Maine Week: Kirk on the Side

After his primary press conference, Kirk Ferentz spent another 20 minutes speaking with the media "On The Side" where he usually gives some more candid and specific answers. Read what Ferentz had to say about injuries, player departures, his quarterback situation and more in this premium transcript, weighing in at a massive 3,000+ words!

Q: The quarterback situation, has it been making it so it's not just Jake and Jake alone? Was last year’s point to develop Stanzi, in case things aren’t going well?

Kirk Ferentz: I think you're always trying to do that, and every position. Last year, at this point, it was Arvell Nelson who had the best chance. He was our number two guy. Realistically, nobody was really ready to play. We didn't feel like they were, so the big difference is that right now we know a lot more about Jake, he's got experience, and it’s very valuable experience. He has used that experience. Rick Stanzi has grown. To me, we’re just a lot healthier at the position than we were a year ago. That's encouraging.

Q: What's the difference between Stanzi in 07 and now?

Ferentz: I can’t really give you specifics, except he's doing things better. He's a lot more knowledgeable, a lot more confident. Those two things go hand-in-hand. He throws the ball a lot better, he throws stronger, he's playing stronger. Just all the things guys do as they get older. A year ago, I would have said maybe, but right now, I would say I think he's ready to go in and play. Obviously we feel that way about Jake too.

Q: What is Jake doing better?

Ferentz: Everything, I think. He's more confident, he's more decisive, not that he can’t continue to grow, but I think he's doing everything better. He has worked hard too. He has worked real hard.

Q: What are you looking for out of the quarterback position? Percentages, poise?

Ferentz: Percentages are important, decisions, don't throw to the other guys, those bad throws. That's one of the dangers when you have competition, it that way back when Mark Vlasic graduated, that was a free-for-all that spring. Sometimes that brings the worst out of guys, and they try to force things, they try to hit the big play instead of just taking what’s there. I haven't seen a lot of that with Jake and Rick. I think they both have done a pretty good job.

Q: Are you happy with Jake's response to the competition?

Ferentz: He's a football player, he's just out there competing. He's doing his best. I think it's helped him improve. That's how it is everywhere on the football team. Good competition makes the other guys work harder. That's why you want competition at every position, if you can get it. That really helps.

Q: Do you look for more out of your quarterbacks, at least early, because you know them better than you do your running backs?

Ferentz: No. Yes and no. We're looking for more out of our quarterbacks, because I think they're capable of more than a year ago. Both guys are. Rick clearly is a lot more capable than he was a year ago, to me he was further away from being ready to go. We expect our running backs to play well. I wasn't so sure about it in January, or even April. We knew the cavalry was coming to some degree, with Shonn Greene. But it was a wild card. Certainly, when you talk about younger players, guys coming out of high school, that is really a wild card. I think we have seen enough now to know that we have some guys that could help us and get the job done. The other guy to include is Brett Morse, too. We feel good about what he's done, he's done a nice job since the spring, he has really improved. Our depth is a little concerning, but the quality, I think we have a chance. Maybe I'm just seeing it funny, but I really think Paki has improved quite a bit. He is sharper, more decisive, and he has experience. He is still a young guy, but we have a lot of confidence in him.

Q: What happened with Guillory?

Ferentz: He would tell you that he struggled in the spring. We expected that. He was new to the system, everything was new to him. He took the next step too. He was performing pretty well. It was stiff competition, I would say that. Probably the difference between him and a young player coming in, is that his clock is running right now. I don't want to speak for him, but I'm sure that was in his mind. When he told me what he was thinking, I didn't interpret it as a selfish move at all, by any stretch. If it was, I would say that he left in bad standing, but I don't see it at all. With an older guy, I understood his motives, we wish them the best.

Q: There has always been that rap, the stigma with JC guys.

Ferentz: It's a choice players make, Brad Banks came in and got his feet wet that year. I want to speak for guys again, but you look at a guy like Shonn Greene who has two years, maybe Brad said I have a chance after McCann graduates. I won't speak for him either, but that was probably the difference in the scenarios there. Like I said, Paki’s done well too. I don't think he left mad, we are not mad he left, I think he may have just felt he had a better situation somewhere else.

Q: Do you think maybe all these years joking about the left guard has caught up with you now?

Ferentz: I mentioned that to someone the other day, I made a joke. I better quit doing that. That's probably the last time you'll hear it out of me.

Q: Dan has a hand thing, you hope he’ll be back next week?

Ferentz: I won’t speak for him, but I think medically, the x-rays were good. Now it's just a matter of playing, but if you can't play effectively, then that will be the next hurdle for him. It looks like the repair was good, all that stuff. We're not dealing with something really severe here.

Q: How much work have those guys had?

Ferentz: They've been working. And we've been moving, shuffling all the time. They've had work.

Q: What did Sabers do?

Ferentz: He has an ankle problem. We expect that to clear up here in the near future, too. Of the four guys I mentioned, outside of Trey, I can't predict hamstrings, but the others are predictable right now.

Q: Is there a chance one of the true freshman gets in there at tight end?

Ferentz: There is a chance for anything, right now. Except for me going in.

Q: Will AJ get some playing time at tight end again?

Ferentz: I don't think the defensive coaches will buy into that one. Nor will AJ, I teased him about that, he's not buying that.

Q: Do you know who your third running back is right now?

Ferentz: We're close, I think we have an idea.

Q: You mention the kickers, what are the relative strengths or weaknesses of each?

Ferentz: Mossbrucker’s got a little stronger leg, possibly. Murray has experience and savvy. It may be a little bit of a wash there. What Murray did at Wisconsin last year, the way he conducted himself, I felt pretty good about him. It was a big game, a tough situation, he handled it pretty well. We're going to go through that with Mossbrucker now. He's got a good mentality, he's a fun guy to be around, I think we'll be okay. He's a young guy. Just like Baker was young, Kaeding was young, you go down the list. When Donahue was young, he was sometimes painful to watch too. I think we’ll get through it.

Q: When it comes to younger players, your freshman, do you put more time into them, the ones that aren't going to play? You don't have the life skills advisor yet do you? Any updates?

Ferentz: I will say within the next month, we'll have something nailed down. I will go out on a limb.

Q: Have you taken strides that you talked about? Not leaving them behind?

Ferentz: We’re working behind the scenes on that. The position may not be filled, but we're doing the work right now. We're trying to make sure they get the attention. We are really early in the process, obviously, with school starting just yesterday. There is a plan mapped out for it. And we're not going to forget about them, sooner or later we'll get this thing nailed down.

Q: Is there anything specific?

Ferentz: There is a pattern in a routine obviously, what we're trying to do. Some things won't be patterned or routine, for obvious reasons. Just some simple things. Class checks, number one. We have had a hard time getting those accomplished. We're not allowed to call professors, and that’s university policy, I understand that. It would be nice just to have access to class checks, things of that nature. That is something we want to have done with our guys.

Q: Have you been trying to get this position in because more than half of the Big 10 schools are to have this?

Ferentz: No, it didn't really occur to me until last year, in the fall. The first I had heard of this, was in the NFL. They would hire a former player, just to help people make the adjustment. The research I have done, whether in the Big 10 or around the nation, I think everyone interprets the position a little differently. It's not like a line coach, he coaches that line.

Q: Illinois has two preachers on staff.

Ferentz: I don't think that would fly around here, based on my own bit of knowledge, papers would be all over that one wouldn’t they? I'm curious how they get that in. I'm not overly concerned with what everyone else is doing with the position, we have an idea of what we want to get accomplished. It'll be a good thing, a real positive thing. It's a supplementary position, I will say that again. The problems we had last year, it still gets down to decisions being made by individuals. That's my responsibility. It's nobody else's.

Q: Do you have an update on David Blackwell?

Ferentz: Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up. And now everyone who's not here will be mad at me. I should mention that. He's going to go the Iowa Western. They just started a program. I will further clarify that, still, to this moment, to my knowledge, there is no decision on his status. He can't be admitted until he gets cleared here, that was an issue. I guess the best case scenario for him would be that he would be cleared, and then he's not considered a prop guy.

Q: Does Tony get his year back?

Ferentz: He has to. Do the math on it. I don't think they announce that until the end. I don't understand why they do that. But understand that whole process, that's one more thing I don't understand. You think they would be able to say, okay, you were actually hurt.

Q: Iowa Western is not going to field a team this year.

Ferentz: I'm not sure about that. Dan Clark could tell you, but I'm not sure.

Q: And (Blackwell) wasn't able to play anyway?

Ferentz: At some point this fall, he would've had a chance. That was my understanding. We never got to see him.

Q: Your defense looks like it will be faster, how does that change the way they might play this year?

Ferentz: Hopefully it means we'll play better. We played pretty good defense overall. We lost some good quality players, so the first thing is that we have to loss to make up for that loss of experience, leadership. I think we have the potential to be a good defense, but now we have to get that done on the field.

Q: Does it open up some new schemes, or just be individuals playing?

Ferentz: I think the idea is just to speed up what we do. In some places, we are little faster and quicker, other places it remains to be seen. I think we had the potential to be a decent defense.

Q: What is Tarpinian’s status?

Ferentz: He has a leg injury. It could be any day.

Q: Is he your starter when he comes back?

Ferentz: That's hard to say, because he's missed time. It's not like he was ever ordained a starter, other than that's where he started out. He's missing time right now, so we'll have to see what he does when he comes back. We expect him to play this year.

Q: Can you talk about when you offered Bruggeman a scholarship? He had a torn ACL.

Ferentz: It was right after. We were going to do it anyway, we already made up our mind. Of course he got hurt there. I thought that might make him feel a little better, and know that he earned that. I didn't want him to think that we were throwing him to the curb there.

Q: What was his reaction?

Ferentz: I think that made him feel better. He was still ticked off about his injury, obviously.

Q: You guys felt good about his play.

Ferentz: If you earn something, you earn it. Injuries aren't anybody's fault. It's kind of like discipline. Those don't factor in with decisions like that, I don't think.

Q: Is running back further along than you envisioned at this stage?

Ferentz: I don't know about envisioned, but at the end of spring ball, it looked like an area that was going to need some attention I think we're on the right track, but we're not there yet. Again, Shonn hasn’t had 600 reps or carries in the Big 10. He's still a guy that has to prove himself. We feel good about his opportunities and we good feel good about Paki, and Jayme Murphy, and I think we have some young guys that could be able to contribute too. I think we'll be okay.

Q: Has Adam Robinson surprised you? He was a late offer.

Ferentz: We had a couple coaches at one of their games last year, one of the times we were out evaluating, one of our defense of coaches made a comment that that guy's a pretty good running back. We were looking at him as a free safety. I had the chance to be at the Shrine Game, I was impressed with how hard he ran, and he has done a good job.

Q: Compared to past years, how much work as a staff has gone into personnel decisions and trying to come up with 22 starters?

Ferentz: It's been like every year, I think. That's the big thing we do in camp. You are just continually evaluating, talking about things, updating each other on our opinions. The big thing is, we're just going to keep watching and evaluating. It's been similar to any other year we have had. The good news is that most places, we have some choices right now, which is good.

Q: Can you give Guillory’s scholarship away?

Ferentz: No. That didn't affect our counter in the least. It will be on our account this year. My understanding is if guys come to camp, then you are part of the 85 count. You can't just chase off 15 guys. These people that over signed by 30, and they have other ways of doing it. You have to do before camp, if you're going to run a guy off. It's kind of a stupid rule. I am off on a tangent here. It really is a stupid rule. Who the heck was it, a couple years ago? If you bring a guy back, coming back off an injury, this is where it's stupid, if you are not sure he is going to make it, it's almost like you're better off pushing him to take a medical redshirt, so you can free up a spot. That's just not right. You want a guy to have a chance to come back. It's like telling Dace to sit on the side now because he can’t help us. That's my tangent, I'm sorry.

Q: Do you have trouble getting all the players together at all times, because of class schedules?

Ferentz: Yeah, just like you're having trouble getting some of these guys in for interviews. I will say this, I can't tell you why. We try to be very proactive, but this is by far, our best year of 10 as far as class conflicts. I'm ecstatic about that. I can't explain it. The student population is up, all that stuff, we are really in pretty good shape. It is frustrating. Today we meet at three o'clock, five or 10 guys aren't there, they are there for the end of practice, but then five or 10 more going out for a seven o'clock class. You can't remember who, what, when. It's maddening sometimes. It's frustrating.

Q: How are you going to rotate the quarterbacks?

Ferentz: We hadn't even talked about it. There isn't a magical formula right now. At some point we will. Jake is going to start the game, we know that. At some point Rick will get in there, we don't know when or for how long or any of that.

Q: Something like what you did with Brad and McCann in 2001?

Ferentz: We usually played Brad in a series each half, we haven't really talked much about it or given it much thought.

Q: It seemed like in Chicago, that Dace was done.

Ferentz: The hill he is facing, is pretty significant. It's like anything, I'm for anybody chasing their dream. I'm not going to be the one, doctors are the ones to tell you that you shouldn't be playing, or parents tell players that. Unless there's no doctor parent to tell them, then I'll tell them. At this point, I'm not going to say no. There is still hope that he could do it, but it's hard to talk about somebody else's injury. If he's going to play, he's going to have to endure a lot. At some given point, my only message to him, was that at some given point, if it doesn't make sense to you, and just let it go.

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