Coach Ferentz: On The Side

In this weekly HN.com feature, Iowa's Main Man discusses in-depth the injuries at running back and the plans to investigate, the process of choosing walk-ons and what's expected of them, his chewing out of the offensive linemen the last few weeks and more.

What is pass interference in college football?

Basically, you can't hold and grab, but a lot of it goes on in our conference. It goes on against all teams. It's like all violations, when that's your game, that's a bigger concern. You can't grab. You can't be pushing and jamming all the way down the field. To me the issue is grabbing on. All of that happens. It's like holding with the offensive linemen. Everybody complains about that.

Does it help to jam the Purdue receivers?

It helps. Purdue's game is throwing and catching. They've upgraded their run game immensely the last four years. But there are few teams that throw the ball and catch it as well as they do. And timing certainly is important in a throwing offense. So, that's got to be part of the strategy.

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You said that you'll look into what's happening with your running backs. Was that something you've had people do?

I didn't say our running backs. I said our entire injury situation. We're going to look into everything. We'll examine it. But the first thing we'll do is look at the numbers, OK, compared to previous years. The obvious reason that everybody is looking at it, myself included, is because it's one position right now.

We'll do out homework. We'll do our research. But from where I'm sitting, I can' imagine that there's anything dramatically different. We're not doing things a heck of a lot different than we were doing two years ago.

Is that something you take care of after the season?

Some people are looking at it now. I'm certainly not. I don't have time for it. But we have some people that are working on it and doing a little research.

But I'll shift back. You talk about running backs. Who made more cuts than Fred Russell? He made them when he didn't have to make them. (laughter)

Now you say that.

Nah. No complaints about his production.

But it's the smae workouts. We haven't changed things. I don't know what we're going to find. But if there's something to find, we're going to try to find it.

Have you tweaked anything since Schnoor?

Nah. I don't know how you do it. I don't know what we would tweak. I really don't.

Do all of these guys going down at one position change what you're going to do recruiting wise? How many knees can get better in 12 months?

I'm confident that all of the guys will be better by August. But spring ball ought to be interesting. You guys ought to come out an watch practice. We had that problem a couple of years ago. Sam and Andy Becker were out two running backs. It seems like that's been a problem the last couple of years. We've had enough guys on the rosters. For whatever reason, that's the way that it's panned out.

The good news is that most of these guys should be full speed well before August. They should be able to train and all of that stuff during the out of season. It's kind of like the cutting line of March-April. But I'd don't see why you'd put anybody at risk in the spring.

So, it's not the kind of thing where you might consider going to get a JC guy just to be safe?

That hasn't even entered my mind, a JC guy at running back.

Have you addressed this issue with your players, especially maybe Sam and Damian, or is it something that kind of just...?

Which issue?

The injuries.

What would I tell them? Hey, the other guys got hurt.

There really isn't anything to tell them.

The message is just unspoken in the locker room?

What message, though? I don't know what message I'd deliver. You can't play football worried about things. You can't be effective. If those guys think there's a curse or something like that, they can come in and see me and we'll give them a hall pass or something like that. (laughter)

As a coach, believe me, when you see a guy like Aaron Mickens going off on a stretcher, that's not pleasant because all of the what ifs race through your mind. But you have to keep living. You have to keep pushing forward or else you have to get out of the game. It's about as simple as that.

Is he not playing because of the concussion?

He still had some nausea this morning. They have a protocol that they use. But the protocol has changed over the last five years. Maybe Troy Aikmen's situation kind of highlighted the head trauma.

What do you tell a running back recruit that might have questions about some of the injuries?

I seriously doubt that we'll have any questions. If we do, I'll probably tell them the same thing that I said a little while ago. We haven't changed out routine at all.

We are going to look into everything and every possible angle. I just can't imagine what we're going to find. I don't think that it has anything to do with the turf. We've been in all of these situations already. I don't know what it would be.

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People that watched the game on TV said that you got after the offensive linemen once or twice. Is that correct?

I remember it. I didn't know the camera was on it. My sister informed me right after the game. I asked if she could read my lips. She said, not really. I said, good. Everything is fine.

You did it at Penn State, too, didn't you?

Yeah. Once or twice. It's just repeat errors. We can't be making repeat errors this time of year.

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Why has Purdue arguablly given you guys the most problems in the Big Ten the last three years?

First and foremost, they're a pretty good football team. They have been the last three years. They've been pretty good since Joe got there. They play good defense. And they're a tough out on offense.

Last year was interesting because I felt pretty good about the way that our team was ready to play. And it's not the same as Arizona State, but it was clearly two teams on different levels last year.

They were a very good football team. I don't think that you'd argue that they were decisively better than we were. But that day, it wasn't even a contest. They were in a different gear than we were. I still can't do this day explain that one. Sometimes that just happens without explanation.

Is there a clash in styles that makes things difficult against them?

I don't think necessarily. I don't think so.

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Other than being short and from Texas, is there a lot of Drew Brees in Tate?

They're both short. They've both got some emotion to them; some headiness.

(Tate) struck me as a guy that was productive; a leader; a winner. That's what you're looking for at that position. If the guy can be 6-4 on top of it and look like John Elway, that would be great. But those guys usually don't come to Iowa.

Do you worry about Drew coming down too hard on teammates during games?

No. Not at all. I worry about him coming down too hard on himself sometimes. Two weeks, he was working against himself a little bit because he wants to do well. But that's really his personality. I'm not saying that we're not coaching him. We are. We're talking to him about some things. But everybodyknows who Drew is and what he is. They're comfortable with that.

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Do you think the success of Sam, a guy that wasn't all-everything in high school and probably won't go on to be a draft pick like Dallas or Bruce, gives guys around the state inspiration that they might have a shot at Iowa?

I would think that has some influence and impact. The record speaks for itself. We've had a lot of guys step up and do a great job for us. Those are great stories. They're fun. Guys understand if they come here and work hard and have some toughness, maybe something good will happen.

How do you pick through all of the guys that want to walk-on and find the ones you take?

Pretty much the same way that we do anybody else. We screen all of the prospects. We make sure their tape checks out. They have to get admitted to the university. That's their job, not ours. After that, we want to talk to the people that know them, their coaches and people in the schools, just so we're trying to make sure we're improving our football team.

Maybe you're not bringing in someone that is better than your first two strings, but somebody that is really serious about it and really wants to make the contributions in some way. Those guys can add an awful lot if they have the right attitudes.

We're not just filling spots. We have to feel that they can really add something, be it special teams, offense, defense, it doesn't really matter.

If he's from Emmettsburg, do you just take him?

Yup. They've got presidential approval. (Laughter)

Do you look for certain traits?

It's like anything, we just look at their tapes. If we feel like they can help make a contribution, we're all for it. And they've got to be serious about it. They've got to sit in meetings. They have to train. They have to do all of the things that everybody else does.

Typically, how many people would try and do this in a year?

It's probably over 100 that inquire.

How many would you take?

We're probably not built to go much over 135. I think we only have 135 lockers.

The one thing we do is if they come out for the team, they're going to be Hawkeyes. We don't have a crummy locker room down the hall where we cram them all in there and give them equipment from the Evashevski era or something. (Laughter)

So, you might have 50 at any given time?

Yeah. The promise that we make them is that they're going to be coached like everybody else, in the weight room, on the field. If they give us the effort, then we're going to give them the effort. That's really the only deal that's made with anybody.

And expectations are probably a little bit higher for walk-ons as far as their conduct and things of that nature. I'm not wild about those late-night phone calls, especially if it's a guy that's, you know...


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