Ferentz Talks Running Backs

One of the key points Iowa will work on during it's bye week and Ohio State week preparation is getting things solidified at running back. In this segment of his weekly press conference, Kirk Ferentz talks about the running backs situation at length.

Q: On the Big Ten teleconference yesterday, you mentioned that the ACL injuries you are experiencing are cyclical. Can you expand on that?

I think it is, I am not smart enough to know. We spent some time in our medical meeting talking about it. There are a lot of theories. There was an article in The Sporting News two weeks ago that they were pointing at the new brand of turf (as being a cause of the injuries). Interestingly, I think the three of ours have come on grass, but we have had some on the new turf the last couple of years. So maybe we should go to the old Astroturf, the old rock stuff, like playing on highways. I think we all understand that is not a great deal, either.

If you look at what is going on in the NFL, it seems like there has been an extreme number of injuries this year. I don't pay much attention to it, but I know that Chicago had some key guys knocked out, and I think in one game Cleveland had three number one draft picks that they lost. It's just luck and fate. Our trainer said that he was involved in a game before where they had three ACL injuries in one ball game. Things just go in cycles. Two years we didn't have any, we just sort of skated through a season. I don't think we lost a starter to a surgery, outside of DJ (Johnson), I think it was an ankle injury and he missed two starts right there before the end of the season. I am not sure that we had a starter out.

Sometimes its like…I was going to say referees calls, but I will stay off of that path…like the bounce of a ball, sometimes the bounces go your way, and some years they don't. It seems like we have ha a rash of ACL's or surgeries in general. It's not typical.

Is Marques Simmons the kind of back that can carry the load>.

We will find out I guess, right? We don't know the answer to that right now. We tried to recruit Marques extremely diligently when he came out of high school. He has only been here now a little over a year, but what we have seen, we have been very pleased with him. When we he has gone into a ballgame, which is the ultimate question; how is a uy going to perform in a game situation, I think he did a great job at Arizona State and he did a nice job on Saturday.

So he moves up to #1 on the running back spot. That is not the way he wants to get there, or the way that any of us wanted him to get there, but the bottom line is that he is doing a good job with his opportunity. We will have to do it by committee, but he is our #1 Rb.

Q: You talk about doing it by committee, who else is on there?

It's not a big committee, obviously, unlike some committees. We are down to Marques, and we have Sam (Brownlee) and we will take the redshirt off of Damien Sims and get him ready; we started that process a week ago. Aaron Mickens and Champ Davis can jump in there and play. They are not prototype tailbacks, but they can play running back. So we will have to use who is available. It's like other positions, when guys get in a ball game or get an opportunity to play, that is what they came here for and hopefully they will do a great job. I am confident that they will.

Q: Has Marques moved beyond ball security issues that have dogged him?

I don't know that they have dogged him, but that is always a question you have before you see a guy play in a ball game. To me, when he jumped in and played like he did at Arizona State, he gained a lot of trust from all of us, because you just never know. He was one of the few guys that did perform at a high level that day. We have not seen anything in practice to make us concerned and we have not seen anything in the games. He is on the right track.

Q: What does he bring to the game that you like?

He is an energetic guy, and an enthusiastic guy who works extremely hard. He practices hard and plays the same way; he plays at a good temp out there. I have been really impressed with that. He takes a ball and gets downhill with it, and with our situation up front right now, it's probably a healthy thing. Probably the biggest thing right now that he has to work on is overall awareness and overall comfort with the system. He has not been around us that long.

Q: With all of the injuries to your running backs, what emphasis does that place on the passing game?

Our goal is still to be balanced; that's what it is each and every week and what it will be each and every season. That being said, we are not going to be accused of being hard headed, at least in terms of the things we do or the plays we call. Our goals are to do what we can do best, and our job as coaches is to try and determine that week-to-week and game-to-game. Sometimes you get into games thinking that this is going to be there, and it's not. People can take things away from you as well. That is our job to have the right plans week to week and to make the right adjustments during the course of the game.

Q: So you can't even let yourself say that you are a passing team now, can you?

We are a passing and a running team, how is that. And sometimes a kicking team, and a punting team. There is no shame in punting, believe me. It's better than turnovers any day of the week.

Q: How ingrained is it in you that running is the way to win, as that is how you have won?

There are some advantages to being able to run the ball and run it when you want to run it. First of all, it keeps your defense off the field. The bottom line is this: if you don't score points, you are not going to win football games, just like on defense if you don't keep them off the scoreboard. We are not going to be hard headed. In a perfect world, I would like to run it a little bit more than we throw it. But we are hardly in a perfect world right now, so we will do what we can do and do what we do best. We are all learning right now. Our players are learning, we are learning about our players and that scenario has changed over the last few weeks as to who is who and what is what. If we are doing things right, and we threw the ball pretty well the other day, I am hopeful that it will open things up for us running the ball. We are not going to vary from our philosophy, but we will do what we feel we can do in a given week.

Q: What type of preparation goes into making sure the number 4,5,6 RB's are into it?

The one good thing is that it's easier to have three or four running backs involved during practice. It's really tough at quarterback, because you only have so many snaps and every one is extremely important for quarterbacks. It's really tough to work your #3 guy and your #4 guy, whereas the situation with running backs is different.

A guy like Jermelle, you worry about overworking a guy that is experienced, or Fred a year ago. We routinely have three or four guys working with our first and second team offense at the running back position, which is not uncommon. What I am saying there is that Marques has gotten a lot of work, not only in the last couple of weeks, but all year. Sam has been around and he is pretty doggone steady and knows what he is doing, he knows his way around the block. Damien is a little different issue. We had him down working against our defense for the majority of the season, although last week we brought him up. We were down to two guys, so we brought him up as we thought it might be a wise idea. Turns out we got a week jump on the thing, at least.

Q: Is Sims ok with burning the redshirt?

He is all set to go, and I think most of our guys have that attitude. He is probably anxious to get in the ballgame, actually. I don't know if we are anxious to get him in yet, we will see how he looks the next ten days, but he is excited to go.

Q: Do you practice differently with your running backs at this juncture, or can you afford to do that with their inexperience?

Not really. Our tackling has been very limited, it's been that way since we started five and a half years ago. This year, we had two guys suspended for the first ball game, and that really affected the way that we practiced. I was not too happy about that quite honestly; that is individuals letting everybody down and it affected the way that we wanted to do things. Once we are in season, we don't tackle. All of our tackling is done in tackling drills, the defense works on that and some of the special teams guys get some work. It's all very controlled and the running backs are not involved with that.

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