A few words about this spring, our goals are the same as always in the spring. We want fundamentals taught this month, get our system installed and see how things pull together. It's an evaluation process, like camp. We go into it, as we told our players, right now our season is an open book and our roster is the same way. We don't have a lot of preconceived notions about how our starting lineup will come out. We will go through spring and see what happens. We have some experienced guys that we are expecting to play well and some others that need to step up. We are looking forward to these t13 days of practice and our focus is the same as it was in December. The big thing we want to do is for them to take the opportunity to improve. December was the highlight of our season last year, we had the proper focus and work ethic. We need to continue that. We had a real positive winter. Chris was real pleased for the most part, and this is the next step for the team. Q: Talk about the quarterback situation
Kirk Ferentz: We will be young, that is one thing for sure. With that, we will be inexperienced. Jake is the most experienced guy, not only that he got a start last year and did a nice job with that, but he has been with the program for two years. He has had a chance to learn being the backup this past year. It was like Drew being a backup his first year on campus where he got work in a team situation. It's safe to say that he has the biggest edge going into spring practice. We are excited about all four of the guys that are out there, we think Jake will do a good job. We were impressed with Rick Stanzi and Arvell Nelson during the fall, and Adam Farnsworth the same way, he has improved a lot. We don't have a lot of guys, and it gives them a chance to compete real well. I think it's fair to say that the guys outside of Jake, this will be a huge learning time for them, not unlike when Brad Banks showed up, or Nathan Chandler. I would make that comparison. JC guys that showed up in January and used the spring to learn. That gives them a good foundation to use this summer and hopefully they will be much improved in August. We will go through learning with those guys. I think we will see all of those guys make a big jump in August based on this spring.
Q: Talk about Jake Christensen
Ferentz: The thing he doesn't have is game experience, but he has done a good job grasping what we are doing offensively. He has a pretty good working knowledge, and he has done a good job working with his teammates. He is well respected by everyone on the team for the way he has gone about his work since he has been here. The next step will be continued work and repetition and the most important thing is what he does in the game. He has a little experience, but not a huge amount.
Q: Is it his job to lose?
Ferentz: We are not at that point with anyone on our team at this stage. We are coming off a year where we were disappointed with our overall production, and that is well documented. To say that anyone is an incumbent right now would be silly. We are all taking that attitude, myself included. We all have a lot of improvement to make and that is where my focus is right now. It's logical to start him atop the depth chart. You have to start somewhere. What is important is when September rolls around.
Q: How close are Stanza and Nelson to one antoher?
Ferentz: Real close. It's hard to differentiate. One might do something better than the other. For the first year players, this first spring is really important, especially the guys that redshirted, it gives us a chance to see them work within the system and see what kind of learning they can do and what they can carry out to the field. That is one of the fun thing about Spring practice.
Q: What are the attributes of each of them?
Ferentz: First of all, I have been impressed, and again, they have been running our scout team, but their general attitude, their leadership, they seem to be respected by their peers, they seem to enjoy and love football. I like the way they operated down on the scout team. They did a commendable job. I will give you a window into both of them. If one wasn't playing QB, they would jump in and play receiver or tight end, they were not just watching. That general demeanor and mentality, I was pleased to see that. I think that is fair to say about the entire freshman class. They like football, they don't mind working. That is the case with both these guys, so it will be fun to see how they do.
Q: You have a lot of redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the two deep roster.
Ferentz: For the redshirt guys, we had a glimpse of them more extensively in December where we can work with them, but in the fall, you are getting ready for games and you don't work with the redshirt players. That part has been great. Now the good thing is to see how they learn, because we will give them a bigger volume of new information than they had in December. With younger players, you hope to see improvement in the spring. It's fair to say that younger players fit in that category, they have more of a window to improve more dramatically than a three year starter. For us to get better, the experienced guys have to keep improving, but the younger guys have a huge opportunity to make jumps. It's the same in strength and conditioning. I think we utilized our winter and that will carry over into spring and then into summer.
Q: Are you comfortable with the personnel that you have on the offensive line?
Ferentz: We are very young and inexperienced in that regard. There is no senior in the group to start with, so that is telling. I think if you look at it, we have three guys that have extensive game experience, so we are not quite as young and inexperienced as we appear. The other good news is that I think right now we have 12 or 13 guys that are legitimately competing for positions right now. That is good and I think after a few days of practice, I think its fair to say that it's a sizable group that has good potential. You know a lot more after 13 days than you do after two. I think the competition will be good. I realize that we have a lot of ground to cover as far as experience goes, but I feel good about the potential of the group. It's not a desperate situation.
Q: Talk about Bret Greenwood (walk on SS that is listed as the #1)
Ferentz: He just jumped out at us right away last year. Reese very strong feelings about him. Reese is not overly vocal about guys. But if he keeps mentioning a guy, that is a good tip. He kept mentioning Mike Elgin. You could tell that Reese had strong feelings for him in recruiting . He knew more about Bret than any of us. He knew about his basketball, the other things that he was doing, the intangibles. All of those things that he had a sense for and we saw when he came to camp. I think he is one of the few freshmen that we redshirted that we traveled him. I think we traveled him to every game last year. Being around him, he is preparing like he was ready to play even though he was redshirting. He has a great attitude and is a great athlete. We like what we have seen so far. It will be interesting to see what he does this spring.
Q: You have Mike Humpal at Will backer, where he played in the bowl game. Is that his natural position?
Ferentz: It's a combination of what is our best way to get the top three guys out there. For a starting point now, those are our best three at this given point. Mike could flip back outside. He is a very intelligent player and we were not displeased with how he played. We felt that we were better suited to make that switch because of what we saw from Texas. We think that is our best way to start out right now, that position is up for grabs. Maybe its not quite like the offensive line, because two out of three are former starters, but we are not quite sure how that will shake out.
Q: Did Alex Kanellis come to you about the position change or did you go to him?
Ferentz: He came to us. I think that he is looking at a couple of different things. But the bottom line is that if its good for the player, hopefully its good for the team and that is what we are looking at here. He is not an experienced offensive lineman yet, but he has been on the game field for two years. He had a difficult year last year, you name it, it happened to him. I don't think he will be intimidated by anything on the field, though. Learning the techniques will be a process, but I am not worried about him being nervous in front of the crowds or who lines up across from him. He will compete.
Q: After last season, you talked about an ongoing evaluation process of your program. Is that over or still ongoing?
Ferentz: It's ongoing, like anything. We finished the bowl game, and we went right into recruiting. After recruiting, we took time and talked about that and we were are in broad based evaluations right now. We have been looking at our cut ups and studied those. For the most part I am where I am at in December. I am not a huge believer that its about systems, but rather the people involved and the people doing what they are doing and carrying out their given roles. That is where our biggest focus is. That being said, we are always looking to tweak and trying to improve. I think that anyone that walks into the stadium we are not going to look like a dramatically different team. We won't be in the wishbone or no backs. We won't be in the 3-4.
Q: Comfy with kicking game
Ferentz: No. No. No. Grunt. Absolutely not. But it's like some positions. Our safety position, we don't have a returning starter there. We have some replacements in the offensive line and at quarterback and you look at both specialists. There is a little bit of anxiety with regards to how well they will perform. But they performed well in practice and its not the same as games. We think things will be OK there. We have some work to do. We have Dan Olzsta back, so it's not a total variable, but we will be young at specialists.
Q: How is life without Ron Aiken?
Ferentz: Life goes on. It's a part of what we do. First of all, I am extremely appreciative, and I have told Ron this, of everything he did in his eight years. That is how I look at this stuff. If a guy has an opportunity that he feels good about, and Ron has turned some down that some people would think were nice, but he has turned some things down. I think he had a comfort level at this point. Part of it is where he is at professionally and personally, and another part is that he has worked with Ken in the past. We are all appreciative of what he has done here. The contributions he has made to our program, and he and his family to the community. I wish anyone that leaves here the best of luck and all of the guys that have left here have done well and I expect the same for Ron. That is part of what we do and its like the player graduating, and I am confident that Rick will do an outstanding job. He has gotten off to a great start. The guys that have left our program, and I think that has been five now, have all done well. The guys that have stepped in have done a great job and I expect the same thing to happen.
Q: Talk about the recruiting impact with Eric Steinbach's contract with Cleveland?
Ferentz: I was told, I don't know if it's changed, but supposedly he has the biggest contract ever given to an interior lineman. I spoke with him two weeks ago, and he is pretty excited, but it's a great fit for him. I am happy on both ends, because I am a big Eric fan and Phil Savage being with Cleveland, and I know that was a huge thing for them. They really want to build around Eric with that line and I think he is a great guy to have in there. He has had a nice career thus far. It doesn't hurt recruiting at all, Eric isn't the only guy that has gone on to do a great job.
Q: Is Paul Chaney full time with you or splitting duties with track?
Ferentz: He has been full time football with the exception of competing in track. Doing two sports at this level isn't easy, but track and football are compatible and we have had success in the pats. Dwight, Yamini, Dodge, Jeremy Allen. With Paul's involvement, we are excited and they are excited for his potential. We liked his development in the fall as a football player. I think Anthony Bowman will jump in for the outdoor season, and we knew that during the recruiting process that they are both serious track athletes. It's a win-win. We just ask that their grades don't get compromised. It just cuts into their social time and they are both willing to give up that.
Q: Are you going to keep your running backs out of contact this spring, as you have in recent years?
Ferentz: We may be smart about it, but everyone will be involved with everything. There are certain guys, it's like Fred Russell going into his fourth year. We pretty much knew what he could do. I think we feel that way about Albert and Damian, but they need some work to stay sharp.
Q: Are you still wanting to redshirt Shonn Greene?
Ferentz: That is our intention going in. We have to stay healthy and get some other guys to step up and become three and four and that is a part of it.
Q: Is Herb Grigsby gone?
Ferentz: He is. He will graduate this summer. I think he may play a fifth year somewhere else, but we want him to graduate.
Q: When you look at (Interim Defensive Line Coach) Rick Kaczenski, did the fact that he spent time with your mentor, the late Joe Moore at Notre Dame jump out at you>
Ferentz: My first introduction to Rick, I used to go visit Joe every spring. I would drive over from Cleveland. One day that I was there, Coach Holtz was explaining to Coach Moore that he was sure that Rick's mom and dad loved him but he would never play at Notre Dame. I think Rick was a three-year starter for them. I guess Coach Holtz was trying to motivate Coach Moore. That was my first snap shot of Rick and it worked as a player. But he joined us a few years ago and has been a great addition to our staff. He has a high enthusiasm level, he is intelligent, he is a good communicator and a good teacher. I think he is going to be a real good fit for us and we are excited about that. I like his professional maturity also. He has been a G.A. for us a few years, and he has worked a few I-AA jobs, not easy jobs. I have an appreciation for people that have tough jobs. We all need those in our lives. It hasn't always been easy for him as a coach and I am confident that he will do a great job.
Q: Is playing your opening game at an NFL stadium this year a carrot to dangle in front of the kids?
Ferentz: I haven't given it a lot of thought, about next year, but that was part of the discussion when we entertained the whole idea of playing up there. We have played in Tampa's stadium, which is a neat thing. I realize that San Antonio isn't a pro stadium, but the Cowboys played in there. With the amount of Iowa connections we have in the Chicagoland area, to play in a pro stadium was a win-win for both schools and everyone on our side feels that way.
Q: The rest of your schedule is different this year, with Western Michigan as the last game and no Michigan or Ohio State.
Ferentz: I really haven't given it a lot of thought. We will worry about that in a month. In a perfect world, you would play Big Ten all the way through and that is not the way it came out. That is a part of the 12th game. I don't worry too much about schedules. What ever is out there we play it and it's our job to get ready for it.
Q: Was backside blocking in your running game a problem area last year?
Ferentz: Someone said something to me the other day, I am trying to think where it was. It as an interview…a radio interview or something. Someone suggested that our offensive line was off last year. I thought it performed pretty well. I thought our run game was OK overall. Our biggest problem last year was the turnover thing. There are always thing you can improve upon in the run, but it's like throwing an interception; its not just one thing. It's usually a combination of things. That being said, a point of emphasis of the run game is the back side blocking. I think a lot of people have the misconception that we are going to run it to the right and it's what the guys on the right do. It takes all 11 guys, including the quarterback. It all goes together. I wouldn't say that was a huge thing, but it was one of several factors.
Q: Are you more anxious to get going coming off a 6-7 season?
Ferentz: I think all of us are enthused with what is in front of us and moving on. None of us will forget what has happened, that would be silly. But we will not dwell on it. We have tried to learn from our mistakes and we will continue that talk. But you have to look forward and we did that in December and we will do it these next few months. The next step for us is these 13 days of practice. I think we are all excited about the opportunity to come out and have a better year.
Q: Is last year a motivator for you?
Ferentz: Success has always been tough to combat. Dealing with success is a unique challenge in life, not just sports. Success brings a lot of people down. Maybe that was a part of our problem. I am sure it was. Hopefully we are all committed to doing a better job this year and I think they are. It started in December and our seniors did a great job of making that. Those guys led the charge. We have to keep it going.
Q: Was there more weight room motivation this offseason?
Ferentz: I don't know about more, but it has been good. I can't be on campus all the time. The guys get here on the 18th of January and we are recruiting, but I spoke to Chris all the time and he felt good overall with the way things were moving. His position is so huge because of what we do. We have to leave campus as coaches. He has been the constant, the steady guy there. I think he feels real good, and the numbers bear it out. We tweaked things a little bit and maybe worked a little bit harder, but we feel good about where we are going.
Q: Does it help when you have guys like Robert Gallery and Dallas Clark back working out with you?
Ferentz: That is a huge plus. We have always made it clear to all of our former guys that they are welcome any time. Robert was here for four weeks. I don't know how many guys there are that go second pick in the draft and he is out there doing agilities with redshirt freshmen. He went through the same training our guys did. Dallas was here finishing up his school and he has been working out. Sean Considine, Brian Ferentz, Pete McMahon. That is great. I would love for all the guys to come back here, which isn't realistic but they are welcome and its huge for the younger guys. Nate was back in town, Joel Hilgenberg snoops around every now and then. They give good wisdom and advice.
Q: Do you alter your practice approach when you have a young quarterback compared to when you have a veteran?
Ferentz: Not overall. We might slow things down a hair, but not a lot. Our progression in spring will be what it has been. You throw guys in and see how they handle things. Jake ought to be able to handle things better than the younger guys, especially with blitzes. Things happen quicker. You don't have to worry about going off cards on the scout team. But when you are in a structured situation, and you have to have a proper response and it happens faster than you are used to, that has been the way that it is. You have to throw them out there and get them going, and getting used to throwing from the pocket.
Q: So it's safe to say that this time of year that you don't change anything, but during the season, you may have to slow it down?
Ferentz: If one of those two redshirt freshman end up playing next year, we would have to tweak a few things. But we will see how it goes. You don't want that to limit you from playing the best guy, and make it work for him.
Q: How do you feel about your situation at tight end?
Ferentz: The bad news is that we graduated two good seniors. I don't have to say too much about what Scott has done here the last three years. I would be remiss if we didn't mention Ryan Majerus. He played well on special teams and was dependable as a tight end, you never had to worry about that. We like to take four guys into a game that you feel good about. We had that last year, now its different. We are very young at that position. We feel good about Tony, we feel that his best football is in front of him and we don't have any doubts that he is capable as a blocker and receiver. He has rare combination skills. One of the guys I would say that made significant progress, guys that really stepped up in December, Brandon Myers is one. He showed a maturity that we hadn't seen from him. It really ended up being a good semester for him academically, too. We have high hopes for him. Michael Sabers has progressively improved these past 12 months. After that, we are looking for some answers.
Q: Is the door still open for Edds at tight end?
Ferentz: It is. That was a discussion in January. Where was the best place for him? The long and short of it now is that he can start on defense. He probably wouldn't start on offense, but he would be in that top three or four. Who knows, maybe he will be the next Gordy Lockbaum. You never know.
Q: Have you tested firekirkferentz.com?
Ferentz: Nah, my kids may have, but I don't know how to get there so I am safe.
Q: Do you have any freshmen that arrived early, in January?
Ferentz: We are not real big on that. I don't even think we had anyone talk about that or entertain it. That is a good question. Someone asked me that the other day and I was thinking about that last week in the car. I am still trying to figure out why that is legal. Why is that legal? I think it's silly that they are allowed to come into the spring of their freshman year, pre-freshman year or whatever. I don't think it's a good rule that they are allowed to start in June. To me, college starts for freshmen in the fall. Maybe some day we will be able to snatch them as juniors, like the pros do to us. I don't know what we are trying to prove. I think it would be better for everyone if they started in August of their freshman year. Let them be high school seniors. There are some schools in our conference that are making it mandatory for kids to come to summer school. Maybe we can do a study on that. I worry about where we are going sometimes, what we are trying to do. For all of the benefits, you have to look at the harm. If it was my kid, there is no way they would be going to college in the spring.
Q: Dominique Douglas had that great first year. Did you have any discussions with him this offseason on where he needs to improve?
Ferentz: We had some discussions in the fall and I told him that my biggest fear for him is that he turns into a jerk. I don't mean that in a bad way, but it's tough, when guys have success as young players, he does play in a prominent position and he is not a left guard. You worry about thinking that you have arrived, that mentality. If his goal is to be a starter at Iowa then he is probably in trouble. We are hoping that he has motives and goals that are higher than that. That being said, he has worked hard and he has a great future here. There is not anyone involved with our team or program, starring with me, that can't get better. But you do worry about it with younger guys that have had success. Dominique Douglas…he didn't make all Big Ten, but that is the next thing he can work on. Hopefully he can get there some day.