KIRK FERENTZ:It's good to get started and get back at it. I know that Jane (Meyer) was here earlier talking about the stadium. We are excited about that. It won't impact us near as much as it will the fans, but it has been fun to watch it. There has been a lot of effort to make the project be as successful as it has been and everyone will enjoy it on Saturday. We are looking forward to that and the ceremony on Friday. Still to me, the best thing about Kinnick is that it's a great venue for college football. I can't imagine there being many better, and when you add on the name that is on the outside like Kinnick, that makes it more special. We are honored to be in there.
A couple of words about the game. I will start with our injuries. We are relatively healthy, at least at this point. Rob Bruggeman is the only guy now that is out for the ball game. He had a mid foot sprain he incurred at the end of last week. The good news is that it did not need to be repaired. He is casted up and might miss three to four weeks. It's unfortunate because he was doing a great job. We had a bunch of guys competing in that offensive line and he was coming into his own. Outside of that, Sam Brownlee had a near miss at the end of last week; he has a knee sprain right now. I think he has a good opportunity to be ready. We will know by the end of the week on him. We will be cautious on that front and see how that goes. The other injury is Ettore Ewen, who seems to be coming back a little bit. He has had a few good days, but he has missed a lot of time being out the last few years, so he is a work in progress, but its going the right way.
A couple other things. Eric McCollom has decided to transfer. He will be in school here this semester and is looking to maybe transfer closer to home to a D1-AA school in the spring. We are sorry to see him leave the football team. As far as incoming players go now, we will probably play three of them on Saturday. A.J. Edds we have talked about a little bit. Also on the offensive side we have Dominique Douglas and Anthony Bowman, two freshmen receivers and we intend on playing them now. That is the picture at this point. We have a couple of other guys we will wait and see what happens.
Captains are four seniors; Ed Miles and Marcus Paschal, then Drew Tate and Marshal Yanda. We have a lot of other guys that have done a great job and we will rotate them through during the season.
I think all in all the camp went pretty well. We had our ups and downs. You get to that point where it's natural in camp; it's time to get going here, so the start of the season comes at a good time. We have learned a lot about the team and we take another step in a game situation and go from there.
A couple words about Montana. I think in a lot of ways, we look at it and the first thing that pops into your mind is Northern Iowa. A similar type of program. The only thing about them that is different, is good as UNI has been, Montana has had as much long-term success in D1-AA football as anyone. 13 straight playoffs. You know they have been successful by looking at their record. You turn the film on and you see what you would expect from a team that has had tradition of winning. They are sound, they are well coached and they play with great effort and toughness. We expect to see that kind of football team on the field Saturday from them. Like any first game, there is a lot of unknown. Some things that we will have to figure out as the game goes along. We will try to be as sound as we possibly can.
I think our preparation has been good thus far and we have a week ahead of us now. That being said, we will see some things that we have not seen on film, which is true for any opener. They have an excellent coaching staff, they have a newcomer at QB from Washington State. They have a lot of transfers on the offensive side, a lot of good returning players back and we will go from there. They have a new offensive coordinator that joined them this summer. We will have our challenges and we are looking forward to getting started.
Q: Montana has several D1 transfers coming into their program. UNI has as well.
Kirk Ferentz: It adds to the unknown. You always have unknown in any first game of the year. In this case, it's really true. We have an idea of what the players are like, but we have not seen a lot of them on film. We know this; the quarterback is a good thrower. That is the report we have been given. He is big and strong. We remember him in high school. He is from eastern Ohio and we recruit that way. Their receiver corps looks to be a strength. They have big and good receivers. That being said, we can anticipate some balls in there on Saturday. They graduated a couple of good tight ends from a year ago. Our guess is they will feature their receivers more this year than last year.
Q: You said after the open practice that your team was not ready to play a game. Are they now?
Ferentz: We will find out. We had a good week last week. We ran out of gas at the end. Usually, the first day of class is an adventure on the practice field. I thought we had a good practice Tuesday and it carried through Wednesday and Thursday. Friday left a little to be desired. You are never quite sure until you get on the field and play a few games. I do think the team has worked hard for the most part. I think our leadership has grown, and that is critical if we are going to have a good team and that has to be ongoing. Camp isn't enough. I have seen a lot of guys take initiative in that area. Our senior class has done a good job. We have guys in the classes underneath that are doing it. For the most part we are moving in the right direction. There are injury situations with guys moving in and out and that causes inconsistency. Hopefully we can put back to back practices together and see some cohesiveness.
Q: Is it easier to break in young players at receiver than at other positions?
Ferentz: I have always felt that be it young or inexperienced players, its easier the farther away from the ball you are, especially younger players. It's a little bit more of a tug and pull inside there and the physical maturity makes a difference. From that standpoint its easier. The biggest thing is the blitz adjustment, things of that nature, which is something that young guys have not done a lot of in high school. You see things here you don't in high school. The young guys that I mentioned have done a good job. We know they will make some mistakes, have some drops or blown assignments, but they will do ok. Coming into camp, receiver was a position of concern, but I will say that there is not one guy out there that has not improved. I am not saying we are good enough yet, that will be determined down the road. As a group, everyone improved during camp and that was good to see. We stayed healthy out there.
Q: Talk about Andy Brodell and the job he is doing.
Ferentz: We thought he was a guy that was coming along nicely. When he got his chance at Northwestern he did a nice job. As I have said before, we were disappointed in the spring because he had that heel bruise. He could not practice. He lost some significant time there. We could not gauge his progress from that point, but he has been healthy during camp. He has continued to make strides and he has more confidence now than one year ago. We felt from the outset that he could be a good receiver. He has done a nice job and he is making good progress. Calvin Davis has had a good camp. Guys behind him have done a good job.
Q: If you had your druthers, would you play any more D1-AA teams?
Ferentz: I wouldn't say flat out no. I think you look back last year, my memory of UNI was that they played us extremely hard on both sides of the ball. Their defense was tough and very aggressive and then offensively, my memory of that thing is that they were still moving the ball at the end of the game. They really challenged us and impressed us. That was a tough ball game for us. I think we all know that our opener last year, and that had to do with suspensions, Ball State came back and beat Northern Illinois later in the season. But on that day, with the suspensions factored in, it was not a good opening ball game. We had that one fluke play on that quick kick that Jovon ran back, things got out of control. Our anticipation is that this game will be like UNI, where we better be ready to go for four quarters.
Q: Are some D1-AA teams like Montana and UNI as good as some MAC teams?
Ferentz: It depends on the year. We had our hands full with Miami. If you play even a middle of the road MAC teams…again, I go back to Ball State. The day we played them, they were not ready to go. They couldn't be, with the things that took place. But if you saw them later in the year, they came on and played good football.
Q: You are a former D1-AA coach. What do you think is going through Montana's mind this week?
Ferentz: We played a few of those when I was at Maine. We were at Rutgers and Hawaii. A D1 program should have more depth, but we felt like we had good players and we could compete. We did early in both games, but things got away from us in the second half. We were not a program of the stature of Montana or UNI. My guess is they are coming in here hoping to pull a great upset and take great strides to the season. You want to see your team go out and play well and meet the challenge that is in front of them. I cannot envision Montana backing down one inch, just like UNI last year.
Q: You have had a lot of blowouts in recent years in your opener. Has that hurt you later on in September?
Ferentz: I have not put a lot of thought into it other than last year. The way it worked out last year with the unique circumstances, I can't recall Drew's statistics, but he didn't get to throw it much and we didn't do much offensively that you would like to do. That was not a good situation. The other games, I don't recall that being either a plus or a minus. I thought last year's game, first game, if we could have changed the script on that one, we would have. But sometimes it doesn't work out that way.
Q: You talked about changing your September script back in the spring. How has that come along in the camp?
Ferentz: It's fair to say that we maybe amped up the volume of some of the work that we did this year. We did a little bit more competitively. We scrimmaged one more time than we have in the past. We altered things a little bit and the volume of work was more significant in terms of high speed work. Dramatic, probably not. Significant, yeah, that might be fair to say. We will see. We are healthier, that is one thing I will say, which doesn't make sense. That is what you are worried about.
I might be wrong, but we seem healthier than we have been this earlier in the season, knock on wood. I will say this also; the volume of work that Albert Young has seen has not been more. He has not been tackled. We took the same approach as we did with Fred Russell in 2003. We wanted to get a chance for some other guys, guys that have not had starting experience. We tried to give them as much chance to improve as possible. We will try to continue that, but it's tougher as the season gets going. You have to get that next guy ready if you can. We are still trying to get the team ready, though.
Q: Your September record has not been horrible.
Ferentz: It could be better. It's not just the last couple of years, it has been pretty much…I didn't go to 2001, but if you start in 2002 which was our best team record wise, in the Big Ten, we were clawing and scratching in September. Hopefully we can come out of the gates smoother.
Q: How has Rafael Eubanks progressed?
Ferentz: I think well. He has done a nice job. That being said, if I was going to single out a few guys here, Rafael has done a good job, Dace has been solid and I have been pleased with Seth Olsen. We have been rotating guys around and he has done well. Rob Bruggeman was making a move, too. We felt like we were developing depth; that is seven guys if you include Rob. To me, they separated themselves. We are down Rob now and that is tough. The other guys are making progress. They are young, but improving. If we are on that topic right now, a pleasant surprise has been Travis Meade. He has made the transition smoothly from defense. Travis is a surprise, because defensive guys take a while to get the hang of things offensively, especially pass protection. Right from the get go, he looked natural at it. He is not there yet, but you look at it and say that he has a good chance to get success.
Q: What did you see in Douglas and Bowman to decide to play them this year?
Ferentz: All of the freshmen receivers have done well, we have been pretty happy with all of them. Sometimes recruiting works and sometimes it doesn't. Things we thought we saw during recruiting have panned out. They have all done well collectively. Those two guys are maybe a little ahead of the rest of the group in the way they have picked things up and have been able to execute what we have asked them to do. So far so good, but when you play young players you have ups and downs. Hopefully not at the inopportune moments.
Q: Were you surprised that McCollom wanted to transfer? Did his decision come down to playing time?
Ferentz: That is what it came down to, I am guessing. I was surprised a little bit. Because all of the receivers have improved, and he is included in that group. You had to lose anyone at any time, yet I respect his decision and we wish him the best, no doubt about that. We will do all we can to help him.
Q: Did you communicate much with the suspended players (Ken Iwebema and Herb Grigsby) and is this an opportunity for some of the younger guys to step in and step up?
Ferentz: You don't like to suspend anyone at anytime; it's just one of those things. I thought it was appropriate. That will be done with after Saturday. We will welcome both players back on Sunday and we will move on, I am confident of that. But you have to look at it like if a player is injured, when that happens, it's an opportunity. Kanellis has practiced extremely well all camp and really came on last year and we are confident he will do a great job. The same can be said for Andy Brodell. That will happen during the year, things will happen where other guys will have to step up and get it going and they will. Ken and Herb have practiced really well through camp. Ken was a late addition, but they have practiced well knowing they would not play this week. I am happy with that and with their attitudes.
Q: How do you feel about your defense right now?
Ferentz: I think we have practiced well for the most part. Their attitudes have been good. The question marks have been linebacker and cornerback positions. First and foremost, the defensive line has practiced well and they continue to improve. We will need more from them in the pass rush area this year. We feel good about Mike Humpal on the outside and feel really good about Ed Miles. He has practiced very well, going back to the spring. We have him in a more natural and suitable position for his talents. I think that is a plus. The competition at middle linebacker has been good. Mike and Zach have competed and done well. Mike gets the nod, but that is still open. The corner position, the biggest thing there is how we do under fire. They have been around and practiced well. They know what to do and now they have to do it.
Q: Was Bradley Fletcher pushing Godfrey for a starting spot, since the two deep had them at co-starters last week?
Ferentz: That was a typo, I apologize about that. Bradley is one of our more improved guys. He has made strides, but we are going to start Charles and Adam. They are our starters and Bradley is our third guy in the game. Not probably, he is our third corner at this point. We are happy with all three of them.
Q: Are you satisfied with Special Teams?
Ferentz: I think we have an opportunity there. To have the specialists back is great. Andy Fenstermaker has punted the ball well in practice. I think we have a chance to have good core special teams. There are enough guys right now if we can stay healthy that have a good opportunity. Now the question is who will emerge. Last year Zach Gablemann did a great job, so did Shonn Greene. It will be interesting to see if any newcomers will enter the derby.
Q: What can you say about the maturity of this team, physically and mentally? Is it as good as it gets here?
Ferentz: Yes and no. The offensive line starts two second year guys on campus. We still have some work to do there. Outside of that, we are in decent shape. The mental maturity has improved in each phase. You are never quite sure where you are in the spring, but the last three or four weeks we have seen the guys stay pretty focused. They seem like they are pulling together and going in the right direction. That is good. Now we have to start the next phase. September will be a challenge for us and we will know a lot more heading into October. I think we are going in the right direction now.
Q: How do you handle things with guys that are fighting for positions, but only one player can start?
Ferentz: I think you are careful regardless of class. To me, everything we do is performance related. The only way to have good team morale is to have things be performance related. That being said, some issues are cloudier than others. Sometimes you are speculating. The most vivid example is quarterback. A guy did this in practice, but how is he going to play in a game. A lot of times there is a lot of gray area. You have to be as fair as you can and hopefully the players think it's a fair process. Anytime you have a quote unquote winner and loser, one guy starts, the other guy has to be second team. You hope the response is good by the guy that did not get the nod. To me, he can sulk and feel sorry for himself or keep working and making the most of things. That is what we hope that all of our players do.
Q: What do you do with the second team guys to make sure that you don't lose them?
Ferentz: We try to keep and eye on everyone. It's easy for first teamers to practice with zip and zest, but the second team guys, we emphasize that they are one play away from getting in. Sam Brownlee is a great example. He was sitting there in August and never thought he would be playing. We would not have been a championship football team in 2004 without a guy like Sam. We have had plenty of illustrations and there are other opportunities for guys to get involved. We do watch that, just like we watch younger players. We are into the game week mode; the guys that are not playing, you worry about them slipping off to the side. We try to keep everyone active and involved.
Q: Do you think that your team has gotten the right amount of respect this year in the preseason polls, have you been disrespected?
Ferentz: I don't mean any disrespect, but I don't pay a lot of attention. I didn't know that we were getting more or less attention. We got more than we deserved last year. This has been a pretty normal year from my vantage point, but that has been limited the last three weeks. That is great being in season; I don't know much about what is going on other than what I see in papers and publications. I don't worry too much about it. I will worry more about it in November. As far as respect goes, I hate the term disrespect. That is the term out there. ‘Dis'. We are all 0-0 right now. If you want respect, go earn it, its that simple. As a team, that is what we have to do. Brad Banks is a great example. No one knew who Brad Banks was in August of 2002 and he ends up in New York in December. Brad handled his business well and that is what you have to do.
Q: Will your offensive line have an advantage against Montana being so much bigger than their defensive line?
Ferentz: We are bigger, which doesn't happen to us a lot. Someone mentioned the other day that we have three or four guys that are 300 or better. I am not good on trivia, but that probably puts us in the bottom of the Big Ten. But they play with quickness, they are aggressive and active. One thing about their defense, they are opportunistic. They had a lot of big plays, but that was started up front being disruptive. Our guys better be ready. We will have our hands full.
Q: Have you placed any extra emphasis on clock management due to the new rule changes?
Ferentz: It's been more so just talking about it in staff meetings. Things are different, particularly in the second half. If you are on the wrong end of the score, it might alter your thinking strategically. Not necessarily no huddle, but pick up the tempo. Things will be a little shorter and the halves will go a little quicker, less plays on offense. Defensive coaches love it and offensive coaches don't. Depends on who is winning in the fourth quarter. I am still not sure I understand all these rules. I think I do, but I don't understand where they came from. That is a separate topic and we will save that one.