Woods talks linebackers

In his second year as a full time assistant coach for the Hawkeyes, LeVar Woods has plenty of experience at the linebacker position to lean on. He also has the help of new assistant coach Jim Reid, who is a veteran in the college game. Woods talks about the 2013 linebackers for the Hawkeyes and also discusses Iowa's special teams, which he will be involved with this fall.
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How's everyone doing? Just to start off, I'd like to thank everyone for coming here, obviously. It's an exciting time for us here at Iowa with spring football going. With the new facility, the indoor facility, we're able to use that now. We're using it this spring for the first time in spring football. It's been a great facility. And also with all the excitement going on with the rest of the facility, the rest of the phase is being completed.
So exciting times around here at Iowa football, and some different faces with the coaching staff and some recruits we have coming in that we're excited about. Guys here, particularly the linebacker position, the position I'm around the most, guys are excited. Guys are hungry. They're here working every day. They're here when you come to the office early in the morning, the guys are here and you leave late at night and guys are still here. They're at your office wanting to know what more can I do, how do you see this, those kind of things. That as a coach makes you very excited and getting ready to keep moving, building on momentum that we're trying to build here in spring football into the summer and then into the fall.
Q. How has the adjustment been for you so far as far as working with Jim in terms of working with the linebackers and with Chris in special teams?
LeVAR WOODS: It's been good. Jim is an excellent coach, man. This is the first time I've actually really been around him. I know he came here a couple years ago to do some clinicing with Norm Parker. I wasn't a part of that. So this is the first chance I've actually really got to spend time with him. He reminds me a lot of Norm in the way he teaches, and he has a lot of wisdom. So that part has been very good for a young coach like myself, it's been good to try to learn from him.
And also with Chris, I'm excited to work with Chris because he has a background that from playing ‑ or excuse me, from coaching in the National Football League that I think will add a new dynamic to our team, and we're doing some things, coaching wise in making things competitive with special teams in the spring that should help our team moving forward coming up.
Q. What part of special teams, how is it divided up?
LeVAR WOODS: You know, everything we do right now is together. We're focusing on competition and competing and making sure that the guys understand how to compete, how to win and particularly in space. Special teams is a game very often when the ball is actually kicked, right, when you're competing in space, which is something sometimes forgotten and it's hard to do. But it's hard to be able to compete in space, make plays, blocks and tackles in space. So those are the things we've been focusing on most so far.
Q. Coach Ferentz said your experience in the NFL one of the reasons you had success was on special teams among other things. How are you able to translate that into coaching these guys and teaching things?
LeVAR WOODS: You know, that's a good question. One of the things that, again, I think sometimes special teams, if you don't have a familiarity with it, which I did not when I first went into the NFL, if you don't have a familiarity with it, you don't quite understand how difficult it is to do.
But if you ‑ the thing that I think that having played special teams and having a good understanding of it are some of the little tricks that can happen, because sometimes when it's ‑ you have officials that watch the game. They watch everything, but they can't quite see everything that happens. So sometimes they're ‑ sometimes plays, there are penalties, although there are plays in special teams that go unnoticed, and my point with that is that there are some tricks and little techniques that you can use to help guys be able to finish their block or help guys to understand and know where to fit on a kickoff or on a punt and know how to make the play.
I think having that experience as a player can help, being able to teach those kind of things to the guys, but also, the thing I was particularly excited about with Coach White is that he brings some of those elements to our team, some of the same schemes that I'm familiar with, having played in, Coach White worked with a coach at Minnesota who I played for his father, and some of the things are very similar, so some of the terminology and things have been sort of seamless, and excited to keep moving forward here.
Q. Anthony Hitchens last year made a lot of tackles, but was inconsistent in positioning and technique. What did you see of him on film that suggested he can become better and more consistent and kind of an elite type of defense?
LeVAR WOODS: Absolutely. That's a good question. Anthony was a young player last year, a guy that it was his first time ever starting at linebacker. He had been a safety and a running back all before that and then played a little bit at linebacker his sophomore year. And then not very much at linebacker, and his junior year was his first time really starting. Some of the things that Anthony, that we're cleaning up some of the techniques and his footwork and his reads, I think Coach Reid has done an excellent job with Anthony in this spring, guys that have been around have seen, I think he's improved.
Anthony has a tremendous amount of ability, and he's a guy that I think the sky's the limit for him as a player, and as long as he keeps honing those skills and keeps working on that with his technique and footwork and cleaning up his reads, I think the sky's the limit for him. And we're excited about him, the things that you had spoke about, with all the tackles he had and being able to compete and finish the way he wants to finish.
Q. Do you have any change in Christian, and you have a lot of experience coming back at linebacker. What does that do for this spring? Does it make it easier? Are you allowed to put more things in? What can you do with all the guys having all that starting experience?
LeVAR WOODS: First and foremost, the guys have experience. Those four guys that you named. Also Travis Perry has some in‑game experience and then Marcus Collins, who's still defensively pretty young at that and Cole Fisher, those are guys that all played at some point last year, whether on special teams or defense.
What we are focused on is making sure that we have our fundamentals down before we keep installing more defense. But the thing that's exciting, like you said, the three guys all played together last year, so there's a great chemistry amongst those guys. They're always competing to see who can make the play, who's going to be the one to make the play rather than waiting for someone else to make it. So they're constantly competing, going back and forth and pushing each other. And when they push each other, they bring the rest of the guys in the group with them. And then when they do that, you bring the rest of the team with them.
It's been said the linebackers are the heart of the defense. They pump the blood into everybody. They make all the calls, get everyone lined up, and that's something that's held true around here at Iowa and around defense in general, and particularly at Iowa. It's been exciting to see that here this spring.
Q. I imagine you didn't play a lot of special teams at Iowa. But you had one memorable return of a blocked field goal, Coach Ferentz's first win at Iowa, your first season with him. Do you recall, is that a special memory of your time at Iowa, that play?
LeVAR WOODS: Can't remember it at all. No. Of course. It's a play that I'll remember my whole life. I was actually talking with the video guy Bob Rayfeld today, wondering we just had another baby last week and starting to think about from video standpoint is it possible to get that on video so some day I can give it to my kids so they can watch that. But absolutely I remember that play. It was an exciting play for me.
Q. How have you found the recruiting in Texas? Kind of what's your approach there with so much competition for players?
LeVAR WOODS: I love it. I love recruiting Texas. I love recruiting in general. Texas is fun. It's very similar to the setup. We go from spring football here in Iowa, at the University of Iowa to right down there, it's like you never left spring football, the way that they're set up and structured. It's fun because it's very welcoming, very inviting.
All the coaches want you to come there. And they'll drop anything to have you there at school and talk with you and visit with you about players, and it's a great opportunity in spring practice to see kids playing football, which is that's what we're trying to evaluate them doing is playing football.
So love recruiting Texas. It is competitive, because every school in the country is down there, but I think if you can ‑ there are a lot of Hawkeyes down there that'll help out that know different areas or know kids that'll pass on, you need to check this guy out. So that's been fun.
Q. This weekend you got practice. With that going on and have you ever experienced anything like that, load up, get on the bus?
LeVAR WOODS: Not here at Iowa, but in the NFL we've done that before. I think the guys are excited; change of pace. It's a new venue. Any time you do that in spring football is good. All it'll do is it'll help us ‑ it's a way for us to pay back the fans in central Iowa, western Iowa that can't always make it to Kinnick Stadium during the fall. But from a player's standpoint I think they're excited to be around kind of just a change of scenery a little bit, instead of hearing myself saying the same things over and over, it's a little change of pace.
Q. Did you do that in the NFL?
LeVAR WOODS: We practiced in Tucson when I was with the Cardinals. And then I know other teams do stuff like that quite a bit.
Q. Is it any kind of distraction or how do you keep the job at hand?
LeVAR WOODS: When you're a player, you're so focused on what's going on that you ‑ at least I hope. I should back that up, that the guys are like that, that they're focused on the task at hand and it's a practice to them. It's the same schedule. We should be focusing on improvement like we do every day.
Q. When you think back to your first opportunity as a full‑time assistant, what did you feel is going to help you now going down the road?
LeVAR WOODS: There were so many things last year. Every single practice, every single game, every single instance was a learning experience for me. I look back, one thing off the top of my head was we played Iowa State, and we had an opportunity, we had just defensive stay, all right, a punt safe look in there. Had a guy come off the edge and rough the punter, right, which immediately I think back, that was my fault. I'd never coached them on it, never even told them about it, never thought, hey, he may get there and block the punt because we weren't set up to block the punt. We were set up to just be in punt save.
So instantly I learned, boom, right there. Some things I learned from Coach Ferentz and looking back and sometimes trying to be too perfect or trying to tell guys too much, if that makes sense, you know, like you can ‑ sometimes I think you can kind of paralyze a young man when you tell him do this, do this, do this, if he does that, do this. So that kind of paralyzes a guy. So I'm working hard to kind of just let guys go, let them play. Here's your responsibility. You know you have to be outside. You know you have to do this. Now go and play and then afterwards come back and say you could do this the next time and sort of just ‑ rather than kind of paralyze them, if that makes sense.
And from a recruiting standpoint, that was really my first time getting out on the road in my own territory and recruiting. Man, I learned a bunch out there as well because now I kind of know the lay of the land in Dallas, at least how to get around and where some of the kids are, basically a notebook and here are some schools to look at and then go to schools and you learn about other prospects and kind of door‑to‑door salesman almost, the first time, but no, when I went back down the second time in our winter recruiting, it was a lot easier. So I'm excited to get back down there in spring and get back on the road recruiting.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about some of those younger backups? I know everybody knows the three starters, but the progress they've made this spring, because you're going to need them a year from now.
LeVAR WOODS: Absolutely. The guys have been a hungry group. I think the whole team has been that way, hungry, and excited to improve. And any time you have that, it'll help your team, it'll help your group. Some of the guys that have been working, we have some guys that are here for the first time with Chad Gilson just transferred in, and then also John Kenny is here on campus. He decided to come early.
And then we have some younger guys like Travis Perry, he's a guy that played a little bit, like I said, and excited about his development and where he's headed as a player. Then you have Quinton (Alston), who I know Coach Reid is excited about Quinton as am I, because one thing for Quinton, he's been sort of sitting waiting in the wings a little bit the whole time. The thing that's been good about him, when he gets in, there's not much of a dropoff, or at least that's what's in his mind, that there shouldn't be a dropoff playing behind James like he did last year. I'm excited about him mashing ‑‑ I use the term mash the gas, keep the pedal down, keep going forward and learn as much as you can, because it could be a broken shoelace and he's in, if he doesn't unseat ‑‑ if he doesn't actually win the spot here in spring.
And then from the will linebacker standpoint, some of the young guys like Laron Taylor, this is the first time I've really gotten a chance to work with Laron, because he's been down scout team before, and then also Marcus Collins, who's a young player and Cole Fisher who has been a young player, those guys just getting the work. And the great thing we had a great off season in the weight room. Guys have come back stronger and quicker than they were last year, which is good, and then continue to develop guys moving forward.
Q. Are James and Christian, you guys talk about going into the NFL, are they that caliber? I think Christian's only been playing since his sophomore year, I think.
LeVAR WOODS: Christian's a young man. He turned 20 last year and he's going to be a senior next year.
Q. Can they make that leap? You know what it takes.
LeVAR WOODS: I think all three linebackers have the chance to play in the NFL. I do.
Q. Do you have to spend extra time with John Kenny making the big adjustment?
LeVAR WOODS: Absolutely. Coach Reid's been working with him pretty extensively. I worked with him a little bit when he first got here. The biggest things for John, the reason I think it's good for him to be here is he's able to get some of the kinks out.
Sometimes it's stressful for a kid not knowing where do I pick up my books or where is my first class, and you're focused on that and you can't really focus on football. So he's getting all of that worked out right now while he's learning the defense. I think he's doing a good job for a guy that's never done it before. He's sort of playing a little out of position, but he's doing a good job.
Q. Can you put a percentage on your time with special teams and your time with the defense? I have no idea how that works. I'm just curious.
LeVAR WOODS: I can't. It's really no shift ‑ you just shift from special teams to linebacker. It's all kind of the same thing because a lot of linebackers play special teams and a lot of parallels, but as far as ‑ you're talking about division of labor and time like that? I can't put a specific number on it.
Q. Linebackers play a lot of special teams because they're usually fast, good in space and at contact. How much does that help you kind of identify who could maybe make that transition from maybe second team linebacker occasionally on the field for that?
LeVAR WOODS: Very easily. You look at guys ‑ two guys that come to mind right off the bat, guys that have played in the program, Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge. They both came in, earned their way. They were backups, backups and then they were playing on special teams, competing on special teams.
I think that instantly allows the coach to see this young man, if he can excel on special teams, if he can do that, then you can translate it to playing linebacker. That's the thing I'm excited about this year, some of the young guys getting the opportunity to play on special teams and then we'll have three seniors leaving the next year, that they'll be able to be that much better as linebackers in the defense.