Q: Did this offensive line, come together, did you envision this 5?
Kirk Ferentz: Going back to this spring and summer camp, we were pretty sure who the top 6 were. It was really close between Rafael and Seth, it just panned out this way at this given point. Either ay I think we would have kept progressing and improving. The good thing is now that we've got 6 guys that we feel good with. What we didn't plan out would be the scenario at center. Like I said the other day, Rob was making a strong move in camp then he got hurt. I didn't say anything about it, but that was a huge loss for us, because he might have been, if he wasn't our 6th, I know he was our 7th at the end of camp. 8it was a major blow when that happened for us. What are you gonna do? The good news is that we had Eubanks and we had Elgin who's played there. It's kind of limited our options. We're getting there. The guys that aren't playing are getting better. All we can do is keep pushing, try to get them ready.
Q: They all kind of come from different football worlds. Yanda was in junior college, Mike was sort of a blue chipper, Elgin was a linebacker. It always seems to be that way with you guys on the offensive line.
Ferentz: It's a melting pot, our offensive line is a melting pot.
Q: Is that how you want it?
Ferentz: It just seems to be how it works. I don't know if it's coincidental, but it's the same way in the 80s. We've always had an interesting collection, but that's OK.
Q: Do the blue chip guys almost need to have a Yanda or a guy who is a self-made guy?
Ferentz: I think it's good for your team overall. Some blue chip guys kick people in the butt too. I think it's like anything, balance and diversity is great for everybody. We all learn.
Q: Then you have also a guy like Travis Meade, who's seen playing time before some guys that are scholarship. What does that say?
Ferentz: All of our players understand, when you go to college, that somewhere else doesn't matter. When you go to the next phase of your life it's the same. It's your foundation, your background, but the only way I know to have good team morale is to judge things on accomplishments. Mainly what people do on the field, but then academic performance, citizenship, those things factor in too, and our guys understand that. It's not always what you're doing on the field. I give everybody opportunities to make mistakes, but sooner or later those things are going to catch up with you. For the most part it's what you do on the field. That's what great about football. Those are the great stories, the Dallas Clark stories, those are wonderful, the Brad Banks stories are wonderful. But we've had some heavily recruited guys that have done pretty good too, those are great stories. I think at Iowa, a school like Iowa, we get all the stories. It's kind of fun.
Q: Is it almost a good thing when a walk-on guy steps up like that? It helps you scholarship-wise.
Ferentz: Yeah. You go back a couple years ago, Pete McMahon, Tyler Luebke, Sean Considine. We'd have been in serious trouble without those three guys. It's a nationally ranked team, it's a top-10 team. Without those 3 guys, we were sunk. We were in serious trouble. You go back through our history, that's kind of been the deal. We almost count on that.
Q: When you have a guy who's got an asset like being 6-7, how easy is it to you use that as a crutch, sloppy on route or something?
Ferentz: That's one thing, as a coach, you always combat with a guy who's immensely skilled or immensely unique in some way. Cause guys that have endowments that are different than most people can get away with being a little bit sloppier. That's why you admire a guy like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, you go down the list. Johnathan Ogden. When those guys have all the great skills but also have the detail. Those are the great players.
Q: When you were growing up out there, did you see Coach Carmichael much?
Ferentz: Nah, I was on the wrong side of the state. I didn't even know who the Eagles were.
Q: For a few years it didn't matter, until the 70s.
Ferentz: I was a Steeler guy, wasn't watching them too closely.
Q: Edds seemed like a real mature guy. Did he handle everything really well last week?
Ferentz: He's been the same every week, whether he's playing or not playing. Around me. I'm sure he's had his moments privately. Pregame, day before, all that stuff, I didn't see him. He might have been a wreck inside. He's a very conscientious, thorough, prepared guy. His teammates were very supportive too. Our guys are great about that. He did a good job. Same thing about Marcus. I was scared to death when he got in there, for obvious reasons. (A) He hadn't played a lot of free safety, (B) those guys were good. He jumped in and did a great job. More importantly, followed up last week with a good week of preparation. I thought he played well again.
Q: It has to be a fun week for AJ in a lot of ways.
Ferentz: Yeah. He's making the Indiana circuit right now. Purdue and Indiana. We have to play like he's playing. If he's not, he's not, but right now he's going into today's practice, that's how we're looking at it. He'll do a good job, I'm sure he'll do a good job.
Q: Could you see something like Saturday coming, the way you guys played?
Ferentz: Yes and no. I wasn't feeling real comfortable there until after that interception return, then I felt pretty good. We expected a tough ballgame, it was. The way they move the ball, you're on edge all the time. It was encouraging because I felt we really made marked improvement against Ohio State. It didn't show, but I thought the tape showed it. Most importantly, we took another step the next week, which is important. Hopefully we can continue on that path.
Q: Miguel Merrick is a guy who you'd call almost a quintessential program guy, starting on special teams to where he is now?
Ferentz: He's still playing on special teams, and we're scared to death. We're not real deep back there. Miguel's got a tremendous attitude, just outstanding. He's always got a smile when you see him. An upbeat guy, a positive guy, a high energy guy. He works extremely hard, a lot of pride. Those guys, you can't have enough guys like him around. They help you win.
Q: Plus he was a position change guy
Ferentz: I'm not saying he's Mike Elgin, but there are some parallels there. The guy's already got his degree, he's just all about business. He's got a great attitude, he works extremely hard. Mentally tough, physically tough. Again, he could have been a receiver here too. That was a discussion when he came. He's a delight to coach, a delight to be around.
Q: What's he doing better this year?
Ferentz: I think it's just experience. He got thrown in the fray at Michigan in 2004, that's when Sean got hurt and Marcus went back to free safety. He played all last year, he's taken his experience like you hope all guys that have played do. He's made himself a better player. It starts with being more comfortable. He knows what to do, and he knows how to show other people how do it too.
Q: Is it showing more in pass coverage?
Ferentz: I think he's improved in every area. He's worked hard to do it. That's just something that happened.
Q: Does a player who plays for Phil have to have a certain ego, where he knows to take things with a grain of salt?
Ferentz: No question. Phil coaches hard. Again, that starts in recruiting, too. We don't sugarcoat things, maybe it hurts us, it does probably. We explain to players how things are. Every coach on the staff has a different personality. Phil played with an aggressive personality, I can attest to that. He coaches with one too. He talks about it. He lets the guys know. That's just how it's going to be. If you want to be patted on the back every day, every play, Phil's probably not the right guy for your deal. The bottom line there is that he cares deeply about the players and they know that. Occasionally they'll give it right back to him too, I think he loves it.
Q: I think that he doesn't burn anybody to the point that they're a shell.
Ferentz: He knows what he's doing. He's a pro, he knows what he's doing.
Q: There's so much talk about how the offense played this week, but the defense, take away the yardage, really had a great game.
Ferentz: No question. In my mind, that we gave them the 3 points. I shouldn't say gave them, they earned them, we gave them a great opportunity with that kick return. With the wind at our back, I figured it was academic that they'd get it on the 20. It didn't work out that way, and they did a nice job. We started fast on defense. To come out, they're going to get their yards. I didn't anticipate us to have 20 at the other end, but for them to have zero prior to that kickoff, that was amazing.
Q: Do you think once the special teams blocks a kick or returns something that the floodgates will open for them? Or is it just a week-to-week thing?
Ferentz: And we haven't gone after a lot of blocks. I was probably not being totally fair. I think our punt return game has been pretty good. That's been a highlight too. A big part of that, I made mention a few weeks ago, I was getting a little itchy about Andy back there and Lester said, "Hey, I think he's getting close." Then boom, the next day he took off. He's been hurt, so getting him in and out. Overall we've done pretty well there too. If we can get a little inertia going, that can be a good thing. I don't think we're that far away, we're not quite where we need to be.
Q: Not saying it's bad...
Ferentz: No, it's just sort of been in the middle, which isn't good enough. We need to get something out of it. We are in a couple areas. The punt return has been pretty good, too, pretty consistent.
Q: You guys used to go after a few more kicks. Just a change in personnel?
Ferentz: You've got two choices. It affects your return game. I think people are probably a bit more diligent, maybe, not. Crossing Is and dotting Ts in protection. I think we're beyond sneaking up on anybody. If the opportunity is there, we may go after one, never know.
Q: Does who's back there, that affects how you're doing it?
Ferentz: Their snapper, yeah, how adept the punter is at getting the ball out of there quick.
Q: And who's returning it, too.
Ferentz: It affects your thinking. If we've got it going there, it's a little tougher to call the block.
Q: Do you guys have base coaches with stop watches, anybody timing how quick they get it away, snaps and things like that?
Ferentz: Our guys, yeah. I don't do it, you kidding me? I'm borrowing a watch, mine broke, the battery went dead or something. People do that. Our special teams guys are all over that stuff.
Q: What's a good time to get it back there? For a snapper?
Ferentz: .7 is more than acceptable.
Q: What's Olszta?
Ferentz: Olszta's pretty good. If a guy's quick and accurate, it's almost impossible to block a punt, unless the punter's a lethargic non-athlete, something like that. If you've got a guy that can snap, that's why it's so important, so valuable. We feel very fortunate, we've had a good run with them.
Q: You haven't had anybody leave the team, have you?
Ferentz: Ah, shoot, I should have mentioned that, I'm sorry. BJ Travers. Sorry, should have mentioned it in front of everybody. I'll put out a release on that, cover my butt. BJ Travers has decided to leave the team and Justin Collins has withdrawn from school, he's going to transfer closer to home.
Q: Another leg injury for Albert. Not terribly serious, but he seems to be where he needs to be with that. Not cursing god or anything.
Ferentz: He wants to be out there, obviously. At least he didn't run out talking about how he's had a break, then an ACL. At least here we're talking about a strain, sprain, whatever you want to call it.
Q: Is there an ETA for that kind of thing?
Ferentz: A lot of it's by feel. He was limited the week before Ohio State. With each day, we saw it coming. It was his first week sitting. I was comfortable with him playing with limited work, he worked Thursday. Last week, you go ok, "This week it feels better than it did last Monday." That's maybe a good barometer. I think we're probably back closer to where we were that Ohio State week, maybe ahead of it. If there's any doubt this week, it's the same with the hamstring. You're never 100% right, but we've got to make sure we're really smart here. I'm looking at this thing, we've got 6 weeks left now. You don't want to get one week and give up 3 or 4 more.
Q: If you hit it direct on the front, a little bit of what Horner had last year. A tendon in the back where if you hit on the front it affects it.
Ferentz: Again, you're talking about a running back. Not a right guard or a QB. QBs can brace it up and still throw a ball.
Q: He hit the ground or a helmet, in that case.
Ferentz: Which is probably going to happen. Odds are it's going to happen.
Q: Does Damian's performance go into your thinking?
Ferentz: It makes it easier, but we still would have handled it separately. Again. The Ohio State week, there was no guarantee he was going to go that week. There's two positions where we have accumulated a little depth, it's at RB and TE. The backfield overall, we've got some veterans there. Then the TE position, we've got some guys that have had extensive playing time. The impact's not like putting Marcus out there, a first-year guy at free safety. Or AJ Edds, a first-time player at LEO. You've still got to do what you've got to do.
Q: Is Damian a Fred Russell guy?
Ferentz: There's some parallels. Similar styles. Not exact, but similar.
Q: Last year you talked about seeing Bain and Kanellis at the end of the Wisconsin game. Have there been moments like that this year, where you look out and see Edds and Wilson?
Ferentz: Yeah, we had no choice. Marcus, I thought, in the Ohio State game, that was tough. He hadn't worked extensively. That's the signal-caller position, back there. It's a little different than playing defensive end. Then the position AJ plays, if he loses his leverage on certain plays, it can really get you in trouble, fast. I thought he played a real smart game. He played a good game, but more importantly a smart game on top of it. I think Marcus has done the same. The downside, obviously, you hate to have guys out, but the benefit is that if a guy can prove he can play, we know an awful lot more about both those guys now. The same with Seth, we know a lot more than we did a month ago. Those are all very positive things.
Q: Does that make you more confident in a little more rotation back there if needed?
Ferentz: We'll see how that plays out. I could say the same about Devan, you never know until a guy gets in there. There's some anxiety, he starts against Iowa State. It's like, "Oh boy." They're pretty good offensively too. It makes it easier. Once a guy's been in there. Sooner or later the guys have to jump in the water. Once you've seen them in the water swimming, it's OK. You're always a little worried, what if he stinks, you'll have to jump in and get him. You just hope it doesn't get to that.
Q: How do you get guys to buy in to special teams?
Ferentz: It's really easy. Basically, our best guys have all done a great job, mostly outside of offensive linemen and perhaps some defensive lineman. You take a guy like Matt Roth, a great special teams player. It's an easy sell. Once you've got it going. I got back to the first year, Roberto Ricard was one of the most unselfish guys we've had. A great story. He was on the scout team on defense during the week, and ended up being our best special teams players that first year. A guy like him, a guy like Thad Shelton, a first year starter ends up making it to the last cut of the Patriots, an excellent illustration. The other factor is our players have learned how special teams can impact games. When you have some god tangible evidence to put in front of guys, it's not a sales job anymore, it's just presenting information.