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Bye Week Press Conference Recap Part 2: PHIL AND LEVAR SPEAK!

Oh yeah, there are good things about this football team

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Hello again!

Who knew - Phil Parker and LeVar Woods met with the media yesterday, too. Let’s see what they had to say as well! Anyone else forget there are actual good aspects of this football team?

Check out Phil’s full transcript here and LeVar’s here. Highlights from both below, in that order.


PHIL PARKER: I would like to welcome everybody. Thank you for coming this afternoon. I’m sure that you know this bye week you have a lot of time to get your honey-dos done. I know I have had to go out and cut the grass a little bit and edge it. I know I got some of my stuff done. That’s a beautiful time by yourself.

Phil Parker: lawn guy.

PHIL PARKER: Obviously, some of the things that we’re looking at is — the biggest thing I look at is a lot of the explosive plays, how many we’re giving up. I think it’s a total of five.

I think big plays that we’re giving up, we gave up 18 as a total, and that’s a 20-yard pass or a 15-yard run.

Then, obviously, I think there’s 24 chunk plays, which I call in between 10 and 14. You try to evaluate that and see is it the defense? Is it a guy? Are we in the right defense, or are we losing — some of it’s just basic leverage, football leverage that I always talk about that is so simple.

...I think the last couple of games that we didn’t hit our numbers that we expect to hit. So I think that is something we’ve definitely got to work on and see what we can do to improve that.

I agree with this. What I’m not sure about is how many of these plays occur just because of the sheer volume of plays the defense has to participate in, but I digress.

Q. Phil, a couple of the players last week talked about doing a better job winning first down against the run. How much of a concern is that for you moving forward?

PHIL PARKER: Yeah, any time. I think you start talking about looking at how you are going to stop the run and make it a manageable third down, and that’s been an issue for us.

I think we’ve done as best we can right now. It’s getting down. Are we doing the right things? Do we have the guys in the right spot? Are they putting us in different formations and getting different guys in the box and trying to do that, and we’re trying to solve those problems and making sure that we’re not putting guys in position that they can’t make a play.

Now, I think you can look at every play, and there’s mistakes sometimes all over that nobody really sees. I just think we need to improve our fundamentals. The more you improve your fundamentals and they become a natural thing, then I think that’s when everything comes together and you have a better chance of stopping them on first down.

The run has definitely been a struggle for this team - the line hasn’t exactly been as dominant as maybe we thought they’d be, but I do think there’s a capability for improvement there.

Q. I have a question about Cooper, and cash is still a relatively new position as far as being a prominent position in your defense. Most of those guys, you know, Monte and Dane were safeties, and you played them at safety. He is transitioning from corner to play in this hybrid position. How challenging is that for him and for that position? Then, also, what kind of progress has he made as a true sophomore basically doing what he is doing?

PHIL PARKER: Go back to first thing, we had him at corner, and I think what you really mean was he ended up in corner at the end of the Kentucky game. He can play — when we first recruited him, we recruited him as a defensive back and didn’t know exactly where he would fit in.

He has the ability of playing actually corner cash, I think strong safety, can play free safety. I think he can play multiple positions back there.

For a guy to be a sophomore and do the things that he can do and understand what he needs to do I think is really good. It’s really an elite — in my thing, just looking at him and saying how can he do all this stuff?

...Some catches that he makes during practice that are what I call freakish. You know what I mean? One-handers behind and all this stuff.

Fun insight here into one of the true breakout stars of the season. Give me a Cooper DeJean practice highlight tape - inject it into my veins. I think I speak for all of us when I say I love watching this guy play.

Q. I don’t know how much you know about Ohio State, their offense.

PHIL PARKER: I’m from Ohio. (Laughing.)

Q. Looks like a really dynamic offense. We won’t get to talk to you before the game, obviously. How is this different from any challenge that you will have seen maybe in a long time?

PHIL PARKER: I think Ohio State has had great players since I was a little kid. They have had a lot of NFL players on the team.

We’re just going to have to — they’re going to motion and shift and trade. They have athletes that they can get the ball to, a dynamic quarterback that can get the ball to them. They have good running backs. They have a good offensive line.

When you start seeing all that, you really have to play well. They’re a well-coached team. I don’t know what their averaging. Something maybe around 50 points a game or something like that...

You’ve got to practice well, and you have to play well, and you have to be in the right spots. You have to have eye discipline just like any other game. You have to play with great leverage, I think.

Leverage is a word that we throw around, but leverage goes from everything about your base alignment and if three or four guys go over this way, well, you better — that’s the enemy. Let’s move our troops over there.

If they go the other way, you switch it over. You got to know how to line up and make sure you’re leveraging the formations and leverage the ball when you are going to tackle it. You have to play with leverage when you are defeating blocks. That’s what you do. Right?

Same thing with defensive backs. You are getting blocked. You have to get off blocks. Same thing as a back end. Same thing as a linebacker. Same thing as a defensive line.

You have to separate and get off blocks. You can’t make the tackle. If you are tied up with somebody that’s blocking you, it’s hard to tackle. I think. But you’ve got to be around the ball to make a tackle. That’s one. You have to be around the ball to intercept the ball. You have to be able to recover it, a fumble. If you’re not around the ball, you can’t recover a fumble.

We’re preaching the guys run the ball. I think our guys are really working hard. They look at it and say, hey, they’re all in. It’s really a great, great atmosphere the way it goes.

The way we’re practicing today was good. I thought it was really good.

I thought this was just a fun insight into the mind of Phil Parker to include. We don’t get to hear from him often, but we see the fruits of his labor on the field - it’s fun to see into his mind a bit into how he’s game planning against probably the best offense in college football.

Q. Do you ever feel like when your offensive unit is struggling that you need to take up more of the slack, or do you ever say that to your players? Or do they just internally feel that when they notice that they need to make a play to win the game as opposed to just playing their position?

PHIL PARKER: My thought about the way we coach on defense is we’re looking for perfection on every play. So I don’t care what the score is. I could go off and we could win the game or lose the game. Everything is going to go on to what’s happened to that play and how did you do.

...That’s all that we can control what our guys are doing. That’s our job. They all know it. Our job is to go out there and play the best that we can play to our ability. I think they’ve done that.

I see no guys ever sitting there questioning anything that’s going on about — all they do is worry about, hey, you get off the field and get to the bench; let’s make sure we cover our stuff that we need to cover, and let’s get it corrected as fast as we can and make sure that we’re giving them enough information to help those guys on the field. That’s the way we look at it.

A very diplomatic response here and I expected nothing less, but had to include it. I want to know the answer to this question in a bar at 2 a.m. after Phil’s had a few beers. I think it might be different.


LEVAR WOODS: As far as that goes, field goal units, I think Drew is coming along as a player. He is definitely young. He has had — every game is really like a new experience for him in some way because he was a high school kid a year ago. Really less than a year ago.

I think he has made a huge transition since spring. We’ve all kind of seen that. He missed a kick, his last kick, against Illinois, which I know is just eating at him, but to me that shows the guy is a competitor. He may be young. He may be inexperienced, but he is a competitor, and he has that drive inside.

I’d even say Drew Stevens has made a huge transition since the start of the season. It’s clear he’s going to be really good, and while he may have missed the game tying kick, the loss is not on him at all.

Q. I have a question about specifically last week, the last one after Illinois’ last field goal. I think it was Gavin who caught it and then just kind of took a knee really quick. Was that designed to try to get the offense the ball really early even though he was a deep back, or was he just —

LEVAR WOODS: I don’t like the ball hitting the ground. Of course, we don’t ever want that in kick return, but we are trying to conserve time as well. The thought is to not let it hit the ground. We want to catch the thing and get down as fast as we can, as much as we can, as fast as we can to let the offense go.

The timing is thrown off. You’ve heard me talk about kick return in the past, like a symphony, right? The timing of all the strings and the cords and each instrument that’s played at what time it’s played. Timing gets thrown off when the ball is on the ground or the kick is short. So in that regard we want to get as much as we can to get down and let our offense have the ball with as much time as possible.

Some interesting insight here too into the coaching mentality of Woods. Also, calling a kick return a symphony - that’s a nice way to put it. Very poetic. Also lol at “letting the offense go.” A good concept, in theory.

Q. Wouldn’t it make more sense to go get eight more yards in that second?

LEVAR WOODS: You are taking four, five seconds off the clock. Potentially, yeah.

Q. First down.

LEVAR WOODS: Eight yards is it not a first down. I know what you are saying. I know what you are saying, but I don’t know that there’s eight yards out there either based on what we’re trying to do return-wise.

I can tell you I wasn’t disappointed by the decision. I was disappointed the ball hit the ground because you don’t ever want that.

Q. Would you rather have him fair catch that in that case?

LEVAR WOODS: Yeah, if you can. Sometimes it’s a tough kick when you are running up. Here’s the other thing that’s unknown in college football. You have the fair catch rule. A guy can signal fair catch, but if it’s not a clean catch, the ball hits the ground. You don’t get the ball at the 25. You get the ball wherever it’s down.

... strategically the play is you don’t want the ball to hit the ground for sure, but how many yards are out there, the journey is over at that point. We just want to get the ball and give it back.

Interesting line of questioning here too, because it’s essentially saying “why are you not making things as easy as possible for the offense.” Not that it matters, as we’ve seen from Illinois’ botched punt return, but still interesting.

Q. Do you still consider it an open competition at kicker between Drew and Aaron, or are you more set on Drew for now?

LEVAR WOODS: I think Drew has done a good job with the opportunities he’s had so far. I know that Aaron is working his butt off and same thing with Lucas Amaya. He is working as well.

I think Drew has done a pretty good job with that role. I’ll never say never or anything like that. As long as the opportunities keep coming and he keeps taking advantage of them, I see that going for him.

Aaron is right there as well, and he has been busting his butt and working hard too. Coach said this in a press conference. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Aaron Blom. I would agree with him on that. Whether it’s in place kicks or kickoffs, somewhere in there, we’re still working with that.

Why can we just not say that Stevens is the guy? It’s not hard. It’s clear that he’s the better kicker, at least from what we’ve seen.

Let’s end with this:

Q. How happy are you with punt return right now?

LEVAR WOODS: I feel like we can be better in all regards. Again, that was the focal point of today’s practice and today’s meeting, was it comes down to the little things, the details with how ... to give the returner better vision, more opportunities that way.

As far as — I don’t know how many — we face some pretty good punters so far, and we’ve also faced a couple that eliminate returns based off not great punts. I think the things we need to improve upon are keeping the ball off the ground, fielding the ball. Same thing in punt return and kick return to eliminate some of that bleeding yardage.

Then also finishing some of our blocks. I feel like the guys that have been working there with Bruce and then also with Cooper, I think we’ve got two pretty good candidates there with Witte coming along as well and some freshmen that are still — they’re not primetime-ready yet, but they’re working well in practice and anxious to see them as we continue to move forward.