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Q: You lost a lot of defensive talent from last year but return Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde.
Kirk Ferentz: Shaun Prater is one of the more experienced guys on the team. He is a good football player and also has great energy. He has a good attitude. He adds a lot with his production on the field. I know he will be our left corner. We know what Hyde can do at corner and we looked at him in the spring at free safety, to see if he was capable of doing that as we graduated Brett Greenwood who was a three and a half year starter. That is a big part of our defense, having good safety play. Now we are looking at Lowery and Castillo at corner, and we won’t know until September how we will line up. Hyde can play corner and I think he can play safety.
Q: You also lost Tyler Sash….
Ferentz: Micah’s move didn’t factor into that. Jordan Bernstine has played mostly corner is in contention, Colin Sleeper is there, a walk on last year and Tom Donatell. We will see what camp brings. It might be that we move someone else. Tanner Miller is a possibility. We are not sure what the best combination is. We have some good competition and sort it out. That may change all year.
Q: How important is it to your scheme for the free safety to be rock solid…is that more preferable there even if you might be greener at corner?
Ferentz: Yeah. There are certain positions on the team…Free Safety, MLB, center and quarterback, those are positions where its more cerebral, there is more mental responsibility. You are responsible for some other people, making sure they are on the right page. We got comfortable with Bret being back there. My kodak moment on him was when we took him to Michigan during his redshirt year, but he was sitting in the locker room studying his notes getting ready to play. There are more responsibilities back there, so that is a part of the equation. You have to be able to get to the boundary, you have to come up and tackle. There are some challenges. We want to make sure we have the right guy there. For us to function, we have to have someone helping us out. Norm talks about James Morris last year, vs the spring. James really accepts that responsibility and does a nice job with what checks are out there. That is a part of that position back there and we didn’t get a chance to see Tanner Miller in the spring because of his surgery. He is still unknown back there. We think he has a chance to be a good player but we have a lot to learn.
Q: Does it make it easier to move Micah to free when Prater is on the other side, maybe being able to roll some free safety help over for the other corner if he is not as experienced?
Ferentz: It’s always nice to have two corners coming back that are good players, but it eases it a little bit. One thing I know is that we have two guys that have played well in conference. Now we have to figure out who the next two guys are to go in, finding the right four guys back there.
Q: Sort of like how you try to find the best five on the offensive line?
Ferentz: Very similar. You want the best five on the line and the best four in the backfield. It’s about as simple as that, but there are some positions where not everyone can play, and that is part of the equation.
Q: Are you looking at playing any true freshmen on defense?
Ferentz: The perimeter positions can play earlier. We will give them all a look in camp and I have encouraged the coaches to keep an open mind towards everything. We will see where it brings us We typically won’t play a guy unless he can help on special teams. Kirksey was in that role last year.
Q: Divisional Play, I have talked with some coaches about this, Glen Mason and Dinardo have experienced this..Dinardo thinks there will be more pressure on coaches because of divisional play now. Do you see that?
Ferentz: Through the years in our coaches meetings when we have kicked around expansion, that has been the tenor of the coaches. It’s one more way to get fired or whatever. I have also heard, and I am not saying I believe it, but that if you talk to coaches in any conference they are not for it, but it’s a revenue producer and it draws attention to the conference later in the year. I haven’t thought much about it. I haven’t had experience in it so I am not an expert. At the end of the day, we still play eight conference games and the better you do there if you get to Indianapolis, you will play a read good team. If you are in that team, it can affect your bowl preparation in December. Nebraska has the home field advantage here as they are used to divisional play. This is old hat for them. I think it will be good attention for the league. It’s a positive that way.
Q: When the Big 12 first started almost all coaches were against it.
Ferentz: I am not surprised. There is no sense worrying about it and it’s not going away.
Q: (Nebraska media member) Coach, I have this girlfriend who is a major Iowa fan…I was wondering if you could sign this for me to her, I would gain some huge points…
Ferentz: I am guessing you could use some points too, is that right? All of us could.
Q: If you knew her you would be proud.
Ferentz: So you are dating an Iowa fan?
Q: Not yet, but it’s moving in that direction. Her code name is the Iowa Hawkeye, I call her that.
Ferentz: Oh, so you can use some help (then there was a two minute exchange of this guy having Kirk sign a license plate…it was comical, yet awkward at the same time, and Kirk didn’t flinch and signed it for him to his ‘prospective’ Hawkeye girlfriend.)
Q: Thanks coach
Ferentz: I have an old neighbor in Cleveland. Bo Schembechler was doing a book signing and my friend told him my neighbor was Kirk Ferentz. I had sat next to Bo at Fry’s farewell dinner…so Bo signed it ‘Kirk, this jerk is making me sign this book.’
Q: What convinced you that Mike Daniels size would not be a problem?
Ferentz: We are not a big size team. One of our most prominent players is Bob Sanders. Bob still isn’t tall but he can play football. We don’t have the luxury of only taking 6-4 guys. We are not in that league. We try to look at everything we can and try to find good players regardless of size. If you look in pro football, look at the Patriots. They have Welker and Woodhead and neither will win a rebounding contest but they can play football. That is how we have to operate and look at guys differently than other schools.
Q: With Kevin Wilson at Indiana, that is a new coach in the league…what do you think about him?
Ferentz: We have three new coaches and four if you include Nebraska, and five with Danny Hope for us, so we have several new preparations. I feel like I know some of Kevin’s work. He was at Northwestern for a while when they got it going about a decade ago. We matched up with Missouri in a bowl game so we had a chance to see the Oklahoma film. They have been pretty good on offense for a while and Kevin has been in the middle of that thing. I think we have an idea as to what offense they will be playing at Indiana.
Q: What do you think, some people say there are more offensive minds in the Big Ten now.
Ferentz: Someone yesterday said defense. Bo and Brady, it depends on how you look at it. I don;t think that is the case. At the end of the day, good coaches have coached on both sides of the ball. It’s the same in the NFL. Good coaches, it’s not either or. Guys that are good coaches are good coaches and Kevin has done a great job.
Q: It used to be the Woody and Bo league, now you have 12 teams, title game…how has B1G brand changed?
Ferentz: It’s funny you should bring that up. This is like the 30 year anniversary of change. It began in the 1980’s. That is my viewpoint. Up until 1981 there were two teams that went to the Rose Bowl 13 straight years. It was a two team race, and they had a distinct way of playing football. In 1981 Iowa was able to break through and Coach Fry was reputed to be a little more wide open, I always felt that was a bit of a shell game. The conference changed in the 1980’s. Mike White coming in and throwing the ball 60 times a game. In 1982 they set a stadium passing record in Kinnick. That is when the change in the conference started to take place and the other interesting thing of note is that out of the 11 teams that were in the league last year, nine have gone to a Rose Bowl since 1981 which is a stark contrast to the 13 years prior. What we have seen recently and in the future, which is tough about our league, one week you may be playing teams that are all three or four wides and throwing the ball 70% of the time, a lot of short passing. A lot of that is their run game. Or Nebraska comes in where a quarterback carries a lot of that, which Illinois did that last year too. Then you have a team like Wisconsin that is going to line up and hand that ball off to the running back with great success. Every week is like an entirely different preparation in our conference and depending on who you are playing, you may play three traditional teams, then a spread…every week is a different bag. I don’t think you can say ‘this is what we are.’
Q: What about coming around to the thinking of expansion and a title game, let’s be like other leagues?
Ferentz: It’s a sign of the times in my mind. I think we all agree that adding Nebraska will be a very good thing for our conference. It makes us stronger. I was on a nine-year sabbatical when PSU came in, but my guess is it mirrors that. But now we move to divisional play, so this will be a new territory.
Q: I think not playing over Thanksgiving was a big thing for you
Ferentz: I am over it (laughs)
Q: Last year, you found homes for your players to have some sort of Thanksgiving
Ferentz: We tried to get the day over as prudently as we could and let the guys go. I think every guy found a home. After that, I am not sure I was comfortable with that. I am not saying that is why we performed the way we did in Minnesota, but the thought entered my mind. Like in 2002 when we let the guys go for five days and we all met in Miami and somewhere we had a disconnect there and we had that at the end of the year last year. The way its mapped out now, I am enthused about it. We will all be together on Thanksgiving and a lot of times we are together on Christmas. It’s a part of being a college football player. There will not be any decisions on what to do any more. Hopefully the guys can have thanksgiving now on Saturday with the same routine, branch off with a friend and have it on Saturday.
Q: How much is your radar up for guys that are first time away from home, long way from home, that look in their eyes that they want to be home for the holidays
Ferentz: Going back to the whole Thanksgiving deal…I think it’s healthy for all students to get off campus for that week. For a while, we went to school Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Iowa. the other two regent schools weren’t. That is ancient history. It’s good for everyone to get home and to have a break in there. You have to adjust. What we did last year was we had a short week after the Minnesota game. We let the guys get their practice done before exams and let them get away from football. If we are fortunate enough to play in the title game, now you are talking 13 or 14 straight weeks of preparation. Somehow you have to give the guys some downtime before you start thinking about a bowl game. It has made that thought process different.