Davis sees progress

While they have still not decided on a starting quarterback, offensive coordinator Greg Davis says the Hawkeyes are making good progress in spring ball and are further along than they were at any point last season. Today, Davis met with the media to discuss the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job, what he has seen from his running backs and wide receivers this spring, and much more.
The scoring system for the spring game will be offense basically scores the way they normally do, so a touchdown is six points, extra point, field goals. The other way the offense will get points in this system is three first downs in a row creates one point or an explosive play run of 12 plus or a pass of 16 plus. So that's where the offense will pick up points.
Defense scores by obviously any kind of return for a touchdown is seven points. If they get a turnover that does not result in a touchdown, it's worth three points. If they get three‑and‑out, it's worth one. A sack is worth two points. A sudden change in the red zone, if the team turns the ball over in the red zone, the offense does not score a touchdown, they get four points.
If you got that down, you're in the wrong business. You should be in the accounting line of work.
But that's the way we'll do it. It's a pretty good way to have an offense play the defense and everybody gets some points. That's where we're at.
Quarterback, we have no idea right now who the quarterback will be. We started spring training with the idea that every time we practice we would rotate every two snaps. Whether or not that was a drill or whether or not that was a scrimmage or a situation, you know, third‑and‑six, red zone, whatever, the situation was totally we're rotating every two snaps.
In Saturday's work, we did that during our individual time. Then when we went and scrimmaged, we let the quarterback own his drive. If he started the drive, it was three‑and‑out, the next quarterback played the next series. If the quarterback went eight, nine, ten plays, he got to own his drive. That is probably the way we'll do it this Saturday.
Kirk and I have talked about it. He'll make a decision. But probably what we'll do is the quarterback will get to own his drive this Saturday. They'll both play with all the groups.
They've all done some really good things, but they have not separated themselves yet. I see things as encouraging by all three of them. So that part makes you happy. I wish one of them would go on and separate. So that's where we're at right now at that position.
Q. Anything stand out of the three of them?
COACH DAVIS: Well, you know, I've been asked a lot of times over the years, What do you look for when you get in a situation like this? It's not unusual. But, you know, we want guys that can make plays off schedule, when things break down, who can extend the play, who can make a play that's not exactly the way you draw it up. We want guys that will take care of the football. That will be part of the evaluation.
We want guys that make big plays. Well, those are things that we're talking to them on a daily basis. Here is what happened in yesterday's practice. Here are your mental mistakes. Here is your explosive plays. Here is this and that. There's a whole litany of things that they are aware of that we're trying to evaluate.
Q. You mentioned working with quarterbacks, having them own drives. How much does that account for the decision you make as a coaching staff as far as that separation is concerned?
COACH DAVIS: Well, a lot. Quarterback is busy taking his team from here to there. That will be a big part of it. But also taking care of the ball, getting us in the right plays, and creating explosive plays. That's been a big emphasis in evaluating those guys, if they've had an opportunity, did they create that play.
Q. Is that based on the fact that most of your plays were called from the perimeter, not necessarily down the field? Is it limitation of the personnel or the play calling?
COACH DAVIS: I'm sure part of it was limitation of play calling, especially from the cards and letters I got.
There's aspects of vertical in all plays. Sometimes it's just having a better focus on giving that guy an opportunity. The other thing is most explosive plays in the passing game come off play‑action because that's when you have a chance to freeze the secondary. Usually play‑action creates better protection. You can hold the ball longer. Guys can move down the field.
We've done a lot of things this spring where, you know, hard play‑action and the receiver has a vertical decision to make at 16, whether or not he goes deep, sits down, turns in or out. All of that takes time to do. We've also tried to be very cognizant of giving our guys some opportunity to push the ball down the field.
Q. Coming off last year, do you feel more pressure?
COACH DAVIS: I feel pressure every day of what I've done for 40 years. But we did sit down and evaluate obviously things that we felt we could do better, things we should do more of, less of, whatever. And I think we've got a pretty good mix going right now.
Q. Any chance you wouldn't have been back?
COACH DAVIS: You're asking the wrong guy that.
Q. How do you feel the team has understood the offense compared to last year? Have they grasped it better?
COACH DAVIS: I think we're much further along at this point. Obviously they've had a spring, a season, a spring. Some of the conceptual things that you're trying to do, they have a better grasp of, so they're getting to it quicker, playing faster. I feel like we're much closer to being on the same page snap after snap than we were last year.
Q. Do you have the personnel for the offense even after struggles last year?
COACH DAVIS: I think what you have to do is you have to take what talent is there and try to maximize that. So make sure that we're trying to get the ball to guys that can make plays.
Q. How would you say the additions of Coach Kennedy and Coach White to the staff has changed the dynamics here?
COACH DAVIS: Coach Kennedy is obvious. We spent seven years ago. He stepped in from just a philosophical standpoint, from a language standpoint. So he was able to hit the ground running. He brings great energy to his job and does a super job.
Coach White, he's got background both in what we were doing, background from the NFL. He's brought some great thoughts to us, is a very detail‑oriented coach. I think both guys have really joined in and been a big plus.
Q. The zone read two Sundays ago, how is that going to work with three drop‑back quarterbacks?
COACH DAVIS: Unless they run it. Unless they run it. You know, we have implemented a little bit of zone read. But it won't be a huge part. It's a part that is aggravating to the defense. Anything that's aggravating to Coach Parker has to be a good thing because that's not what they want.
Colt McCoy, he was a drop‑back guy, yet he could run three or four, five a game and create some explosive plays. Not only that, but create some assignment football by the defense.
Just the fact that you have some of that forces the defense to play more assignment football.
Q. In some ways is it easier, because you had James, he had been established, now you're starting from scratch, is that easier on your part?
COACH DAVIS: Well, it's different. I mean, obviously it's different because none of these guys have played. All these guys can make some plays with their feet, they can extend some plays and do some things.
Q. You mentioned explosive plays a couple times. That was missing a little bit last year, but you had injuries. Where do you get that next year?
COACH DAVIS: Well, I think, again, I think play‑action is a great way to start explosive plays. For the things we mentioned a while ago, usually your protection is good. You have the ability to hold the ball. When you have the ability to hold the ball, receivers can force down the field and see what is happening.
So we're doing some things down the field where receivers are making decisions at 14 and 15 yards down the field, and you can't do that unless you can hold the ball. Typically that comes from play‑action pass. It gives you a chance to take advantage of what the defense did, how they rotated to stop the run.
Q. How do you feel you want to use the tight end position this year?
COACH DAVIS: Going to keep doing that. You know, I think we have a good group of tight ends. We've got tight ends that will allow us to put multiple tight ends on the field, maybe have two attached, but one of them could be deployed out wide. Again, you're creating some opportunities for the defense and the way they match personnel to try to create some advantages. So the tight ends need to be a big part of what we're doing.
Q. How tough was last season for you personally?
COACH DAVIS: I mean, you know, it's part of it. We set out as soon as it was over and created a litany of things we wanted to look at and things that we did good, things that we did bad, and how to correct those things. So hopefully we've addressed some of those things and we'll have a chance to get better.
Q. You mentioned second‑year experience. How much of an issue was that especially for the receivers last year?
COACH DAVIS: Anytime you do things post snap, you got to get reps and reps and reps, and you're depending on quarterbacks and receivers to be seeing the same things. There's always going to be mistakes, receiver saw one thing. But the more you can eliminate those the more opportunities you have to be consistent and stay on the field. I think we're closer in that area, we're not who we want to be, but I think we're closer now than we were at any point last year.
Q. Quick feet and decision making, can those be different makes as far as who starts at quarterback?
COACH DAVIS: Decision making is always a part of the quarterback position. Then guys that can extend plays. Coach Walsh told me 15 years ago, I asked him about drafting quarterbacks, and he said 50% of the snaps in the NFL are not the way you draw them up. Somebody is sliding in the pocket, you're not on the rhythm that the play is designed. So the ability for a quarterback to extend the play, to make things happen off schedule is a huge part.
Q. James Vandenberg took a lot of the blame last year and obviously his numbers were down. How much of that was on him versus the receivers or a new system?
COACH DAVIS: It's a combination. We've moved past that. James is an outstanding young man, brilliant. I think he'll get an opportunity to play at the next level. But, you know, it's as much my fault as any player's.
Q. With that, he probably would have been a drafted player this weekend. Do you feel the change may have prevented him from reaching his full potential or did you help him maybe reach what he could have done?
COACH DAVIS: I'm sure I could have done a better job. I'm sure I could have done a better job with James. He is a better player than he played last year.
Q. With these three quarterbacks, do you see a two‑quarterback system?
COACH DAVIS: Probably not. Probably not. I mean, we may not know when the first game starts. We had a situation where we opened the season in '06, I think it was, we played two quarterbacks every three series for two weeks in a row, then we made a decision and went with Colt.
Some things you can't evaluate in practice, 'cause they're not going to get hit. So I just said extending plays is a part of it. The first time the pocket breaks down, we blow them dead, which you have to do. But maybe they would have got out of that situation. Maybe that would have became a first down and you stay on the field. Some of those things you can't determine until you're playing live football. So hopefully we will. Hopefully by the mid part of camp in August we'll be able to make a decision. But if not, we'll see where it goes.
Q. Are you comfortable with that kind of rotation, the two quarterback thing, in a game?
COACH DAVIS: You know, I think everybody would rather have, This is the guy. I think we all would. But at the same time if that guy has not emerged, then you need to evaluate both of them in live work. We don't have exhibition games. If that's the way it turns out that we have to do it, that's the way we'll do it.
Q. How close is this race?
COACH DAVIS: It's close enough that they're taking every two snaps for 13 practices. They haven't separated. But I feel like they will. I feel like they will.
Q. Getting cards and letters from angry fans. What is your reaction? Can you share any of them?
COACH DAVIS: Yeah, I can.
Q. What have you thought of the running game so far?
COACH DAVIS: Some of them are from my parents. Sorry?
Q. The run game. How does it look this spring?
COACH DAVIS: We're committed to running the football. It's been nice to have two backs the whole spring. Mark and Damon have both made every practice. That gives you an opportunity to wear down the defense. It also gives you an opportunity, because of their abilities, to put the two of them in the game and maybe you're in two backs or maybe you're in one back.
Again, some defenses, everything they do is personnel driven to match properly. So if you put that personnel on the field, then you're in one back, they don't like that. It's not that they don't know how to match it, they do. But they may be asking a linebacker to play in space that they don't want him to play in.
Those are things that, you know, you can create some advantages hopefully offensively. But both of those guys have done a good job. Very pleased with where they're at right now.
Q. How is the rotation at wide receiver shaping with Kevonte and all of them?
COACH DAVIS: Kevonte for sure is a guy that has played a bunch of ball. It was good to have him back Saturday. He's an experienced guy. He communicates well on the field.
If we played Saturday or if we played last Saturday, the three guys we would have started in that personnel group would have been Tevaun Smith, Kevonte Martin-Manley and Donald Shumpert.
Q. You guys are still waiting on five receivers coming in as freshmen this year. It seems like you saw some struggles a couple weeks ago. Do you feel you still haven't seen the whole picture of what you have at receiver yet?
COACH DAVIS: We've told the freshmen receivers that some of them are going to get an opportunity to come in and show what they can do. At the same time I would caution that they're freshmen, and freshmen are freshmen.
Maybe Tevaun last year was a guy that was mature for his age. He did get to play some. He's a much better player now because of it. So maybe one or two of those guys, hopefully, will be able to come in and offer some help.