Aug. 6, 2007
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IOWA CITY — There was no talk of winning a third Big Ten championship in six seasons or attending a fifth New Year’s Day bowl game in the last six years. Monday was the ninth preseason press conference for Coach Kirk Ferentz and his focus was not on 2007 road challenges against Wisconsin or Penn State. He didn’t mention Iowa State. In fact, the season-opener against Northern Illinois received little notice.
But the coach’s focus was clear. It’s not about starting strong in September or closing hard in November. For Ferentz and the Hawkeyes, the real key is now.
“What we need to worry about is having a good month of August,” Ferentz said. “It will be important to see how our guys come around in the next three weeks. We need to have a good camp that will be a heck of a building block for us.”
Ferentz addressed a throng of print and electronic media Monday, Aug. 6, on the second floor of the Paul W. Brechler Pressbox at Kinnick Stadium. Last season the Hawkeyes finished 6-7 overall and were edged by defending national champion Texas 26-24 in the Alamo Bowl.
Ferentz opened the conference with some personal notes welcoming new president Sally Mason, thanking former interim president Gary Fethke and also thanking the Hawkeye fans who have been gobbling up season tickets.
“Hopefully we can pay them back during the season,” Ferentz said.
But that was as close to a prognostication as you would get from the guarded, yet optimistic coach. Prior to questions, Ferentz said the Hawkeyes are fairly healthy, that they need to improve on special teams, the defensive front has experience, the offense is fairly skilled and experienced around the perimeter, and that the offensive line is a question.
“We have the makings of a good team,” Ferentz said. “Now it’s up to us to see that we do the work and get the job done.”
One of the biggest plugs of the day went to junior offensive lineman Seth Olsen (Omaha, Neb./Millard North), who enters camp as a first team offensive right guard.
“When he got an opportunity last season at Illinois, he jumped in and played very, very well,” Ferentz said. “He’s a great leader and a tough-minded guy who works very hard. We think he’s a pretty good football player and the guy we’ll build around.”
Sophomore quarterback Jake Christensen (Lockport, Ill./Lockport) “has a heck of an edge” at that position according to Ferentz, who reminded the media that all of the recent Hawkeye great signal-callers — Drew Tate, Nathan Chandler and Brad Banks — all spent time in a back-up role. Last season Christensen completed 23 of 35 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns as an understudy to Tate.
“Jake did a good job last year and he had a good spring,” Ferentz said. “We see him maturing. It’s more interesting to see what the young guys are doing behind him. If Jake’s in there, he’s our quarterback.”
Iowa will be strong, although not deep, at tailback, where seniors Albert Young (Moorestown, N.J./Moorestown) and Damian Sims (Boynton Beach, Fla./John I Leonard) are the incumbents. Last season Young rushed for 779 yards and seven touchdowns (2,205 yards and 17 touchdowns for his career) and Sims added 664 yards and six touchdowns (1,005 yards, 10 touchdowns for his career).
“After that we’re an open book,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz said he feels “a lot better than a year ago” with the receiving corps that includes junior Andy Brodell (Ankeny/Ankeny), freshman James Cleveland (Baytown, Texas/Robert E. Lee), sophomore Dominique Douglas (Detroit, Mich./Murray-Wright) and sophomore Trey Stross (Avon Lake, Ohio/Avon Lake). Competing at tight end are junior Mackey-watch candidate Tony Moeaki (Whaton, Ill./Warrenville South) and junior Brandon Myers (Prairie City/Prairie City-Monroe).
“We have the nucleus of having a good receiving corps,” Ferentz said. “I feel good there.”
Much has also been made in the preseason of Iowa’s defensive front four of senior Kenny Iwebema (Arlington, Texas/Bowie), junior Mitch King (Burlington/Burlington), junior Matt Kroul (Mount Vernon/Mount Vernon) and senior Bryan Mattison (Mishawaka, Ind./Penn).
“We’re more veteran up there,” Ferentz said. “We prefer to have four guys rush and seven in coverage and they have to do it within the framework of our defense.”
When asked who might leap onto the radar this season, Ferentz mentioned freshman defensive end Adrian Clayborn (St. Louis, Mo./Webster Groves), sophomore defensive end Chad Geary (Tipton/Tipton) and junior defensive lineman Anton Narinskiy (Chagrin Falls, Ohio/Kenston).
“We have the makings of a good team. Now it’s up to us to see that we do the work and get the job done.”
“We’re excited about getting started,” Ferentz said. “Everyone is optimistic right now. There’s a lot of optimism and we’re certainly looking forward to getting out there and starting our practice sessions.”
The Hawkeyes opened practice earlier in the morning and were welcomed by Iowa’s typical August weather – heat and humidity. A reporter asked about the first practice.
“It was OK,” said Ferentz after a momentary pause. “We looked like a team that thought it was hot out there and it was hot. We’re going to have to pick it up and we will.”
Ferentz said the season-opener against Northern Illinois will not only be exciting, but it has the makings of a Kickoff Classic atmosphere.
“I’m excited about the match-up,” he said. “I know our fans have been excited. It’s going to be phenomenal to walk in there, playing in a pro stadium that is so historic. It’s a win-win situation for all involved. I think our fans are really going to enjoy it.”
Then the topic made a 360 degree turn back to the main focus for Ferentz and the Hawkeyes.
“We’ll be searching for an identity in camp,” Ferentz said. “Camp is always important. It’s one of the most critical and enjoyable times of the year.”
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