On the offensive line, Brian Ferentz is working with a group of 16 players this spring, but only one that he would say has started for a signficant amount of time. What Ferentz hopes to do is build some more depth as the Hawkeyes work towards the 2013 season. Before practice today, he talked about his group of players and the work they are putting in this spring, plus recruiting and a whole lot more.
Q. Just talk a little about the offensive line.
BRIAN FERENTZ: We have 16 players with us right now in that group. Out of those 16, seven of them red‑shirted last season. Nine of them did not. Out of those nine, every one of those guys has played a snap, at least, for us, in a competitive situation. Seven of them have started ballgames, but I think those numbers are a little misleading.
Really what we are dealing with is we have one guy coming back who has played significant time for us at a high level and that's Brett Van Sloten, and he's a guy I think can do a lot better for us in the future and I think he can agree with that statement. That's what we expect out of him.
The other six guys that have started ballgames for us, they have been sporadic at best. So there is some experience there but it's not a total wealth of experience, and once you get past that, you're dealing, out of the next nine guys, seven of them were not even eligible to play in a football game for us last season.
So it's kind of a tale of two cities plus a suburb with Brett. With that, I would open it up to questions.
Q. Last year, offensive line, you had some key injuries, especially one game you lost two of them. With everyone healthy do you see that your offense could be different with everyone healthy, after dealing with a lot of injuries last year?
BRIAN FERENTZ: Any time you have injuries, there's certainly going to be a drop‑off in play, although that's not what any of us want, that's not what we are looking for. Right now we are fortunate. Everybody is healthy and practicing, but I think what happened last year is not unique, it's not unusual. Injuries are part of football.
I think the goal for us is to build the kind of depth to be able to play with that kind of consistency and not see a performance decline when you suffer injuries.
So we are fortunate right now to have everybody in the group healthy with the exception of Nolan. Everybody is working, and that's a good thing, but I think what we need to understand is what we're dealing with right now when we have five healthy guys, that's not going to be the case, probably November, unfortunately. That's just the business we're in.
Q. With Austin Blythe moving to center, what are your expectations for him playing at that position?
BRIAN FERENTZ: We have high expectations for all our linemen, especially our centers. They kind of run point for us with the unit.
He's played a lot of center here in the past. You know, this is not a new transition. He's provided depth for us at that position last year. Then as a redshirt certainly he got plenty of work there in practice. It's not a totally new transition for him, other than he has not got as much work at guard.
But I think he's done a nice job so far. We are a long, long way from playing a game and we are a long, long being ready to being ready to play a football game. I'm pleased with how Austin has responded to what we have asked him to do.
As with all our linemen, we really need to continue to build moving forward here. But so far, so good with him playing center. At least we are getting the ball to the quarterback. That's a good start. Our last guy was not as consistent doing that as he probably should have been.
Q. What have you seen out of Brandon in the wake of his recovery?
BRIAN FERENTZ: I thought Brandon was really starting to understand what he could be as a football player last year towards the end of - taking snaps, competing for us. Unfortunately he suffered a little setback, happens to a lot of guys. Unfortunately it was not that serious. It looked worse than it probably was from a medical standpoint so we were able to get him back.
He's a guy that would have been working with us if we had done what we should have done, he would have been working with us in December and probably would have had a chance to play in a post‑season game. So basically, he's been back with us in full participation going back to the off‑season program and really end of December, moving forward through January.
So he's responding just as you would expect him to respond of the done a very nice job coming back from that but very, very long way to go as a football player from a consistency standpoint and doing the things we need him to do on every play that the football team needs out of him. So far, making progress.
Q. Talk about the depth you see developing at center.
BRIAN FERENTZ: I think obviously Austin has done a really nice job there, and we started with him. Eric Simmons has done a nice job for us. He's really emerged and he's had a good spring. He's had a good spring. And he was a guy we weren't sure if he couldn't help us last year and coming out of camp we had developed a little bit of depth and we were fortunate in that regard that we were able to save a year with him. He's been a pleasant surprise and been pleased with that.
Obviously Conor Boffeli has provided depth there before. So we feel like we have really good options right now and hopefully we can build some more down the road. Tommy Gaul is a guy that continues to do a good job for us and maybe doesn't get as much recognition as the other guys but works plenty and does a nice job.
Q. Brandon working on the upper body strength with Coach Doyle, how does that help him in his progress?
BRIAN FERENTZ: I think any time, if you're talking about any of our linemen, the longer we can keep them in the program the better they are going to become because of what Coach Doyle does in the weight room.
So for a guy like Brandon in his particular case, some of the injuries he was dealing with as a younger player were up in his neck and his upper body. I think naturally he felt a little bit behind in those areas where you try to keep a guy on the field. For him to suffer a lower extremity injury, and now it's the total opposite where he can't really do anything like that in the weight room and focus on the upper body, a good thing, definitely a really good thing.
But I have to be much honest with you, I would have much preferred he could focus on his entire body for the off‑season. I think it's really a statement of what Chris does and how they approach things up there.
The longer that we can keep guys that play for us up front in that program, I think the better they become. And the real trick is when we get them as football coaches, just don't screw up the work that they have done in the weight room, because I feel very fortunate to work here and be able to get guys that come down from that weight room on to the football field. There's plenty of places where they would be awfully jealous of those guys.
Q. To come back to your alma mater and work for your father, I wonder if you can talk about what that transition has been like the last year?
BRIAN FERENTZ: It's been good. There's a lot of things on a personal level that I really enjoy about being back in Iowa. I love this program. That's not a line for me; that's genuine. I feel a deep, deep love for this football program and the people that support it. So I love all those aspects of it.
Obviously we did not perform to the level that we had hoped to perform to or that we expect to perform to. So from that standpoint, very disappointing, very disappointing. But as far as going to work with your father every day, you know, I don't know. I don't know if it was exactly what I thought it would be or not. It's been fun. It's been good. No problems there.
Any of the other stuff, that's all things I knew coming in. And I knew those things coming in in 2001 when I was a high school football player that came here to play football here and just understood that there's a certain level of scrutiny, there's a certain level of ‑ I don't know what you want to call it, being under the microscope or just, you know, you're going to attract a little bit more attention perhaps at times. Unfortunately for some other guys in my family, they are learning that the hard way.
But that's just the way it works. And I don't mind those things. I don't let those things bother me and I don't really get too concerned about them.
Q. On the other hand, your counterpart on the defensive line switched ‑ does that rejuvenate guys ‑ the different kind of challenge.
BRIAN FERENTZ: Coach Morgan is the Coach Morgan I always remember. I don't know that he needed to be rejuvenated or anything like that. I think you would be hard‑pressed to find a guy that has as much energy or as solid and fundamental a teacher as Coach Morgan. I had the good fortune to play for him for three years and being around him after that.
I said it before and I'll say it again: I count him as a person who shaped what I became as a professional, what I wanted to be, a football coach. And so to be around him, I take every day as it comes. It's always an experience being around Coach Morgan. He certainly still has some good teaching points just like I remember.
But I think the work speaks for itself. We had a really young group there last year with almost no experience and we are kind of working ‑ obviously we are missing Louis right now and that's the guy for that group. But I see massive amount of improvement out of those guys every day just as you would expect.
Q. What did you take away from the practice in Des Moines Sunday? What were some things that you were wanting to look at for the offensive line? What were you impressed with? What do you need to work on?
BRIAN FERENTZ: For us as a program, obviously we are excited to go to west and be closer to our fans in central and western Iowa and do all those things. Specifically for the offensive line, it wasn't really a special practice but what people saw us do in Des Moines is pretty similar to what we do on a normal basis. What we do moving forward may or may not be different, from live situations, things like that, that certainly comes from up top.
But what I was looking for is what we are looking for every day: We want to see consistency, we want to see physical play, we want to be assignment sound, we want to be fundamentally sound, we want to be all those things. So if you look at our performance last year, at times, we did a really good job, up front, just talking about the group up front. At times, we did not.
But the bottom line is if you don't perform with consistency, you really can't expect to have good results, because just as in life, in football, if you're doing too much of the yo‑yo effect, it's probably very much unlike being a heart patient: You do want to flatline a little bit as an offensive line. You want it to kind of be the same every play. That's what we are always looking to build.
And then the trick to that is, can you move pieces in and out and can you move guys in and out, and maintain a certain level of play. That's always the trick. I don't feel like we did that very well last year. I don't feel like we are doing it really that well right now. That's something we need to improve, because as we talked about earlier, I think, you know, if you sit around and you expect that not to happen, you're preparing for failure.
Q. Is that part of the thinking with Andrew this spring? I think he played left tackle Sunday and usually he's inside.
BRIAN FERENTZ: Well, Andrew started two games for us last year at guard ‑ I think I'm right. Maybe he started just one game but he finished for sure the other game. He's played two games at right guard. He'll be in the mix at the guard position and the tackle position.
But we need to have depth there. We need to have depth inside. We need to have depth outside. I think Andrew is a really versatile player and has done a nice job. It's really hard for bigger guys to go inside and have success, so I've been pleased with that. But that's always the thought is, what are our five best player, who are our five best players, what are their five best positions, but sometimes those two things don't always merry.
So how do we put the five best on the field. And that's why guys like Andrew, he played left tackle on Sunday, he played left guard in practice, he's played right guard in practice, he's played right tackle in practice and he'll continue to do all four of those things. Just like everybody that was playing the spots they were playing on Sunday, they move around a little bit and play some other spots, too. So that is always the thought. That's why you do things like that.
Q. Last season it looks like you guys are starting to get an identity after those back‑to‑back victories playing power football. Is that the way the offense and offensive line, seems like it was starting to come together and then the injuries came about.
BRIAN FERENTZ: I think in those two football games, I don't know that that's only going to be our identity offensively. I think one important thing about offensive football, defensive football is true to some extent but offensive football, I think if you get too worried about tying your identity into certain personnel groups or being absolutely married to certain schemes, I think you can run into a problem.
I think what you saw in those two games is from an X's and O's standpoint, we were an offense that was functioning with a fullback, and we were able to create some success. But one thing about having a fullback in the football game, it's become not a lot of art but it's dying a little bit; the beauty of having a fullback in the football game is the defense will not tell you where you're going to run the football.
If you look at some of the runs we had success with in those two games, we are actually running into a pressure, whether boundary pressure or field pressure but we are running into what you would call the teeth of a defense. We were able to do that a couple times, which then in turn opened some other things. Up because now you can get into one‑back sets, if you can take some of that pressure off your team by scaring them out of doing things, now you open up some of those other one‑back runs where you saw Mark have a lot of success doing that.
I think to your question what we need to do to be successful is we know we have to run the football, however we are going to do that. So I think that part of the identity, if that's what you're asking, yes, as an offense, to be successful, we have to be able to run the football and run it when we want to run it and run it when they know we are going to run it, which that's the real trick.
So yes, is it always going to look like that? Probably not. And it probably wouldn't have at all times last year if we were still having success around the football. Probably is always going to look a little bit different and it may look similar or it may be a total departure but whatever you have to do to do that, yes, absolutely.
Q. You mention consistency, coaching a position where your father's had success and the program has had success sending players to the NFL and that has not really changed in the program. What is the onus for you coaching that position and trying to maintain that reputation for the offensive line?
BRIAN FERENTZ: That's a good question. I understand the question. I respect it. My answer would be simple: For us, it's just like for our players, or for any of us here, worry too much about the past, certainly you'd better have reverence for the past and you'd better understand it and understand how it impacts what we are doing today in the future.
But what we worry about every day is the process and what do we do today that's going to determine our success in the future. And if that means putting guys in the National Football League, then that's a great by‑product but what we are more worried about here is graduating guys, winning football games. When all those things happen, then I think you have what you had here for a long time with my dad, with Coach O'Hara, with Coach Morgan, those guys, they were guys being taught to do things the right way, focus on the process, they all got their degrees.
They were part of winning football teams and they went ahead and had success in the National Football League. That's a great by‑product of it. But for me what I worry about every day, the only pressure I feel is to give my best to the players we have to get them prepared for whatever we are doing that day, because those things will all stack up in the end.
But that's where I feel the pressure is today. What I'm worried about is what we are going to go do today in practice. Knowing that, having been around this place enough and being around guys like Coach Morgan and my dad that have had trust in the process, those things will all come.
Q. You made the move from guard in 2004, but you were always a center, and Austin is going through this now. What is that like?
BRIAN FERENTZ: Whether you were out there or you've actually experienced it firsthand ‑ each one of the five positions is a bit unique. They all fall under one umbrella and you play on the offensive line and that's what you do and we try to get our guys to understand that.
Basically at the end of the day, any of those positions, the fundamental is to execute what we are asking you to do‑‑ are exactly the same. We don't train centers any differently than we train guards or tackles. We teach them all the same fundamentals, but it's unrealistic to say that positions don't have their own nuances.
I would explain it this way: The further you are away from the football, the slower things happen, which sounds silly, because nothing really happens that slow out there. But the difference is really that knew neutral zone, you are dealing with about a guy who is at least a yard away from you, or should be, and then potentially widens a little bit, too.
So you are dealing with whatever ‑ I'm not good at arithmetic or geometry or any of that, but you start measuring all that, it's a longer distance from Point A to Point B. You move the guards, Point A to Point B becomes shorter. You're still dealing with the neutral zone, but that guy is going to be a lot heavier. Usually you are dealing with guys that are shaded, head up or inside shapes, they don't get too far away. When you are a center, when it's third down, it's great because people are paying some kind of even spacing and nobody is near you.
For the most part, when we go out to practice every day, our defense is going to have a nose tackle and there is no neutral zone and there is no space. Point A to Point B, sometimes your helmets are touching.
So I think that whole transition just becomes ‑ our more experienced players do better with it, because they have been asked to do those things for three or four years. Our younger guys, there's always a little bit of an adjustment period and it's kind of like I remember watching Steven learn how to swim. My dad picked him up and threw him in the water and he learned how to swim. Now, not to say there was negligence or anything like that he had the floaties on and all that. But basically, you put the guys in there, you throw them in, they splash around the water a little bit and they figure out it's not that bad, they are floating, they will live. So that's what the transition is like.
Q. Can you talk about Ryan Ward and Jordan Walsh and how they have developed?
BRIAN FERENTZ: They have done a really nice job. Ryan Ward really benefitted being able to spend time with us lasted year; by us, I mean, the travel squad. We took them to every game. He practiced with us. We didn't have a lot of depth at tackle, so he got a lot of reps. And Cole Croston, he kind of benefitted from a similar circumstance.
When you're practicing every day with those groups who are getting ready to play football games, you're learning a little more football and you're being exposed I think a little faster than some of the guys that are down there giving our defense a look. Not that that's not important and not that they are not getting better but I think it happens for guys at a faster rate when they get to spend time with us. He was the benefit of, he got a redshirt year and he got prepared to play a football game.
Jordan, really similar thing, started two games for us as a red‑shirt freshman. Austin started eight or nine, whatever he started. For guys that young in this program, that says a lot about what they were doing before I ever even showed up here and what they have continued to do since I got here.
But very pleased with the way they work. And Ryan has come right in and fallen into line with all those things.
Q. How have you found recruiting to be?
BRIAN FERENTZ: It's different. Every recruit is different and how you deal with every recruit is a little different and what you're telling every recruit is a little different because people are different, and it's a people business, so you deal with all those things.
But the one thing I have learned after a year that I didn't know, as well, but I had a pretty good idea, it's just about relationships and it's about just kind of building, maintaining and cultivating relationships with people, prospects, parents, go down the list, coaches. It's been really beneficial to go on the road and be able to go into high schools and be around high school coaches.
Then it's a great learning experience for you, too, when you're on the road. You get to go around and talk football to guys, four or five schools a day, it's hard to beat. It's pretty good. I can't complain about that. There's plenty of things to complain about but that's not one of them.
Q. Can you talk about Brett Van Sloten's development?
BRIAN FERENTZ: I know what you're asking. Brett is a guy who is ‑ I describe Brett this way. For a guy who had never started a football game here and really only played excessively in the second half of one, he plays like a guy that has a lot of experience. He plays more experience than he is. He's extremely reliable.
We talk about consistency. He's a guy that plays at a level of consistency. He's got a long way to go, he can still improve a great deal but he's a guy who is doing everything we ask at all times and doing it to the level we expect. There's nothing I can say about Brett that's not positive, at least not behind closed doors with him.
Q. There's a perception that you brought the program into the 21st century. How responsible are you for Twitter and alternate uniforms and things like that?
BRIAN FERENTZ: Well, I would say we have been in the 21st century since Y2K. I bristle a little bit at the notion ‑ and it's not personal. But I do bristle at the notion that we are archaic or that our head coach is ‑ I want to make sure I pronounce this right ‑ is it Luddite? Is that the correct pronunciation? Because he's not. He's got an iPhone and he's got an iPad. Twitter, that's a personal decision everybody makes. Coach Morgan is not on Twitter; I am.
I think that's unique to every person. I really think if you saw our head coach on Twitter or doing those kinds of things, those aren't in his personality. That's not natural to him.
Alternate uniforms, that's not really in his personality, either; I've seen his closet. And I can say that because I'm his son. But in some ‑ I think what we learn is those things have no bearing on winning and losing, what you wear, what you don't wear. The notion that I have been responsible: The alternate uniforms have been worn here before, those were in the works. You can't get that done overnight. Those were in the works way before I got here.
The Twitter, Coach Johnson was on Twitter well before I got here. I think what we worry about here, what all of us worry about every day is just get a little bit better each day. Sometimes that takes on a social media ‑ I think we are learning, like the rest of the country, I do think we are not unique in this; the world is changing faster than we can even keep up with it. I know how to use Twitter and I just recently learned about Vine and I didn't even know about that was in two weeks ago. You won't see me on there anytime soon.
Instagram, if somebody can give me a crash course ‑ I'm still trying to figure out. You can Tweet a picture, correct, can we all agree with that? So why do you need Instagram? Maybe I'm my father's son sometimes. It's changing so fast that we are trying to stay out there with it, but shoot, it's hard, we can barely keep up with our players sometimes.
Q. Does that make a difference with kids in recruiting?
BRIAN FERENTZ: That's how kids communicate. So yes, yes. Facebook I think is still pretty prevalent with high school‑age guys. But Twitter and Instagram and these ‑ that's where these guys communicate with each other.
So, yeah, it does make a difference. You have to do it or else you won't be able to talk to them because they certainly do not like talking on the phone. That's changed a lot, a ton. That's something you guys can attest to.