Hawkeyes look to remedy off-field problems
By Marc Morehouse
(Brian Ray/The Gazette)
University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz is surrounded by members of the media as he answers questions after his official news conference during the team’s media day Monday in Iowa City.
IOWA CITY – You absolutely have to be every part of a saint. It wouldn’t hurt if you could split an atom and maybe win a fellowship. And hey, if you can block or tackle or run a blistering 40-yard dash, all the better.
The Hawkeyes’ record last season was 6-6, not acceptable with the stakes where they are in the big-time of the Football Bowl Subdivision and with high-dollar luxury seats in Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes also have a record off the field that’s rather lengthy — 18 players in trouble with the law if you go back to April 2007.
Monday was media day in Iowa City. This is the day for bright-eyed optimism and happy thoughts. There was a little of that. There was more talk, however, about the task at hand.
But it’s not that easy for the 2008 Hawkeyes. It’s not task, it’s tasks.
Iowa football, you now have the floor to state your case. You have 12 games and who knows how many off-field temptations to state your case.
“We can’t take any of that back. It hurts everybody, it cuts to the core of all of us,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We take great pride in this. We have ownership, we’re not ignoring that.
“The best way for us to remedy this is to do right from here on in.”
It’s a daunting task, the “doing right from here on in.” Ferentz admits this. He also doesn’t want the 2008 Hawkeyes to feel they have to right all the wrongs. But it has to start somewhere.
Off the field, a personal development coach is in the works. It’s not a panacea, but it’s proactive and it’s something. Upperclassmen have taken an active and vocal role in mentoring freshmen.
Senior cornerback Bradley Fletcher feels this. He said in his five years he’s been a quiet participant. During Monday’s morning practice, secondary coach Phil Parker said Fletcher jumped in with words where he saw fit.
“I think the stakes get higher every year you play football and we all feel that,” senior defensive tackle Mitch King said. “You have to improve as a program or somebody isn’t going to be here the next year.”
The citizen portion is self-explanatory. Success on the field is the tougher task.
Everyone seems to agree that 6-6 won’t work. That fix will take more than a curfew.
This led junior quarterback Jake Christensen to Florida and a consultation with former NFL quarterback and quarterbacks coach Steve DeBerg. A frustrating season — 53.5 percent completion percentage and 116.9 pass efficiency — had Christensen checking every little thing.
“We went through a lot last year as an offense, that falls on my shoulders, which is fine, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Christensen, whose pass efficiency ranked 11th in the Big Ten. “I learned I could take that. I thought I could, but until you go through it, you don’t really know.”
Iowa’s offensive line knows full well it had a lot to do with Christensen’s struggles last season. The players can quote you the stats of doom better than you can.
“Oh yeah, 46 sacks, we know,” senior guard Seth Olsen said of Iowa’s sacks allowed, the most in the Big Ten last season. “And 13 more than any other Big Ten team. We know all the numbers. Obviously, that can’t happen again.”
If the Hawkeyes would’ve played a game Monday, sophomore walk-on Paki O’Meara would’ve been the starting running back.
Junior college transfer Nate Guillory was out of town at a funeral. Shonn Greene, who has returned from a year of academic limbo, was off limits to the media and thus remains the Bigfoot of Iowa running backs. Freshmen Jeff Brinson, Jewel Hampton and Adam Robinson iced down from their first college practice. Sophomore Jayme Murphy might be too vital to special teams in the long run.
Assistant coach Lester Erb is in his ninth year at Iowa but this is his first as running backs coach.
Is this roster and its potential scary or exhilarating as a coach?
“You might want to ask me that in about two weeks,” Erb said.
Ferentz said he could realistically see a “running back by committee” that would spread the chores and play to players’ strengths. Right now, the coaches don’t know if they have a 25-carry back they can rely on.
“Right now it’s a jump ball in all regards,” Ferentz said.
The defense has its share of questions. The Hawkeyes will line up with two new starters at corner, end and linebacker. Also, the defensive staff has gone through a few changes, with coordinator Norm Parker concentrating on coordinating.
He thinks this will help him get to know personnel better. He’ll have to be plugged in. End is pretty well taken care of with emerging sophomores Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard, but the spots at corner and linebacker have multiple possibilities.
“I get to meet and talk to more players,” Norm Parker said. “I get to see guys in a different light than I did when I was just over there with my guys (linebackers).”
Parker has been coaching football since 1965. He conducted his media day interviews from a golf cart. In 2004, he had a couple leg surgeries, including an amputation of a toe, and missed Iowa’s first three games.
He’s seen just about everything there is to see in football and in life. But something about what’s ahead this season, the task of “doing right from here on in,” got his mood cranked Monday.
The subject was some of the jabs Ferentz’s character has taken this off-season. He stepped in before the question was fully formed.
“I’m going to tell you this right now,” he said. “Any person who questions Kirk Ferentz’s integrity or character is a grandstanding idiot. There’s not a better human being in this state than Kirk Ferentz. To question his integrity, that’s a grandstanding idiot.”
The game is on two fields this year for the Hawkeyes. The trophy is their reputation.
Judging by the fire in their 66-year-old defensive coordinator, they seem to be a willing combatant.
Trying some new stuff with links:
Here are the photos from media day (or a link to photos):
I hope to find an easier way to link video, but this is what I have for now (run your mouse over and you’ll eventually see a picture of Reese Morgan):
<object width=”400″ height=”267″> <param name=”allowfullscreen” value=”true” /> <param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always” /> <param name=”movie” value=”http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=1468406&server=www.vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1” /> <embed src=”http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=1468406&server=www.vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowfullscreen=”true” allowscriptaccess=”always” width=”400″ height=”267″></embed></object><br /><a href=”http://www.vimeo.com/1468406?pg=embed&sec=1468406″>Iowa Hawkeye Football Media Day</a> from <a href=”http://www.vimeo.com/user542874?pg=embed&sec=1468406″>GazetteOnline.com</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com?pg=embed&sec=1468406″>Vimeo</a>.