Q: How nice is it to get back to practice after eight months of people talking about expectations for a great season?
Kirk Ferentz: Great. This is the best time, that's why I think coaches enjoy this, this is one time we're protected. Even our wives give us a hall pass right now for two weeks. It's a limited hall pass, but they realize we're pretty much good for nothing through this period, they may elongate that period as well. it's a great time of year for us.
Q: As for replacing players that graduated, is the defensive line your biggest concern?
Ferentz: I think it's something we're obviously very in tune to right now, and anytime you graduate a large group of guys. It's not unlike maybe the 2002 season, we had five seniors end up in NFL camps, we still had Robert (Gallery) left out of that group, but those are five pretty good seniors we lost. We knew we had a process in front of us, and the good news there was that we had a good group of guys coming back. The beginning of that season, the 2003 season we knew that if we could weather the storm early we were confident we'd be ok and that's how it turned out. I really think we'll see the same thing this year. Any time you lose four guys like we lost, not only in terms of the production they gave us on the field, but the leadership as well, it's a big void.
Q: What's the craziest thing you've seen or heard that's shown you that expectations here this year are different?
Ferentz: I don't know if I could illustrate one point, it's just probably been a lot more talk than years past, for obvious reasons. I don't know if I could single out one illustration.
Q: With the heightened expectations that's been put on this team, have you talked to the team, said anything to counter all of that?
Ferentz: I'm still trying to figure out what expectations are, I guess, there are all kinds of them. The thing I've talked to our guys about, it's pretty elementary. A couple years ago we had no expectations really from the outside. It didn't keep us from having success in 2002, we had a pretty good year that year and really those things didn't deter us. Now we've tried to point out to them now that there's a lot more positive talk, just like that didn't deter us in 2002, positive talk isn't going to help us this year. I know Iowa State, Ohio State, Purdue, go right down the list, none of those people are really impressed or could care what's being said about the Hawkeyes. It still gets down to what we do, how we're going to perform. I think the important thing in athletics, if you're going to be competitive, you better have expectations. Hopefully they're internal. I think from day one our expectations have been to just do the best we can do. Obviously we'd like to be a championship contending football team, some years that's realistic, some years that isn't so realistic, but if you focus on doing the best you can do with your performance, you might have a chance if everything else is in place.
Q: Is that realistic this year?
Ferentz: I like to think it's been realistic, maybe 2001 would have been a reach, but since that point we've had a chance. You could probably argue last year it wasn't as realistic and somehow we found a way to get there. I'd like to think from here on in we'd have a chance. That being said, it's realistic for a lot of teams in our conference, and that's why it's a good conference.
Q: The running backs, you mentioned some, but what about the newcomers?
Ferentz: Well, we've got plenty of them here. Hopefully if we hit some bumps like last year we'll have a little better answer. We've got a bunch of guys in here who have impressed us so far, certainly Shonn Greene, Corey Robertson and Dana Brown, those three guys are pure running backs, if you will. Then Kalvin Bailey is a big back, so I think we've got some guys that we're interested in seeing. They've only been on the field a couple times. I'll say this about the entire freshman class, with the limited glimpses we've had, we've been impressed with just the way they carry themselves. They've got a lot to learn on the field like any group would, but they've carried themselves well through their meetings, academic meetings, that kind of thing, they've all made a real good impression. Hopefully I'll still be saying that four years from now.
Q: With that in mind, will that kind of (take some of the pressure off of) Drew Tate?
Ferentz: That's the whole objective. We think Drew's a real quality quarterback. To me, the best thing that ever happened to John Elway, I'd assume he'd say the same thing, was when they became a balanced offensive football attack. That's when they started winning super bowls, if you're in the NFL, that's the objective. That's when started playing at a championship level, and that's just something we believe philosophically. If you can be balanced you have a better chance of winning consistently, you hate to put everything on one guy's shoulders, and Drew did a great job with that last year. He had a lot of help too, but I think if we can be a little more balanced and diversified, that's going to make him a more dangerous performer, really.
Q: Can you discuss the tight end situation, Ryan Majerus' progress?
Ferentz: There are a couple guys that I'd really point to in terms of making leaps. Ryan would be one, the guy that plays across from him everyday in practice, Ed Miles, maybe that's not coincidental, but both those guys have really, I think, enhanced their chances to play good football this year, they both had good springs last year. Ryan's extremely conscientious, we knew that when we recruited him, a tremendous young man, a tremendous student, really has a lot of pride and works extremely hard, maybe to extremes at time, but it's really starting to pay off for him. He's really, I think, ready to step into a real solid role and help our football team be better.
Q: CJ Barkema in the mix?
Ferentz: Every one of the guys is in the mix, that's something we're working through but certainly being a senior, he's a guy we're hoping can be a very prolific blocker, he's got very good hands, we're hoping he can help us. I think it's fair to say you're going to see three or four guys at that position help us out.
Q: Do you kind of catch yourself wonder, two years ago it was receivers that were hurt, this year with running backs, do you kind of dread what might happen this year?
Ferentz: Not until you said that, no. (Laughs). No, I don't think those terms. It was receivers two years ago, huh? I guess I forgot that. No, not until you mentioned it. (Laughs)
Q: Depth-wise, where do you feel you're the strongest, then on the other end, where are you the weakest?
Ferentz: Like I said a minute ago, I think we have strength in numbers at running back, I said that last year, we all thought that last year and we saw what happened. It's by far the most experienced group of (offensive) linemen we've had. We're still not sure how the equation's going to fit together, but that's part of the fun of it. If you look at our defensive line, obviously that's the biggest area right now where we have the least amount of experience. Not only in terms of playing time, but also chronological age, we have only one senior, Mike Follet is the lone senior of the group, then we go down to sophomores, sophomores or younger. We're extremely young, I think there might be some upside there if we can weather the storm early. That won't be easy, but if we can hang in there, that's obviously going to be a real big payoff for us, we're excited about that.
Q: Given what Drew Tate accomplished last year, what are your expectations for him this year?
Ferentz: A lot of the focus is on what Drew did, when you think of Drew Tate, you think of a lot of great plays, rightfully so. I'm a coach, we've got a lot of coaches on our staff, we also look at the negatives. Not that we're pessimistic people, but that's our job is to try and make our players better. We've really tried to emphasize that. Fortunately Drew's got a great attitude, that's what he's looking at as well, he's not walking around watching his highlight tape, he's looking for things he can maybe improve upon, just the experience factor, then if a guy's got the right attitude, he's got the chance to mature the right way. I think he's doing that right now, I think he's very aware of the things he can do better, he's working hard on those things. You couple that with a guy who has some ability and a great competitive nature, and we really think good things can happen for him.
Q: What are the negatives with Tate?
Ferentz: Decisions that he makes, chances that he may take, you want to be very careful certainly with a player. One of Drew's strengths is his confidence, he's like a good pitcher that thinks he can get it by anybody. You don't want to take the attitude out of a guy, but also you want to make sure that he understands, which I think drew does. Any time anyone touches the ball, the entire football team rests with him in that. The decisions he chooses to make, the chances he takes, when he takes them, how he takes them, those kinds of things, that to me is part of the maturation process for a quarterback.
Q: Do you see some freshmen that could contribute significantly to this team?
Ferentz: I think it's possible, I think it's way too early to say yes or no, who they'd be, that type of thing. We have a wide open mind right now, there are a couple guys that have flashed early, it's very very early for us right now, we've only been out there twice as a whole team. It's possible, we'll have an open mind, our attitude right now is if guys can make a significant contribution we're playing for today, we're not playing for five years from now. That's really been out attitude the last couple of years. All that being said though, it's a big jump for a guy out of high school to come in here and play at a winning level against good teams in our conference and teams like Iowa State, it's easier said than done. I think our guys are aware of that right now, they're kind of seeing that.
Q: Can you contrast what it's like with the expectations you have now compared to your first few years?
Ferentz: Our focus from day one as a coaching is just to be as good as we can be today, this week, this year. It's been pretty simple and we haven't changed. We'r4e a little bit more talented probably right now and experienced than we were maybe that first year. It's realistic now to think that maybe we'll have a chance to be standing in November, in the thick of the race. That's really about as far ahead as we'll look. To me, if you're playing in a conference and you can be in the thick of it there in the last couple games of the league, that's when it's fun to play, that's when it's really fun to play. But there are different stages of fun, it was fun to be playing for a bowl game a couple years ago, but that's the ultimate goal, but that's about as far ahead as we're going to look. You look much further and we spend much time looking that far ahead, we'll get in trouble here in September. All that being said, we're back to work, we're just worried about our opener and getting ready for the entire season overall.
Q: Where does Jason Manson fit in this all?
Ferentz: I think Jason Manson is one of the great untold stories of our football team. I look at it at year ago we weren't sure we had a quarterback that could help us win football games, right now I think we have two. I can't tell you how outstanding of a young ma he is. He's got a great attitude a great head on his shoulders, just a tremendous leader, very respected by everybody in the program, players, coaches, support staff, I think I speak for everybody involved in our team, coaches, players, we all have tremendous confidence that he could go in there and play extremely well for us.
Q: Does he have the skills to be starting elsewhere?
Ferentz: I can't comment as to that, but I think if he's our starter, we're going to feel pretty good about it. If he has the opportunity, we won't feel good he's in there for obvious reasons, but we think he's a pretty good football player.
Q: Who else do you have at quarterback?
Ferentz: Well, we have Cy Phillips. He's our third guy, and after that we have freshmen, so that's pretty much the long and short of it. Cy's a guy who's done very well, he's a sharp guy, throws the ball well, right now he's third beyond the other two. All three are pretty much on the same line age-wise. Then we have Jake Christensen, and Blake Zundel's a walk on from Linn-Mar who's with us too. We have three guys who have been around and two guys that are very very new.
Q: What's the worst thing about preseason hype, you control it, there it is.
Ferentz: We don't worry about it, we really don't worry about it. Basically, it's base don past performance if you think about it, which has nothing to do with this year, it's not going to help us. Secondly, it's great to get interest, a lot of people are making money off o it, preseason magazines, that's become a pretty good industry, and that's good for college football because it promotes interest in the game. You have to start form somewhere if they're going to have the polls, that's a topic debate also right now. It really doesn't affect us, it really doesn't. We've climbed in the polls, I think it was two years ago, before we went to Michigan State, we'd gone into the top 10 or 15, as you probably remember, we didn't stay there long after that game, we got beat up there pretty soundly and bang, we dropped back out and at the end of 2003 climbed back in there. It really doesn't matter until the end of the season, again I think our guys understand you can be in there, you can drop out just as fast as you get in. We got back in there, but really what counts is the end of the race.