Ferentz: 'A Long Way from Where We Need to Be'

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz spoke with the media after Saturday's scrimmage and talked about the health of his team, the hype surrounding this season, some of the players that are turning heads thus far and much, much more...

Opening Statement

"We are plodding along. A couple of injuries, which have been a bit of a challenge. Some guys have been out most if not all of the spring. Two guys came down with mono right before we started (Kittrell and McCracken). Matt Melloy and Chris Brevi both have foot and ankle problems and have been out the entire spring. Most recently, Brian Mattison had a mid-foot problem and had a surgical procedure done yesterday. I am leaving someone out, oh, that is Lee Gray with a knee injury. Both those guys will be out the rest of the spring.

The positive things, both Chad (Greenway) and Marcus Schnoor have been able to work back in there a little bit. The position changes we are looking at are Mitch King and Mike Follett on the defensive line. We are just trying to evaluate our personnel and also see how we are progressing. I think we are doing some good things and the defense is doing some good things. The defense has improved the last week and got off to a descent start offensively. We have leveled off and not gotten much better the last couple of days. The last couple of days have not been very good."

Follett is now on the defensive line?
-- Yes, we kind of thought about it all week last week. We approached him about in on Tuesday and he is going to give that a shot. So far, so good. It is in the early stages, but we think he might have a real opportunity there. He will be playing outside. Part of that reason is because Ed (Miles) has been doing such a good job this spring. It is the best he has looked. Our goal is still to get the best eleven out there.

How has the defensive line looked?
-- It is tough to say because we have had so many guys out. Brian got injured and Kenny Iwebema came down with, well, it is not strep throat, it is not mono, it is a fever or something like that. He is going to miss this weekend. It kind of looks like a fire drill out there. They look like they have been doing a descent job. Ted Bentler and Jacob Spratt were working at the ends today, with Nate Roos and Matt Kroul working inside. It is just kind of a fire drill.

Do you feel any of the pressure or the temptations of looking into the praise that has been thrown at this team after three consecutive 10-win seasons?
-- We just want to be competitive every year. Obviously, the talk I have heard about our program being top notch has come from people who have not been at practice the past week or two. If they had it might temper some of the enthusiasm. We have a lot of work to do, just like every year. I think with the exception of the 2002 team, who we knew from the spring practices was going to be a solid ball club, we know we had a lot of work to do. We are in that situation right now.

Talk about the rumors surrounding Abdul and Chad going on to the next level.
-- Of course all of the talk was from outside the program. We talk to all of our underclassmen on a regular, well after the season, annual basis. It is kind of like Robert Gallery, he would have been a first round draft pick. Robert never really had any intention of moving on. It is the same with Abdul and Chad, the thought never really entered their minds.

Do you feel you have to kind of take the temperature in these situations?
-- I think you have to, if you are not proactive you are being foolish. I think the talk was circulating through the media only. I am sure agents did their share of fishing and trying to get guys to take a look. I do not think they ever entertained it. I go back to Robert, he was the same way. It was never even an issue with him.

Is there still work to be done for these two?
-- Yes, everyone has work to do. Again, if you use Robert as the example he thought he could be known as the best lineman in country. In guys I have talked to, well, I do not think we have anyone outside of Robert who has been in the category of top draft pick after their junior season. Both these guys know they will get better by playing their senior season and will then let the chips fall were they may.

Is it a good problem to have (players who could leave early)?
-- Yes, I think it is. I am a bit more worried about agent infiltration than I used to be. It just means we have better players in the program.

With all of the hoopla surrounding the team now, how do you keep the team playing with the underdog label?
-- Well, I can assure you we are not an elite team. In 2002, we had a good ball club in the spring and in August. The rest of the years we have kind of climbed the mountain, and are definitely in that boat with this club. There are way too many holes and things we have to get better at. We should be better on offense, but for some reason right now we are not showing that. The chances are if we are a top 10 team it will be from how we play during the season and will come during the second half of 2005.

How is the running game?
-- I thought we started well, but have fallen off the last couple of days. We just have to start getting better, and that is in all phases. It is just not the guys carrying the ball, it is the blocking, too.

Talk about Eric McCollom and how he has looked.
-- He has looked pretty good, that is certainly a positive. He does not know everything he needs to know, but he has done a good job out there. We are pleased with him. Other guys who we are pleased with: Eric is one, and Mike Jones is having a good spring. He has really made a step. Ben Gates has had a good spring and is getting more work with Lee being out. Matt Kroul on the defensive line has done some good things.

Do you think Eric will play next season?
-- Yes, I definitely think he will be in the mix. It is pretty clear who one and two are.

Is he still in the "bullpen" or has he made the change and not looking back?
-- We have not worked him at quarterback all spring. We have pretty much been working with him since the bowl game as being a receiver. That is our number one challenge with him right now.

Will it be a challenge for the linebackers having to work with four new guys in front of them?
-- Yes, it will be. We had the luxury of having four guys playing for us who are going to be in NFL camps. Three of those guys will get drafted, with two of them probably being in the top 50 picks overall. Anytime you lose players of that stature, it is going to look different. What we have to do is rely on playing on good team defense. Whoever the new four will be, actually it will be like 6-8 guys playing the positions, we will have to be precise and crisp. Having Chad, Abdul, Jovon, Antwan, and others back helps out tremendously, no doubt.

Has anyone stepped up to claim one of the top four spots on that defensive line yet?
-- Well, up until his injury, Brian and Kenny were the most experienced guys and that was showing up in practice. If I had to pick one guy after that, Matt Kroul looks like the third most established guy. We have a couple of guys out, too, like Alex Willcox and Ettore Ewen who will help fill the picture. Also, we would not have moved Mike (Follett) in there if we did not think he could be one of the top 3 guys.

Do you think any of the current injuries will affect anyone playing in the fall?
-- At this point, no. We have had more mono in the past five years, man. I mean Tate has had some, Jason Manson in his first year. I do not remember this much mono going around, maybe it is something in the air right now. Or maybe it is the toothbrushes.

What has the aftermath of the fantastic finish in the Capital One game done for you and this team?
-- Life on the outside has been good, I can tell you that. We have sold a lot of those pictures of Warren going into the endzone, which is nice. I think he has done some autograph shows. In the public events, the reception and our pulse has been good. But from a team standpoint, we have got to move on. It is a little tricky this time of year because there is a lot of talk about that. With the I-Club circuit starting up, I have to talk about that a lot, too. For the most part for all of us since January our sights are moving on to next year. After 10 days of work, and we are two-thirds of the way through it, and we are long ways from being where we need to be.

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