Kirk Ferentz: I don't know if it should say "fire away" that's probably not appropriate. Let it rip, that's better word choice.
Q: Last year, for Dace, you said it was pretty much it for him, what happened?
Ferentz: It's one of the greatest things that's transpired for us since New Year's, at least. We were pessimistic about Dace's future. He stayed the course, worked hard. He wasn't making much progress last year at this time. Even through the fall, it was the same way. Somewhere mid-October, a little after that, somewhere in there, he just started to gain ground and I know this, he worked extremely hard. He had a lot of real positive encouragement from his teammates. He didn't look great out there in the spring, but he looked good. He had a smile on his face, as you might well imagine. A little deeper appreciation than some of the other guys, for playing. I think the things we saw in the spring were really encouraging. He did a lot of nice things. Given the time he's been away, how he's been able to train non-stop since that time. I expect to see a different guy in August. I really think, if we're smart, we have to be smart about the way we practice. It was a great story, for Dace and our whole team.
Q: Did he change anything or just keep plugging along?
Ferentz: I can't give you a medical term, but what he had, the procedure that they did with Dace is pretty similar to what Mike Humpal went through. Mike's was a real long, rigorous comeback, as well. It was a little faster than Dace's. He's carrying a little more weight than Humpal, too. I hate to call any surgery routine, but it's not like an ACL repair where it has a predictable outcome. Again, I think the credit goes to him. The doctor said it was going to be a long road. I guess all of us , last year at this time, even in September, we were thinking that it was nice he was trying, but it didn't seem like we were gaining ground. Then boom, things started to take off for him.
Q: He get through the summer in good shape?
Ferentz: He's doing great, knock on wood. We've got three more days of training after today. As far as I know, things are going well for him, I see him around, he's really upbeat.
Q: What' your comfort level with the overall line today as opposed to 365 days ago?
Ferentz: I have to think back, that's a long time ago. We've always gone into it with some question marks, that's fair to say. We felt like we had the chance to have a good offensive line last year. Things were probably a little more clear at that point. I think the potential is certainly there this year for this group. It's like last year, we have 9 or 10 guys that have a legitimate chance to be playing on the game field, that's a positive. I think we're eager, right now, just to get started here in August, see where we're at. Things do change, especially up front, maturity and all that. One of the key questions will be at Center, to see what emerges there. Raf Eubanks has a lot of experience, Josh Koeppel has shown well for himself. We think James will be in that equation as well. We have a lot of good, healthy competition. We're all just eager to see how it all settles.
Q: Do you think the difference is that you might not have the names defined where you think they'll be, but have 8 or 9 guys that can do the job?
Ferentz: It's just, right now, down to the competition, who's going to emerge. One thing we know for sure, Julian Vandervelde will not be competing early in camp at full speed. He's just moving into the next phase of his rehab. He clearly will not be in shoulder pads and a helmet out there. We have a pretty good idea where he's at as a player. It's just a matter of how everything transpires. I think we made good progress in the spring. I was encouraged by that. Now the question, it's like our whole team, what are we going to do the next 15 weeks or so, what kind of improvement will we make?
Q: Could you open the season without Calloway and Vandervelde against UNI, and how does that affect your line, who plugs into those gaps?
Ferentz: We'll definitely open without Kyle. Julian, I think, probably isn't realistic to think he'll be ready, but everybody heals differently. One thing I can assure you, we're going to go conservative on the comeback. We're not going to risk two or three games for a season. It's just isn't smart or fair to anymore. We'll just be prepared to go that way. We've got 29 practices before the first game, too, so things can change at all positions. That's one of the things that makes it a bit exciting. The good news is that with those two guys out of the equation, we still have a lot of guys that can play good football, we just have to get them ready to do that.
Q: Are you holding off on Jewel Hampton, or will he be there day 1?
Ferentz: We expect him to be full speed. He's been back two weeks now, two plus weeks going full speed. We're really optimistic there. Knock on wood, hopefully that all materializes the right way.
Q: What happened to him?
Ferentz: He had a knee injury. I'm not a doctor, but it did not require surgery. Those things are part of football. It was a non-contact. We're not tackling, obviously, but nobody fell on him, nobody tripped or anything like that. It was just one of those things like a lot of knee injuries are. I left town and boy, we had a runaway train back in Iowa City. I missed the three-ring circus. Circus will come back to town, sooner or later, I'm sure. It always does, right?
Q: Your September schedule. I would call it very interesting. How important is a good start as opposed to normal?
Ferentz: I look at our conference schedule, I don't see any breaks there. Every week will be tough that way. I look at September the same way. UNI has had great success for a long time, and they certainly had it since Mark's been there, he's done a wonderful job. You go to Iowa State and that's been a dogfight, certainly up there and certainly at our place. That's been a tough game for our tenure. Mike's team down at Arizona did a fantastic job, they really played well, beat a good team in their bowl game. Then we go off to Penn State. If you look at that first month, we're going to have our hands full. We'll need to be ready right from the start. We've tended to be a bit of a developmental team, but we better be developing fast in August, so we're ready when September comes around. It feels kinda funny saying September, but September. September 5th. I looked in a book yesterday, everyone's starting in September. At least our conference.
Q: Do you anticipating Kyle being back for ISU?
Ferentz: I think so. As long as he takes care of the things that we've spelled out for him, I expect him to. He should be back with us.
Q: It's also clearinghouse time of year. Do you have everybody in good shape?
Ferentz: We're waiting on one score which I was told we would learn about on Wednesday. If there's an announcement to make, it'll be at the end of the week, but I think we're in good shape.
Q: You've got two of your biggest rivals on the road, Wisconsin and Iowa State, how big are those games?
Ferentz: Those are important games. But certainly I respect the rivalry part of it. Probably throw Minnesota in there too, the trophy games. Playing them on the road just makes it all the tougher. Our road schedule this year, I'm not minimizing our home games, but our road schedule this year… My sister could tell you that's a tough schedule, factor in a few night games with it, which makes it a bit tougher, too. Road night games are tougher than home night games. If we're going to have a good football team, we're going to have to prove it on the road. Those are two big ones, certainly.
Q: With the Big Ten, people have picked Penn State and Ohio State, then it's you guys in there with about 5 other teams, what's going to separate those teams?
Ferentz: I think it's with everybody, it's how you prepare for the season, and certainly the next 4 or 5 weeks, how they unfold, that's going to be important. It's a full race, it's how you run the full race. That's really important. Last year, we ran the second half of the race pretty well, and that enabled us to feel good about the season. The more you can minimize those little things that keep you from being successful, the better off you're going to be. There are all kinds of factors there, experience, talent, injuries, those types of things factor into it. That's what makes it interesting. It all starts with the attitude the team has, how are they willing to approach those challenges that are out there for them?
Q: Does this league have a perception problem?
Ferentz: It seems to be a question I can't avoid when talking to national media. I'm not sure where the gentleman was that asked it just a minute ago, I don't even know, 1-6, whatever it was in the bowls. That's easy to grab onto. I can tell you first hand, Penn State had a pretty good football team last year, historically, it's not easy. Barry did a great job taking Wisconsin teams out to California, but it's not easy to play Southern Cal or UCLA at the Rose Bowl, history proves that. Michigan State did it in 87, there's another, but we have a good conference. There's no question that right now, that's out there. The only way to change it is to change it on the field.
Q: A lot of close losses last year, but this team of young guys seemed to learn how to win…
Ferentz: That was important for us. All of you, in the media, rightfully so, track these things closely. We hadn't done well in close games for quite some time. The Penn State win was a great win for a lot of reasons, where we had to scratch it out right at the end. We were getting handled pretty thoroughly in that first half. That was a big game for a lot of reasons, but it got us over the hump on a close game. Certainly the next week was the same story. Hopefully, yeah, we can draw on those experiences, but there's no guarantee. Learning how to win, I think if you go back and really look at our losses closely, a lot of the key things, there are always 4 or 5, 6 plays you can grab in any loss, but if you look at the things that kept us from being successful in those games, there are some reasons you can attribute to the shortcomings. Sometimes you pay the price for inexperience or whatever it may be, and hopefully we'll benefit for that.
Q: The guys at center, are they at even footing going into camp?
Ferentz: Certainly James missed the second half of spring practice, so that puts him at a real disadvantage, right now I think you have Raf, Josh, and Raf's got a huge experience advantage. They both competed pretty evenly during the spring, and both competed at a good level. To me, that says Josh has really elevated his play very quietly. We might be on the verge of a good story there. It's about a 25-day gauntlet that all these guys are going to go through right now to see who's going to be getting the playing time.
Q: It seems like that position has done well when you guys have done well.
Ferentz: It helps to have a good center. Not necessarily an all-league center, but a guy who can help your team do all the things it needs to, like having a good running back or quarterback or free safety. A guy that understands the communications that need to be made. If you have that type of player up there, it enables you to be a bit more productive than you would in other cases.
Q: Did we underestimate what Bruggeman meant to that team?
Ferentz: I never did. I look at it the other way, I think we have all missed the boat on how much we missed him two years ago. Nobody ever caught on to that. As coaches, we thought we had a guy that was really going to be a top player, to this day, if you ask one thing that surprised me last year, I'm shocked that Rob Bruggeman didn't get drafted. I just don't get that one. I'll go out on a limb and say that he'll have an 8-10 year career, he's that kind of football player. We knew that two years ago, we missed him in 2007, and those are the breaks of the game sometimes. It helps to have a guy like him up there.
Q: Is CB a mystery position?
Ferentz: It's wide open. I don't see anybody beating Amari out, except Amari, I don't think he'll let that happen. It's open right now, but Jordan had a good spring. One challenge with Jordan has been keeping him healthy, keeping him out there where he can practice and practice, if he can do that, he'll be fine. He's got a great attitude, good talent, and he's a smart young man. He's guy good guys competing with him too, it's going to be fun to watch that one happen.
Q: Do you sense any true freshmen coming in to contribute?
Ferentz: At skill positions it's certainly possible. Receiver, running back, time will tell on that. Defensively, maybe some guys that could play special teams. I don't think we're looking at anybody to come in and start, but at least maybe giving us a push, that'd be great.
Q: Are you still considering Julian as a center candidate?
Ferentz: With this injury, probably not. I don't know how much work he's going to get in camp, so that really kind of takes that option away. He probably could do it, but I'd be more comfortable if he worked it all through camp and got comfortable. Whenever he gets back, if we're in that situation where we feel like we're not getting it done there, it's an option. I think by the time he gets back, we'll have a good idea where we're at. I don't anticipate it now.
Q: Is Jewel still a candidate to return kicks?
Ferentz: Yeah. He definitely is. I'll close with two thoughts. On special teams, we feel pretty good about our specialists. Ryan is as good a punter as there is in the country, his stats might not reflect it because he puts the ball up in the air, but our coverage stats reflect it. We have a healthy competition between Daniel and Trent, and then an added bonus, we've got Andy Schulze back at snapper. The return thing is up in the air at punt. You graduate a guy like Hinkel, then Brodell, guys that gave us however many years of dependable, good decision making back there. Good return ability. That's a big thing. Our kick returns have been underwhelming, overall. We've had our moments, but that's an area where I hope we can really improve as a football team. The last thing I'll touch on, I think we know that AJ and Pat are here, they've had great years, but the other guy, I'll go on record as saying that Tony Moeaki, he's wired up and ready to go. He's pretty understated as a person, but he's been training like crazy. He's got the chance to be as good a tight end as we've had, and we've had some good tight ends going back a long way. We're excited to have him back, that'll help things a bit too.