Chuck Hartlieb: It is a big transition year for the offense in general. It starts on the line, with the tight end. You have four out of six new faces, you are replacing pretty solid players for the Hawks. The word that comes to mind for me is continuity. Trying to build some cohesiveness in the line with the running and passing game. I think so often with young guys, they show flashes of brilliance. They have more than enough ability, but its tough at this level to learn how to put 10 play drives together or play 60 snaps at the Big Ten level. I wouldn't be surprised to see it take some time to bring this group together. My biggest concern for the team is how quickly the line will come together and how it affects the other guys on offense.
Q: A new quarterback is always an intriguing thing for fans and media alike. Jake Christensen came in with a lot of accolades, and Kirk Ferentz has said plenty of positive things about him thus far. What do you think fans should realistically expect from a first year starting quarterback who will be a redshirt sophomore?
Hartlieb: I am a broken record on this; quarterback gets too much attention for the good and the bad times. It will take 11 this year, and I thought last year the offensive story was way too centered on Drew Tate. There were other issues than what Drew was doing on the field. Running the right routes, not dropping balls, not busting on the offensive line, putting drives together without penalties. I think it will be the same story this year. If all 11 guys are on the same page, with great effort and physical and mental consistency, I think Jake will have a solid year. But he is not alone out there. If we have the same number of drops this year, if it takes five or six games for the line together, there is nothing that Jake can do to put 28 points on the board each week. It's a complete unit. I think Jake has a lot of ability. I say with all quarterbacks, I don't really put much into what occurred in high school or what goes on Monday to Friday; you judge a quarterback with how he plays on Saturday. The accolades and attention go out the window starting on Saturday and we will see what kind of player he is. Can he sit in the pocket, take the pressure, make good decisions, be accurate and be a good leader out there? Everything thus far points to his being able to do that.
Q: You talk about drops, a common theme over the last few years. You lose Dominique Douglas and his 49 receptions for however long he will be gone. He as arguably Iowa's most consistent pass catcher last year. Talk about how the team deals with something like this before a year begins. Is it a big distraction; can it be a rallying point?
Hartlieb: All great head coaches have that next man in philosophy, and they are talking about it all of the time. There is so much intensity to your day, that you are focused on doing your best and the team's best, when one guy steps up and the next one goes in, this team is like that and says ‘ok, Douglas is no longer with us, next guy goes in and let's play the game.' I don't think it's a rallying point, I don't think it's a distraction. It affects the capabilities of the offense, and a younger guy will have to step in and do the same things that Douglas did last year. But I strongly believe that the emphasis is so much on the next man in, that it's just a matter of keeping your focus and the #2 guy is now the #1. The question is, is that guy ready to play Big Ten football? We will find out soon.
Q: Iowa will have two tight ends this year that can run and catch. You could see a lot of formations out of the same personnel group, which makes an offenses more dangerous. How much of an advantage is that?
Hartlieb: That is an excellent point, Jon. It's a huge advantage when you have such diversity with two guys, the H back tight end types that can block well and get downfield. I don't think Moeaki has been at his best level yet and I expect that this year. Running great routes, being healthy all year long, limiting the drops, blocking as a Big Ten tight end, this is his break out year. He has had a lot of accolades and he has been in the backseat. I think a guy like this has to be excited to be the man this year. You have a #2 guy like Myers that will push him for each snap. I hope in the first few games that this proves to be a real strength with this team, and I think that will happen.
Q: On defense, the front four was injured for a lot of the year last year. They had just a handful of sacks over the last 7 or 8 games. If they can stay healthy this year and that is a big if, can this front seven be the defense that people thought they would be last year?
Hartlieb: That is the nail right on the head. If we stay healthy in the front seven, it should be one of the top defenses in the Big Ten this year. There are all kinds of ability, effort and heart out there in that front line, and in the linebacker crew. I think there are two big challenges, and the front seven is one. How they defense the spread offenses this year. Can they play in space? Last year, they had a hard time in different situations playing in space. When the team spreads you out, how do you make decisions, getting your body in the position to make the right play, be it an out route on 3rd and 15 or a draw on 3rd and 8. We have to play well with that front seven in space. The second thing is, as much as dropped passes on offense were a theme last year, the lack of big plays on defense were a real theme. I am sure they are preaching that they have to get guys to step up to make big plays. This defense has got to take it to another level as far as big play mentality, and it starts with the front seven, that is where the experience is and it can be done a lot of different ways. You need pressure on a quarterback, and he will make mistakes downfield, there will be fumbles. We have to have big plays, and early on in the season.
Q: You are a quarterback; take a look at the Iowa defense, specifically their inexperience at safety. Do you go after that early?
Hartlieb: I think you find out right away when you spread teams out, when you throw different formations, you get a sense when you look at the secondary as to how adept they are at making adjustments during the course of the game to formations, and then post snap. Throwing guys downfield, what kind of spacing is there with the safeties and corners to the offensive schemes. You can find out pretty quickly if you have a green free safety that you can pick on, or if he will be in position to make plays. That is the first thing. I really think that Phil Parker has done a tremendous job in that area. Our free safeties have been outstanding over the years. Greenwood, in all likelihood, he and Moylan will have great years. Then it gets back to that second level. Cornerback in man situations, we have to shut people down and make big plays. At safety, we have to have big INT's downfield, or come up and make big hits and help out the front seven. That is the level those guys have got to take it to. At first glance, play consistent, play within yourself, be a smart defense, especially in the back four. Then once you get past that four, step up and make big plays because that is what it's going to take to get wins week in and week out.
Q: On special teams, Nate Kaeding missed eight kicks his first year, then four, then three then one. Kyle Schlicher was very accurate up to last year when he was not 100%. Iowa has not been in a position with such an unproven commodity at place kicker since the start of the 2000 season. Talk about living with that aspect as a team, and then the new rule with emphasis on kickoff returns with the ball five yards back, as Iowa's kickoff units were not great last year.
Hartlieb: It's really deflating when we have teams without the superior kicking game. I think you saw some of that last year. As the year went on, there was more and more uncertainty with Schlicher's accuracy. You could see in the offense, it was a different offense from my standpoint with regards to confidence. In the Kaeding years, it clicked and you knew that if something sputtered at the 30, we were going to get three out of it. Now all of the sudden you are in that 20-40 range, now there is uncertainty if you can get three. It affects play calling, you get a different feeling on third down situations. It's a huge part of the team, and hopefully Signor can take that back to the level we have been at before. He has had some experience. Because, Schlicher did not inspire that confidence last year, and that rubbed off on the entire team. As for the field position aspects with the new rule, we really struggled in that area last year. Hopefully some true freshmen can come up, with some other guys, that can learn how important it is to get down there and make some plays for us.
Q: Any final preseason comments?
Hartlieb: As for Saturday, right off the bat, I want to see the offense sustain drives. You don't have to have five or six, but we need to see two or three 8-10 play drives, even if they don't end up in touchdowns. I felt our offense lacked enough drives last year. That keeps your defense off the field, it keeps them fresher, it wears down your opponent. It's critical to put together five or seven first downs and wear them down early on. Besides big plays on defense, I want to see three or four long drives that result in 20 to 24 points and brings the Hawks a big victory to start off with.