Opening Statement: A couple of works about last season, it was really an unusually season - one of the more unusual seasons I’ve ever been associated with. We emphasized getting off to a positive start, something we hadn’t done the last couple of years. We did a pretty good job of that. At the midpoint, we were playing pretty good football. The second part of the season was very, very disappointing. As much as anything, the biggest problem we had was that we really didn’t improve during the course of the season.
So, that’s behind us right now. It’s been a very positive year to date working with the group of players that we have. We think we have a real solid football team. We have some areas where we have strengths and certainly have areas that need to be developed at this point. We don’t have a lot of marquee football players, marquee names, at least at this juncture, on our roster. But it’s been a great group to work with and we’re certainly anxious to get started here next week.
Just a couple of words about our team…special teams wise, it’s an area where I felt like we really regressed a year ago, which was disappointing. We’re going to have some work to do this year. We have two new specialists as far as kickers. We’re not quite sure who our kicker will be. A red shirt freshman will be our punter. We do have a veteran deep snapper in Danny Olszta, which is great. I’m hoping that our core players will do a better job than we did last year.
Offensively, obviously our strength would be a running back. We have two senior tailbacks in Albert Young and Damien Sims. (Fullback) Tom Busch is a senior, too. We have good veteran players at that position. At the receiver position, we feel pretty good about. After that, we’re really playing some younger guys. We’re going to have to develop and improve as we go along.
Defensively, obviously the biggest area of concern for us right now would be our safety position after graduating two seniors there. Outside of that, we’re a pretty veteran football team.
Like every other football team, what happens the next month is going to be really important to how the season turns out. We’re looking forward to getting started. With that, I’ll throw it out for any questions:
Coach, you talked all season about being off the radar. Today you‘re officially off the radar, outside of the Top 3 (in the preseason Big Ten predictions) for the first time since 2003. Can you talk about that and how different it is approaching the season not being in the Top 3?
Certainly, we didn‘t anticipate being in the Top 3. Last year, we were in there. I‘m not sure how different our football team is from last year to this year. I‘m not sure how that affects the psyche of any football team. We‘ve probably done better traditionally when we‘re flying low. That‘s probably where we‘re at. We‘re in the middle of the pack by most people making picks. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. What is going to be important is how we prepare this next month and most importantly how we play when the season begins.
What are your thoughts on your offensive line?
It‘s a little bit like all the positions where we‘re young. You have some concerns because you don‘t know quite how younger players are going to play, particularly early in the season. The good news is that we feel pretty good at all positions. We have good young players competing for jobs right now be it for starting jobs like the offensive line or safety position or guys that are competing for backup jobs. We think we know who our starting core of defensive linemen are but we have some good young guys competing there. So, we feel good about the group. We like what we saw in the spring. The next step is to see what they do in August. Seth Olsen is really the only guy that is a proven starter. He played well for us last year for most of the season. He‘s given us some great leadership as well. We graduated a couple of guys that did a tremendous job for us. Rafael Eubanks and Dace Richardson both played last year. We have about five or six guys where it‘s really a jump ball. We‘re anxious to see how that goes. We had a lot of different combinations during the spring. I really anticipate us doing that probably half way through camp. We‘ll have to make a decision as we get somewhere in that third week.
You open the season against Northern (Illinois) at Soldier Field. Have you gotten a sense of excitement from your fans, especially the ones in Chicago?
I really have. It‘s been very, very exciting for everybody. It‘s a great matchup and it makes perfect sense for us to play here. We have so many people who graduated from Iowa from the Chicagoland area. There‘s an awful lot of interest on that front. Then, we have an awful lot of people that are going to make the trip. People from Iowa tend to really enjoy coming into Chicago if they have a good excuse. Sometimes they don’t need a good excuse. They like coming in here and having a good time. It‘s going to be a great event. I was at a dinner on Saturday night and I was reported to have been throwing out the first pitch at the Cubs game, which is like 1 O‘clock or 1:30. I‘ll probably be on a bus somewhere between Sterling and the Quad Cities. So, that is a rumor. But we are looking forward to it.
You lose Drew Tate to graduation. What are you looking for out of Jake?
Jake is a guy, probably not unlike Drew or Nathan Chandler or Brad Banks, all three of those guys sat a year as apprentice quarterbacks, if your will, or backups the year prior to inheriting the starting job. All the jobs are open right now, but Jake is going to be tough to beat out. I‘ve been impressed with his leadership skills. He‘s a cerebral guy, very much a student of the game. He really has a passion for the game and enjoys it. He‘s been great with his teammates. Like any young player, I think he‘ll have some highs and lows. That’s to be expected. But just being around him, I tell you, he‘s a quality young man. We‘re excited to have him on our football team. The key is that we feel good about our receivers and we feel good about our running backs. Hopefully we can stay balanced so it‘s not up to Jake to have to win the game every time out. That‘s a bad situation to put a young player in.
You‘ve had a lot of significant battle with Ohio State and Michigan over the years. Can you talk about how odd it is going into a season without playing either one of those?
Our first two years, ‘99 and ‘00, we didn‘t play Michigan. We lost Ohio State as well in the rotation for a couple of years. To have it happen at the same time, it‘s really not something I think about that often. Based on what we did in the second half of the season, we just need to worry about what‘s in front of us each and every one of the games. All 12 are going to be tough. We have more than enough in terms of challenges in front of us. That‘s the approach we‘re going to take.
With the youth at the quarterback position, how important is it for Albert Young to get back to his 2005 form?
<\i>It certainly would be a great help to us. We had a couple of key players last year that had unusual years. Albert was one of them that was never quite healthy for a large part of the season. Drew Tate also was playing through some injury problems. That affected performance for both individuals. One of the keys for us is to have a guy like Albert completely healthy and going full speed. He certainly demonstrated two years ago the kind of football player he can be and has been for us. He‘s had a tremendous out of season. He‘s worked extremely hard. Albert is a very charismatic young man with great leadership capabilities. He brings a lot more to the table besides the yards that he gains. So, we‘re hopeful we can keep him healthy and have him enjoy a great senior year.
You said that safety is a concern. You lost Marcus Wilson and gained Devan Moylan. Can you just talk about where you‘re at in terms of that position and who the frontrunners might be in terms of that position, especially with the three freshmen coming in and how they might affect that situation?
When we come to camp in August, we have four guys that are in the think of it right now that we know about. Two of the guys are veterans in Moylan and Harold Dalton. We‘re very excited to get Devan back with the rule change. He didn‘t practice in the spring for obvious reasons. He is coming off a real significant injury last year. He should be ready to go when the season begins. We have two young players in Brent Greenwood, who we think is going to be real good, and Lance Tillison. We saw some good things out of those guys this spring. That will be the competition. We‘ll keep a very open mind about all of our first-year players, not only at the safety position but at all the positions on our football team. That was one major thing that we came up with at the end of last year. We have to have a little bit more of an open mind about first year guys making a contribution that will hopefully address our special team woes from a year ago.
Jim Delaney was saying that all of the coaches were in favor of a bye week, but they‘re split on whether to push the season past Thanksgiving. Do you get a sense from your players that if it‘s one way or the other which way they would go?
Yeah, I thought that was a confidential vote. I‘m kidding. I did not ask our players this last year, but I did a the year before and it was unanimous. They all want their Thanksgiving break. They were 100 percent in terms of preferring to come in a week earlier and then having that Thanksgiving break. The argument for some people is from a competition standpoint. It‘s better to play after Thanksgiving. I‘m not sure I buy that argument. You do have time to come back and get sharp. We were in that circumstance if you recall in 2002. We finished up a week early against Minnesota. Then we had our bye week in the last week. Then played in the Orange Bowl on whatever date, January 2. Our problems in that ball game weren‘t because of the layoff it was because of the approach we took. That‘s one person‘s opinion or one school‘s opinion I guess.