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Visiting the Oracle

The semi-regular feature breaking down the most recent Kirk Ferentz press conference...

"My love...there's only you in my life..."

After nearly five months without a significant athletic activity, we've finally exited Dark Territory.  Information is slowly creeping out  First, we had Ferentz's press conference at Big Ten media day, but that presser was monopolized by Michigan bloggers and that obnoxious Purdue guy who kept asking everyone what Joe Tiller meant to them.  Ferentz walked to the podium with a karaoke machine in tow, belted out "Rosanna" by Toto, and hit the road.

Iowa media day, however, gave the always-dedicated Iowa sportswriting corps a chance to ask in-depth questions of Coach Ferentz.  As usual, the sportswriters generally failed in that modest task (someone actually asked, "Is Mitch King an elite player?").  That's not to say there wasn't any important information, only that it's buried in monologues on Andre Tippett.

It is with great pleasure that I give you Ferentz: Interpreted.

1. Shonn Greene is back, and KF is doing naked cartwheels over that fact.

One quick rule of reading the Ferentz tea leaves: If it's positive, specific to a player, and part of the opening statement, it's important.

From Ferentz's opening statement:

Everybody wants to know who the hot recruits are.  And to get Andy Brodell, Tony Moeaki and Shonn Greene back in the line-up, we're really excited about that.  With all due respect to any of our first-year guys, but these are guys we've seen play for us and we think they have a great opportunity to impact our offensive football team...

Right now [the running back position is] a jump ball in all regards.  We've got Paki O'Meara and Jayme Murphy, both did a good job in the spring.  Nate Guillory looked like a new player in the spring, was lost most of the time.  The good news is I think his last week was his best week.  Then certainly Shonn Greene, getting him back and running will be good.  And we're anxious to look at our first-year players as well.  I think there might be some opportunity there for those guys.

Later, when asked about whether he wants a true #1 running back:

I'm not concerned about it.  I'm hoping they will all do well.  That will work itself out.  I'm not too concerned about it.  I hope all the parties are healthy in practice and playing well.

Again, probably the biggest variable will be the guys we haven't seen much of.  I feel pretty comfortable about knowing who Shonn Greene is, Paki O'Meara and Jayme Murphy.  Other guys, we have ideas who they are, but don't know until we get through camp.

Finally, while not directly Greene-related, his comment on the possibility of playing a freshman at halfback:

[Running back is] a position,  If you look around the country, freshmen do play at the running back position and play well.  First thing is don't hurt the team, don't screw the team up.  And for a running back, that means hanging on to the football and knowing what the protections are and being able to protect.

It's not exactly as if Ferentz said, "Thank God we found an experieced running back, because 'Paki O'Meara' is Irish for 'update your resume,'" but the fact that he would lump Greene's return in with Brodell and Moeaki indicates how important he thinks Shonn might be this season.

Further, the emphasis on knowing protection schemes is obvious.  Given Guillory's difficulties in learning protection packages this spring (that "looked like a new player" quote above isn't good) and the other running backs' lack of experience and/or talent, I'd expect Greene to hold the top line and get the majority of snaps at least through September.

2. He's pissed off about the placekicking (and rightfully so).

In last week's Assume the Position, we discussed the sorry state of the once-revered Iowa special teams unit.  In particular, we lamented the downfall of the kicking game.  Turns out we weren't the only ones who noticed.  It's not often that Ferentz uses even the most mild of criticism when discussing a player's performance in practice, especially in the off-season.  So when he started talking about the lack of progress made by the placekickers in spring, you know it's a problem:

I talked about [the placekickers] in the spring as being one of our disappointments.  We didn't show any improvement.  Might have been worse in the spring than we were in the fall.  That's not a good thing.  So we've got to make strides there.  But I think both Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker have an opportunity there.  So we feel good about that.  We'll see how things progress and kind of go from there.

If this keeps up, I don't think we'll be waiting long to see Trent Mossbrucker.  And that means only one thing: Trickeration.  Pure trickeration.  I, for one, could not be happier.

3. Iowa football coaching staff : Spread offense :: Joe Morgan : VORP

I...I just...I...[shakes head]...

Q:  The conference has gone to almost a spread look on offense, which has exposed a few...

KF:  How many minutes is that?  29 minutes till you got the spread word out?  That would be Wisconsin, the cheese spread offense.

Throw in Norm Parker's jab at Illinois' offense, and it's more of the same.  Look, the follow-up question (is the use of Tarpinian at linebacker because you want more speed to match up against spread offenses?) was pretty stupid, and it was met with the proper response (we're doing what we did with Greenway; we've wanted more speed since the 80s).  Nevertheless, the staff is showing more open hostility to the word "spread" itself with each day.  We get it: you're not going to a spread offense.  Still, Iowa, MSU, and Wisconsin (and, at least for this season, Ohio State) are the only Big Ten teams left not using a spread formation.  Hostility and snark doesn't answer the question of what we're doing to defend it.

4. The offensive line?  Eh...

When asked about the horrendous lackluster play by the offensive line last year, Kirk was about as critical as he's ever been:

We're not saying there's some places maybe where you can get by with [injuries to Richardson and Bruggeman], but I've got 18 years now here and it just doesn't work that way.  When you lose some key players, it's going to affect you.  And we could have screamed and hollered all we wanted, and we did a little bit, but, I mean, you know, players know what's going on.  It's just you got to be intelligent about what you are doing.  You ask your players to do their best.

I think their effort was good last year.  And they did some very good things and that's why I'm optimistic because we didn't graduate a guy in the group.  Dace isn't going to be with us, but we all kind of knew that was going to be the deal.

So, you know, they've been kicked around a little bit.  And, believe me, they take great pride in their performance and I think we'll see a much more cohesive, you know, better-executing group up there.  That's just  common sense.  And because they've worked hard.  We're not there yet.  We certainly didn't see it out there the last spring scrimmage.  Think of a couple plays there that were kind of ugly.  By the end of camp, I think we'll be ready to go.

Well, at least we know the coaches considered screaming and hollering.  Lord knows we went further than that.  It was the next comment that worried me:

Certainly we have more depth and experience than we've probably had any of the nine years I've been here at that position.  I think that's fair to say.  I don't know if we have a Gallery or a Steinbach, those guys are elite players.  They turned out to be elite players.  They weren't certainly as younger players, but I think we've got a group that can be pretty good.  I really do.  But now we've got to get that work done.

Um, isn't this the group that's made up of some of the best offensive line recruits in the country?  I understand the occasional bust (hello, Blake Larsen), but a wholesale failure to live up to expectations is another thing entirely.  I would normally believe that Ferentz is only saying none of these guys are at that level yet, but that's not what he said.  As we said earlier this week, 13 linemen saw action last season; barring wholesale injuries, I'd be shocked if you saw double-digits this year.  Ferentz is clearly looking for some sort of continuity.

5. The Big Picture

Kirk is clearly expecting an extension of last year's (and, to be fair, 2003's) formula: A stingy defense, led by the defensive line, and just enough offense to get by.  On the defensive line:

I'll be really disappointed if our defensive line doesn't do well.  I'll throw Chad Geary in that mix too.  Chad's made incremental progress each and every year.  He's got two more seasons in front of him.  We expect him to play really well.  We'll figure out the fourth guy.  We're not there yet.

Inside we've got guys that I think are behind.  Anton Narinskiy is a good fifth, Cody Hundertmark played last year.  So I think we have the potential.  Mike Daniels did some good things.  It's going to be fun to watch those guys.  We're counting on them to play well.

As for the offense, he's expecting a step forward:

I think what we expect from him is what we expect from everybody else that played their first year.  Make another step, take another step, play with more confidence, be more decisive.  It's one of the tougher positions to play.  But it's no different than the linemen.  Those linemen have decisions to make, too, and they happen fast.  If they make them well and make them quickly, they have a much better chance of looking good.  If they're a little slow on the draw, they're going to be, you know, half a guy behind, and that usually isn't a good thing.  It's big part of offensive football.

Speculation has always been that the coaches saw last season's offense as a lost cause.  This more or less confirms it (not that it's a shocking revelation or completely unjustifiable). 

That sentiment also plays into the general theme of the press conference:  We know the offense sucked.  We were young and injury-plagued.  We're working on it.  Stop writing about my buddy Kenny sneaking into my quarterback's bedroom.

Maybe it's the heat.  Maybe it's the humidity.  Maybe it's nine months spent waiting for this season to begin and trying to invent things to write about.  But for the first time in quite a while, I'm willing to give Ferentz and his staff a shot.