This is a talking Wednesday.
There is a Big Ten teleconference at 11 a.m. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive tackle Brandon Scherff speak at 12:30 and 12:45, respectively. At 1 p.m., wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy and running backs coach/special teams coordinator Chris White will have a news conference.
Wide receivers are an interesting topic this spring. Iowa’s passing game took positive steps last season, but it will need to take a few more if the Hawkeyes want to win the big things in the Big Ten.
Four redshirt freshmen begin their careers.
Derrick Willies (6-4, 210) -- The Rock Island, Ill., native is already on the depth chart, No. 2 behind Tevaun Smith at a split end position. Willies have size and some speed credentials. He won the 110-meter high hurdles in the Illinois prep state championships his junior year at Rock Island.
Derrick Mitchell Jr. (6-1, 205) -- Mitchell earned notice during the bowl prep when he made an acrobatic catch in front of ESPN color analyst Jon Gruden. Ferentz joked that Gruden probably wondered what Iowa coaches were thinking with the redshirt. Mitchell has seen some time on punt return this spring.
Andre Harris (6-0, 180) -- He’s a quick, fast receiver from St. Louis. That’s about all we know for sure. His first few public steps, at least since last August’s open scrimmage, will happen this weekend at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines. Iowa will hold a 1 p.m. scrimmage at Valley High School.
A.J. Jones (6-3, 200) -- He’s in the same unknown category with Harris, except Jones is an entirely different body.
Here are some of the topics White touched on:
Longer video, so here’s somewhat of a time stamp/subject rundown:
-- 1:51 RB competition
-- 2:21 Fullbacks are heart of the team
-- 2:41 Specialists
-- 3:30 Wadley and Parker
-- 5:30 The Big three returning backs
-- 6:40 More on Damon Bullock (don’t run wild with the idea of him in the slot, White said he’s an RB)
-- 8:47 More on Jordan Canzeri (White called him Iowa’s best instinctual RB)
-- 9:42 Sorry, this is the Bullock-to-WR answer (still a no-go)
In the second White video:
-- Starts with punter (the competition is very real)
-- :54 Connor Kornbrath had an inconsistent sophomore year
-- 1:30 Where are all the NFL RBs coming out of Iowa?
-- 2:29 Here’s talk about Mark Weisman as a fullback (yes, White said his future is at FB, but he referred to a future that’s beyond Iowa, as in the NFL)
-- 3:32 Some kick return news (Damond Powell might get a shot here, but I think it’ll be an RB or two)
-- 4:40 Kick coverage (Great info here on what White looks for)
-- 5:34 More on the transition in coverage from guy running down the field to guy slowing down, maintaining balance and making a tackle)
-- 7:11 Something about RBs
-- 10:06 -- Question on K Marshall Koehn, who’ll be in competition with true freshman Mick Ellis (Koehn needs work on trajectory, White said)
The new content delivery system allows me three videos right now. We’re working on more.
Here’s a time stamp for the first Kennedy video:
-- Starts with question on the four redshirt freshmen WRs who come online this year (Kennedy believes they have a chance to really chance what Iowa does on the outside)
-- 2:00 on senior WR Damond Powell
-- 4:45 Question on recruiting
-- 6:28 Question on redshirt freshman Derrick Willies
-- 7:39 WR’s familiarity with Iowa’s offense, what their specific jobs are
-- 8:57 on juniors Jacob Hillyer and Tevaun Smith
Here’s Kirk Ferentz from today’s Big Ten teleconference (nothing earth shattering, mostly bullet points from national media folks):
We’re probably a little bit behind the other teams in the conference, since we only have six workous done so far, but it’s been good to get going and I’m sure every coach feels same way. It’s always an interesting time of the year, a great teaching period, and great to see how guys have progressed. So we’re glad to be on the field and eager to see how things develop the next couple of weeks.
Q: With Brandon coming back and having that anchor on the offensive line, can you compare that to Robert Gallery’s experience and how the team leaned on him his senior year?
FERENTZ: I think it’s certainly very positive. We’ve had several guys in that same category. We’ve had Brandon and Robert, who chose to stay, and then Bryan and Riley, who chose to go to the NFL their junior year. All four guys were similar. The guys that chose to come out went in the 20’s in the first round I think and had Robert or Brandon come out their junior year, they were probably in that same neighborhood. Both guys very good players, good attitudes, and really like the college experience. It worked out well for the other guys too, just a matter of choice. What I’m trying to articulate is when a guy chooses to come back usually it’s because he likes the college experience and is here for all the right reasons, so the positive vibe he shares with the team is just invaluable.
Q: Did Brandon spend time at quarterback in high school? What do you remember about him on film?
FERENTZ: (laughs) I’m only chuckling because I think I read somewhere that he was claiming 1,400 yards in the air his sophomore year. I don’t doubt that it happened, but I’d want to see the video first. But Brandon is a great athlete. I never did see the game film from his sophomore year, but he could probably throw the ball about 80 yards. I know John Alt, who played here in the 80’s, could.
Q: Success with moving guys from other positions to offensive line?
FERENTZ: Yeah, usually from tight end. With Brandon, the thing I remember is every time we’d see him he was ten pounds bigger. Kind of morphed right brfore our eyes. He and Carl Davis both bigger guys than we’re used to getting. Colin Cole the only other guy I can think. More typical for our guys to grown into it.
Q: You have been through a ton of springs before. Is it more about individual performances or building the team?
FERENTZ:It’s a combination. One thing about spring practice is you have 15 opportunites and the good news is you don’t have a game to prepare for. The spring game doesn’t go in the record books. So it’s not a race to get ready for an opponent. It’s a good chance for teaching and evaluation and you have so many players at different levels. You have a guy like Brandon Scherff, an accomplished player who has played a lot of football, and a lot of other guys that haven’t hit the field yet. It’s a good opportunity to see those guys and evaluate them and track threir progress. It’s pure football and pure teaching at a lot of different levels of performance, so always interesting to watch.
Q: What have you seen at quarterback this spring?
FERENTZ: Well, I think they’re doing well. They’re improving. Rudock is healthy. That must have gotten a lot more play outside of our building than in. He just needed some time, a little beat up at the end of the season, but he’s doing great, perfectly healthy. Last year at this time those guys were competiting for the job. Now they have both competed. We expect them to improve and they have. Both guys are performring better than they did last spring, better than they were in December.
Q: Is it a different type of competition this year?
FERENTZ: Well, I can’t tell you how many snaps both have played, but Jake has played a significant number and C.J. came off the bench for us and played some as well. Jake has more experience. It’s a situation where both guys have to be at their best. We’re bringing Nic Shimonek along as well, but a different tier. We tell every guy on the team every job is open, just a matter of what you do out on the field.
Here are a couple questions from OT Brandon Scherff, who also participated on the B1G teleconference today:
Q: Can you talk about the skillset you guys have at the running back position and what those guys bring to the table?
SCHERFF: We’ve got Mark, he’s a downhill runner, not afraid of contact. We’ve got Jordan and Damon, they like to get out on the edge but aren’t afraid of contact either. Then LeShun is a big bull, not afraid of contact at all. Really whoever they put behind us, we’re going to try to get to the second level and do our job, and they’ll do their job.
Q: Is the offense trying to get more explosivness this year?
SCHERFF: We’re trying to play faster so we’ve been working on the no huddle tempo. At first it’s tough to learn all of the signs again, but I think it will help us in the fall. We used it a little bit last year, but practicing it more now and will carry it over to fall.
Full transcript from Chris White:
CHRIS WHITE: Good afternoon. Before I start with this year’s class, I just want to take one minute just to talk about last year and how enjoyable it was for me coming here as my first year. I’ve been coaching for 25 years, and really that was the most enjoyable year I’ve ever had coaching. There’s a lot of things that went into it, but you start with the head coach, and I had not known Coach Ferentz personally before I came here, and he’s just a tremendous leader as you all know. The one thing that sticks out in my mind is trust with him, and what he does is he trusts his assistants to do what they need to do. He’s not eyebrowing everyone. He makes you accountable, but he trusts that you’re going to get the job done. That’s a great feeling to have as an assistant coach.
And really our staff, we have a great staff here, guys that are very loyal to the head coach, they’re loyal to the players, they care about their players, and I think the players felt that from us, and the players themselves just‑‑ I’ve never been around a bunch of kids who are committed, competitive, just doing the things we ask them to do. They bought in, and it was so much fun coaching these guys, and I just wanted to put that out there before we started.
This is a new year for us, obviously. From all indications from the strength and strength over the past few months, Coach Doyle is very pleased with what’s going on, and certainly the first six practices have been outstanding in the coaches’ eyes.
I think the thing that sticks out to me with my players in particular, the running backs and the specialists, is that there’s great competition. We have depth at the running back position right now. We have experience at the running back position right now. And we have some young guys who are trying to make a move and earn their niche at the running back position.
We can talk about each one specifically as you go along here, but we’re really, really happy with the running backs themselves. And then the fullbacks, really they’re the heartbeat of our football team on offense for sure, between Macon and Adam, they just bring an energy and a physicalness, and the players just thrive off of that. Couldn’t be happier with the fullback situation.
The specialists, we’ve got great competition there. Obviously Mike and Casey have graduated, and we have some questions that need to be ironed out here in the next couple weeks, and then into training camp with some new faces. We did bring in a junior college punter. We felt that Connor needed to be pushed, and it’s helped Connor the first six practices for sure. It’s helped him, and Dillon is in heavy competition with Connor right now. We have Tyler Kluver has taken on the long snapping responsibilities. We have a young man coming in as a walk‑on next year to help him, as well.
We’ve got great competition. Our guys are really driven. They’re hungry, and I think that we just want to take it the next step forward.
Q. Speaking of the younger guys at back, who are some of the guys that pop out to you that you say this might be a guy that can help us next year?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, obviously Akrum and Jonathan Parker, Akrum Wadley, they’re different types of backs that I don’t think we’ve had here in a while. They have explosive speed, quickness, make‑you‑miss ability. We feel they have the ability to take a play beyond its design, which obviously helps on offense where you can take a 10‑yard run into a touchdown. Those two guys, we want to get a great evaluation of them. Akrum at the end of the season last year, he had a little injury that required surgery, and he hasn’t had the full off‑season with Coach Doyle, but Jonathan has done a nice job for us.
Barkley is healthy again, Barkley Hill. He had a nice scrimmage, we tackled the other day and he really did a nice job. He was physical, had some really solid runs there. So those are really the three young guys.
And then really I’m thinking of LeShun and him as an older guy, but he’s only a freshman, and he’s a special kid. From the way he came in and how he picked everything up and how he approached his business, really this off‑season he’s kind of transformed his body a little bit. He’s very muscular, as you know, but he’s really worked on trying to be more flexible in the upper body and lower body, and I think it’s really helped him out, and you can see it on the field. He’s explosive, he’s faster, and he’s making better cuts.
Q. How do you want to share the load this year with the running backs? Early in the year we saw Weisman carry 30 times for a couple games, we saw Bullock hurt a little bit, then Canzeri picked it up at the end of the year. Do you have a better idea how you want to share the load?
CHRIS WHITE: I wish I did. It’s a good problem to have, obviously, with the depth that we have. I think everyone in the room would agree that we probably wore Mark out a little bit. His productivity diminished a little bit after the Michigan State game. He stuck his cleat in the ground a little bit and hurt his foot, and he had a stretch for four or five games where we really didn’t practice him a lot, and it showed on the field, and he didn’t get as many reps. But I thought he finished the season well against Michigan and Nebraska.
But you know, we’re trying to figure that out right now. That’s a great question. Jordan coming in, providing a spark obviously helped. I wish there was one guy that could do it all, I really do. It would make my job easier, but all the other guys in the room would not be happy.
But I really think LeShun is really coming along, and we’ll see what happens there. The young guys, we’ve got to find a role for them if they’re going to be able to help our football team win football games, which I think they can.
Damon is a valuable player on our football team, he really is. He does a great job in pass protection, he runs routes real well, catches the ball out of the backfield, and he’s working on some things in the running game that we pointed out in the off‑season that he needs to work on.
Q. With all this depth and experience and everything, all those good problems to have, what do you do with an offense new that year or expand that this year?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, it’s tough to be‑‑ I’ve never called plays as a coordinator in college, but it’s tough to kind of like do your game plan and say, I want this guy to run this play, I want this guy to run that play as you’re in the flow of the game. You know, what we’re trying to do is specifically for the two younger kids, we’re trying to find out where we can put them, whether it be in the backfield or whether it be in some of the fly motion stuff and sweeps and bubble screens and things like that.
But as far as the offense, the offense is the offense. We did a nice job off‑season with research and development. We put in a few different plays, and what we’re trying to do is if you see practice, we’re trying to even tempo even more from all different personnel groupings, whether it’s one tight end in the game, three wide receivers, two tight ends, three tight ends, we want to be able to play as fast as we can in all personnel groupings, which I think will help.
Q. What did you learn about Canzeri last year that maybe you didn’t know after spring last year, fall camp?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, I don’t know if I learned. I always knew he was a talented running back. You know, he was just kind of stuck because Mark was playing well early, Damon had his role as a 3rd down really one‑back back, and we got to a point in the Wisconsin game where things weren’t happening for us, and Jordan came in there and ripped off a run.
But you know, I’ve talked with him about things that were concerning with him. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s strong. He’s 190 pounds. We felt that pass protection was a concern, and he’s addressed that. But what I’ve learned from him is that he’s a really good running back. He has instinctually probably the best running back we have in terms of seeing things and making his cuts and having the balance that we want with bursting through a hole. He’s a talented kid.
Q. You mentioned Mark and Jordan here, the four guys below. Is moving Damon Bullock to wide‑out something that’s still on the table or does he finish up as a running back?
CHRIS WHITE: I know you guys have asked this question a lot. Damon is a running back, and especially at this point in his career, to just think you can throw a guy out from running back to wide receiver just because he’s athletic and he can catch, I see what you’re seeing, but it’s a lot of work to it, and he’s not really built that way. He’s 205 pounds and he’s got a running back body. He’d have a lot of work to do releasing at the line of scrimmage, reading coverage, all the things that go into being a wide receiver.
But we realize what he can do, and we’re trying to get him isolated out there.
Q. What are the things you look for at the punter situation because you really don’t know until you’re in a live situation or in a game, so what do you look for in practice?
CHRIS WHITE: What we’re trying to be fair to both of them is we’re competing every day, whether it’s in practice or specifically after practice. We’re charting every punt, and any time we’re outdoors we have to chart their hang times and their distances. We’ve got it all tabulated. Each day we’ll give them their averages and hang times and distances and really where we feel those guys are. At the end of spring we’ll kind of let them know where we feel they are. It’s not going to be a done deal until training camp. I know that for sure.
But just felt that Connor ‑‑ he would be the first one to admit it, he was inconsistent last year. He had some really fine moments where he punted the ball extremely well, but then there was times where his hang time hurt us. We’ve got to get more consistency out of the punter, and it’s hard. There’s a lot of windy games around here in the Big Ten, and we just felt that it was important for our football team, specifically our defense, where we’ve got to change the field with field position, and we felt we needed to have him compete against someone.
Q. Iowa has had a lot of success with running backs under Parker as the featured player, but they haven’t put a lot in the NFL. Does that ever work against you in recruiting?
CHRIS WHITE: Not that I know of. I think what we try to sell is our brand of football, and if you’re a running back, wouldn’t you want to at least look at our place, with our style, our offensive line? So I haven’t heard that, and it might be out there. But as far as the kids we’re recruiting, like Markel, he wanted to be part of this thing because we’re going to feature 25, 35 runs a game, and from a pro set offense. I think that those true running backs want that because they know that you’re not going to be in a spread system in the NFL. I don’t know why, but I think that in the future there’s some NFL running backs here.
Q. Is Mark still in the mix at fullback? I know with all the running backs it’s different every game, but is he still in the mix with Adam and Macon?
CHRIS WHITE: We talked about that. You know, right now we feel good about our two fullbacks, Adam and Macon. I think‑‑ I’m not an NFL scout, but Mark’s future is at fullback, I believe. I really do. I think listening to some of those guys. But he will‑‑ he can go in there at the drop of a dime and play fullback for us. It’s old hat for him.
So we don’t want in practice specifically, we don’t want him taking some fullback reps where he might get injured because that’s a violent position.
Q. Kickoff returns, are you looking at Jordan there? Are some of these other backs maybe in the mix? Are you going to use two guys back there or just one?
CHRIS WHITE: That’s a good question, too. We started off last year where we just had Jordan as the‑‑ Jordan Cotton as the one returner with really two fullbacks back there, but we’ll have a primary returner and Jordan Canzeri will be one of those guys for sure, and obviously Parker and Wadley will be guys, Damond Powell will get a shot. There’s a couple wide receivers, Derrick Mitchell, Andre Harris. Those red‑shirted kids, there’s some talent there, and we really expect to have a really good returner back there.
So we will probably have two, one being the primary guy and the other being the non‑primary guy.
Q. Kick return last year was I think ranked overall 101 in the nation at the end of the year. Probably not what you’re shooting for, but I think situationally probably a little bit better than that. Was there a lot of guys probably used to what they were doing before? Was there a lot of teaching? Seemed like you were trying to find guys that worked.
CHRIS WHITE: I don’t know if we jumbled a lot up front. Some of it was injury related in the back end, but if you really look at the tape, because I was a little shocked at the stats on that, too. If you really take a good look at the stats, there was a lot of situations where there were short kicks, there were squib kicks, sky kicks. Numbers lie, but we need to improve there. We hit some good ones. I thought we kept getting better towards the end of the year, and obviously in the bowl game that was big for us.
But there was some big returns that we had in crucial games like the Michigan game that really helped us. But we’ve got to be more consistent. There’s no question about that.
Q. Is that the same with coverage, kick coverage?
CHRIS WHITE: Yeah. I really thought we were pretty good at the end of the year on kick coverage. We found the right guys, and I thought that Mike did a good job of kicking. But early on in the year it was scary at times.
Q. How much of that is teaching guys how to cover kicks and then just finding the right guys to put in those positions?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, that’s all we’re doing right now this spring is trying to evaluate in competition drills in space guys who can what I call transition from speed to balance, right, so you’ve got to be running full speed and then all of a sudden there’s got to be a point in time where you need to transition from going 100 miles an hour to be making a left‑ and right‑hand turn. We call it long stride, short stride. Long stride, as fast as you can, then you’ve got to start short stride and drop your weight. It’s interesting the drills we set up, you can really identify guys who can transition right from speed to balance and guys who can’t, who struggle with it, and that’s the hardest thing you do. You’ve got to find out the top guys who can do that, and that’s all we’re doing in spring mostly. We’re doing punt and then competition drills in space.
Q. When you get a running back, for example, LeShun, how much can they change what they are, what they come in as to what they finish as? Can you teach a guy or help a guy gain lateral movement? Can you help a guy gain flexibility, stuff like that?
CHRIS WHITE: Yeah, I think there’s a whole lot, just from last year to this year we did a couple new drills that we introduced that are really helping, just showing up on tape. After the season was over, for each player that run the ball, I made a cut‑up of them from their best game to their lowest game, and we watched every single play. Mark was like 200 something plays, whatever. I graded everyone, made comments on everyone, and the bottom line was we didn’t finish the runs well enough because we weren’t in a good base. Our feet were together. We were stopping our feet and we weren’t being able to move. So I just created a couple drills this off‑season, and it’s really showing up on tape. Mark has made some phenomenal runs, jump cutting, getting up in there, looking really fluid right now, and I really believe it’s because of the drills we’re doing.
I think if you couldn’t help them, then coaching is overrated. I really think you can help.
Q. What about reads? Different guys see different things during a game, I’m sure they come back to you on the sidelines, you ask them what they see, they probably tell you different things. How much can the reads improve? I know they’re similar, Mark going into his third year as a running back and I’m sure the reads haven’t changed that much for him. How do you fix that, improve it, when you’re really not tackling in practice, too?
CHRIS WHITE: I don’t understand fix it.
Q. How do you grow it, I guess?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, it’s just repetition. You’ve got to train your eyes. The biggest thing with our offense is hitting your landmarks and reading the proper linemen. For the inside zone specifically, you need‑‑ young kids have a tendency to not, what we call, press the hole. They’re impatient, so they get the handoff, they see what they want, they see where they want to go, and they go there right now. Well, you have to affect the linebackers and the defensive line so you need to push it up in there and then jump it or stay play side, if your read tells you to stay play side, if you’re reading the 3 technique and we’re reach the 3 technique, we’re going to stay play side; 3 technique doesn’t get reached we’ve got to jump it back. I don’t know if that answers your question. I guess it’s just reps.
Q. Talk about what you’re seeing from Marshall as you replace Mike Meyer.
CHRIS WHITE: First of all, he’s a tremendous worker. He’s great in the weight room. He’s completely focused. He knows this is a huge opportunity for him, and he wants to take advantage of it. He’s got a really strong leg, he really does. The ball jumps off his foot. He needs to work on his consistency. At times his ball flight isn’t good and sometimes he doesn’t get the lift on the ball he needs to, and he knows all that stuff and he’s really working hard at it. He’s a worker now, and he’s a great athlete, too. I’m looking forward to seeing him compete in training camp with Mick Ellis.
Q. How are you able to be a very effective recruiter right out of the gate?
CHRIS WHITE: I don’t know. There’s ties back there. I’ve known a lot of those coaches for a long, long time, and that certainly helps. I think Iowa kind of sells itself. People don’t believe that, but there is a perception on the East Coast that might be a little bit different than here at times. I think perception is pretty good here, but the kids back there, first of all, they love the Big Ten, and now that Maryland and Rutgers are there, I think that’s only going to help us.
But it’s just building relationships with kids. This Twitter thing, my wife is so mad at me, it’s all I do at night is I get on Twitter and message these kids. We are doing a really good job, I think, of putting creative stuff out there right now. Max Allen, really all he does is he’s on his iPad and PhotoShop and everything, and we’re just brainstorming how do we get to these kids, what do we do, and we try to come up with something different every day. The bottom line is once they get on campus, it’s pretty easy, and especially once we get the new facility and everything, I think it’s going to be even better.
But it’s all about the people here, and it starts from the head coach. Coach Ferentz is amazing. He’s great in home visits, and the families just feel comfortable, and they trust him, and that’s what ultimately we try to do.
Q. You mentioned all the Twitter, PhotoShop, things like that. Is there a mentality of staying ahead of the game, doing things before the NCAA says, oh, you can’t do that anymore?
CHRIS WHITE: I don’t know about the NCAA, but we’re trying to stay ahead of our competitors. These kids, all they do, they get the stuff from us, and then all of a sudden they tweet it out there and then your rivals, like whoever, Michigan, Ohio State, they see it, do you see what Iowa just put out. Before that‑‑ they’re too late, but we do the same thing, seeing what these guys are putting out. Just trying to get their attention.
But mostly it’s information stuff, but the kids like to see‑‑ they like to see their pictures on stuff. That’s what they do.
Q. You’re noticing that buzz at least in the social media arena with some of the things you’re doing. Are you getting that feedback from prospects, too?
CHRIS WHITE: Oh, yeah, it’s great. It’s fun. Again, Max Allen, I can’t get him enough how good a job he’s done for us. And he’s a one‑man machine, too. He works ‑‑ the thing that’s hard now is everything is individualized. Before you could send out mass mailings, but these kids want to see themselves in an Iowa uniform. They want to see themselves in like a comic strip or something, and that’s what they like. That’s what gets their attention. That’s not going to sell them to come here, but it’s going to pique their interest, especially for my areas where it’s far away, so they say, oh, I might go see Iowa.
Q. Mick is kind of off the beaten tracks, but I know a lot of kickers go to those camps. Is that a direct pipeline?
CHRIS WHITE: There’s person people you sanction as coaches, and Chris Sailer is one of those in the kicking business. Mick has gone to Chris for a long, long time, and I called Chris up and I told him we’re going to have a scholarship for a kicker, and who do you recommend. Mick’s name came up, the guys who were available at that time, and he had a really good junior year. He was a little bit banged up his senior year. In high school it’s hard, too, sometimes you don’t have a snapper or a holder. He’s got a really strong leg, I know that. He’s going to have every opportunity to come in here and compete with Connor and Alden.
Full transcript from Bobby Kennedy
BOBBY KENNEDY: Thanks for having me here today. What would you like me to talk about?
Q. You’re getting four red‑shirt freshmen into the rotation this year. I think a lot of people place some expectations on them. Will they change? Will they change your depth chart much?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, I think that’s earned through spring, and right now we’re seeing good results from some of those guys. But you know, it’s a continuous process. Every day is different. They’re continuing to develop, so I’m pleased with that. Derrick Mitchell and Andre Harris, Matt VandeBerg, they’re doing a really nice job, Derrick Willies has shown significant improvement, and that excites me as a coach because I think it’s tough when you come in as a freshman and you’ve got to learn the offense, you’re at a new place, your bed is a little different, all those things. So it takes them a while to get their feet on the ground.
I’m really pleased that we decided to red‑shirt some of those guys because I think they’ve got the ability to really maybe change the‑‑ not necessarily the face of our program, but our ability outside to make plays.
But like I said, it’s a continuous process, and they need to continue to grow and develop, get stronger in the weight room, but I am excited to see what those young guys can do.
Q. There was a time last year where Damond Powell was without question the most explosive guy you guys had on the outside. How is the process of getting him to be that sort of every‑down guy?
BOBBY KENNEDY: That is the process. What I am trying to do with Damond is trying to get him to be a complete player rather than just a guy that goes deep. You know, and he had a bunch of opportunities, and he did some things really well. But you know, you’ve got to remember, also, that he’s in a new offense. He was really‑‑ it was just like him being a freshman. Coming in, he got in late last summer, so it was kind of thrust upon him, and he did some things really well. He struggled with some other things. I see him through this spring and then also another training camp really hopefully making a move and continuing to develop.
But he’s not a finished product, just like y’all get tired of me saying this, but I always say, we’re a work in progress. Every year you start over, and you have some guys that are a little more established, a little more game tested. He got those reps last year, so hopefully he’ll continue to develop and we’ll see big things out of him.
Q. With Powell, what are you seeing right now that leads you to maybe think that he’s on the right path in terms of that development that you’re describing?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, I just think his overall understanding of stems and attacking the DB, getting in and out of his cuts, not thinking as much. Like I said, whether it be a freshman or a guy that come in from a junior college, a lot of times their mind locks them up because they’re thinking so much, and so their athletic ability can’t take over. And so I see a little more comfort out of him, and he’s doing a good job. The great thing about him is he’s a great guy for our room. He’s got a great, as you all know, big personality, and the guys respect him. But he also has a really good work ethic.
Q. How much did your familiarity with Coach Davis help you guys last year in developing the offense?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, you know, obviously Greg and I are very familiar with each other, and we’re on the same page more than not, which is a good thing if you’re dealing with an offensive coordinator and a receiver coach, quarterback coach. But yeah, there is a comfort level. I remember sitting in here last year and somebody asked me a question about a disconnect between maybe the receivers and quarterbacks and stuff like that. I think we’re moving in the right direction. We still have a lot of work to do eight days into spring, because like I said before, every day is a new year or every year is a new day, new experience. You start all over with guys that have played, but there’s different factors that go into that.
Q. Iowa has a reputation running the ball, power running team. Does that impact you when you’re out looking for receivers?
BOBBY KENNEDY: You know, I’ve had very favorable responses from the guys that I’m recruiting. But also I think we have something to sell. If you look at the National Football League there’s 32 teams in the league, probably 15 of them run the West Coast offense, 16 of them run the three‑digit system that we use. So to me selling the pro style, selling kids, come and play in a pro style offense so you’ll have a comfort level that if you are good enough you’re going to step into one of those places, if you get drafted, if you sign a free‑agent deal that, heck, you at least have a 50/50 chance of kind of knowing what’s going on when you come in.
So we’re getting good response from recruits. It’s a crap shoot sometimes. You’ve got to‑‑ you’ve just got to hit the pavement and keep going.
And I will answer this for Chris White because he didn’t say this, that guy is a relentless worker in recruiting. I remember it was funny we came back after May last year after being out on the road, and I was not a Twitter guy, and I was a Facebook guy, and I saw him‑‑ we’re sitting on the couch talking, watching TV, doing whatever, and he’s on his phone all the time, and he was messaging these kids. I kept asking him, hey, you’ve got to teach me how to do that, and he did, so that’s what we’re doing now. My wife gets mad at me, too.
Q. Derrick Williams is a guy I think Coach Davis mentioned him as sort of standing out. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about him.
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, great kid. He obviously has a tremendous upside with his size and speed. Not fully developed. Not just add a little sweetener and shake it up and then they just kind of develop. He still has a lot of work to do. But the thing that encourages me about Derrick is I have seen him make great strides from when he stepped on campus to where he is now. You can tell just his overall comfort level, like I said before, the understanding what’s going on in the offense, his mind freeing him up. He’s made some really good plays and some really big plays this spring, and so it excites us because here’s this kid who’s big, fast, can run, and he has a really good demeanor about him.
So I see really good improvement out of him, and I see him being a key player for us in the future.
Q. How does it impact your job having the same quarterbacks coming back from last year?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, well, overall familiarity. You know, there’s, I think, a comfort level now that the quarterbacks have with the receivers, receivers have with the quarterbacks. There’s more of an idea of where they’re going to be, and just developing that relationship.
You know, I kind of said this last year when I first got here, one of the things I was really impressed with more than probably any place that I’ve been is the time that the guys are away from us that they work on football, that they’re really‑‑ they like to throw with each other. They like to be out on the grass. They like being around each other. And so when you develop that comfort, okay, hopefully that’ll pay off on game day, and so what I see out of these kids and out of the quarterbacks is there’s really great work ethic. There’s really a great desire to get better and want to be better, and so for a coach, that’s exciting because you see guys working on their craft when you’re not requiring them to do it.
So that’s fun for me to just be able to sit back and watch those guys compete and work together.
Q. When you look at guys like Tevaun and Jake Hillyer, how much of it is consistency considering what they showed you late last season and now being a year older and probably making on a bigger role?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, well, hopefully as you get older you get better. There’s no elevators to success. You’ve got to take the stairs. So what I see out of those guys, Tevaun should have a bigger role. He’s played a bunch of games, he’s had a bunch of reps. Jake Hillyer, I think a lot of times he’s underappreciated, Jacob is, and he did a lot of really good things down the stretch, made some tough catches, made some big plays, and so for me, we’re finally, I think, developing a core here, a core of guys with some young guys coming.
So I think that bodes well for our future.
Q. Of course the offense revolves around the running game, when Michigan State and Wisconsin where the run game was shut down, it seemed like the whole offense shut down in a sense because we didn’t see a lot of big plays. Are you working on ways to get past games where the team does shut down the run so you guys aren’t shut down as an offense?
BOBBY KENNEDY: I’ll tell you this: I think Michigan State did a good job against a lot of people, so there’s no doubt that‑‑ we’ve got to be able to throw it and catch it better, but what we do here, it was funny, I heard a question earlier about recruiting and running backs and this and that, I know this, I think we’re moving in the right direction, with our tight ends, with our receivers. I think as we develop you’ll see some more explosive plays.
But we’re a very‑‑ I wouldn’t say necessarily just a run‑first offense, okay, but if you look at what we do at the line, signaling receivers, doing those different things, we go into certain plays, when we get up at the line, we go in sometimes with three plays. One might be run, pass, run. One might be run, run to pass. One might be pass, run, run. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to take advantage of what the defense is doing and then getting in the best play, and that’s where Jake did such a great job in terms of throughout the year. Obviously he’s a really bright guy. I don’t know if I can spell organic chemistry, but I know he was taking that. But he allows us to do a lot in our offense.
I can spell that, by the way. I was just joking.
Q. It seems like your receiver positions break down into three distinct maybe skill sets that fit with each of them. I know you counted Damon last year, and I think you had the splitting over the top off the defense, at least that’s part of his role. What about the other two?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, so you look at Tevaun, and Jake plays out there, Willies is just going to play out there at the X receiver position, he’s a guy that we like one‑on‑one match‑ups that when we go to a certain coverage that you bang it to him. Kevonte, Matt VandeBerg, Derrick Mitchell, those guys, Riley McCarron, those guys are kind of a slot, the guys that kind of do the dirty work, have to slip a linebacker, find space in zones, things like that.
You know, the outside receiver, what Jake and Damond also played, they get some one‑on‑one coverage but not as much. They’re guys that kind of find the holes in zones, also, but they’re usually to the field. Not always but usually to the field.
But yeah, there’s different kind of skill sets that each position has. I think what we’re growing to and what I’d like to see us growing to and what we did at the last place was we moved guys around a little more, and I think we’re growing in that direction, but also to be able to do that, guys like Kevonte, guys like Jacob, they’ve got to be able to play more than one position. It would be nice to stick Tevaun in the slot or put Kevonte out at X, but also what they have to do is while growing in the offense they’ve got to be able to execute that spot. We did that, like I said, a lot with some of the guys we had in the past, and it helped because then people didn’t say, well, this guy is playing this spot every time, this guy is playing this spot, and they couldn’t do as much coverage‑wise.
Q. Is that Kevonte’s strength, he’s a big strong guy working in traffic, and he seemed last year to really see the game the best he’s seen it since he’s been here, planning those spots and zones?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, I think he continues to develop. I think the best thing you can say about Kevonte is that he is a relentless worker, and so I do think the game slowed down for him. But what I always tell him is I don’t know if players always want to hear this, but the thing that makes him good is what he does Monday through Friday because he works so hard. He’s a great leader for our group. I talked to the younger guys about you should watch the way that guy works, watch the way that guy competes, and not only does he work but he’s a great competitor, too. So he is, he’s more comfortable.
I think he’s starting to see the game a little better. There’s a bunch of things he needs to improve on. There were some things in the bowl game that he could have done better that would have helped us. But I know this: He’s willing to put in the work, and so hopefully he’ll continue to improve.
Q. With all that, what is his ceiling this year? He’s been in the program now for a while playing. What do you see his ceiling being as an individual?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Well, I mean, obviously that’s a hard question to answer. To me he’s still a young guy in this game. It’s not like he’s 30 years old, so he can continue to get better. His skills haven’t started to diminish, and so once again, with work and with effort and the way he competes, I think the sky’s the limit, but I think he’ll hit his ceiling if he doesn’t continue to do those things, and hopefully as we just talked about, the game will even slow down for him more so that he can make some more plays.
But he’s a guy‑‑ I think there’s been some people that have said, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have that, whatever, but he’s a guy that I see continuing to improve, continuing to work, and I think he can be as good as he wants to be, but you know, every player has limitations. Maybe this guy can do this, this guy can’t do that, but it’s working on those limitations and minimizing them.
Q. Can you talk about the other three red‑shirt freshmen, really don’t know much about those guys, Jones and Harris and‑‑
BOBBY KENNEDY: Andre Harris, boy, the sky’s the limit for him. He has really good ability. We continually talk to him about maturing and growing up because he’s really a good kid, he just doesn’t let everybody know it yet, so he’s young in his development.
But I see really good quickness out of him, really good getting in and out of his cuts, a natural ball catcher, which I think is important for a wide receiver. So with him I think he might have the opportunity if he continues to develop to give us maybe a little bit of juice that we’ve been missing.
But on the other hand, these guys are still young, and like I said, they’re not finished products. It’s a process that we’ve got to continue with these guys.
Derrick Mitchell, really strong and a powerful guy. If you look at his shoulders, he can probably put a two by four on his back and not see it. He’s a really wide‑shouldered kid but really strong and powerful. He has to do a little better job of getting in and out of those cuts. Sometimes he doesn’t play as physical as he could be, which I think he’ll grow into, but also a natural ball catcher. He’ll make a great play and then miss one. He’s got to develop his consistency.
Willies we talked about a little bit earlier. Like I said, really a phenomenal athlete, okay, but what he has to do, also, which I think Tevaun is helping him with and Tevaun has grown into a little bit is just consistent overall. A lot of these young guys will make a play, make a play, make a play and then bust one or drop what people call an easy pass or a gimme pass. So for the group, once again, they’re not a finished product, but I see hem moving in the right direction. A guy that’s not talked about a lot that we played as a freshman is Matt VandeBerg, and he’s a guy that has got to develop a little more strength, and sometimes that’s tough. Their metabolism is so high, putting weight on sometimes is tough. But he’s got really good strength, he’s got really good quickness, getting in and out of cuts, can stretch the field. I see him as a guy who has an opportunity to play and make some impact.
Q. We talked a lot about running backs needing a rhythm or getting in a flow. How do you keep so many guys engaged when only so many can be on the field at one time?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, what we’ve always talked about is what we do is we find the first guy, then the second guy, then the third guy, then the fourth guy, the fifth, then the sixth. We usually have a six‑man rotation, and so to keep them engaged, they know they’d better start producing and better start playing well in practice, and it starts in practice. We chart everything from routes on air to seven on seven to my individual drills, throwing, catching the football, and it’s really easy sometimes to pull a kid aside and say, boy, you’ve had three drops today. You tell me that you’re ready and you’re trying to get in the mix, but you’re not practicing like it.
So I think a little bit of those guys are trying to get in that group, and then there’s some other guys that are trying to hold them off. Riley McCarron is a little bit like Jacob Hillyer where he does a lot of the tough and gritty stuff, blocking and he might go deep once in a while, he might have a re‑route, etcetera, but these guys need to develop that in terms of the grittiness, and then guys like Riley McCarron need to continue that grittiness but also show that they can make plays, and so to get in that group, I think it’s going to be a little tougher around here to play, and recruiting has been talked about in this room before. I think with some of the guys that we’re on or some of the guys that we think or hope to have a chance to get, I think it’s going to be even tougher.
I tell them all the time that competition is good. Competition is a good thing. I get it that it’s no fun to stand on the sideline, but the way this program is built and the way it’s set up is that you’ve got to earn your way in, so it’s no different in the wide receiver room. There is more competition, and we’ve got to continue that.
Q. When you look at the pieces that you guys have added receiving‑wise and also running back‑wise, just some of the skill set positions on offense, there’s a big sense of excitement outside the building about what this offense could be capable of. Is that as palpable inside this building as it is for maybe the fan base?
BOBBY KENNEDY: Yeah, I think this: Obviously we have an experienced quarterback coming back, we have some receivers that played, running backs that played, guys like Scherff coming back I think was a huge thing. There is excitement, but also, like I said before, every year is a new experience. I thought offensively we did some good things. We’re not there yet. I’d like to see where we are after training camp, but you know, the thing that I’m talking to my guys about on a consistent basis is let’s start faster. Let’s make people worry about what we’re doing on offense.
So there’s some excitement, but also as a coach what I do every day, I see the good things but I also see the warts. Like I said, the things that this program has been built on is continued development. It’s been a neat experience for me seeing how Coach Ferentz runs things because he always talks about getting better during the season. I think you saw that down the stretch last year with our last couple games, you know, that we were a developmental team but we continued to get better. So hopefully that’ll continue.
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