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KIRK SPEAKS: Northern Illinois

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Kirk Ferentz spoke to the media Tuesday afternoon ahead of Saturday’s season opener against Northern Illinois

Iowa v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Kirk Ferentz held his first Tuesday press conference of the 2018 Iowa Football season yesterday afternoon ahead of Saturday’s season opener against Northern Illinois.

We’ll check out what he said below, but first, a look at the Week 1 depth chart (check out a better breakdown from our own Ben Ross here):

Now you tell me what you see on the depth chart in the comments here. Now onto Kirk! Check out the full transcript here.

I’m sure it will shock you when you read that Kirk is excited for the season. The team has had a “productive” camp, they avoided major injuries, and he thinks the opportunity to swarm out of the tunnel is special. He says that they’ve improved at every position, a sign of a winning football team, and that in order to be a better team than last year, they need to play better than the guys that played last year (very enlightening!). Normal coach speak for the beginning of the year.

Things got interesting when Kirk mentioned the new redshirt rules that allow players to see time on the field in four games without burning the redshirt:

...This is a little different world than years past with the redshirt flexibility rule available to us, but it’s probably more prominent for us on defense right now. We have four true freshmen we plan to play, starting with in the back end where we’re a little bit thin, Julius Brents and Riley Moss have both done a good job, and we expect them to be in our two deep and playing on special teams. Same to be said about Dillon Doyle, linebacker, and then Tyler Linderbaum up front as a defensive tackle.

Ferentz also mentioned that Dalton Ferguson, Austin Kelly, Kyle Groeneweg and Nate Wieting were all put on scholarship at the end of camp. Congratulations are in order to them!

Now onto the real meat of the press conference: Northern Illinois, and the lack of experience on the offensive line and at linebacker.

Q. You said this is the first time in 20 years you have at least three linebackers with zero starts running out there; what’s your level of concern about that?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think that’s part of college football. It’s a challenge. I feel good about the way the guys have progressed. Amani Jones has certainly done a nice job, and that really began a while ago. He’s played really well on special teams for us, and he’s getting a better picture of the whole taking command in the middle, and that’s an important position...He’s a good building block for us to start with, and then we’ll go with Walsh and Niemann at the two outside backer positions.

But at this point, I see it kind of being a four- or five-, maybe six-player competition, and maybe a little bit like ‘08 where we had some things happening during the course of the season...It is like anything; you never know until you get on the game field how guys are going to play. But they’ve practiced well, and we’ve got some good guys around them right now. We’re not deep at any position defensively maybe outside of our defensive line. But hopefully it’ll be a good team effort and we’ll be ready to play good defense.

That’s a little concerning! There are certainly a lot of questions that we’ll have answered on the defensive side of things verrryy quickly once the season starts. Kirk also mentioned in the next question “opportunities” for rotation at linebacker due to the lack of clear starters.

Next let’s address the elephant in the room:

Q. What’s the level of concern at offensive tackle when you’re missing your two starters going into week one?

KIRK FERENTZ: Well, any time you go in shorthanded at any position, it’s a concern. To have two guys out at one position is not ideal. The good news is right now we have three guys that I think have practiced well. We consider all three of them, I kind of look at them all the same way, and they’ll probably rotate through a little bit, be it Dalton, and be Levi Paulsen or Mark Kallenberger. Those guys have practiced well.

We’ve got great respect for Northern Illinois. Their defensive front is veteran, and they’re very good at the defensive end position. Probably the only thing that helps a little bit there is I told our guys, you’ve been practicing against some pretty good guys, too, with Hesse and Nelson. At least they’re going against good guys in practice on a daily basis, and I can throw Epenesa and Golston in there, as well. But they haven’t played. The bottom line is they haven’t played a lot, and their guys are veteran, the guys from Northern Illinois are. It’ll be interesting to watch, but I think they’ll be prepared.

This will present a mismatch on Saturday, plain and simple, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned. Thankfully, the squad has at least had time to prepare and work on gelling. I’d be more concerned about this if we’d just learned about the suspensions today.

On DE Sutton Smith:

He’s an active player, and you can see where he might have been a running back because he’s really slippery. He’s a very disruptive player, and that’s not luck. It starts with a good motor, good energy level. But he knows how to play. He’s got a certain way of operating out there, and it causes problems for any offensive team.

If you’re going to game plan, you’d better start right there and have an understanding of what challenges he presents and then hopefully have some answers for it.

I’ll remember this quote with anger on Saturday if Smith is destroying the offensive line.

On Ivory Kelly-Martin landing the top running back spot on the depth chart:

Q. What did Ivory show you that earned him a job as the starting running back?

KIRK FERENTZ: I want to be careful on that one just in the context that we look at all three of those guys -- kind of like I talked about our tackles a minute ago, I think all three of those guys, if they’re in the game, we’re going to feel okay about it, based on what we’ve seen. With Ivory and Toren, obviously we’ve had a better exposure over a year, Toren with two years and now Ivory with one, Mekhi not quite as long of an exposure, but really like what he’s done the last two weeks in particular. He’s an older guy.

But I think Ivory has got a really diverse skill set, if you will. He can run the football, run inside, run outside, catch it, runs good routes, those type of things. He’s done a nice job. I can’t tell you we have a specific amount of carries designed for all guys, but I think you’re going to see all three of those guys play a role in the offense for sure.

Interesting!

There was also a minor depth chart scandal at the press conference:

And that’s everything of note that I saw from the presser. I’m going to be doing a vast majority of these Tuesday recaps, so let me know what you want to see in terms of full quotes, small interesting tidbits, etc.

The media got to tour the new north end zone renovations today as well. Check out photos of that below. My two cents? It looks really good. Adding luxury boxes feels a little ‘blah’ to me, but I understand why it’s happening, and it really does bring a new air of...sophistication? to the stadium.

The media also spoke with players before Kirk’s presser. A few tidbits from that below:

As our own BoilerHawk said in the BHGP Slack channel, “Imagine if Akrum Wadley committed to Doyle’s plan like ISM.” If there’s anyone I trust to help players improve, it’s certainly Doyle, so I’m looking forward to watching ISM closely on Saturday.

And last but not least, do with this what you will. Yes, yes, I realize that this is what every player in the country is saying, but still: