O'Keefe getting offense on the same page

April 15, 2008

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Ken O’Keefe has assumed an instructor’s role this spring. The offensive coordinator, who is in his 10th season at the University of Iowa, has a three-pronged objective:

1) Improve the players from a fundamental standpoint;

2) Increase each individual’s knowledge of the system;

3) Work on team chemistry by becoming more consistent.

“Every position has been working hard on fundamental improvement,” O’Keefe told hawkeyesports.com Tuesday in an exclusive interview. “We feel like we’re improving in that area. It’s an area we had to get better in and I think we have.”

Last season the Hawkeyes were 6-6 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten Conference and became bowl eligible for the seventh consecutive season. The offense lost three seniors to graduation and they all came from the running back/fullback positions. Albert Young and Damian Sims played running back and Tom Busch was fullback.

Jayme Murphy and Paki O’Meara are the veterans now (at running back),” O’Keefe said. “They’re great guys. They bring their lunch pails every day and go to work. They love running the football and they love running downhill. Nate Guillory is the new guy and he’s learning.”

O’Keefe said there are “several guys showing some good things” at fullback.

Jordan McLaughlin is playing a little of both (fullback and running back) right now,” O’Keefe said. “Wade Leppert has impressed all the coaches with his toughness — the same thing with Jared Oberland and Bryce Griswold. Brett Morse has impressed a lot of people as well.”

Unlike last season when the backfield positions were set coming out of spring practice, O’Keefe said there are no positions solidified this year.

“A lot will be determined in the next three days,” he said. “It’s not that clear right now. It’s all coming together, but it’s going to be a work in progress. I don’t see any starting positions being settled by the first 15 practices.”

The Hawkeye offense, although still young, has been making progress. O’Keefe said that his unit is benefitting from practicing against players like Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Christian Ballard and Adrian Clayborn, who have been accelerating the learning curve of the offense.

“We’ve been young, so there’s a lot more growth than we probably would usually see,” O’Keefe said. “We’re performing at times like we should be — now can we do it every drill and every rep? That’s where we need to get to next. That’s how offense is — all 11 guys need to be on the same page to develop that chemistry that allows us to operate consistently.”

O’Keefe said the goals of the Iowa offense will be to come out ahead in several `battles’ — ball security, big plays, first downs and in the red zone. Ideally, the Hawkeyes would like to have five running plays of 12 or more yards and four pass plays of 16 or more yards per game. They also would like to average at least four yards on first down, convert 45 percent of the time on third down and score 100 percent of the time in the red zone (with a touchdown 75 percent of the time).

Jake Christensen, Ricky Stanzi and Marvin McNutt are in a “wide open battle” for the quarterback position.

“Those guys know it,” O’Keefe said. “Jake does have the most experience and experience matters at this point. But the thing that matters more than experience is performance and that’s what we’re looking at right now.”

O’Keefe has seen improvement at every offensive position, including quarterback.

“More than any other, the quarterback position only improves when everybody improves,” he said. “It’s the other 10 who are going to help the quarterback, I don’t care how good he is.”

With 11 open spots available, the competition during spring practice has been healthy.

“That will make us better in the long run and keep us more focused,” O’Keefe said. “That will keep everyone from complacency, which is the biggest enemy you can have.”

The Coca-Cola Iowa Spring Football game begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 19. Although admission is free, Hawkeye fans are encouraged to bring a canned food item that will benefit the local food bank. Gates open at 11:30 a.m.

There will be plenty of opportunities for Hawkeye fans to secure souvenirs before the scrimmage. The football equipment room will have a sale from 8-9:30 a.m. on the east side of the lower Recreation Building (cash only). The Hawk Shop will also hold its annual clearance sale beginning at 8 a.m. at the southeast corner of Kinnick Stadium (Gate M). 2008 football posters will be given away free while supplies last and 2008 Iowa football spring guides are available for purchase for $5.

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