April 11, 2012

Ferentz ready for scrimmage

Usually the Hawkeyes wrap up spring practice with their final scrimmage open to the public, but this year Kirk Ferentz will have three more practice opportunities follow Saturday's workout. Ferentz met with the Big Ten media on Tuesday to discuss how his team has progressed this spring, the staff changes in Iowa City, and much more.

Opening Statement

It has been good to get started. We don't technically stop on Saturday. It is our spring scrimmage on Saturday, but we have three more workouts after that. We are about halfway through and just finished up our eighth practice on Saturday. The reason we are doing it this upcoming weekend is because we have the Olympic Wrestling trials on the 21st and it will be mayhem in the parking lots. I think they are expecting 16 or 17 thousand people watching the wrestling, so we decided to make this our final scrimmage for the public. The team is working hard. We have a relatively young football team and some system changes and staff changes, so we have a lot of new elements to the program right now. I think that's made it that much more interesting for the program. Overall, I think we have a pretty young team and relatively inexperienced team, but the guys are working hard. I think the attitude has been very good and we are very pleased with where we are at right now.

Q: Coach Dantonio has mentioned playing other teams for a spring scrimmage. What are your thoughts on that?

FERENTZ: It is certainly something to contemplate. We would be open to it. It is certainly a bit of a logistic issue and I think it is something that would certainly garner interest, certainly from the fan base. I have heard the proposal. I have heard about eliminating spring ball and have a six week preseason, kind of like the NFL with scrimmages in there too. We will see what happens.

Q: You program has sent quite a few offensive linemen to the NFL over the years and it looks like you will have a first rounder again this year. With your background as an offensive line coach, what are the qualities you are looking for when you recruit offensive linemen?

FERENTZ: The first two things that come to mind are guys that have a lot of pride and take pride in their performance. Not just offensive linemen, but I also think a strong work ethic is important. I guess we have had our share of success. Bryan Bulaga was probably the furthest along when he got here. He started quite a few games here as a true freshman and was a first round draft pick after playing three years of college football. He was starting for the Packers in his first year in the Super Bowl, which would have been his fourth year in college. That is really an exceptional story at that end of the spectrum. More typically, Robert Gallery came in as a 230-240 pound tight end who had to work hard to become a good lineman. Eric Steinbach was the same story. More recently, Riley Reiff came here as an offensive lineman and I think he came in at 240 when he got here and he is getting a lot of attention. Then you have Markus Zusevics and Adam Gettis. I expect both those guys to get drafted and they weighed about 220-230 in high school. Those guys really worked hard for three years and gave themselves a chance to compete in our conference. There are a lot of different ways to get there, but I think you have to have ability, then the biggest thing is a real strong work ethic who take pride in their performance.

Q: The NFL seems to get going away from the traditional tailback. Is that trickling down to the college level and what will it look like?

FERENTZ: There is no doubt that the pro game has changed in recent years. Just look at some of the passing records that were set last year. There are some really good throwers out there, but I think there is still a place for a really good running back. If you have an exceptional back, I think most coaches are going to feature their players. If you have a quarterback like Brady, Rogers, or Peyton Manning, certainly you do what they do best. Those guys are exceptional and you don't get to coach guys like that too often in your career. It depends on how your team is built, but I think Baltimore still uses their back effectively. If you have a guy who is a power runner, you will build your attack that way. If you have a guy who is versatile and can do things out of the backfield or from a wide position, you kind of fit your system that way. In college if you can go a certain direction, that is a good thing. In our case, we have all kinds of running backs in the last decade. We have had a big power runner in Shonn Greene. We had a guy in Fred Russell, who was probably the smallest guy we have had who was really productive. It depends on the players that you have and accentuate their strengths.

Q: With the changes you have had on your coaching staff this spring are you spending more time coaching coaches or coaching players?

FERENTZ: It was an unusual year for us. We have been fortunate to have the same coordinators for 13 years. I can't say enough about the job that Norm Parker and Ken O'Keefe did. Both of them are exceptional people and exceptional coaches. They were here through the 1-10 and the 11-1, so they have been a huge part of the success we have had. Having said that, I think the transition is really going well. On the defensive side we moved Phil Parker up and slide guys around a little bit and they have done a great job. For the most part we are doing similar things, so it hasn't been huge. Nonetheless, you don't want to minimize the changes. On offense, I just feel so fortunate that we were able to get Greg Davis here. I have heard nothing but great things about him through the research phase of things and obviously very impressed with him in the interview. He has been on campus for a couple of months and I couldn't be more pleased. He has been a great fit with our staff and players. After being around him for two months now, I can understand why people that I respect had such good things to say about him. It's been good, but the more dramatic change has been on the offensive side with his terminology and nomenclature. I went through this in the NFL, players tend to learn faster than the coaches and that has been the case here.

Q: Could you handicap how difficult the Legends Division will be this year?

FERENTZ: (laugh) I have no idea. Are we in the Legends? I guess we are. That is so far out of my mind right now. I just worry about what is in front of us. We have seven days left and we are just trying to maximize every day. It is such a critical time. I will predict this, there are going to be some great teams in the Legends and Leaders division. It has been extremely competitive the past 13 years and I expect that to continue. With Nebraska coming into the conference it makes the level of difficulty that much higher. I think that is what makes our conference great each and every year. There will be some teams predicted to be very good and other teams are going to rise up and do a great job. I think that's what makes it exciting and fun to be a part of.

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