Iowa Football: Kirk Ferentz’s Spring Practice Press Conference

COACH FERENTZ: Just starting out, first of all, I want to thank all the folks from the Bobby Dodd committee being here last evening and today. They really hosted a very nice event last night. On one hand, it’s a little bit uncomfortable in the sense that we spent the last three and a half months trying to encourage our guys to move forward and focus on the 2016 season.

So to step back and reflect on last year is a little bit uncomfortable on one hand. But it’s really amazing, the group of folks that came up, 20-plus people, a couple former players of Coach Dodd’s and just to hear the comments they made last night was a really special night for all of us. Very appreciative of them coming up here, their efforts and what that award means.

As I’ve said before, any award like that is certainly a team award, so the credit goes to our 2015 team, the coaching staff, everybody did a wonderful job. Very appreciative of that, and also the fans today. We had a nice crowd, I think it was 18,500 estimated, a good crowd of folks out there. It’s a nice way for our players to have a chance to finish up and wrap up on spring practice.

As I said back in January, with us, it’s always a fine line, winning and losing, and I think that’s pretty true just about anywhere you are and certainly in Iowa that is the case, and every step we take is important, whether it’s the strength and conditioning period prior to spring ball, and then certainly this phase. And there are a lot of levels of development going on, that’s always interesting.

And any time you have a team where you have a good football team, you lose 21 seniors, certainly there’s a lot of work to do and that’s the case for us. It’s good to be back out on the field. This is really a special time of the year for the coaching staff. I think it’s quality teaching time. We’re not in a rush. We practice over the course of five weeks and get a lot of quality time on the field, quality time in meetings without having to game plan, those types of things.

From that standpoint, it’s been really beneficial. It’s a chance for our players to learn the system better, understand some situations, certainly work on their fundamentals and skills. You can’t do that sitting in a meeting room, even with virtual reality, it still isn’t the same.

And also the development of team work and leadership, those things are ongoing. That’s been the emphasis the last five weeks. It’s not real glamorous. It’s not like a bowl game where you get prizes or gifts and get to stay in a hotel and that kind of stuff. It’s a lot of just day after day of hard work. I think our guys overall did a pretty good job. Typically improvement is not real dramatic, but I think certainly we saw guys make gains.

Sometimes you wonder about — I took our depth chart yesterday and just considered where a lot of our players were in August as to where they are now, and there’s a lot of growth and improvement. And again, that’s going to be critical. We have a lot more to go if we are going to develop into a good football team.

We’ll finish up here. We’ve got two weeks of class left. We have finals. Guys will focus on their academics, continue to train and get ready. We’ll have a May break and get back going here on the 6th of June. Overall just pleased with the effort. The attitude of the team has been good. They are doing a lot of good things day-to-day.

But then certainly, as today was reflective, we’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of things to clean up. If this were a game situation, just count the penalties, the turnovers, some bad decisions being made out there. Those will be great teaching examples for our guys and we have a lot of room for improvement and people to step up and continue to step up.

Again, overall, pleased, but it’s clear that we have a lot of work to do in the weeks and months ahead. I’ll go ahead and throw it out for questions.

Q. With Ryan Boyle at wide receiver, is that a case of Drew Cook passed him, or we need to find a way to get this kid on the field?
COACH FERENTZ: It’s more the latter, quite frankly. Greg mentioned the other day, we were toying with him on special teams, and actually the last two days and today, he jumped in there and did a little receiver work. I think we are pretty well set in our one’s and two’s right now.

It just made sense, that’s kind of what initiated the thoughts on special teams. Ryan is a good football player and a good athlete and a tough, competitive guy. Our special teams are going to have to be improved and we have got work to do there, as well. Thought that would be an opportunity. I think he kind of liked the idea of maybe catching a couple balls.

If it does happen, it’s not a permanent move necessarily. It’s just a chance to maybe get him on the field and for the tie our team. I go back to when I was at Pitt, 1980. Rick Trocano actually was the starting quarterback in 1979. Marino came in when Rick got hurt, and Marino was Marino. So just kind of took off and Rick actually ended up being our starting free safety the next year — excuse me. Trocano was the free safety and Marino got hurt in week seven and Trocano went back over to quarterback. So you’ve got a good player, we are going to try to get him on the field.

Q. Did the guys get quiet at the time C.J. went down —
COACH FERENTZ: It got quiet. It got quiet. It’s just one of those deals. Good news it’s a bruise and he’ll be fine.

On one hand, it really presented a nice opportunity. It was good for Tyler to have to go out there and operate today as the starting quarterback. He’ll learn from that. I go back to my first spring game when Robert Gallery went that way and everybody else went this way. He was still a tight end back then. It’s not 70,000 people but still, it’s different, so it’ a really good exercise for Tyler to go through.

Q. Was it a scary moment?
COACH FERENTZ: Any time a player is down, doesn’t matter who it is, you kind of — that’s the downside of coaching, quite frankly, or football.

Q. Question on Drew Cook performance?
COACH FERENTZ: Some good things. He did some good things. You know, made some bad decisions but made some good ones, too, and showed some signs. He’s a really intriguing guy. From the first time we saw him, which I think was after his tenth grade year, when he was a really skinny kid. He keeps growing and has a lot of upside. So we really like him.

Q. Injury question on Sean Welsh?
COACH FERENTZ: He’s got a sore ankle. The good news this spring, the injuries that we did have were of that nature. We’ve had a couple ankles. Matt Nelson missed a period there, I can’t remember if he practiced in Des Moines or not but it was around there. Had a couple guys out with an ankle, things like that. You hate for injuries of any type but when they are things like that, that’s good news I guess in some ways.

Q. Question in regards to Michael Ojemudia?
COACH FERENTZ: He’s done a nice job and he’s had opportunities with Greg not being out there. He’s had a lot of opportunity to play. He’s one of those guys that Phil kind of had his eye on, we offered him somewhere in mid January I guess when he came out of high school; And did some really good things last year in scout team and developmental work.

We’re curious to see how he continues to grow and develop, but I thought he did some good things today, and certainly he’s done some good things throughout the spring.

Q. What about defensively, now that spring is over —
COACH FERENTZ: We are down where we need to be and especially in the springtime. We’ve got a lot of things that we can do better. But yeah, the offense isn’t really fully cooking either typically. It’s just kind of an interesting match-up. That’s the way spring practice is, always has been. You see some progress being made. Needless to say, an area of attention is our defensive end position, especially with Drew not coming back.

So I think we saw some good growth with all four guys that worked with the two-deep there, both Nelsons, I think Parker (Hesse) really took some strides, made some strides this spring and Sam Brincks brings did a good job, too.

There’s some potential there and we see growth. You’re kind of looking more at segments than you are maybe necessarily the collective effort.

Q. With Boyle playing quarterback, what was his reaction to putting him over there —
COACH FERENTZ: I think he wants to get on the field; I don’t want to speak for him, that’s something you can ask him.

But I think he just wants to get on the field and compete, and that’s one thing that jumps out about him when you watched him as a high school player. He’s just a tough, competitive guy. You know, players like that, it’s good to have those guys on your football team.

Yeah, I think he may help in our offense and see where it goes and we certainly have — there are openings on the receiver position, as well. If he can help us make a contribution there, that would be a great thing.

Q. Is it easier making that move, knowing you can add another quarterback —
COACH FERENTZ: Hopefully it’s unrelated. Hopefully we don’t get that — if you get to your third guy, it’s going to be an exciting venture no matter what happens. It’s really good or it’s really bad, one of those two scenarios.

Our focus typically is on our first two guys and then you keep developing the guys underneath. But again, if a guy has eligibility and has a chance to help in other areas, then we are definitely open to it if the player is open to it.

Q. AT linebacker, pretty interesting I think you’re going to have three really good players there potentially — looked like Aaron is making strides?
COACH FERENTZ: Yeah, we talked about the defensive ends, and that’s a good point. And we actually got a lot of opportunity for work because Ben (Niemann) wasn’t practicing, either. We’ve seen Ben and Josey play in game situations now. Great opportunity for Aaron.

Talk about guys making progress from August, if you go back to last spring, night and day, just night and day, and same thing academically. He’s really getting into a groove academically right now. It’s not an effort for him. He’s got a routine down that’s beneficial. We are seeing the same thing in football.

He’s not there by any stretch, but you look at the way Anthony (Hitchens) played in 2012 and he made the jump in 2013. We are hoping it doesn’t take until Aaron’s senior year but seeing some really good things there.

Bo Bower I thought had a really good spring, and Jack Hockaday did a good job, too. Those would be the first three guys in the conversation beyond Ben and Josey.

Q. How can Desmond King improve?
COACH FERENTZ: He has to keep putting his foot on the gas. I wasn’t happy about his fielding the ball on the five, but then I figured out, that put the offense on the five, which he jumped over on defense, so he’s a little smarter than I thought (Laughter). I think he had that one mapped out, about 10 steps ahead of me as usual.

But he’s really done a good job. He’s practiced well. And sometimes you can tell guys are seniors in spring practice, sometimes you can’t and that’s a good thing. He’s just gone out and practiced and he’s done a lot of really good things. He’s had a good steadiness to him, good instincts, competitive, and we are all counting on him to be a real strong leader for us, as well as a good player.

Q. In the off-season, he had a lot of awards?
COACH FERENTZ: You just never know. You never know how it’s going to affect somebody, if it is or it isn’t. Typically those things happen to seniors, so it’s a little bit unusual in this case, being an underclassman. But outside of that cowboy hat, I saw a picture of him in the cowboy hat. Outside of that — Mel Blount wore one of those, too; if he can mimic his behavior, that would be pretty good.

But no, he’s really been the same guy. He just seems unaffected. I guess he won a Rolex at one of those awards, so he’ll get that next year, but at least he’ll get it in time. I assume those are like fine wine; they probably get better with age. But he’s been the same guy. He’s done a really good job and really proud of him that way.

Q. Now he has his portrait with the consensus All-Americans?
COACH FERENTZ: You know, we made a decision on that, felt like the portrait should go up. He’ll be up in our weight room, as well. We have a Wall of Fame on the one hand, so he will join there and a couple other spots in the building. We will reserve those, wait till his career is over to get those up. But we thought the All-American portrait in that room, it’s only appropriate for that to be up there.

Q. You lost a couple of key players in Blythe and Walsh, what did you see in the inside?
COACH FERENTZ: In some ways, when we found out that James Daniels couldn’t practice this spring, by the way, he’s really coming along well. He’s doing some good things. He got to do some individual stuff this week.

But just him being out this spring, we just made the decision to let Sean get some work in there, so I think that is really beneficial for him. Much rather have him doing that today than in August, get that phase. Because now he’ll really have a chance to improve in that regard.

Then both Lucas (LeGrand) and Steve (Ferentz) have done some good things. If anything, we are creating some depth, but we need to because Austin did such a good job in there and Tommy Gaul a year ago. It’s a critical position, certainly in any offense, it’s really important. I think if anything, we’ll come out of this maybe four or five deep because we’ll get James back this summer, he’ll be with us in camp. Maybe we’ll have some decisions to make but hopefully they will be good decisions and ones that are fun to make.

Q. Questions in regards to players focusing forward?
COACH FERENTZ: I think time will tell on that one, certainly. You know, from the things, indicators coaches look at, a lot of positive things. Body weights have been good all spring, just as a little example; the numbers we are seeing in the strength and conditioning phase, even during spring ball. We continue to push our guys pretty hard down there in the spring practice. They tested last week and some really good things there.

Little indicators like that, just what they are doing in the classroom, what they are doing citizenship-wise. Those are to me indicators that guys are thinking right and doing right and it all adds up. You know, when those things start going haywire a little bit or you see little indicators that go the other direction, there’s cause for concern. Those all give you reason to be positive.

For the most part I think we have good attitude and work ethic on the practice field. But all that being said, we still have a real long road in front of us right now. Last year at this time, our goal last year was to be a championship team, and we want to do the same thing now. But our team really kind of, I think hit the gas over the course of the summer and then into camp, and that’s really what we have to do. I think that’s more a matter of course at Iowa; I can only speak to being here, that’s what I know, but typically our teams has really improved. Our best teams improve during the course of each phase. So we have a lot of work ahead of us and that will be the determining factor to make judgment on that.

Q. And what about the kicking game . . . ?
COACH FERENTZ: I’m glad you came today. It was a good day, a happy day. But we are kind of going back and forth. Respective to that, I think we have the potential; we have the ability, but our consistency has not been anywhere close to what it needs to be during the course of the spring.

So we have had days where it looks really good and other days where it doesn’t look so good, so I think we have to be prepared to see that during the course of camp and hopefully not too far into the fall. But any time you’re inexperienced at any position, but certainly the kicking and punting — we’ve seen good and bad.

So the potential is there. It’s just a matter of consistency right now. We may set a record, at least for my career here for the most specialists ever in the 105 count for preseason. It may be a three-ring circus. We have to figure out how to get the competition to be fair. I just want to give everybody a chance to compete and make sure we get the best guys out there.

It’s a critical part of the football game, and obviously we talk about the 21 seniors, too, being guys that are specialists. It’s a big item on our focus, our focus list.

Q. Question in regard to TE Jameer Outsey?
COACH FERENTZ: He did play, yeah.

Q. And he played a lot last year?
COACH FERENTZ: Right now, the way I would characterize that, we have George Kittle, who is clearly our starter. We’re hoping the way Henry played last year, we are hoping George is right in that slot. They are a little different skill set but both were really good football players.

So he’s clearly our best tight end right now and I would say it’s kind of a three-horse race at the next tier and then we have a couple younger guys that are hopefully going to enter into that derby in the summertime.

Right now it’s all pretty even and just let that play out just like a lot of other positions. It’s going to be a real dynamic process throughout August. I anticipate that, some positions. It’s going to be tough to beat Josey Jewell out I think, but some other spots, there’s going to be a lot of competition.

Q. Josey Jewell could be one of the better linebackers, he’s entering that territory — how much better can he be?
COACH FERENTZ: I’m smiling a little bit, just because I keep going back to how smart we are; we almost didn’t recruit him. I’m glad we weren’t that dumb. We were close to being that dumb but we weren’t.

He’s just a really unusual guy. Him being a captain as a sophomore, says a lot. He’s wired one way. I don’t want to compare him — thinking about some other players, but we have had some other players here that just know one speed and that’s definitely his mode of operation.

How much better he can be; great thing about experience is it can push you up the charts a little bit if you use it and he’s trying to do everything he can to get an edge. He’s just that kind of guy. He’s really a student of the game. He’s a student with his awareness out there. We’ll see. But we are just glad he’s on our football team and certainly counting on people like him, like Desmond, to really give us leadership on that defense.

Q. C.J.’s condition now?
COACH FERENTZ: You go through therapy, I don’t know what you do for a bruise other than — whatever they do down there, ice, heat. He’s going to be fine. The good news is his groin is feeling much, much better. When we get going June 6, he’ll be going full speed that way. He’ll be throwing the ball before then, I’m sure. But the big news is, the best thing is when we get going in June, he’ll be full speed.

Q. Question about the running backs as a group?
COACH FERENTZ: It’s an open book, too. It’s another position. We have two guys, I think certainly LeShun, we have a pretty good comfort level with what he can do. Hopefully he’ll play better than he ever has. Again, I’ll go back to that senior class last year. It’s hard to find anybody in that senior class that didn’t play their best football. That’s one of the reasons we had a really good team.

And I don’t know where it’s going to measure up NFL Draft-wise. That’s not how we evaluate our team. It’s what we get out of our guys, what they maximize. So I think that’s the challenge right now for all of our players to maximize what they have. But certainly our seniors, our experienced players have to, so we are counting on LeShun to really play great football, he’s a tremendous young man.

I think Akrum is making strides. He’s starting to mature a little bit physically, and just in terms of his awareness, and then after that, it’s a wide open competition. Derrick Mitchell will come back from an injury, but see where it all goes. It’s open for anybody, including our two incoming running backs. We’ll give them an opportunity to see what they can do also.

Q. You mentioned — for Akrum in the off-season, his weight —
COACH FERENTZ: We do that — we’ve done it for 17-plus years now, and it’s important, and from a training aspect but also for a coach, it kinds of tells you if guys are paying attention to detail. With the new NCAA rules, there’s really no excuse not to — because the limits, they are not unreasonable, and you’d be interested on this.

Usually you think of body weights, when you coach in the NFL, it’s usually guys too heavy. It’s usually the standards, the guys go in the saunas, suck it down, pass the test and blow back up like wrestlers. It’s not that way at all.

It tells us our guys are really paying attention; are they eating breakfast. It sounds silly to you, but I can remember a story, one of our really good players playing in the NFL right now. His idea at a bowl game, I just happened to be walking behind him, his idea of breakfast — eat breakfast and go to a special teams meeting, I wanted to get a cup of coffee, he walked in, grabbed a banana and walked right into the punt meeting.

If anybody has high school kids at home, you understand, they don’t eat breakfast. Little simple things like that, that’s part of our educational process, trying to make them understand that you do have to eat breakfast and you have to eat a good breakfast, etc.

The NCAA rules have helped us a great deal on that front. Just little things like that, it contributes to being a good player, or not a good player, and every little bit is important. So it’s just illustration. That’s kind of why we harp on it.