Pre-Spring Game: Kirk on the Side

Kirk Ferentz spoke with the media on Wednesday in preparation for the Spring Game on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. After his press conference, he talked about Paki O'Meara, Nate Guillory, Walk-ons and more. Read what he had to say in this premium transcript.

Q: How much had you seen of Paki as a runningback?

Kirk Ferentz: As a parent, I saw him. I think he's doing a real good job. Smart, hard worker, he really does pretty much everything pretty well, pretty well rounded.

Q: Is he a Sam Brownlee type? Maybe a little faster.

Ferentz: Similar, probably has a chance to be a bit more productive. I say that with all due respect to Sam, he did a great job. Very similar. He was a guy that was very dependable, you could really count on, he was well-rounded also.

Q: It's not normally a position where walk-ons have a great deal of success.

Ferentz: You probably have to go back to Rick Bayless. That one worked out pretty well. It's a bit more unusual, more typical to see a lineman emerge or something like that.

Q: Speaking of walk-ons, it looks like you've got 14 in the two-deep right now. What kind of opportunity is the spring for guys like that?

Ferentz: It's a great opportunity. The two guys I would single out right off the bat would be Haganman and Koeppel again. You look at Josh, he really did a good job last year and has continued to do so. Brugge was out a year ago with the knee, so he jumped in there and did a great job. He's continued to improve his game. It's really important for us, it always has been traditionally, and continues to be so, at all positions. It allows us to practice, but outside the lineman, they've had their chance to get their feet wet on special teams. Paki and Jayme are good examples of that. Joe Conklin might be next year's guy that emerges as a special teams guy, he transferred here, so he was ineligible last year, but he sat in the back of the room at every special teams meeting, he's like a West Point cadet, eyes straight ahead, never missed a meeting. I'd never seen anyone do something like that, but he practices the same way. This is a real opportunity for those guys to get some notice time, if you will. They're involved in our scheme, not just imitating opponents.

Q: Dace?

Ferentz: There's really nothing to talk about, only in that we're not going to know until June, July. I'll be happy to address that in mid-June, early July, but right now, he's just rehabbing, there's no way to say he's better or worse, whatever.

Q: Which one did he have?

Ferentz: I don't even know. Doesn't matter to me.

Q: The Humpal one?

Ferentz: Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you meant left or right.

Q: Microfracture or osteo…

Ferentz: I'm no physician, as I've said, but it's not to the extent of what Mike Humpal went through, but it's somewhere in the middle. Not just an ACL repair, not to minimize those either. There's no guarantee. Usually with an ACL, you've got a good chance of good recovery.

Q: Are you changing any recruiting assignments?

Ferentz: Obviously, yeah, with Carl coming off, Erik is going to work in Michigan, probably pick up Carl's area in Texas. Not Dallas, but more so Houston.

Q: Are you concerned about the offensive line that started last year's line wont' be healthy enough to return?

Ferentz: Dace is really the only variable, in that case, our mindset has to be thinking worst-case scenario, and it'd be a pretty big bonus if we get him back. Outside of that, if there is good news, the injuries we're talking about, outside of his, are pretty clean and clear.

Q: Rafael?

Ferentz: He's got a knee issue, he had a scope, post-Christmas break, holiday break. I think the good news is that it's a little frustrating, guys aren't out there. That's football. It's giving other guys a good opportunity.

Q: Is it time for a guy like Andy Kuempel, Dan Doering, the guys here in the 4th year, is it time…

Ferentz: This is when they should be playing and practicing their best, and I think we're seeing that. Typically, year 3, 4 and 5 for OL is when things start to click a bit better for them.

Q: Has the race ever been this tight at center?

Ferentz: Raf's missed a lot of time. He came out of the gate pretty good, then his knee got sore. Rob took over, and Rob's a bit like Andy, he doesn't have his footing down the way he did last year at this time. You see it's there, you see the good things he does. It'll be close if we can get both practicing at an optimal rate.

Q: Seth missed half of spring ball?

Ferentz: I'd say more than that. I don't think he was in pads more than two days. It seemed like it was the first Sunday, I might be wrong. Two in shorts, then the pads on Saturday. I think that'd been it.

Q: At WR last year, you had 4 or 5 guys in games, will that shorten this year? What's his philosophy on rotations?

Ferentz: Usually, it's realistic to think 5 or 6 will play. Not at one time. (Laughs) In the course of a game, you like to go with at least 5 guys, in a perfect world, 6 or 7. You've got to have those guys too. That's the challenge.

Q: The players that are enrolled but have been dismissed from the team, are they gone, or is there a chance to come back?

Ferentz: No. The guys that have been dismissed are dismissed. We've moved on, and wish them nothing but the best.

Q: How was Fred Russell, as a blocker?

Ferentz: He became OK. At the front end? That's the biggest challenge for a young block, learning how to block then knowing who to block, those two things. That was something he had to learn. It was a process for him. He was basically totally lost that first spring. I had that conversation with Nate a while back. Hey, we didn't expect it all to click for you right off the bat, but it's a bit like those Brad Banks stories. That first spring really gives you a chance to find out where you're at, find out what you're supposed to be doing. The trick will be to put that to his advantage in August.

Q: It's not so much a size thing then?

Ferentz: Nate's small. He's not big, Fred wasn't big when he got here. The smaller you are, the more technique-conscious you have to be. Hopefully we're not going to put him into a situation where he's got to block a 240-pound linebacker all day long. At some point, they've got to block too, they've got to know how to do it, otherwise it's tough to have them playing a lot. It's hard to jerry-rig it where a guy doesn't have any responsibility.

Q: He seems to have an upright running style, have you tried to change that?

Ferentz: It's hard to change a guy's style. Usually, again, with newer players, newer running backs in particular, they probably read too fast or aren't reading, then a lot of times they're too inclined to go for the big play or the home run, what have you, maybe over think a run a little bit. Again, I go back to the first thing we want to do is get yards, positive yardage. Offensively, if we could just do that, period, that would elevate us 50 yards a game. You take sacks away, negative runs, those types of things.

Q: Can you remember any true freshmen running backs here who stepped right in and did alright? Albert was doing OK before he got hurt, right?

Ferentz: He would have played. That's a great example. The last scrimmage of the summer, he broke it.

Q: It's kind of unprecedented.

Ferentz: It's doable. It's doable. We'll see.

Q: Is there anything you can do to accelerate their growth, or they can do, before they get here this summer?

Ferentz: I think the most important thing is being in shape when we start. Usually the thing that would hold a younger player back is not being able to stay up with everybody else. That's typically the case. The more they can do to make sure they're in a really competitive shape, that's usually the biggest adjustment at any levee you go to, can you stay with the crowd, practicing, things like that. If you're not in shape, you're more inclined to get hurt, and it spirals the other direction.

Q: That message has been strongly conveyed?

Ferentz: Hopefully, at least with running backs you have a better chance of having those guys show up in better condition. If you recruit a 330-pound DL, it's a bit of a struggle.

Q: Obviously Tony Moeaki is #1, but has Allen Reisner played his way into that #2 spot?

Ferentz: Ranking-wise, I think Brandon Myers was one of our more improved players last year. He's been out there half the spring, maybe more than that. It looks like he'll be back today, I should have had him on that depth chart. We think he's a pretty good player. We think Tony's pretty good. All it means is that Allen's jumping into that group. Mike Sabers has really taken advantage of it, a 5th year guy with a great attitude, he's practiced well, and taken advantage. It's a great sign. It's a bit like the receiver question, I'd prefer to go into a game with 4 tight ends, that gives us a bit more flexibility for things we like to do. I think that position's really coming together pretty well.

Q: The freshmen, when do you expect them here?

Ferentz: We're a little different than a lot of places, we don't require guys to be here, they're welcome to, maybe that's stupid, but I'm still not convinced that being here the first day, being here the whole summer is the best thing for a true freshman. We leave it in their hands more so than some places. We're in the min9ority right now. Vast minority. It's kind of an individual thing for the kids, we'll let them choose.

Q: Some of them start summer school.

Ferentz: Some do, but we don't make that mandatory. I know it used to be a big deal, yeah. We'll have some in there, but not many, I don't think.

Q: When can Shonn start working out?

Ferentz: We're working through that right now, it's a matter of admissions and that kind of thing. First and foremost, he's got to finish up the hours he's taking currently in good shape. Hopefully it'll be in the summer time.

Q: Does Amari Spievey figure into plans?

Ferentz: Most definitely. He's like the newcomers coming in at corner. He's a bit different in being 2 years out of high school, he'd been here for a year, s o that's to his advantage. Hopefully he'll be in the competition.

Q: Have you seen Shonn in person, what kind of physical shape is he in?

Ferentz: He's OK. All that being said, no matter what he's doing, it's been a full year that he's been out of the program. You don't make that up in two weeks time. I think we have to really, all of us have to be smart about the approach, his conditioning, then once it's football, be smart about what we do with him. We can't expect him to show up and be the same as he was when he walked out.

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