MN Week: Kirk on the Side Transcript

Kirk Ferentz spoke with the media on Tuesday. Read what he had to say about a number of topics, including young defensive linemen, punters, stingers and more in this premium transcript.

Q: In 2004, after Arizona State, you brought out the toilet, the flushing thing. This whole team, this year, can you talk about the flush factor with these guys, Jake, the receiving group with the drops? Defense? The team has that mentality, making a mistake and it doesn't carry over.

Kirk Ferentz: I think it's just, philosophically, we've been trying to keep our focus on what's in front of us. Looking forward as opposed to dwelling on the past. That's been our manta, I guess, since December. That's one thing about sports, you can't undo what's happened. You go back and analyze it, and players hopefully do that after a play, after a series. You have to, especially when you're younger, because you're probably going to have more unwanted results than a veteran guy. You've got to have a little bit of a mindset that you're going to move forward.

Q: Jake threw the pass to Busch and came up and said something to you right afterward. What did he say?

Ferentz: I think it was just the effect of, "That'll be the last of that. I can do better, I'll do better." Something like that. That's the thing, I've said that all along. His intangibles have been great. If he does something wrong, he knows it. It's not like you've got to remind him. The guy's got a lot of pride in his performance. He wants to lead this team, he wants to be productive for the team. You like that. He says all the right things and does all the right things in my mind.

Q: Also with the DBs... Saturday was another day with a few penalties...

Ferentz: You have no choice there. When you're playing a team that's going to throw the ball as much as we've seen in a lot of games this year. Unfortunately, you're going to have some of them. It's a subjective call. Kind of like fouls in basketball. It's just the way it goes. It's part of the game. I guess the difference is that in football you don't foul out. You've got to try not to let how the game's being officiated or being called affect you. You can adjust a bit, but you've still got to play aggressively, keep your focus on what's in front of you. Playing DB is like being a relief pitcher. If you give up a home run you have to come back and pitch to the next guy, unless they yank you.

Q: What do you tell them, just keep doing what you're doing?

Ferentz: Pretty much. If you don't, you'll be giving up 800 yards a game passing. It's not touch football. You can't play tentatively, otherwise you'll never stop anybody.

Q: Did you know Brewster?

Ferentz: Indirectly.

Q: He didn't ask you about transitioning from the NFL?

Ferentz: No.

Q: Coaches don't do that, do they?

Ferentz: Some do. I think he probably talks to Coach Brown, I would think. That would be his line of communication.

Q: Have you talked to Callahan?

Ferentz: I really haven't talked to Bill since we were playing against each other in the NFL.

Q: Can you talk about turnovers? I know that you can coach against them and for them, but isn't it sort of a surprise factor? An element of surprise? They just kind of happen.

Ferentz: Part of it is fundamentals, part of it is concentration. I think we're doing a better job offensively and special teams, when we have the ball we're doing better with ball security. Then, I'm not sure I can explain why we're doing better with takeaways. We're a bit more opportunistic. We haven't really changed the way we practice. We've always had drills emphasizing that, but it's not like we've accelerated that a heck of a lot. Maybe I'll talk about it more, I don't know. I wish it was that easy.

Q: Do you just ride the wave?

Ferentz: Yeah. That'd be great. That's one thing we are doing well, statistically. There's not much we're doing well, overall, we're not a great stat team right now. We're doing a good job there, certainly.

Q: You've been patient with a lot of players, a lot of parts of the game this year, including Ryan Donahue. What did you see there?

Ferentz: Potential, first of all. We recruited him with that in mind. Once he got on campus, we saw it firsthand. We saw potential, we saw inconsistency. He's a bit of a maverick. He's a strong-willed, strong-minded guy. That's a good trait. Negotiating is not a good word, but it was a process, I think. He's a strong-willed guy. A lot of good performers are built that way. I think that is an asset for him. He's really come up big for us the last couple weeks. I'm liking the fact that he's a redshirt freshman right now.

Q: Strong-willed, what does that mean? Is he a basket case?

Ferentz: No, he's not a basket case at all. He's got his ideas about things, at times. Not that he tells me he does, but I just judge what I observe. We've had some conferences and conversations. That can be a real good thing. He's a strong-minded guy. It's been good. He's grown a lot. Like a lot of guys, he came in with a few loose ends. He's really taken care of business in all areas. He's really doing a good job. To me, it's translating out on the field as well, we're seeing consistency that you like to see.

Q: Why did you make him a punter instead of a placekicker?

Ferentz: Punters are really hard to find. In my mind, it's a dying art. It's like deep snappers. 8 million kids, check that, 180 million kids in America are playing soccer, it seems like more guys...kickers are more readily available, they seem to surface with more frequency. Punting to me is a real art form right now. We felt like we had the guy who had the potential to be a good punter. We thought he could be an excellent kicker, but we thought it was tough to do both. If he could nail that down, he could really help our football team.

Q: You've got two, yes?

Ferentz: Gus. Eric Guthrie. They call him Gus, don't ask me why. I don't know how they got Gus from Eric Guthrie. He's here, a young guy, from Nevada.

Q: Is he on scholarship?

Ferentz: No, he walked on. I think he was a presidential scholar. He's a lot smarter than his coach. All of his coaches. Except for Norm.

Q: Aren't all kickers free spirits, a little different?

Ferentz: They're all different. Nate Kaeding's a strong-willed guy. Nate was a little bit more conforming, I guess, to things. Nate didn't draw a lot of attention to himself, but you could tell he was very strong-willed. It takes that to be a good player. No good player is not strong-willed, but they have different ways of expressing themselves.

Q: Is there an example with Donahue?

Ferentz: I don?t know. I'm trying to think of who he'd be like that we've had. Nothing major, it was just little stuff that would annoy me, quite frankly.

Q: Kicking long when you want to kick short?

Ferentz: It was more off the field, actually. He's been inconsistent on the field, but that's true of most young players, and it's really true of most young kickers and punters. I keep going back to Jason Baker, well into his career he was fighting that battle. I've told you before, I know nothing about kicking or punting, but you learn from your players. This guy is good enough that in 2007, he's still playing, with a long-term contract. If he was struggling as a sophomore of junior, why shouldn't a guy struggle as a freshman. Another guy, Matt Stover was hardly a picture of consistency during my time in the league. I've been out 9 years, and he's still playing. He's not kicking much, I guess I heard they only have scored 8 touchdowns, 9 after the one yesterday. He's hardly the picture of consistency as a pro, now he's doing very well. I don't know crap about kicking or punting, but I just watch guys. If they've got the traits, then you try to work with them.

Q: Are you to a point yet when you send him out that you comfortable with him?

Ferentz: I feel a lot better now. Not only in the last two weeks, but we saw some early in the year where he hit some that were big, made me think that he's got a little something to him. He's going to be just fine. There are some subtle things you see guys do, but certainly we've seen it the last few weeks that he's got the potential. Now the challenge will be two things, to eliminate the one bad one a game, and the one last week didn't hurt us at all, that wasn't a bad deal. The other part is that if he can handle a little success. Young guy, people are saying nice things about him, what's he going to do? I think he'll be alright, but we'll have to watch him?

Q: Is it frustrating, it seems like it's been weeks since you guys have been able to get a returnable punt?

Ferentz: Yeah. It is. (Laughs) Yeah.

Q: That's not something you can control.

Ferentz: It gets back to what we talked about earlier. Michigan State, it seemed like they always had punters, they've had some great punters. For whatever reason, yeah. You can't control it, you just bear with it and not make a mistake. It almost cost us the other day, the one Trey almost got hit by. That's a scary play.

Q: Cleveland seems to be pretty fearless.

Ferentz: He's another guy that's really, I think, improving and growing, maturing. He's been thrust into a role, in my opinion, that is probably not warranted for his age and experience, but he's accepted it. Trey was in and out of the lineup. Trey has more chronological time than James, but for the bulk of the season, James has been our veteran senator there of that group. We needed something from him and I think he's done a good job delivering it. I've seen him grow immensely in the past month. All of us have felt like he's really making strides, the way he's handling himself. He's been practicing real well, and you're seeing it on Saturdays too.

Q: Specifically, what do you like about him?

Ferentz: He's got some hardness to him, first of all. I think he'll compete. He's not timid, he'll compete. He'll take his shot, he'll give a shot. He helps set a tempo for us. That's a good thing, run or pass, that's a good thing. I like the way he's practicing.

Q: Can you talk about how he came here early?

Ferentz: January. Probably he and Fred are the only two I've had.

Q: Which you don't like.

Ferentz: I'm not a huge advocate of it.

Q: Then he redshirted. What happened there?

Ferentz: It just worked out.

Q: Academics?

Ferentz: Yeah, getting his feet on the ground. Every guy goes through a transition. It goes back to Ballard. For all first year guys, football is usually the easiest thing for them but getting everything else in order. Football is not always the easiest, but a lot of times it is, they're in their element there. But the other stuff, academics, social. It just didn't work out that year. In retrospect, I'm glad it's worked out this way for us, it's a plus.

Q: Have you had a guy, that young, at that position that's been that physical?

Ferentz: No. I'll think before I'll answer, but I think I can so no without thinking. I don?t' think so.

Q: Ed, maybe.

Ferentz: Ed had a little less lead in his pencil then. James is a little stouter. Hinkel was probably about 168.

Q: What about Tim Dwight?

Ferentz: I didn't get the pleasure.

Q: Ballard and Clayborn, against Wisconsin, weren't ready to play?

Ferentz: There was no evidence, that we were seeing. You watch guys in practice. The question was getting bandied about. We would have love to have been rotating guys through. You've got to see some evidence that they'd be going in without going backward.

Q: What happened between then and the last few weeks?

Ferentz: It's different for every player. That's the analogy or the illustration I was trying to give with Adrian. He really, I thought he flashed in December, the boom, he disappeared, right off the radar screen. He went semi off it in the spring. I don?t' know where he was in August. I know he was here somewhere on campus, but you just, for whatever reason, he was just a guy getting blocked. That's what he looked like to me. He's starting to get it revved up a bit, which is good.

Q: You talk about turnovers, something you can't plan for. Stingers, this team leads the league in stingers. That's something that happens in football. It sounds like it's pretty debilitating.

Ferentz: They're not fun.

Q: The reason I bring it up, when Humpal was hurt Saturday, all the trainers could do was just stand around.

Ferentz: It's just a matter of regaining your strength. It's not pleasant when it happens. They vary in the amount of voltage that you receive. It's just one of those injuries. You can put those collars on to safeguard and prevent a bit, but players hate those, for obvious reasons. You remember the old days, the Penn State guys? A badge of honor. It's not a new injury, it's just one of those things.

Q: Is it a kind of injury that typifies things this year?

Ferentz: Another bump in the road, another detour for you, a momentary delay.

Q: Mitch seems to be a guy that gets a lot of those. Is there something you can do to prevent them?

Ferentz: Yeah, take a month off. That's the problem with a lot of things. If you could take a couple weeks and not hit anybody, that's the perfect scenario. I'm going way back. I remember Ben Cronin, second or third year, he had to quit playing during the fall, because he just couldn't practice. He was a lineman who couldn't block. What good was he there? He basically ended up taking the fall of, coming back, and never had a problem the rest of his career. I wondered at that point if that was going to be chronic thing for this guy. Fortunately, it wasn't. It's like a lot of things, unless you take a month off, it's hard to get back to normal. It could happen the first day of camp, maybe not since you're in shorts.

Q: Is there a long-term danger there, with stingers?

Ferentz: That was my point with Ben. He was fine. He never had another problem. I don't think there is. You get them, and they're not fun.

Q: Not that you can do anything about it, but do you have a problem playing Western Michigan on the end?

Ferentz: I can't do anything about it. I'm sure it'll be another exciting game. No. It's just the way it goes. IN a perfect world you'd like to end on Big Ten play. Before they passed the rule, this would have been our bye week next week.

Q: The enthusiasm these younger guys have been playing with, has it energized the older guys at all?

Ferentz: I think they enjoy seeing it, no question. I think they appreciate and enjoy the fact that those guys are helping us win football games. First and foremost, we all want to win games, that's our goal. When guys can jump in and make a contribution on that end, that's great. Just judging, watching the four sage veterans on the DL, for instance, they're enjoying the heck out of seeing those guys go out and contribute. I think it's picked everybody up. I think in the Michigan State game, those two guys were on the field, Coleman was out there, that gave us a bit of a lift. In a lot of ways, those guys don't know any better. It's good. They can be real wide-eyed, or out playing, not knowing they're supposed to be nervous.

Q: What was the worst injury you had as a player?

Ferentz: ACL, probably.

Q: When in your career was that?

Ferentz: My junior year in high school. Treatments were a bit different back there.

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