyond.

COACH REID: Just an opening statement. It's great to see everybody here. Honestly, we’re very excited about this spring and upcoming season. We've got a great, fun, dedicated, outstanding, I think, group of linebackers. Athletic, smart, high character, competitive, and that's what you need at that linebacker spot to play real good defense. All the guys worked hard in the off-season program.

We’ve had three practices already, and we've had some really great play. But one characteristic they all have is great hustle to the ball. It's just really been fun. And really, it's the same as it's been like the last two years, so they are carrying on a tradition of good, physical play at the second level linebacker spot.

Q. Why the change to move Bo Bower inside?

COACH REID: What we are trying to do now is have all the positions be fluid, so we can go from inside to outside. There's a lot of shifting that goes on. It's good with our offense that we're able to move Bo inside. Certainly we've got him working a little bit outside.

Like I said, all the positions are fluid. You'll see Josey Jewell, I don't know how much time you're allowed to practice today, but in scrimmages, you'll see him play outside, get outside the core, as well, to give him some real good work. So we are just trying to slide the backers to wherever the strength of the foundation might be.

Q. What have you seen from Ben Nieman in that starting role?

COACH REID: Ben Niemann really fits the definition of Iowa football and being a linebacker. He is fast. He is athletic. He's tough and he can really, really think on his feet. He did a great job last year. Made an unbelievable move to block a punt and then picked it up and ran again.

He just has instincts to the ball and he's got a great opportunity to get up there and show a little bit of what he can do right from the get-go, because now we've moved all the way inside so that these first five, six practices that will be constant, and it's working out I think really well.

He's had three really great practices, flying around. Making mistakes, which is going to happen, but making them full speed ahead and then working on instinct, and that's where coaches come in to try to take that energy and maybe a long step here and get him going in the right direction. He's a high-speed athlete at linebacker.

Q. What convinces you that the linebacking position will take a big step up this season?

COACH REID: Well, let me just say, I'm not sure that it's going to be up, as much as it's going to be consistent.

What we're after is this you don't ever want to compare. That first year I was fortunate to be here -- I'll give you an example. The two inside linebackers had 30.5 TFLs. And that wasn't because Coach Parker was calling a lot of blitzes or pressures. It was because of really good reads and fast and movement, and experience.

Last year we had a total of I think it was 18 sets, minus 12, of minus yards played for our defense against an opponent's offense. And now I think what we've got, although we lose a guy like Quinton Alston who ran defense, really beautifully, made all the calls, did a great job, we have a nice consistency of real heady players who are very aggressive up the field and are athletic enough to bring us back hopefully, any ways, to that number that we had in 2013.

We played hard last year. I want you to know that. Quinton Alston came from who is this guy to second team all-Big Ten. That's not done easily without some recognition of his play by the opponent coaches. I think the press had him as an honorable mention.

But the coaches, the coaches had him as second team. I think we are going to be playing hard. We're going to be physical and we've got to make more plays. And I think we've got the guys to be able to do it.

Q. Because of the nature of the position, last year seemed like Bo and Josey were in before their time, the physical maturity -- have they moved appreciably in the right direction as far as physicality?

COACH REID: There's no doubt. Josey was actually defensive player of the game in a loss in our Bowl game. But he had 14 tackles. And really, if you're his coach and you're told, I thought it was 18. He really, really played against a physical, run-oriented offense.

And Bo is just a tough guy. He looks like a tough guy. He is a tough guy. He plays like a tough guy and he has a 3.5 GPA. That's what we're talking about.

It's not all physical talent that allows to you make a TFL, to make a sack, to make a great play. It's having anticipation. It's reading the line of scrimmage. It's seeing the splits. It's knowing what the formation is. It's knowing what the down and distance is.

And you might say, hey, down and distance? Everybody knows down and distance. Well, you get involved in a big game and you're tired and every play is a battle, sometimes you don't know if it's second and ten, or second and three. You kind of lose that perspective.

So I think that personally, not just me, but I think we all believe that we're heading in the right direction with this crowd and it's a fun crowd to coach because they are into it big time. I know Coach Parker feels good about it, and if Coach Parker feels good about anything, you know we are going in the right direction.

Q. If defending the flank is an issue, how are these guys better suited to help improve that?

COACH REID: It all starts with setting an edge and when you can set the edge on the outside, now you lead leverage players coming hard inside out through that edge set that will help.

But can I just say this? The run game, whether it's really in between the tackles, or whether it's on the edge, the flank, as you mentioned correctly, that is an 11-man responsibility. Just like in the pass game, it's not just the defensive backs that are responsible for defending the pass. It's the linebackers and their underneath coverage. What everybody for gets until there is one, a sack, is the defensive front pressure.

So once again, it's an 11-man responsibility to defend the pass, to defend the run on the flanks, to defend the run inside. It's an 11-man responsibility. We all have to get to the football. And that's pursuit, it's proper angles or tackle. It's an understanding of where you belong.

This is where, I don't think I've ever mentioned it here because people laugh at me, when I tell you this. There are plays that I'll run back and forth, and honestly, what I see, is art. And I know that sounds crazy, but what I see, it slows down. I honestly see great skill, talent, and I see artwork. And I told that to my players all the time. I said, this is to me not a great play. This is a great piece of art.

I've told a hundred times -- in fact, there's not going to be any room for me in my casket. Because I tell them all the time when I see. I'm going to cut this play out and they are going to bury me with this play. I'm proud of you for making this play. I've said that so many times, I'm going to have to have a casket maybe the size of this room.

But I've got so much appreciation for proper technique, great skill and great effort that what I see is art. And laugh at me if you will, but that's what I see when I see guys make a play on the frank, make an interception, recover a fumble, make a great tackle. To me, that's just a marvelous, marvelous event and that's what I see.

Q. Does that come with experience?

COACH REID: From a player's standpoint, plays are made by intelligent football players that play hard. And it can be a freshman; it can be a senior, but for me, when I was a player, and 44 years later, coaching, I have an appreciation for the skill it takes to make a play.

And that's the truth. There are plays that I've cut out when it was 16-millimeter that I still have in my house, because I just would not want to -- they have to stay for history's sake. But that's just how I feel, which is not important here.

Q. What was the mission in the visiting different programs in the offseason?

COACH REID: We haven't changed. For 16 years, we have been successful here. But it's always good to get out and hobnob a little bit with your fellow coaches. And just to discuss areas of concern and how you take care of it.

But the system here that Coach Norm Parker put in 16, 17 years ago now as we get into next season, is one that is so flexible and adjusts very well to all formations; that it's almost kind of like you want to go there to make sure that you know what you're doing is, I'm not going to say right, but is right for you. There's a lot of people that have a lot of answers. Most of them have the best players.

We have excellent players and an excellent scheme that adjusts to different formations. If you want to I'll sit down and put together a tape about technique, maybe we can talk a little bit about how we defend formations and we can talk and field a little bit more questions.

Q. You talked about flexibility among the linebacking positions. Is there going to be any schematic changes or just merely improve your technique?

COACH REID: I think we mentioned defend the flank; we had to defend, is the big play, which most of them did happen on the flank in terms of the run game.

But I think what you're going to see is basically the same scheme. And all we're going to do is change the numbers on the jerseys. And I think you'll see the same aggressiveness and the same hustle and effort that you've seen the last two years. I really do. And what we're excited about is this. We have a great group of young guys, we really do. And we have a really nice group of seniors.

You haven't heard much about Cole Fisher. He's a special teams player and he's extremely valuable in our program and he gives great effort every single day and he's playing very well these first three practices and gave us some great work last year.

Travis Perry, came in, did a great job and then broke his ankle, I think it was Minnesota, but gave us very important reps, excellent, excellent player.

So we have a really neat combination of some experienced players that know what's going on, some young, eager players that have played already, and then some guys like Aaron Mends, he's going to be an exciting player. We are just starting to scratch the surfaces of freshmen who we'll be talking about in this room a year from now.

Q. Can you talk about Aaron Mends and Jameer and what you've seen from them?

COACH REID: Yeah, I'd love to do that. Aaron Mends is a fast-twitch, quick player, who has got electric feet. He's got a giant heart. He's got tremendous focus and he's a tough guy. I mean, he is a tough guy as the fullbacks on the lead play, he is a tough guy.

A couple of times -- one time last Saturday, it was like, oh, God, is everybody going to be all right here, and I mean, he really can hit with really good leverage, fast. This guy is very, very, very quick. He's playing linebacker for us and he could be a defensive back. I mean, that's a skill that I believe that Aaron has.

And Jameer, Jameer is just a great guy. Tough, can run very, very well. He's playing a tough position because he has to make a lot of calls and he's doing a very, very nice job in the amount of experience that he had last year. But he's going to be a very good player in this program. Gets up field, uses his hands really well. Two really good young prospects.

Q. Talk about the 16-millimeter film you have at home -- do you ever watch them still?

COACH REID: Let me just say this to you. If you ask my wife, she would tell you when we move, whenever we move, that we have one van for the furniture and then one van for all the film I still have. I've got all the highlight tapes from when I first started at the University of Massachusetts. And the answer is, the last time I watched some of those old tapes was about three years ago, and it was just really, really fun.

See what you don't understand, it's hard to understand, is that coaching, when it's done the way we all used to do it the way we first broke in, we did it because -- there wasn't a dime in it. There was no money. And you did it because you loved the game. You loved the game for what it brought you as an individual to that point. Did you follow what I just said?

And what you wanted to do was you wanted to make sure that you could bring others with you and teach them integrity and honor and discipline and competitiveness, so that you could become a great son, a great father, a great husband, and a great leader of a family. That's how I've always viewed it. I viewed it in no other way.

And as the intensity -- so everybody says, and you've got some older guys like myself, about Twitter and Facebook. They laugh, they say, you're on Twitter? Best thing ever happened. Because you know why? I put a Facebook message on, I get 170, 190 replies right away from former players. I love that. And what makes me cry is when they say, "Thanks, Coach, for everything you did for me."

That's why you really coach the game, at least for some of us. And that's why I'm in it and that's why probably -- I have to watch what I say because it almost happened to me in Miami; that's why I coach it until I drop dead on the field. And if I did, I'd be dying in a sacred place, the football field.

So people can yell at me and then scream at me and they can throw stuff at me and they can call me all kinds of names. They have no idea because they are not touching my world. My world is my players and the staff.

The greatest thing I've ever done, really, in a long time was when I hooked up with LeVar Woods, best guy I've ever been around. He's a tremendous man. Is he up next? Good lead-in. Thank you very much.

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