Three of your Iowa football coaches addressed the greater Iowa media complex via Zoom Wednesday afternoon, and there was a lot to talk about.
The nice thing about not having a true “media day” in the spring is that position coaches like Kelvin Bell and Seth Wallace now have a true press junket, whereas in the Normal Times, you’d get to ask your questions to them huddled with other reporters, and then you’d typically not get to talk to them again for another year, or the bye week if Steve Roe was feeling generous.
Now, a few days after the first spring game and in the midst of spring ball, Brian Ferentz, Wallace and Bell got to stand between a camera and an Alliant Energy advertisement and answered questions about the Hawks and current events.
Let’s talk about what they talked about.
I’m skipping his opening statement because he didn’t say much and would rather spend the time on the good questions he was asked.
Q: Looking at the running game, it was at 3.9 ypc first two years, last year up to 4.6 ypc. Was misdirection a key in helping that part of the game grow? What else helped it improve?
BF: There’s a lot of factors. You bring up one of them, which is misdirection. Threatening the whole field really, which part of that is misdirection. You have counter game, zone counters, and fly and jet stuff. We like to put the ball on the perimeter a couple different ways and that’s one of them.
Some of the zone read became a different package with us with the Wildcat look. You like that because you’re running two plays at the same time. Threatening the entirety of the field creates some conflicts and play action does as well. I think we’ve expanded there. I thought our naked game improved as well, which certainly helps when you put run/pass conflict on a defender.
Ultimately, I thought our line played really well last year and tight ends and fullbacks as well. Monte Pottebaum did a lot of good things for us. Running backs did a really good job too. Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent ran the ball well. You put all that together and you get some improvement. Now we’re looking at slight tweaks to help along with individual growth for players. It’s all a process. We want to continue misdirection and threatening the whole field, but ultimately comes down to blocking.
This exchange is interesting for a couple reasons. One, it tells me Iowa is committed to the Wildcat even without a veteran like Sarge back there helping things. Ivory Kelly-Martin isn’t around this spring, and I’m hesitant to think the coaches will give Gavin and Leshon Williams a lot of run in that package, but dammit do I love to see it.
Second, it tells me that how things shake out at the tackle positions for Iowa this year is eminently important to how this run game functions.
Q: With the transfer portal, how have you guys changed the way you do things? Do you have to work harder on player retention? Do you keep scholarships open for transfers?
I think it’s something we’re still working through. The landscape continues to change. As far as how we’ve approached it, we’ve tried to stay pretty steady. The goal is to recruit players. The goal is to retain players. We want to bring guys in that we’ve evaluated and they are worth working with to develop and help the team.
One thing that has changed dramatically is you need to accept that you’re going to lose more and more guys to early entry to NFL. Once upon time, you waited until you were in the first round, but now that’s changed. That’s great for the players that have those opportunities, but it hurts your development. It can mess up your depth a bit. We’ve dealt with that at the tight end position from a couple years ago. You can look at transfer portal in those scenarios. Did that with Coy Cronk and tried to do that at a TE a couple years ago, but had a player go somewhere else. Trying to use it to bolster our roster more than build it, but it’s an evolving process so I think we need to be open to things changing in the future.
Do you think the football coaches talk to Fran at all about the portal?
Q: Brian, your head coach released a statement last night about the verdict in Minneapolis. I’m wondering how you viewed that and what type of conversations you’re having with guys on the roster. The separation between sports and society is kind of gone now.
I appreciate the question. Obviously, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said the separation between sports and society is gone. From where I sit, the separation between anything is gone. We live in a very partisan world. Just a lot of division. What I’ve learned more than anything is sometimes it’s important to listen.
We try to have conversations on a daily basis in the program, a lot more dialogue in the last 12 months. My number one priority is always going to be the players on our roster. It’s our job to support them and encourage them in what they want to do. For us, it’s how do we continue to grow. Our objective as an offense this spring was to continue to build more of a spirited core. That comes down to respect for one another on a personal level, a respect for the job. We’re going to continue to try to be open and open to evolving and changing as times change around us, but ultimately our job is to support our players.
Certainly appreciate seeing everybody today. Obviously we appreciate you guys being here week in and week out. At the linebacker position, first I want to wish all the luck in the world to Nick Niemann and Barrington Wade as they look to move on to the NFL. Secondly, it was nice to be back in Kinnick last weekend. Great to have you guys covering it, the fans there, and the parents there. That’s a big deal for us. Our players were excited about it and excited to get back again on May 1.
I want to send my best to Pat Harty, who is having a procedure today. Then I want to recognize Tom Kakert and Leah Vann. I listened to their podcast and Leah it’s good to have you with us. You’ve got a remarkable story and wish you all the best moving forward. Then want to send my congratulations to our women’s soccer team and wish the best to our field hockey team.
Couple things I like in there. First, I didn’t realize Wade was testing the draft waters. I would’ve liked to see him stick around this year if the NFL was his goal, but best of luck to him.
Second, I can’t remember a time a coach anywhere ever acknowledging he listens to a podcast from those who cover his beat, so that’s great, and so is his ‘grats to the soccer team.
Q: Kirk kind of reserves his greatest applause for players with an extra heartbeat. Josey Jewell, Pat Angerer, and then said it about Jack Campbell last year. What do you expect from him this year?
SW: Last year was a tricky year on a lot of different levels. Another stat you might be able to bullet point, all of these guys have three years minimum left of eligibility. All of them have an extra year if they want it. As it relates to Jack Campbell, I could go on about a couple other guys like that, but I do believe that’s how they grew up and then how they developed.
As it relates to Jack, there’s something extra there. You just turn on the tape and watch the way he practices, it’s clear there’s a motor and something that tugs at him to get to the ball on every play.
I expected Wallace to gush on and on about Campbell after he was asked this, but it took him three sentences to even say his name. I’m choosing to read that as he’ll let JC’s game do his talking for him, and I’m OK with that.
Q: Hi Seth, thanks for the shout out. I wanted to ask about Zach Twedt and Justice Sullivan, who sat out on Saturday?
They were both sitting. I want to mention Eric Epenesa, who joined us this spring as well. Zach hasn’t been on the field this spring. He came in needing some fine tuning medically. He’s doing a great job. Extremely diligent, takes great notes.
Justice is very unique in a lot of ways. From a player standpoint, he might have the heaviest hands of anyone we’ve ever had. You can hear him hit a guy with his hands from across the field, which is unique. The scheme and all that is a long ways away, but I’m looking forward to what’s down the road. It’s exciting forecasting Justice’s future.
Justice Sullivan is a player I can’t wait to see not only because of his incredible story, but because by all accounts the guy could be a monster on the field. I completely forgot there was another Epenesa on the team, but at 185 lbs, he’s got some work to do.
Kelvin Bell (the only coach who wore a tie, btw)
Q: We talked to some of your players yesterday and they said you give an inspirational quote every day. Where do you draw those from? My second question was about Joe Evans this year?
KB: Those inspirational quotes come from a lot of different places. I find some on Google, I have a friend Tim Triplett that sends me one for every day of the year, so I reference those sometimes.
Getting back to the mentoring, it’s not all about Xs and Os. You’ve got to relate to these kids on a personal level. I want them to apply those quotes not only to the game, but to every day life. I enjoy doing it because it inspires me too.
How can I subscribe to the Kelvin Bell pull quote calendar?
Q: Joe Evans?
He’s hard charging. Love his energy. His development in terms of a full time defensive line, I think people are ready to see that. I remember when I got him in the spring of 2019 and I knew we had a hard charging guys with athleticism, but he’s really embraced the role and learning everything he can. I’m excited about him for this fall because he’s got the pass rushing, but he’s also come on as a first and second down player as well.
Evans is another guy I’m excited to see because he seems like Iowa has figured out with him what it couldn’t with Amani Jones and a linebacker before Jones whose name slips my mind.
In any case, if Iowa can make things work along the interior, this defensive line seems like it could eat up other lines for lunch, which is crazy to say just a year after it loses two guys to the draft
And speaking of the portal...