March 31, 2004
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday his team has “a lot of work to do” as Spring practice started for the Outback Bowl-champion Hawkeyes last week.
“(Spring practice) gives us an opportunity to improve as a football team, and we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “As always, what we’re trying to do in Spring practice is get our system installed and teach skills and techniques and watch the team continue to pull together and start to develop chemistry.”
Perhaps the largest question mark for the new team is how to replace four of the best players to have come through the Iowa program in years. With losing Outland Trophy-winner Robert Gallery, 2002 Lou Groza-winner Nate Kaeding, Bob Sanders and Fred Russell, Ferentz has a tall order in replacing talent and leadership.
“Anytime you have a good football team you’re bound to graduate a lot of good players, and that’s certainly the case,” the coach said. “We lost an awful lot of good players in that senior class – not just from a playing standpoint but from the leadership that they provided as well.
“That’s the challenge ahead of us – replacing those players.”
Kaeding, Gallery, Sanders and Russell were recruited into a 1-10 program under Ferentz and saw a 3-9 season their first year. However, for the past three years, the Hawkeyes have been invited to two January bowl games and a post-season matchup in December, among other honors.
The benefit of having experienced the down times is something lost on players recruited after 2001, who only know a highly successful program.
“Anytime you have a good football team you’re bound to graduate a lot of good players, and that’s certainly the case. We lost an awful lot of good players in that senior class – not just from a playing standpoint but from the leadership that they provided as well. That’s the challenge ahead of us – replacing those players.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
“It’s a continuous educational process, and it’s something I worry about a great deal,” Ferentz said. “(The graduating seniors) understood the 1-10s and the 0-8s in the league. That’s one of the things, as you move on; the new guys don’t have a full appreciation for what it took to move forward. But the one thing about athletics is that things are very fragile. Good things are hard to come by.
“That’s something we try to educate our guys about all the time. It’s not something that just happened – having good football teams. We’re going to have to work our tails off or else we’ll go in the opposite direction. It’s a big part of what we’re trying to sell.”
Much of that work came during the December practices in the run-up to the 2004 Outback Bowl, in which Iowa defeated Florida, 37-17.
Ferentz said that younger players were able to make strides during those practices. But evaluation is still a key part of this year’s Spring practices.
Lee Gray, a 6-foot, 6-inch, 305-pound Texan, will replace Gallery on the offensive line as left tackle. Letterwinner C.J. Barkema will play backup.
“I think we’ve seen enough out of Lee to see that his progress will be such that he will be able to play that position,” Ferentz said. “I wouldn’t rule Mike (Jones) out down the road. He may be our No. 1 backup. But I think we’re pretty comfortable with all those guys.”
Senior Sean Considine and sophomores Marcus Paschal and Miguel Merrick will battle between strong and free safety trying to replace Sanders on the defensive side.
“Four years ago the impact Bob had was really dramatic,” Ferentz said. “He made a big difference in our tempo. I think we’ve got some other guys now who understand the tempo you’ve got to play at in the Big Ten. Back then, he was a really a trend-setter. We’d really like to have him back, but we’ve got some other guys back who’ve learned from Bob and can help set the tempo.
“Hopefully, the sum of the parts will compensate for losing a great player.”
Kyle Schlicher will replace Kaeding and has one of the largest learning curves of any of the new team. He saw just three kicks in competition last season, but he still went 3-for-3.
“The one thing I think Kyle has been afforded is the opportunity to learn from the best,” Ferentz said. “I think it’s a real benefit for Kyle to have been around Nate for two years and see how he went about his work. I don’t think there’s anyone more meticulous in his preparation than Nate. But we think (Schlicher) has great potential and talent.”
All of the returning players in the 2004 season have had an opportunity to learn from the best, and in many ways what they have learned will determine next year’s success.
While Ferentz says the rebuilding Iowa has to do is “probably a little more extensive than a few other programs in the conference,” the coach has another Big Ten Championship in his sights.
“The high-fiving time is over. We’ve got to get back to work: We just have to keep pushing and keep educating people,” he said. “I think we’ve got a shot, so that’s what we’re working for.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com