IOWA CITY, Iowa – The following is a transcript of Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz’s post-practice press conference from Kids Day on Saturday here at Kinnick Stadium:
Opening Statement: Football wise, just really pleased to get a chance to get in Kinnick and be in front of fans. That might not be as big deal for the older guys but certainly for some of the younger guys, inexperienced guys, that is a big thing. For us to really have a chance to have extended work, live work, it’s the first time we’ve had that thus far in camp. So, that was really good, a chance to practice some situations under a higher tempo is something we really need.
Right now, the biggest thing coming off the field, I’d say we have a lot of work to do in terms of awareness, just a better understanding of situations we’re in. And then also our tempo, it clearly has to pick up a little bit and that’s pretty typical of a first scrimmage. So, that will be on our list for this week.
We turn our attention to this coming week. We’ll be off (Sunday). We’ve got seven practices in the next five days, Monday throughout Friday. We’ll culminate that with a (private) scrimmage on Friday night under the lights. That’s our next block as we move forward.
What I shared with the team out there, I think the biggest focal points for us right now are better execution of the basics, and that’s individual or team wise. The other thing is we’ve got to make some sticky plays. That’s individuals, whether it’s a tough catch, a tough block, a tough pass breakup or as a team because really there are going to be times during the season where we’re going to be looking up at the scoreboard in the second half and wondering how we’re going to pull that off. So, that’s part of it, and developing that mentality where we can handle those situations is really critical if we’re going to develop into a good football team.
Just kind of wrapping it up, I look back at our first 10 days of camp, 12 workouts now, and the team has really exhibited a good, positive attitude. They’ve been working hard. I’ve been pleased with that. That really goes back to January but I can say that about the last 10 days, certainly, right along with that. I’m really pleased with how I see our leadership developing. We’re not there yet, but I think the guys are making a great effort at that, our older guys, they’re really doing a great job of really showing younger players how to move. And that’s critical as we move forward also.
I’ll throw it out to questions.
Q. Kirk, what do you seen out of LeShun Daniels so far in camp?
KIRK FERENTZ: I’ve been really pleased. As you know, he was hurt a little bit last week. We held him out of the media day on Saturday. But he got back to work midweek and he’s just done a really nice job. And that goes back to last fall. He went through surgery but had a really good spring. Both he and Jordan Canzeri had great springs and they both have been practicing well. And when I talk about leadership, I’d include both of those guys right up there. They’re doing a really good job of embracing that.
Q. I believe Hayden Fry didn’t believe in playing ones against ones. He wanted the guys to leave the field with some confidence. You’ve always believed in the ones-against-ones philosophy. Why do you think that’s so valuable for your team?
KF: The first time Dan McCarney and I did a one-on-one drill, ones versus ones, Coach Fry, that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen him move in nine years actually when I was here. He came down an explained his philosophy about that.
And there’s really no right or wrong answer to it but I really believe, especially in a program like ours, our younger guys, the best way for them to learn that tempo and really understand it is to go against guys that have been out there on the field. Sometimes you don’t get those matchup. Sometimes you do. Right now, it’s just kind of worked out that way for our offensive tackles and defensive tackles. You know, it’s painful at times. It’s not always pretty. But I think the end result is going to be positive.
There were a couple of plays today that a couple of our tackles would like to have back but the good news is that at least I felt like I started seeing growth and improvement midweek from those guys. And it’s not going to show up every play right now but it’s ongoing and as long as we’re gaining ground that’s the important thing. I think we are right now.
Q. Jordan Walsh. Jordan Lomax injuries?
KF: Nothing major right now. We’ve got a bone bruise and a soft-tissue issue. So hopefully by next week, early in the week we’ll have both of them back. But the tissue thing is a little harder to predict but nothing serious.
Q. Is Desmond Kind almost like being another coach on the field with his wealth of experience helping the other guys back there?
KF: Considering he’s only been on campus, this is his third year, he’s got more experience than most guys do at that point. And that wasn’t by design. It just got thrown in there and did a great job. I’m not sure he was full throttle last year. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. It’s a younger player who maybe thought he had it figured out maybe a little too much. That happens.
So, I only bring that up because he’s really been a different guy. He trained extremely hard this summer time and he’s practicing and playing at a really high level right now. And, again, if we’re going to have a good football team, guys that have played out there have got to play well for us. He’s certainly doing his part and really setting some tempo back in the back end for us.
Q. James Daniels is playing a little bit with the first team, mostly the second team at guard. That’s a lot of progress for a guy that’s essentially a true freshman even though he went through spring drills.
KF: I’m going to break the Buckley Amendment, I mean he’s on the Dean’s List in the spring, too. So, he’s a tremendous young guy. He’s really handled it real well. I always worry a little bit about a guy leaving high school early but I think having LeShun here helped a great deal; having him on campus for just a week you could see he really operates at a good level.
So, we’ll see how it goes. That’s an open book right now and we’ll let him continue to compete. He’s doing a good job.There’s some things that he has to learn. That’s probably true with most of our players. You talk about the line, little technique things that, you know, you’re battling.
I was thinking about that out on the field today. I’ll never forget when Eric Steinbach had his breakthrough moment, Fall of 2001. I can remember it was a Tuesday. I can’t remember what week it was. But he had this little hitch, you know, this little deficiency we were having a hard time getting him corrected on. Once he got through, he broke the ice, I just remember looking over at Joe Philbin. He looked at me. We saw the same thing. He took off after that.
So, I think that’s where we’re at with some of the linemen. I’m not putting James quite in that category but I think once he gets his technique cleaned up a little bit he’s got a chance to, you know, he might be in the mix. We’ll see how that plays out.
Q. At this point, what do you say to Boone (Myers)?
KF: Same thing. To me, I watch him, I’ve been watching him all camp, obviously. Right now, it’s a mental thing in my mind, a little bit. A little bit of a older brother, young brother deal. And then the other thing, it’s technique. That’s what it really gets down to, technique. When he uses it correctly, he’s pretty good. He’s a better football player than he thinks he is right now. That’s part of practice. That’s what you learn through practice and getting banged around a little bit. I think he’s making good strides and he’s going to get there.
Q. What is Ike Boettger’s progress at right tackle?
KF: It’s kind of the same thing. These are really critical learning periods for our guys that haven’t played. He’s working against a pretty good player to in Nate Meier. It’s the same thing. It’s a little different story in what they’re trying to address but I see them making progress in those areas. You know, he’s a quality guy. Both he and Boone are very quality guys. They’re hard-working guys, intelligent. And to me it’s just a matter of time. They’re running the race well right now.
Q. Do you feel like the offense (at Kids Day) was not representative of the rest of camp? They seemed to struggle today.
KF: Yeah, that might be fair but I kind of expect that in scrimmages, typically, especially we had our two best backs (LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri) out, which could help change the equation. You know, a good back makes a line look a little bit better. To that point, I think Derrick Mitchell is gaining ground right now. This was a real important day for him because he has to learn a little bit about getting the pads going north and south a little bit more. But that’s how you learn. He’s working hard and gaining ground.
Q. Guys on the defense said where the offense has had…where it’s been a flip. What’s the offense doing right when that happens?
KF: You saw them flash today at times. It goes back and forth, typically, in the preseason. That’s just the nature of the deal. But it’s recognition, too. There’s nothing like watching something over and over and over. So, the defense is getting a chance to do that. But it goes back and forth and when it does…it’s always more fun offensively when you get a little tempo going.
Q. What has (Tyler) Wiegers done to improve and what areas has he improved in the most?
KF: You know, it’s kind of like the offensive tackles when we were talking about them. Tyler is an extremely, just a high-caliber young guy. He’s a really intelligent guy. He works hard. He’s got a great attitude, a positive attitude.
There’s no way you can learn this stuff sitting in a chair. You have to get up and go through the ups and downs of practice and competition. But he’s so conscientious that he’s learning from every experience. If he makes a mistake, it’s rare to see him make the same one soon thereafter.
This is invaluable for him so I think he’s a much better player, certainly, than he was back in the spring and a better player than he was 12 practices ago. So, we’ll just keep pushing him ahead but he’s really an eager study.
Q. I know in camp you’ll come out with a good idea what your running game can do. Today, you didn’t show much. Do you have a schedule for that when you maybe want to get a good idea where things are there?
KF: You know it’s all parts coming together, all the pieces coming together. For the most part, one thing I’ve been pleased with is that our perimeter blocking has been better throughout camp and that will help us to start with. I think, as I’ve said, LeShun and Jordan have both run well. They’ve run tough in practice and doing a good job. It will all come together but it’s just a process and that’s just the nature of offensive football.
Q. Jerminic Smith, to us, seemed to take a step forward today and looked the best of the three freshmen (receivers). Is that your viewpoint?
KF: He did. It was good to see. We haven’t seen him do quite that yet but it was good to see him make some tough catches. That’s still really an open book for us. Our minds are very wide open on the receiver position.
This is valuable work, certainly, and this is going to be a big week, not only for the receiver position, but all positions, really delving in a little further about which young guys may be able to contribute and help and try to put them into situations, also flip some positions around to see who can do what at different positions and then try to, maybe finalize our thoughts here after Friday’s scrimmage.
Q. (George) Kittle has made some big plays in the past. He seems to be playing a little bigger role now. How important is he and the fact that he can stretch the defense a little bit there?
KF: He practiced better. It was his best block of 15 practices in the spring and then he really trained this summer the way you would hope. He’s becoming a veteran player, if you will. And the timing is great with Jake (Duzey) being out for a little bit.
But he was an underdeveloped or an undersized guy, however you want to put it, like a lot of our guys, when he got here. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s over 240 right now.
But the biggest thing is his attitude has just been great. He’s really been focused. He’s been able to remain focused through 12 workouts. You combine that with a pretty good skill set and I’m just really enthused with the growth we’ve seen.
It falls back into that theme. For us to have a good football team, we needs guys to develop. Guys, as they get into their third and fourth years, it’s really critical. He’s certainly, I think, doing a good job with that.
Q. When Reese Morgan comes up to you and says, coach, there’s this guy on this eight-man team I’d like you to look at, do you pay very close attention when Reese tells you that?
KF: Yeah, I don’t even need to look. If Reese says that, then…all you have to do is listen to Reese because it’s hard to get him to say something like that. But when he says that, I listen. I’ll look at the tape, too, but yeah, I listen. I’m all ears. He has one guy every year. He always finds one guy. Every year.
Q. You said up to camp you were unsure of your best linebacker combination. It seemed like it was the three young guys (Bo Bower, Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann) today.
KF: I wouldn’t rule out any combination. Mainly because Travis (Perry) was dinged up this past week. He fought through that pretty well and actually got back out on the field quicker than I would have anticipated. So, he’s really been doing a good job and Cole Fisher has done a great job, too.
And those guys all interject, and this is something we haven’t talked about, they’re really working hard on special teams. You talk about leadership, there’s two seniors that are our best special teams guys. So, we were going through the kick-off return this morning in the meetings and those guys, some clips from last year, just really working hard on a very tough assignment.
So, their contributions, I don’t know if they’ll start or not, we’ll see how that shakes out, but their contributions they’ve been making they’ll continue to make. That’s really important. And I am pleased with our special teams. I think we’re making strides there. I think the guys are really working hard. I think we have some newcomers that might emerge and our specialists, for the most part, are competing pretty hard, too.
Q. Have you missed that the last couple of years maybe with having a senior take ownership of special teams?
KF: Yeah, you know, it’s a group thing. We’ve had seniors. We’ve had underclassmen play some dynamic roles. But somebody has got to play that dynamic role. I don’t care if they’re young, old. None of us do. But to have two guys like that, that certainly has helped. They’re backing it up but they’re also pretty vocal with about things with other guys and showing younger guys how important it is. Hopefully we’re back on the right track there. We need to be just like we need guys to develop, our special teams have to be above average or we’re just going to be an OK team. And that’s not what we’re shooting for.
Q. You had Tevaun Smith returning kickoffs. I think there were six different guys rotating in bad there. Is that Jonathan Parker’s position to lose or is it completely wide open?
KF: It’s wide open like every position. Tevaun has expressed an interest in doing it. It starts there. To be a good return guy, to be good at anything, you have to want to do it. He feels like he can help us there. Based on what we’ve seen, I think he looks pretty natural back there and pretty good. So, we’re going to do everything we can. That’s something we’ve talked about back in January. Anybody that can help our special teams, they’ll be in there. If we have to rest them offensively defensively, we’ll do that but we’re not losing ground on the special teams. That just doesn’t work. We’ve played too big a price in recent history there. We’re not going down that road again by any stretch.
Q. If (Marshall) Koehn would win your punting job is there a concern that that’s a lot on one guy’s leg?
KF: It is and that’s something we have to talk about as we move forward. But the other thing I’d counter with, and it’s kind of like a guy like Nate Kaeding, Marshall is cut from the same cloth. He’s just a good all-around athlete so he’s used to competing and playing. I don’t know how many snaps you play in high school, 70 or 80 snaps in a game. But that’s what he was used to. Same way in basketball. So, I don’t think it will be a big factor but it’s something we’ll talk about for sure. If he does win the punting job, that’s something we have to make sure we’re not…you don’t want to hurt him so he can’t perform at the level he wants to perform at and what’s fair to him.
Q. What does Desmond King bring as a punt returner and maybe kickoffs, if that’s even a possibility?
KF: Yeah, it’s open. We’re open there, too. Whoever we feel like the best guy is, we’ll let them have that opportunity. But he adds to the competition. A guy I didn’t mentioned that I should have mentioned earlier, Riley McCarron has really had a nice 12 days, talking about the receiver position. He’s done some good things, too, and he’s in the mix at that punt return position.
Q. Ryan Boyle seemed like he maybe is a little bit ahead of Drew Cook or is it too early to tell?
KF: Yeah, it’s early to tell. They’re both working at it. Their heads are both spinning, I’m sure. If we let you talk them, that’s what they’d tell you, if they told the truth. So, those are two big ifs. But they’re both doing a good job. They’re quality guys.
Q. But you’ll need a No. 3 at some point. When do you think you’ll settle on that?
KF: We have to have that discussion this week, too. That’s part of the looking down the road part. Let’s hope we don’t get there, with all due respect to those guys.