Press Conference Roundup: The Five People You Meet in Spring Game

By Patrick Vint on April 20, 2017 at 2:00p
Kirk Ferentz

USA Today

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The Spring Game is Friday night, signaling the end of football until late July.  Wednesday was the final press conference before fall, which means we get to hear from all the principals.  Here's what we learned:

ACTUAL NEWS

We already knew that Noah Clayberg is moving to safety due to Brandon Snyder's injury, and Ferentz confirmed that,  We also learned that Drew Cook is finally moving to tight end.  With a junior and a true sophomore competing for the quarterback spot, this felt inevitable, but Cook becomes the seventh tight end on the roster.  Not sure if he's going to get much opportunity.

Brian Ferentz likes tight ends, though, which should send a wave of memories of that beautiful one-off offense from 2013 Ohio State flowing through your brain:

Tight ends are a good thing, and we feel like we have good guys at the position. If we had eight guys but we didn’t feel good about them, I think it would be concerning. But right now we have eight guys that we feel pretty good about it. We like watching more. 

And on a roster where there are only four scholarship wideouts, tight ends aren't just going to be tight ends (again, frustrated Urban Meyer dot gif):

A lot of that is personnel driven. It’s forced us to maybe get to certain concepts more ways to try to be a little more creative with how you’re featuring one guy or one concept. Because you don’t want it to look the same every snap. Right? Even though it is the same every snap. So just a little bit sleight of hand. I think that’s been good for us. It’s forced us to be a little bit more diverse in our formations probably than you’d like to be when you’re just trying to get things installed.

Here's the money quote, in a discussion of whether Iowa is indeed looking at three-TE personnel like that OSU game:

That was always a thing in the NFL. Why would you take off one of your best 11 to put on a lesser guy just to match personnel. So, offensively, it’s the same thing. Let’s keep our best players on the field. If that means we’re going to have multiple tight ends or multiple tight ends and a fullback in the game or multiple half backs or whatever it is, let’s make sure we’re doing that.

In depth charting, not much new at quarterback.  Brian concedes that Akrum Wadley is the starting running back, but Toren Young and Toks Akinribade are still in competition to back him up.  Given the staff's obsession with Wadley's size, I would expect both to get plenty of carries.

Phil Parker basically gave us the entire depth chart, which is essentially what we saw in March: The Nelsons and Parker Hesse at end, Bazata and Lattimore at tackle with Reiff pushing, all three starting linebackers still starting, and Josh Jackson and Manny Rugamba at corner (with Ojemudia pushing for time) with Taylor at one safety spot.  Obviously, free safety is the biggest problem after Brandon Snyder's injury, and there doesn't yet seem to be an answer:

I thought Brandon, as you saw him grow last year, in the beginning of the season toward the end of the season, he made great jumps. But I expect him to be back and help us on the field as a coach. He can give insight as a player where he was, and I think he can help out Jake. I think he can help out Hooker to give him different looks and understand the way he looked at it.

So somebody’s going to have to come up and help us out. I don’t know how many reps he’ll get, but they have to be able to go in and play.

The fight seems to be between Jake Gervase and Amani Hooker for that spot.  It's experience vs. athleticism, and at free safety, experience almost always wins.

A.J. Epenesa is going to play, but don't expect him to immediately start.  "If we can get 15, 20 plays out of him during the game, I think that would be very good...."  And everything at defensive tackle seems to be building around Cedric Lattimore, which is a great sign for the future.  A 2019-20 defensive line of Epenesa, Lattimore, Nelson and Nelson would be scary.

OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD NEWS

You guys.

Hey, you guys:

I totally called this.

Kirk Ferentz HATES the two-a-day prohibition.  HATES it.  Like, I wish he hated losing in September as much as he hates this two-a-day thing.  It started in his opening statement, where he took an unprompted shot at all these weenies running football.

You only get 15 practices overall, 12 of those are padded. Somewhere in the next decade we may not have padded practices at all in the spring. So you need to take advantage, I think, of every opportunity because the game is played in pads and this is where guys really get a chance to learn how to play football and execute their techniques and fundamentals that are going to help them.

It only went downhill from there.

Then the two-a-day thing is probably the exact opposite [of the recruiting changes he just praised]. It’s something that’s been passed down, from my vantage point, zero dialogue of people that work in football, out on the field, that type of thing. I worry about that a little bit. So we’ll adjust with it, we’ll make it a positive certainly, but the removal of two-a-days, to me, personally is maybe a little short sighted. I think I understand what the end-game was.

I’ve read the reports about the suggestions. But, to me there are other ways to get at this. There were other ways to get at this. When we talk about making the calendar better for our student-athletes, that we’ve taken their Thanksgiving break away. That’s not coming back. I understand that. We’ve all made that adjustment.

But now we’re going to lengthen the time they’re in camp and shorten the break in between the summer conditioning and practice time. I just don’t feel it’s necessary. Me personally, I’m not a doctor. You can check my resume. I never went to any kind of graduate school, let alone medical school, but I do understand contact. I think it would have been a little bit easier, perhaps, to say one contact practice if there is a two-a-day.

Fact is we only had four two-a-days last year anyway. So a lot of different ways. But bottom line to me, there wasn’t a lot of conversation or dialogue in it. It is what it is. So, the thing is about the recruiting changes, I think we’ll learn about the impact of them as we go on. I’m not sure we can all predict that right now, but we’ll learn as we go along. I can’t say the same about the two-a-day policy. But it’s the same for everybody. So we’ll make it through and try to take advantage as we move forward.

We were just getting started.  He references the Burma Road next, which might be a new record for oldest Kirk Ferentz press conference historical reference.

It’s interesting, if you talk to some of our players and apparently some of our players have talked to players at other schools, very prominent schools. The players are not in favor of it. I can tell you that right now, an informal survey of our veteran guys, they actually prefer the two-a-days because they’re shorter times on the field. We’re on the field, we’re off the field, they go back and rest and it’s the same thing.

Right now what you’re allowed to do, you could be on the field three hours, which we never are. But you could be on the field conceivably three hours during the contact period and then another two hours in walk through. And I can tell you, I’ve never participated in two-hour walk through and don’t plan to in my lifetime. It’s like the Burma Road right there. So you’re talking about five hours potentially on the field, and we’ve never done that ever.

So, to me, it would have been simpler saying two and a half hours of contact practice and then an hour, hour and a half for walk through or non-contact practice, which would still allow you to have timing and do some things without putting players at risk.

OK, OK, let's stop for a second to acknowledge this: That thing that Ferentz just described?  That is the new rule.  Teams can practice up to three hours, then up to two hours in no-contact, no-pads walk through.  His proposed change to the rule is the rule as passed.  The only difference, I assume, is how those practices are counted.

They just mandated that we have to take a day off, a total day off in camp. If you talk to our medical folks, they kind of describe the bell curve as the camp goes on. That middle section there is the point where fatigue sets in and injuries tend to go up a little bit.

It would make sense to take your days off back-to-back somewhere in the middle. Just take that natural break. So I think there are other ways we could have done this without effecting the calendar, and I’ll worry about the calendar for our players.

I’m not sure it’s necessary. I think there are other ways we could have maybe addressed this without altering the calendar. First and foremost, it’s the player’s schedule being interrupted. Or more time in summer school and practice. Like that’s just kind of silly.

I think that's reasonable.  Instead of a day off per week, lump two or three of them together in the middle when the grind gets par--

Oh, we're not done?  Go right ahead.

The biggest thing I have is the length. It’s going to be boring as can be. I think we’re going to have to have monopoly tournaments. Things like that. It’s going to be a lot of waste of time, and quite frankly to me, camp is about keeping guys on the clock, being efficient, making sure you’re moving and just that’s part of the mental part of the camp too. You’ve talked to guys who played in the NFL, some of our players — Marshal Yanda goes home every night. He’s an old married guy. He goes home and sees his kids every night. That doesn’t feel like preseason camp to me.

It’s not so much condition. Our guys are in great condition, they are because they train, which that was interesting years ago when they had the heat issues. One of the proposals was to take summer conditioning away. Well, that’s a good idea. Okay, guys overweight, let’s send him to the Dairy Queen. That’s perfect. Good idea. Good suggestion.

Let's recap: Iowa has four two-a-days in its August calendar, according to Kirk. If it has to move those practices to separate days and add one day off a week in a twenty-something practice schedule, that's an extra seven or eight days of practice.  Camp will start a week earlier, and it will probably include marginally more down time.  According to Ferentz's basic premise -- that their two-a-day practices were shorter -- they're going to actually practice more during August.  That doesn't seem like much of a change to an outsider, especially when, as Ferentz acknowledges, his players are on campus and training all summer regardless.  And while I understand the need to avoid moving camp into summer finals, if Ferentz doesn't want to extend fall camp, he always has the right to do so; Nick Saban has already said he's not adding any time and will just punt the three two-a-days Alabama had on its schedule.  They'll likely make it up with somewhat longer practices.  And that's Alabama, the polestar of Manball philosophy.

In announcing its new rule, the NCAA said it was following the advice of medical professionals in banning two practices per day.  Sixteen medical organizations were in favor of the move when first proposed.  Kirk's response is to ask a few players what they prefer, and let's be honest, because we understand the nature of the sport better than ever: If these guys were concerned about their safety, they probably wouldn't be that good at football.  It's the place of the adults in the room to do what's best for them.  Ferentz obviously believes that two-a-days are a good thing, contrary to those medical professionals.  He has enough experience that he can have that opinion, I suppose.

But it's that last answer that proves this is nothing more than Old Man Football shouting at a cloud.  How dare someone go home and see their kids during NFL fall camp!  Idle hands are the devil's playthings!  That thing where 13 of my players went to the hospital was because they were fat and out of shape!  Half of the press conference was spent complaining about a prohibition on something that Manball proponents like Bret Bielema had already gotten rid of a few years ago, and ended with a sarcastic comment about a rule that didn't pass and a reference to a fairly egregious example of his program ignoring player safety.  Regardless of where you sit on the issue, that's not a good look.

DEAR GOD STOP TALKING ABOUT THIS NEWS

The Cy-Hawk extension through 2023 was announced just before the press conference, meaning that Ferentz had to weigh in on the day's most pressing topic: Whether Iowa should stop playing an opponent it has played annually for almost forty years.  And, oddly enough for a guy who hasn't exactly dominated ISU, Kirk is all about playing Iowa State.

I think one thing that’s maybe underestimated by people that don’t understand football really well, like, when we play out of state, it’s a pretty intense game. At least it has been since I got back here. It wasn’t when I left, but the last 18 years it’s been a tough series. It’s been a really tough series.

Both teams will probably tell you that. I don’t want to speak for them. But it’s an interstate rival. It’s been a good rivalry. Teams are both playing at full speed out there. So you take that, plus nine conference games and what I would suggestion is one of the tougher conferences in football. I’m not embarrassed by that. I’ll put that up against anybody

I promised not to talk about this.  I promised to throw a Pizza Hut pepperoni lover's pizza at anyone who talked about this.  I hate this topic, because it's dumb and it's driven by dumb people trolling for listeners on dumb radio shows.

Damn it, here goes nothing.

Anyone who believes that national perception has any part in Iowa football scheduling doesn't understand the forces driving Iowa scheduling.  Iowa scheduling is controlled by Gary Barta and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Kirk Ferentz.  Gary Barta has four constituencies to appease in scheduling: The Big Ten, his bosses (the university president and the Board of Regents), the head coach, and the fans.  They take precedent in that order, too.  After that, it's getting a schedule as easily and cheaply as possible.

First, the mandates.  The Big Ten requires that Iowa (1) schedule a Power 5 opponent in non-conference; (2) play nine conference games on the dates it decides, and (3) schedules no FCS opponents.  The budget -- and the business-oriented president of the university -- requires seven home games on the schedule.  In years where Iowa plays five road Big Ten games, that means all three non-conference games have to be at home.  

The Big Ten doesn't want Iowa to drop Iowa State; in fact, it made scheduling that much easier by putting those seasons with five road games in years where Iowa gets ISU at home.  The president and Board of Regents don't want to drop Iowa State, because they work for the legislature, and the legislature is packed with ISU-friendly representatives that will rain fire down on the Regents and the UI if they don't get their game.  Kirk Ferentz doesn't want to drop Iowa State for reasons we'll explain next.  And while some fans wouldn't mind dropping Iowa State, it's not as if they aren't buying tickets to that game.  Having Iowa State on the schedule makes all of Barta's superiors happy, and it means that he only has to open his checkbook and pay two mid-majors to come to Kinnick each year to fill out his schedule.  In short, the Cy-Hawk game makes Gary Barta's life as easy as it can be.  

Kirk Ferentz, living in a nine-game Big Ten, doesn't want Iowa State to leave either, because Kirk Ferentz's motivations have nothing to do with the quality of his non-conference schedule.  Kirk Ferentz exists to make money and move his son toward the head coaching job, and he knows two simple truths after the last 18 seasons: That his best team lost to a once-in-a-generation Iowa State squad and still finished third nationally before bowl season, and his second-best team beat Iowa State and finished fifth nationally before bowl season.  The game means nothing.  

Aside from 2002, when Ferentz's team isn't very good, they usually lose to Iowa State, and the fans' pressure comes to bear because of the subsequent Big Ten dumpster fire more than the ISU defeat.  If they win and subsequently collapse, fans are still mad because the Big Ten was a dumpster fire.  It's only winning huge that leads to the things that matter most: Another extension and a promotion for Brian.  Kirk Ferentz isn't on the front lines of some perceived war with Colin Cowherd.  He's trying to win a Big Ten Championship and send you to the Playoff or a Rose Bowl, because that is when he gets what he wants.  Whether he has to play Iowa State or Pitt or Alabama is immaterial to that goal, so let's play Iowa State and make it as easy a trip as possible.

The Playoff has centered around conference champions (except for Penn State this year, which I think we will find in coming years was an unfortunate and irredeemable screwup by the Committee).  It makes non-conference games basically immaterial, particularly for programs like Iowa which will get only grudging respect by running whatever table is put in front of them.  The 2015 season was a template for how Iowa gets to the promised land, and anyone who expects a couple of conservative gray-hairs like Gary Barta and Kirk Ferentz to deviate from that formula doesn't understand them or their motivations.  Absent Iowa State getting thrown out of the Power 5, that game will go on forever.

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