This year, Phil Parker is not only calling the plays defensively for the Hawkeyes, but also coaching the secondary. Today, Parker met with the media to talk about the progress he has seen on the defensive side of the ball this spring, how his group of safeties and cornerbacks is coming along, and much more.
Thank you, guys, for coming. Sunny and warm out there? A little bit, I don't know.
Just to tell a little bit about where we're at going into the 13th practice, I'm very comfortable with the last couple days of practice. Our units have played with a lot of energy and played with unity, a little bit of excitement the last two practices. It took a while to get there, but I'm happy with that progress.
Are we there and close yet? We still have a long ways to go to play a game yet. But I just like the way the group is going.
I think the front is progressing up front. The linebackers obviously are experienced. They've gotten much better with Coach Reid handling the inside linebackers, I think that's been working really well. Basically in my role right now is also taking over the secondary which has been good for me to get back in the room with the kids and teach 'em football. So that's been good. It's kept me pretty busy and more involved with the secondary. I'm very happy at this stage where we're at.
We have three days here, we can get a lot of work done, see some jumps with some guys.
I'll leave it up to you guys for some questions.
Q. When that opportunity presented itself for you to go back and coach the secondary, is that something you were immediately wanting to jump at? Did you have to give it a lot of thought?
COACH PARKER: I didn't really give it a lot of thought. I was doing it for such a long time. The year before when we went through and I wasn't actually in the meetings, you kind of miss it. I was looking for the opportunity to come back. So I was pleased to get back there. There was no hesitation for me to go back.
Q. Are you going to stay upstairs during games?
COACH PARKER: I haven't even thought about that yet. I talked to a couple guys on our staff, where they like to be. It was good for me last year to be up in the box and away from some things. I think when you're coaching the secondary, sometimes you need to be eyeball‑to‑eyeball on the field and be more in touch with the atmosphere on the field.
So that hasn't been decided yet and I'm not really worried about it right now.
Q. Coach Ferentz mentioned Carl Davis is a guy who made a lot of progress this spring. Can you talk about his progress and who in the defensive line you're liking right now?
COACH PARKER: I think Carl obviously has a lot of athletic ability, played a little bit last year. Sometimes he can really be a hard guy to block. He's a 315‑pound very good athlete that can move. We have to be a little more consistent. I think he enjoys football a little bit, he enjoys coming out to practice. That's helping with his progress that he's doing. We're very happy with him.
Some other guys, Drew Ott was a guy on the outside we played last year. Halfway through the season we pulled his redshirt off. I thought he was doing some good things before he had to sit out a couple practices.
Alvis to me, Dom has done a great job in playing well this whole spring. I'm happy with his progress.
Louis is out, sitting out in spring. Gives Cooper a chance to come out and do his thing. Cooper was a little bit hurt, but he's progressing. I'm looking forward to it.
Faith is another kid, if we're going to play him inside or outside, we have a chance to move him around, he's very athletic and he can run.
So it's still a work in progress. I still like to play eight to ten guys in that position, especially where offenses are leading to play hurry up, catch guys off guard. Everybody wants to play a game and a half on offense and say, Look how many yards we have. But it's a game and a half. If you're going to do that, you better have eight to ten fresh guys to go out there and execute, as long as it doesn't throw you off of them actually being efficient out there.
Q. In the secondary, you had some talent, but a lot of inconsistent play last year. Do you feel you've been able to smooth out some of that?
COACH PARKER: One thing about it is, I don't mind guys getting beat if they're contested, the plays are contested. You look at how many big plays we gave up, compared to the year before, years in the past. Very similar numbers. Just probably some of them are a little bit uncontested for running free.
I think a year of experience has done them some good, understanding the system, getting familiar with it. Tanner has done a better job of staying focused, trying to be a leader back in the secondary, along with BJ. Obviously BJ, in my opinion, is playing at his highest level he has right now. Hopefully he continues that. But I think he was banged up last year. I think Carl Davis landed on him and hurt him a little bit, a 315‑pound guy. He really wasn't the same after Carl landed on him.
I think he's been doing pretty good progress. I think they all have been kind of working together and are starting to form a good unit.
Q. We haven't seen much much Jordan Lomax. What does he show you?
COACH PARKER: One thing about a kid missing a whole year, the one thing, a smart, intelligent kid, he paid attention all last year learning the system, what we're asking our guys to do. He's showing up in practice. He's done a very, very good job. Very smart kid, fundamentally sound. So I really like him. He's a quiet leader. He's done a good job.
I'm not stamping him in there as my starter yet, but somebody has to line up in the first group right now. But I think he's done a very good job.
Q. Do you see the defensive line being relied on as usual for most of the pass‑rush?
COACH PARKER: Usually you take 85 snaps, if you're playing base defense, they're going to get the majority of the pass‑rush. It all depends on how many passes they throw. Sometimes you got to add a little bit to it, to the pass‑rush, maybe try to get some other guys that can rush the passer, try to work on that a little bit through the off‑season, the summertime, maybe have some guys practice doing that, obviously doing two‑a‑days.
For right now that's who it's going to be and we'll try to add some guys in the near future.
Q. How do you get more pressure on the quarterback after finishing last in the Big Ten in sacks a year ago?
COACH PARKER: I think there's some guys that have some knack to get there. Carl Davis, Cooper as an inside guy can help you. I think Dominic outside can hit you on the edge.
We might have to create some situations a little bit more to help them out, maybe add some guys to the rush a little bit to help them out. It's hard to get there when you have five guys blocking four.
We all understand that. My biggest thing is try not to give up big plays. I think the game is still about scoring, not giving up points. That's the most important thing. I think for the last two years, we were 24, last year we were 23. That's my main concern, is points, I think.
Q. Back to your assuming both roles. As you get into the season, game planning, and doing position coaching, I'm interested in your time allotment and ultimately was that yours or Kirk's decision?
COACH PARKER: In what?
Q. Going back to the position coach.
COACH PARKER: I think the one thing about it, there's only 24 hours in a day. You got to be real efficient in what you're doing. The way we do it, a lot of our guys have input of what we're doing, trying to keep focus on what we're doing.
I think I've been in the secondary for a long time, so it's kind of easy for me to walk in a room and get guys to understand what I need from them. That really hasn't changed for me. As a matter of fact, it gets me in touch with the guys a little bit.
My role changed. I don't know if we can put any more hours in the day. I'm going to have to speed something up. I think it was more of a mutual agreement for me to go back in the secondary. Darrell Wilson had an opportunity to leave and go to Rutgers. He'd done a very good job here. It was an opportunity for me to meet with Kirk a little bit. He was more than open to it.
Q. Team struggled getting off the field on third down. How much of that was experience, depth, and how better suited are you now?
COACH PARKER: Well, obviously everybody wants to get off on third downs. When you go through it, the guys have to understand. I think the guys have done a great job, at least in the last two months of being around the guys, getting back at it, they're understanding the game of football. Really after a while, when you study guys, understand the game, it's going to help you what they're trying to do on third downs. I think we need to do a better job of that so they understand what plays they're going to see instead of saying it's a personnel issue or you're not blitzing enough. To me it's just about understanding the game.
Q. You have three redshirt freshmen in your two‑deep on the defensive line. Do you see them contributing heavily?
COACH PARKER: I think Faith, he's probably the most intriguing guy. I think he can play inside and I think he can play outside as an end. Very impressed with the way he can run and move. We moved him out here late a little bit at the end. He probably had four or five days of practice. So we're intrigued by putting him out on the edge. Jaleel has done a great job inside. A strong, big kid, hard to move him.
They're still a ways away. They're still young pups yet. But I think they're definitely going to have to help us out next year.
Q. What has Jim Reid brought in terms of practice? Can you lean on him?
COACH PARKER: He's an excellent coach, has a lot of great experience. Sometimes he gives me different ideas, different ways to look at things. I think it's been a great addition to that aspect of it. I think he's done a good job of getting the linebackers to play downhill and being aggressive.
Yeah, it does help a little bit with having an experienced guy, has a little bit of knowledge, he's been a head coach, defensive coordinator, been in the pros. Definitely a positive thing for me.
Q. How much of the linebackers' improvement is due to working with two coaches instead of one this year?
COACH PARKER: I think it's obviously helpful, but I think it's also the growth of kids. Obviously Kirksey and Hitch were not redshirted, neither was I don't believe James either. That's a very hard thing to do. Coming up and being seniors, really they should only be in their junior year.
The experience, the history of our program is obviously the longer you're in the program, you're in there for your fifth year, you're going to be a better player than you were as a junior. You're really a junior. I think that's probably helped them understand what's going on.
Q. A couple players left the secondary. How does that affect your depth?
COACH PARKER: I think the two guys that left, obviously Kevin Buford had a chance, he played a little bit in some games and special teams games, dime or nickel package last year. Then Torrey Campbell chose to go on and pursue track.
I don't know how much it's going to affect us. Obviously in recruiting next we're year, we're going to have to take some more guys in the secondary. It wasn't like they were projected as a starter at the time. I think the other guys have to move on. I think Maurice Fleming and Draper are going to have to push a little bit to help us out.
Q. Do you feel you have enough depth in the secondary or is that where you may be able to play a freshman this year?
COACH PARKER: In the secondary we might be able to avoid that. You look at a kid, somebody wants to play early, they want to play on special teams, let's get them involved in the game, especially in Kinnick Stadium. You look and say you're going to take 90 snaps on special teams for the year, or you're going to play full‑time and take 900 or 1,000 snaps. They don't understand that. There's a lot of peer pressure at home. Heavily recruited, why aren't you starting, why are you not on the field.
I think we have to educate the kids. I like to redshirt them, get them some growth, get them with Coach Doyle, get their bodies built for a Big Ten season.
Q. Looking at the Northwestern game from last year, the rushing performance they put on, how do you come back from that?
COACH PARKER: If you go back and look at the plays that actually came out of that, obviously some guys that are maybe not in the right gap, some guys not taking the right angles. Some of the big plays that came out are leverage problems, base football, understanding how to run to the ball, how to seek the guys. Sometimes just because you're running fast doesn't mean you're going in the right proper position to go ahead and track a guy. I think a couple of those were broken up just because of bad angles. The game is about angles. I think we didn't do a good enough job in that area.
Q. Can you talk about Drew Ott's progress?
COACH PARKER: Obviously the strength and knowledge of being on the field already, he's been there. That's not going to be a factor for him. I think he keeps on making great improvements. Out there every day. Running with the ones a lot. Getting some good work. It does help you in some ways to be ready for the next year. You look three more years down the road and say, you could have him as a full‑time starter. Lost a lot of reps.
Q. Does not having a dual threat quarterback on the roster hurt when you have to prepare for a lot of those type of quarterbacks?
COACH PARKER: You can always find a skilled guy back there and put him back in there for that week. I don't think that's really an option. There's always somebody out there not working with the first or second team, you can get a guy skilled enough, defensive back, wide receiver type of guy, runningback. Put them back there, they're reading cards anyway. But their athletic ability to get out there and run, that's what we look for when we try to run against those dual threat guys.
Q. Is Faith a little similar to Christian Ballard?
COACH PARKER: Athletically we mentioned that the other day, it's probably about the same. Christian Ballard was a little bit taller, but bigger, height‑wise, but very similar. We thought the same thing about four or five days ago.
Q. Will this defense go as far as the line can take it or the things you can do to boost them to help them? They're still young.
COACH PARKER: Yeah, I think our linebacker group, with them guys in control, I think that's going to help us. I think the maturity of our defensive line, I think Dominic Alvis, Carl Davis, even Drew Ott, even though he is young, I think he is starting to mature a little bit. Then you have Louis who hasn't practiced, he helped us out last year, did a great job. Then you have Cooper. I think we have a little more depth up front. Quinton Alston for a linebacker, he's coming on. Marcus Collins and Cole Fisher at linebacker, everybody is growing. How can we build the team to come together as a unit. I thought I seen that the last couple practices that I was impressed with. Not to say we did everything perfect.