Q: How did spring practice go overall?
Kirk Ferentz: For the most part we're very pleased, I think we stayed fairly healthy which is always a concern. Secondly, I think the effort was there, our players concentrated for the most part. I think we've improved, still have a lot of work to do but I think we've improved a great deal.
Q: Any significant, lasting injuries?
Ferentz: Bryan Mattison's is really the only major one that's happened so far. We talked about Lee Gray, and that's a situation we've got to look at, but outside of that it seems like we're in pretty good shape and it seems like most of the guys are on the rebound right now.
Q: Will Gray and Mattison be ready for this August?
Ferentz: I think Bryan has a chance to be ready hopefully in June, Lee's situation we're not quite sure of right now, it's something we're looking at.
Q: Is it the same knee thing as last year?
Ferentz: Yep, sure is.
Q: Is he looking at a scope or something like that?
Ferentz: That's what we're pondering right now, weighing the options.
Q: Was anybody able to separate themselves this spring?
Ferentz: We have different tiers, I think. Most of our established players for the most part really did a good job and got better. Usually change with those guys isn't as dramatic as it is with some other guys. I think we've had a lot of guys emerge, maybe guys that have played a little bit or not at all, but we feel like they'll have a chance to play pretty well. Then it's always fun to watch some of the guys who haven't worked at all with the first and second team get in there and see how they react. I think overall, a lot of guys made improvement.
Q: With so many veteran players, how much smoother did things go this spring?
Ferentz: I don't know that we really have that many more veteran players overall other than the fact that they've just changed locations. We're a lot more veteran on the offensive line this year than a year ago, for instance. Obviously it's a flip on the defensive side, our defensive line is going to be an area we're really going to have to follow closely. I think it's way too early to predict who's going to emerge from that group outside of Ken (Iwebema) and Matt Kroul, the two guys that have been the most consistent. That's going to be part of the fun of it for us in August, just to see who emerges.
Q: You mentioned the rushing stat the other day to (the media) have you been throwing that out there for your linemen and running backs?
Ferentz: Not really, I don't know if the assistants have, but as a team, no I haven't. Our guys are all aware. I'm not a big one for taking negative statistics and putting someone's nose in it. Secondly, I think there were some conditions last year that led to that. We've always kind of been a team that's not really statistic oriented other than trying to get results. That's still the challenge, to put the pieces together so your bottom line is good.
Q: That's probably a number you're going to hear a lot when it comes to preview type stuff. 'Not only have they won 10 games, but with one of the worst rushing games in the country.'
Ferentz: I think it's something our team can be proud of, actually. To win at a high level without a running attack, it's not easy to do, especially with the way we're built, it's not our goal. So to me, I take it as a positive. You look at the reasons why we had such a lack of production there, it's pretty understandable. It's not something I'm really worried about or alarmed about. Certainly we're counting on having a much more balanced offense this year.
Q: Did a running back jump out?
Ferentz: I think all the guys did a good job. Sam's been steady all the way through last year, I think Marques improved, I think he's a better football player now than he was a month ago. I think Damian's improved a great deal too, probably what you'd expect, being a true freshman last year, he's a lot more physically mature and knows the offense a lot better now. You'd hope you see that, and I think we did see that.
Q: No spring game, are you happy with that situation now that it's over?
Ferentz: There was no choice, we didn't have any options on this one. I think we'd all still prefer to be in Kinnick Stadium and playing in front of a crowd, I think it's fair to say we had a nice crowd today. I'm still hopeful we can duplicate something like that in August, I guess it's not technically a 'spring game', but have an open house. Get our guys in front of the fans, I think that's important.
Q: Do you think they enjoyed the limited amount of fans today?
Ferentz: I think anything that's different than what they've been doing is a positive. They get tired of seeing our faces and hearing out voices, I think that's a positive. It reminded me of my Worcester Academy days, I think we had more bleachers out there than when I was at Worcester Academy, actually, but it was a nice day.
Q: What do you expect the kids to do between now and August?
Ferentz: The next 3 weeks they have a little different kind of training, a little more time on their hands, the big thing is getting ready for their finals. They'll have some time off in May, then they'll work hard in June and July with the summer program. Every year we've been here they've come to camp ready to go in August, so we'd expect that. Not only physically, but mentally as well.
Q: Any conclusions at center at this point?
Ferentz: Yeah, the conclusion I have is that last year we weren't sure we had one, I think right now we have three or four guys that could go in a game and play pretty well. That's kind of representative of our depth on the line. We've got some interesting battles going, I think we have a lot of jobs that are up for grabs right now. The good thing is that we've got Brian, Mike and Ben Cronin, all who have played in Big Ten games as center. I think Todd Plagmann could jump in there and do a good job as well, Rob Bruggemen's done a nice job as well, so we're a little deeper than we've been. It's a good feeling to have.
Q: Overall, do you feel comfortable with where the team is now, heading into the break?
Ferentz: Yeah. I think a couple things we didn't get to see, some of the guys that were injured, especially on the defensive line as I said a week ago, it'd be nice to have a little better grip on where they're at. It's the nice thing about spring ball, it's all teaching. You watch guys progress, over the course of 15 days, the picture becomes a little bit more clear. The big thing is that most everybody improved, they made some strides, we've got some areas where we do have some experience, which is nice but we've also got some areas we're going to have to shore up a lot. It gives us all a better picture of where we're going to be, where we're at, where we need to be. Overall, I feel good. I think the effort was there, the concentration was there, and fortunately, we avoided the injuries for the most part.
Q: Is this strictly a two quarterback team now?
Ferentz: Yeah, Cy Phillips had a funeral, so he had to leave yesterday, drove back to Arkansas. Cy's made some improvement, like our offensive line, we know a lot more about our quarterbacks now than we did a year ago. We weren't sure how Drew would play, never played in a game, Jason was a little younger, but both of those guys have done pretty well. Still some thing we can clean up and have to clean up with that position, but at least I think we have some guys we know can go in there and play pretty well for us.
Q: Coach Aiken seemed to be the busiest guy on the field, is that a concern?
Ferentz: Any time you have a situation where you haven't really seen a player play on the game field, it's certainly a concern. I don't know if concern's the right word, but you're really going to watch that closely until you get the luxury of seeing the guys out there. That's college football. The big thing is it's four guys, not just one or two. We've been through that with the offensive line. We kind of went through that after the 2002 season. All that being said, what I've seen the last 10 calendar days, however many workouts that is, 5 or 6, I think we saw enough out there that the momentum's going the right direction right now. Again, I feel pretty good about what we think Ken and Matt can do, and we have some other guys working. Mike Follet's making progress, it's all new to him right now, but I really think he's going to be fine at that position. I think we're going to be ok, it'll go right up to September 3rd, and probably extend beyond that.
Q: How much of a luxury is it to have seven guys behind them who have started games?
Ferentz: That part's real nice, actually. We are a little bit more veteran than we have been in the past at the linebacker/secondary. The bottom line is that at the end of the day, you're playing team defense. That's got to be our approach next year. We can't expect to be as dominant, we can't expect as many big plays from the end position as we got from a guy like Matt Roth or Babineaux inside. That's just college football, you lose a guy that's play extremely well, you've got to compensate in other areas. The defensive linemen that end up playing, they'll do a good job.
Q: Two or three years after you were here at Iowa, could you ever have envisioned a time when people would call you a dark horse for the national title, as they are now?
Ferentz: I'm still not sure I can envision that one. That's down the road a little bit. Our goal has really been the same each and every year. Our hopes were to always be a team that would maybe have a chance to be in the conference race in November. That's really first and foremost on our mind, realizing to get there you've got to become bowl eligible, and have a winning season, all those kinds of things. That's still where our focus is, hopefully in November we're playing for something really significant. Then it's up to us to take care of that business in November. Two of the last three years we've been fortunate, we've been in that position, and I hope, I think everybody around here realizes just how hard it is to get to that point. Things really have to fall right for you, if you can achieve that, something on a bigger scale might be available to you. First things first, getting to November, to me, that's the biggest trick.
Q: A lot of times with guys who've had some trouble off the field, when that catches up, when they get rid of that, that on the field, they get better. I think Marques Simmons is in that boat.
Ferentz: It's hard for a team to deal with distractions, and I think it's hard for individuals to deal with distractions too. The best players I've ever been around, they just know how to get things in the proper place. It's like being a good team, everything has to be right, and to be a real exceptional player at the big ten level, you have to have things in order. I don't think you can have a lot of rough edges and maximize what your potential may be. That's something we try to talk to our guys about, it is important to get things in order, take care of your priorities. First of all know what your priorities are, make sure you've got yourself going in that direction.
Q: Do you feel like Marques Simmons has gotten that message? Does he really have a choice, being a 5th year senior?
Ferentz: That always helps too, having that window become a little smaller. That's why experience is so important, that's why you hope your older, experienced guys are sharing that message with younger players too. I think his focus has been very good and he's done a nice job.
Q: How has he improved over the last month?
Ferentz: He just looks more comfortable back there, he's worked at a real high level, he's been able to stay injury free. That's been a little bit of a problem for him too, he's had some leg injuries, some things that have hampered him. Naturally, his understanding, conceptual understanding has improved just from being able to be back there on a continual basis.
Q: Looking a little bit ahead to the NFL Draft, you talk to guys about the poking, the prodding, how bizarre it is, the process you go through at the combine. Describe that a little, can you really warn a kid about that?
Ferentz: I think they treat prisoners of war better than they treat you at the combine. That's part of the process too, it's probably by design, almost a mental test or endurance race. I know they get them up early, take them over for the physicals. It is very inhumane, you get poked, prodded; you're someone's investment, so there's a reason for it. The players understand that. One of my first memories was sitting in the room where they come in and they measure everything. The guys walk in a pair of shorts, nothing else, they measure everything, well not everything, but their hands, (Laughs) reach, things like that. It's kind of an interesting deal, so you've got this guy standing in front of probably 200 or 300 NFL people, just standing there getting measured, almost naked. That's kind of a picture of the whole thing. It's a full couple days for the guys involved, and then they have to work out at the end of it. It's a little bit of an endurance test, I imagine it might be set up that way for a reason, just to see how they handle all that.
Q: Were you ever sitting there that first year going "What is going on?"
Ferentz: Yeah, it was kind of a mindblower, you know, "Well, this is interesting." I've never bought a horse or anything like that, but it's something like that. In a way, that's sort of what you are.
Q: The hand size thing, that's sort of a new one.
Ferentz: I laugh, because they say "7.38" and everybody writes it down. I found myself doing the same thing the first time I went, so I'm writing everything down, they're going to give you a print out of all this anyway. What the hell does it all mean anyway? A lot of that stuff is just garbage, unless something's really out of kilter. I think Robert Gallery, supposedly his arms were too short, I guess he would have been the first pick instead of the second if he had another inch on those arms. It's silly, it gets silly.
Q: I think Hinkel has shown hand size doesn't matter much.
Ferentz: I'm with you, it's still how you play.
Q: Does John (Gallery) have a lock on punter?
Ferentz: No, we have very few locks on our team right now. The punting situation is wide open. I'm serious; I think Abdul and Chad have firmed up their positions. I think we've got a lot of open positions right now, which is good, I think it's really healthy.
Q: What goes into the decision making at that position?
Ferentz: We've had 15 days, a few days back in December, which is really where the scrutiny intensified a little bit. That'll go through the summer time, and the longer you do things, things play out a little more clearly, but sometimes they don't. Not only the punter position, but we have a couple like that, where we could go into December not quite sure on this guy or that guy, then we'll play them both. If that's the case, then you play them both guys and see how they respond.
Q: Has their consistency gotten better?
Ferentz: I think it's improved, but that's going to be the key. That's usually the key with any player, but punters and kickers are the same way.
Q: Could it come down to a duel, almost a wrestle-off for punter, just go out on the field one day and (have a duel)?
Ferentz: It could, it's conceivable, but it's a lot like a quarterback, where you're not quite sure until they actually get in there in game situations. You hope for the best.
Q: Neither one has an edge right now?
Ferentz: I don't think so. We're pleased with both, I think that's the first thing to say, we're pleased with both. We'll kind of see how it shakes out. It's kind of like the offensive line, we've got three positions nailed down, after that, we've got some guys that in contention for some things.
Q: Who would be the three nailed down?
Ferentz: Three guys that have played the most, Mike Jones, Mike Elgin, and Brian. Those three guys have had some solid springs, all the guys have improved I think. We have a lot of things open for debate right now.
Q: What did you want Drew to get out of this spring?
Ferentz: First of all, just a demonstrated understanding or improvement of understanding. It will be our goal until he graduates basically, until his last game. I think he's made progress there, just taking care of the football, smart decisions, those things are so important at that position. I think he's making progress.
Q: Sounds like he didn't think as much last fall as much as he reacted to things.
Ferentz: It's experience, the best way to say it. When you have experience, it kind of flows that way. That's probably the thing that he's as excited about as anything. He's got a year under his belt, and two more to go. As long as the guy's attitude his right, he'll have the opportunity to continue to learn.