From an offensive standpoint, it seems like its feast for famine as far as experience is concerned. We have some folks like Mike Elgin, Mike Jones that have played a bunch of ballgames for us. Scott Chandler, and then we have some real young guys that have virtually no experience next to them, that are still working to come along. When the first unit is in, things are looking OK and we are actually cooking with gas every now and then. When they are not there, it's a little ugly, tough; very rough around the edges. It's no different than any other springs. Andy Brodell hurt his heel, and we would have liked more reps for him there. Same thing with a couple of guys on the offensive line as well. We are still focused on the same thing, figuring out who the right guys are to have on the bus and now make sure that we get them in the right seats for the most part.
Q: How is Jake Christensen coming along?
Ken OKeefe: Jake is doing OK. He survived his first blitz pick up period about two weeks ago without much mental trauma. He is doing well. He knows the system and he works at it. He will invest the extra time both in the classroom, studying tape and on the field afterwards, working on timing with his receivers. The biggest thing for young guys, especially at quarterback, is to feel the speed of the game. To have our defensive line rushing at him, the two's are normally against the one's in a practice team setting. Jake has been getting a good feel for the speed of the game from guys like Iwebema, King and Mattison. He is coming along. He has a long way to go, though.
Q: Kirk talked earlier this spring about perhaps getting Jake some reps this fall, similar to Kyle McCann and Brad Banks.
OKeefe: We haven't gone down that road very much at all right now. We are trying to decide, even for the next three practices, how can we help ourselves the most right now, by getting the right guys the right reps in the situations we have in the last few days to work. Whew, that is way down the road as far as the list of things we might be concerned about.
Q: Has Manson been working a lot with the wide receivers?
OKeefe: Yeah, that has happened quite a bit. I am assuming practice is open for you guys Saturday, so you will see him popping in and out and he will probably play both positions. He knows what he is doing as a QB, so the big challenge is really to keep his arm alive and prevent it from becoming rusty. At the same time, getting to work with Lester Erb and develop the techniques and fundamentals that you need to be able to compete at that position. He is a very good athlete, the guy is a winner and he loves playing the game. He is a total team guy; he will do whatever he can to help a ball club.
Q: Is Jason the #2 quarterback?
OKeefe: Right now, that hasn't changed at all. We will have to see how things work out with the rest of the experiment. But his position hasn't changed, nor has Jake's, nor has Drew's.
Q: How has Drew done this spring?
OKeefe: OK. I think everybody can continue to improve and get better. One of our goals coming into this spring was for us to throw the deep ball better than we have. We are getting a little bit better in that regard. We wanted to work on certain things in that regard; the deep game, the corner routes, post balls, things like that for him in particular that he has some trouble with in the past. He has really improved in that particular area. General leadership of directing the team at the line of scrimmage is something we have focused on as well. I don't know that his ball placement is quite what he is capable of in each and every practice, but as I have said in some of our personnel meetings, a couple of the days we have had out there this spring, the wind has been blowing hard and that can affect you. But we can be better overall period, as far as where we are placing the ball right now, with every one of the quarterbacks that we are working with.
Q: What does the wide receiver situation look like?
OKeefe: It hasn't changed a whole lot. You have Grigsby and a bunch of guys at the Z, including Eric McCollom, Kennan Christian, Manson is working there and James Cleveland is coming along also. He just got back from his prom the other day. He missed three practices because that was something that he wanted to do and we wanted him to do it as well, but there is a guy going to his senior prom and he is out there getting chased around by some guys that have been here for years in that weight room. It has been an eye opening experience for him, too. But he is a great competitor and a sharp guy; he learns fast and has done extremely well.
At the X, you have Calvin Davis and Trey Stross, they are going pretty hard at everything on that side of the field. We can improve in every area. Herb is having a pretty good spring and is starting to detail things and showing some leadership at the position. Lester Erb has done a great job with all of those guys. He coaches those wide receivers like most guys coach linebackers and they take to it. It's like everything else, overall as a unit, we need the seniors to step up and set the tempo for everything. Whether its WR, OL, QB, TE, whatever it may be. The seniors need to set the tempo and set the standards. We need to set higher standards in order for us to improve as a unit.
Q: Do Herb and Calvin have that?
OKeefe: It remains to be seen is the best way to put it right now. Ed had strong leadership qualities without opening his mouth. Herb is developing that.
Q: Does Andy Brodell line up at the X position?
OKeefe: Yes, he has not practiced a lot, but he is an X. The competition between he and Calvin, we missed that during the spring.
Q: Fullback seems to be a position that is getting phased out in college football.
OKeefe: We are not phasing it out, but it's one of those things that is low on the totem poll as far as recruiting. To actually find a true fullback, it's a lot harder than you think. It will come down to what you are looking for. Are you looking just for a hammer, or a guy that can be a hammer and catch a few balls, or looking for the guys that can do all that and run with it for more than three yards? The hammer is more important to us in a lot of ways. For an offense, to have a complete guy, that can really help. We have some young guys that are starting to come along.
Kalvin Bailey is very skilled at running the ball and at catching the ball, but that nail might come back to hit him every now and then as opposed to the other way. You have to get used to that a little more. Tom Busch is as tough as they come and Champ Davis is a technique guy that is skilled, can catch and run. Each guy brings something different to the table. Busch and Davis, they have been well trained by Abdul Hodge on the other side, because right away you get to see what it's like to try to be the hammer when you have a big old spike on the other side of the line of scrimmage, never mind a nail.
Q: Young and Sims seem to bring different things to the table.
OKeefe: Albert is more of a complete guy in some ways, because he has proven that he can be a protector in the passing game and we can count on him to do that. He has great hands and he runs exceptional routes as well. Everyone knows what he can do with the ball under his arm. Damien is an extremely gifted runner, he might even see the field better than any of the guys that we have. He has that little make you miss element that really helps a lot, especially if someone happens to be unblocked in a hole. He is a very good route runner and receiver. The thing he needs to work on the most, and he knows it and Carl Jackson has been doing a great job getting him up to speed there, is the pass game and being able to protect. That is thing he has to work on the most right now. He is doing a great job, a great work ethic and an exceptional attitude.
Greene is kind of the blend of both of them to a certain degree. He has size, he can run the ball, catches the ball well for a guy with his size. He probably wouldn't be as nifty a route runner as the other two. He is strong and he can handle himself in there against the linebackers or anyone else in the pass rush.
Q: Is this the best blend of running backs you have had here at Iowa?
OKeefe: It seems to be. What do you guys think? The question was is this the best blend of running backs that we have had here in our seven years. If it isn't, it has to be close. I don't want to slight any of the other guys. Some years we barely had running backs.
Q: Will we see more two tight end sets this year?
OKeefe: We will have a lot of two tight end sets. We have some depth at that position, we are carrying a lot of guys right there. That is a position that has really improved and gotten a lot better. Obviously, Chandler's big advantage when he moved there was that he had been coached by Lester for a year and knows how to run routes like a wide receiver. Those guys don't always get that kind of exposure. He was a WR in high school as well. He had a step up on those guys and for him, it was the running game, and still is. He is still working on it. He has done a great job there. Moeaki is a little bigger as far as in the running game, better in the running game. But he has really made a lot of improvement in the pass game here in the spring.
(Coach) Eric Johnson has done a great job. Those guys, including Ryan Majerus and Brandon Meyers, as a unit, these guys are really improved. Everything they are doing, from fundamentals on, is really showing up on the field on a daily basis. We need to have that, because that is a big part of what we do and I think that we feel that it puts a lot of pressure on defenseless as well.
Q: Do you recruit offensive linemen that can play more than one position, as it seems you have a lot of versatility along your line.
OKeefe: I think the number one thing, was probably Kirk's experience in the NFL. A lot of times at the high school, college level, you are locked into that this guy is a guard, this guy is a center, this guy is a tackle. In the NFL, you don't have those big rosters, so it's your five best guys. People are seeing that from us; we will find a way to get our five best guys in the game. Hopefully there is some carry over and transfer along the way. Guys that have played enough different positions, they ought to know it all by the end. I think that our mentality has more to do with it than verses actual versatility. Number one, you are looking to get the right guys on the bus, and then you want to get them in the right seats and tell the driver where to go.
Q: This is Albert's first healthy spring; have you noticed more improvement through this spring?
OKeefe: I can't say more than previous years, but he who he is. He is having a good spring. We have not let him in on any live contact. He has had plenty of that. We let the other guys handle that for the most part. He has improved in every area. Again, one of Albert's great strengths is that he brings a lot of leadership to the table. He is a real leader for us on offense. He communicates what we need to be doing. If there is one area where he has stepped it up has been in the passing game.