KIRK FERENTZ'S OPENING STATEMENT
Welcome back, everybody. It's good to see everyone. A couple of news items real quickly.
It's been a busy time for our graduating seniors. They had pro day yesterday and we had six guys at the combine, so it's an exciting period for them. Most of them have finished their schoolwork, and a couple of guys are finishing up this semester, so that has worked out well, too.
We are all very excited about the progress at Kinnick Stadium. It's an inconvenience for the Spring Game, but certainly well worth the little adjustments we have to make to complete that project. We are fired up about that thing.
The out of season went well for us, and we wrapped that up right before the spring break. We took that week off and now we are anxious to get the team out there on the field tomorrow and start the next phase. It's an important phase, like all of them. We are anxious to see what we have as a football team, obviously.
A couple of things to highlight; we have a couple of position changes that we are going to look at this spring. Mike Follett is going to move over to outside linebacker and see what that looks like. Lucas Cox has moved over to the tight end position from defensive end. CJ Barkema has moved out to tight end; he played some of that late last year. Eric McCollom will continue to play some at receiver as he did in bowl preparation, so he will be out at receiver this spring. Gavin McGrath will work out at fullback from the linebacker position.
Injury front wise, a lot of the guys that had surgery last year are going to be out; Ettore Ewen, Mike Humpal, Albert Young, Marcus Schnoor, Champ Davis and Kevin Sherlock. Alex Willcox had surgery back in January, so those guys will be out to limited this spring, and that is a pretty long list.
Also Chad Greenway and Tyler Bergan are going through some rehab process right now more with muscle pulls, so those guys will miss the spring too. That is kind of the nature of the beast after last year where we had an inordinate amount of injuries, but we will get around that.
The big thing every spring is to have a chance to install our system and work on technique and fundamentals. It gives us a great chance as coaches, without having a game, to evaluate our football team and see where we are at right now. Teams change all of the time, certainly during the course of the season teams will get better or worse. Now that it has been a couple of months since we have been out on the field together, this is always an exciting time to get them out on the field and see what they look like after a few more months of development, and we will do that again in August.
This is a real important time I think, in college football, and we are anxious to get on the field to see our team.
Obvious areas of concentration are that we graduate four seniors on the defensive line, so that will be an area of great interest as a coaching staff. Our running back situation really is not in that different a situation than it was in January, because of the guys that are recovering. We are not going to take any chances with those guys. To me, it would be silly to put them in risk positions this spring, as we want them to be healthy in August.
Does CJ Barkema have good hands?
Yeah, he really does. He probably has as good of hands as he has on our football team, so that wont be a problem. He has lost 10 to 15 pounds, so he is a little slimmer model than he was back in November.
Are you trying to get more size at TE?
Our feeling was that we wanted to move Mike back to defense and see what the competition looked like at that point. We tried CJ at the offensive line position, and he did some things right there, but I also think he seemed to find a niche when we toyed around with him at tight end. We like to use multiple tight ends on offense. I think it's the best interest of both players. Mike's situation is one that we will study hard this spring, and I think that it's best for CJ and he can play a real strong role for us.
Greenway's injury has or has not been operated on?
No surgery and it really started to bother him in the Wisconsin game. It was amazing that he could finish that game, as he was in pain. Then we watched him in the bowl game and took it easy there. But it is the kind of injury that requires rest. I think we checked it out where nobody feels surgery is necessary.
What is it?
An abdominal…I am not even…yeah, it's muscle. High ankle sprains are bad and what he has is bad; they just take a lot of time. He is probably the most frustrated guy on our team right now.
What are your expectations on the DL?
I think it will be a great period of exposure for those guys. We started the process in December where they got a lot of work in practice. We had a pretty good idea what the front four guys could do (seniors in December), so we got them a lot of work. This will be a good experience for them, to see them operate on their own a little bit. It will be a great evaluation process for us. It will give us a better idea of what they will need to work on to get ready for the next phase.
Will the DL go hard in practice?
Yeah, the whole team is going to go hard. Both lines; we need to make strides on the offensive line and get some continuity established there. Then conversely on the defensive line, that has to be an area of concentration with four guys graduating. It's a little bit like our offensive line situation in 2003 with all of those guys graduating.
Will DT be the most open position?
If you look at the guys right now, Kenny and Bryan have the most experience, but we will go into it with an open mind. We are anxious to see how they compete and how they learn. I think we will have good competition and we have a good group of guys to work with, but no matter how well they do, we are going to be young. That is one thing that you can see on paper.
Will you have more of a rotation on the DL this year?
I think so. I anticipate 6-8 guys getting involved and that may involve some freshmen, too. We will determine that more in August. Last year, we protected a guy like Matt Kroul who worked pretty extensively with our second group. But we kept the redshirt on him. Next year we will have a different mindset, as we will try to find out who our best 6 to 8 guys are. I think it's fair to say that I am not sure that we have a guy that can go nine innings right now.
Who are the RB's you are working with this spring?
The same group we ended up with in January, minus Aaron Mickens. We have Sam, Marcus and Damian at running back. At fullback we have Busch and right down the list. We did want to give Gavin McGrath a look at fullback, as he played both linebacker and fullback in high school. I think he is a guy that might find a home there and help us on special teams.
Are you going to do some scrimmaging?
The schedule will be like it has been. We do a lot of contact worth in the 12 days we are permitted. You don't have to do full scrimmaging to get done what you want to get done, especially with linemen. We do a lot of one on one or two on two stuff, work at a high tempo but keep it controlled.
Does not having a spring game impact things?
I don't think it makes a difference, really. The last two years we have gotten away from a pure game so to speak. If the stadium had been available, we would have done the same thing. It has worked out fine. We can control how many snaps we take, those types of things.
How is Paschal recovering?
So far everything is going real well. We were hoping that surgery wouldn't be necessary, and then the test indicated that we needed to do that. On the optimistic side, he will be ready for the start of the season, but on the flip side, the Big Ten portion of the season might be more realistic. So we will just see how that goes.
Is Calvin Davis healthy?
Yeah. He seems to be 100% and he is doing well. He had a frustrating year with the injury, and we felt like he was starting to come on, so he is anxious to get out there on the field.
It has been said that you can't lay in the weeds for anybody this year (meaning lofty preseason rankings and hype)
I heard something about that, yeah (laughs). You know…there are two ways to look at it. A couple of people that have put us up there pretty high in the preseason rankings. Right after the bowl season, Danny Sheridan odds, and I don't look at those, on National Championship for next year listed 12 teams, and we were not one of them. So there are two schools of thought. To me, it's not like the preseason rankings in the summer. It's good conversation pieces right now. There are probably five to eight teams that are pretty strong right now and then there are probably another 30 to 40 that are in that second group, and my guess is we are in that group. Where we come out of that, there is a long row to hoe on that one.
How is the competition at punter?
Those two guys (Fenstermaker and Gallery) competed well and practiced well in December. It's a little bit like a quarterback situation where you have to get them in game situations to see how they perform, but I thought that both of them competed well in practice.
How often do you visit the renovation?
I drive by there and peek and when I run by there I peek, but you can't see an awful lot. My kids have shown me on the Internet what it looks like. But it's exciting to see the changes that are going on right now. I think it's real exciting to think about what the final product would be.
Do you have a preference for the playing surface?
I would be fine with what we have. We have played well at home and I think that is part of it. If there is no need to change, which I think we are hoping that is the case, that will be tremendous. But if it is a changeover, then it won't be a big issue unless there are problems getting it in on time; I think that is the major concern.
Is there a different attitude on the team with all the hype for this year?
I don't know that I sense that. We have had a good off season. The academic reports have been good, so it seems like things are going pretty well right now and their focus is good. That is something that you worry about. Bob talked about those preseason rankings; guys understanding what you need to be successful always worries coaches. We are never going to be in a situation where we can line up and have a chance without the necessary preparation. That is our message, and we have enough guys that have played enough winning football who are conveying that message; that is my sense. I will know more here in about three weeks. So far, so good.
Is it strange going into the spring not looking for a new QB?
Yeah it is. I hadn't thought about that one. It's nice. Drew has a lot to learn, too. He knows that. But it is always nice for a player to draw on game experience as opposed to hypothetical's. It will be nice. The learning curve will be better offensively this spring.
What does Drew need to work on?
In general terms, every phase of his game. He is a playmaker, but he has to learn and mature as a preparation player and the little details. A higher percentage of better reads, the kinds of things that every player faces. The nice thing is that he has game experience to draw on. He can watch himself play. Every player has room for improvement.
Do you tinker with him at all?
I think that is a natural part of football. Some of his plays and his best plays, some players have the ability to do that. He does have that, so we are fortunate. But there are other things that he can improve on and it's up to us to show him. Ken does a good job with that. You would like to think that every player will get better with experience and the right attitude. Fortunately he has some great role models of players who had their best careers in their senior years. There has been nobody more determined than Gallery, Sanders and Kaeding when they were seniors. Last year's seniors were the same way. They took the experience they gained and made them better players.
Does the last play (Cap One) do anything for you?
There is nothing like winning a bowl game, certainly. I learned that a few years back. It makes for a great atmosphere, and it took me off the hook for some poor clock management, too. I am happy about that part as well. It was just a great play and a great moment. I have said many times since then that it was fitting that a guy like Warren Holloway was at the receiving end. I didn't realize until after the game that it was his first touchdown reception of his career. How fitting is it for a guy who worked as hard as he did for his entire career? He is linked to that play forever. That was symbolic of our football team last year.
Have you challenged Marques Simmons prior to these practices?
He has a great opportunity now, just like he did last year. Not by his choice or anyone's choice, it's just how things panned out. He could not stay healthy, he had that tough ankle injury, but he is healthy and he has a great opportunity this spring. It gives him 15 workouts to improve as a player and fit in. It's great for all of the running backs.
Will a frosh RB have a shot at playing time?
We will have an open mind there. The guys that are healthy we will get a chance to evaluate them and help them improve. All of the guys, with maybe the outside chance of Champ, but the guys that got hurt early in the season should be at 100-percent in June. But we will see how that factors in. We will have an open mind for freshmen at all positions, but one the defensive line and at running backs, until we know where we are; last year at this time we felt we were at great shape at running back and we all know how that panned out. We will keep an open mind.
Have you done any research on running backs coming back from injuries like these, and at what level they can compete the following year?
I don't know if I buy into that. To me, it's more of a month issue. A lot of the ACL's we have had have been spring related where they had surgery in late April and early May. Our experience has been that even though they are cleared medically in October, it was until December until they started looking like they used to. That is true of all players, not just the running backs. So I think in this case, if we were playing in June that might be an issue, but I expect those guys to be in great shape.
Will the offensive line be able to rebuild the running game?
I think we have a chance to have a good offensive line and get some continuity established. The running back position will be more experience and getting the other guys back. But that is a goal of ours, to get back to more of a balance. I was advertising that we finished last in rushing in the NCAA; I was corrected on that in February. We finished next to last. Somehow I missed one in there. You don't want to try that twice as that is not a good formula, I know that. Our hope is to have a balanced offensive again. I think that will make Drew and more effective and dangerous quarterback if he has a consistent running game to lean on.
The Pro scouts were in yesterday; what do they think of Roth?
The biggest thing is watching him on tape. The analogy I make is that he is like the Bob Sanders of the defensive line; 100 miles per hour and full speed all of the time. But I think they have enjoyed seeing him in the senior bowl. That is a great opportunity for our guys to audition in front of every decision maker in that league. Most of them enjoy his personality, as I know you have also through the years, when they interview him. He is a throwback and he truly loves the game. I think that works in his advantage.