Kirk Ferentz talked to the press Thursday. Here's five things we learned:
1. The no-huddle is still alive. We think. In an interview with the Des Moines Register's Rick Brown earlier this offseason, Ferentz gave a quote that sent a chill up the spine of hurry-up offense enthusiasts:
"The other part in the back of my mind, as we move into the season, is we can dictate how much or how little we use it," Ferentz said. "But if we don't continue to invest time in it, it's hard to say, ‘OK, Week 4, we're going to use no huddle this week.' At least now we can pull back. But we can't go in the other direction. It's kind of like getting hurt, I guess."
The over-under for the end of the no-huddle offense was quickly set for halftime of the Northern Illinois game, and Ferentz didn't do much to move that line Thursday:
Q. With Greg in his second year now, is he a bit more comfortable running the no‑huddle?
COACH FERENTZ: Yeah, it was tough early, but the guys picked it up pretty well. We're back to not quite square one but not far away from it at this point in practice. It was kind of ragged today. But it'll come around. They'll pick it up faster than they did in the spring. Happy with that, and I think it benefits our defense, and again, we get to control it offensively. So we'll just have to figure out how much, how little, that type of thing.
When he says that it "benefits the defense," Ferentz means that running a no-huddle in practice better prepares the Iowa defense to face other no-huddle offenses in the conference, a perennial bugaboo for the Iowa defense. But he doesn't mean that his team running a hurry-up or no-huddle offense helps his defense in a game, because it probably doesn't. More plays on offense typically translates to more plays for the competition. Iowa had a lot of quick three-and-outs in Greg Davis' first season. If a hurry-up offense means that Iowa consistently moves the ball more effectively, it can work for Ferentz's defense. But if the no-huddle just means faster three-and-outs, it will kill the defense, and Ferentz won't let it last long.
2. The backfield is what we thought it was. Iowa's a bit desperate at wide receiver -- if you believe what you heard Thursday, it's basically Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith, and that's about it -- and finds itself with a couple of extra halfbacks who can catch the ball. Problem solved, sort of:
I would say the same thing about our backs. If a guy can help us in the receiving part of it, and Mark Weisman is not terrible, but I don't foresee us putting him out wide, but using him out of the backfield, no regrets there. But if Bullock could help us out there, Canzeri is showing some things with ball skills that maybe we didn't anticipate. We'll use everybody we've got just like you do every year.
Bullock basically told reporters in the spring that he was moving to receiver, and Canzeri showed some ability as a receiver out of the backfield. We speculated earlier that Weisman was going to handle the bulk of the carries, with Canzeri and Bullock used as a change of pace and at receiver. Iowa's complete lack of depth at wideout is only further going to push Canzeri and Bullock outside.
3. Quarterback is really, truly wide open. Ferentz was asked about 47 questions about the quarterbacks. His generic response: We're four days into practice, and nothing has changed in four days.
Well, what I said, at the end of spring is that we're we were at, and four days, it's‑‑ guys are really feeling their way right now, and that's what you'd expect. It was like that at the start of spring, as well, so anytime you jump into a new phase it's just totally different than what they did in May, June and July. So it's going to take some time, I think, and hopefully next time I meet with you a week from Saturday we'll know a little bit more about how things are shaping up at not only that position but all positions.
SPOILER ALERT: Quarterback is scheduled last in ATP for a reason. We don't expect to know anything for at least two weeks, and we might not know the starter until a couple of minutes before the opener. Remember 2008, when Jake Christensen was the returning starter and on top of the depth chart entering Week 2, only for Ricky Stanzi to make his first start as a completely out-of-nowhere gametime decision? We might get a lot of those this year.
4. Strongside linebacker is pretty important. This is the second consecutive press conference where Ferentz went out of his way to talk about Christian Kirksey's importance to the defense in general:
James Morris and Anthony Hitchens should make a lot of tackles. That's how we're built. Christian won't, but the unique thing about Christian, he could play any of the three. He could play middle or that weak side position, so he's got a tremendous flexibility there. But history has shown that's really an important position. LeVar played there, LeVar Woods, Grant Steen, right down the list. But that position won't get as many tackles, but really important if we're going to play good defense.
Kirksey's really, really good, probably the best returning player on the defense, at a position that's arguably the toughest in Iowa's defensive scheme. Kirksey inherited the position from Tyler Nielsen, who was capable but hamstrung by injuries. Before Nielsen there was A.J. Edds, the best strongside linebacker since Woods, and maybe even better than that. So Kirksey's been filling some big shoes.
And Ferentz is absolutely right on the importance of that particular spot. Iowa's 2009 defense was spectacular. The 2010 Hawkeyes were only above average. The major difference? No Angerer at middle linebacker, and no Edds at strongside. Barring something almost unprecedented, James Morris isn't going to get to the Angerer level, but Kirksey has the capability of being Edds-like.
5. Tickets are available. This is outside the Ferentz presser, but Gary Barta tried to spin the fact that tickets remain available for every home game on Iowa's schedule:
Barta said the school's luxury suites and club seating have sold out, but he admitted season ticket sales were down about 1 percent from last year. Tickets remain for all seven games on Iowa's schedule, including more than 5,000 for September home games against Missouri State and Western Michigan and about 2,000 are left for the opener against Northern Illinois.
"It's not gloom and doom by any stretch," Barta said. "Kinnick is still going to be a great environment, and we'll see what happens in the weeks ahead after that.
"Do I think we can still sell those games out? Yes, probably the most difficult will be the second and the third non-conference games at home."
Barta also said about 1,000 seats are available for the Big Ten games, the first time in recent memory that single-game conference seats were available in August.
This came on the same day that season ticket holders received an email offering $50 seats against Northern Illinois ($15 off face price) and $35 seats against Missouri State ($20 off) and Western Michigan ($25 off). Hilariously, the AD says the offer is made "as an extra incentive to go online and familiarize yourself with the process of signing-in and selecting seats" for the 2014 re-seating of Kinnick.
This has to be Barta's biggest concern. Sure, it's true that a couple thousand empty seats would be a tiny drip out of the giant bucket of cash that the department makes on home games; 1000 empty seats per game would lose the department about $500,000 over the course of the season, and there's almost no chance of unsold seats in Big Ten games. But Barta's betting on yet another reseating next year, meaning more donations and seat licenses. If Iowa football goes 4-8 again and fans balk at higher ticket prices and donation requirements for their same seats in 2014, Barta's budget for the rest of the decade explodes on the launchpad. It's an important season for Ferentz and the program, but it might be even more critical for Barta and the athletic department.