April 9, 2014
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Bobby Kennedy: Thanks for having me here today. What would you like me to talk about?
Q. You’re getting four red shirt freshmen into the rotation this year. I think a lot of people place some expectations on them. Will they change? Will they change your depth chart much?
Bobby Kennedy: Yeah, I think that’s earned through spring, and right now we’re seeing good results from some of those guys. But you know, it’s a continuous process. Every day is different. They’re continuing to develop, so I’m pleased with that. Derrick Mitchell and Andre Harris, Matt VandeBerg, they’re doing a really nice job, Derrick Willies has shown significant improvement, and that excites me as a coach because I think it’s tough when you come in as a freshman and you’ve got to learn the offense, you’re at a new place, your bed is a little different, all those things. So it takes them a while to get their feet on the ground. I’m really pleased that we decided to red shirt some of those guys because I think they’ve got the ability to really maybe change the not necessarily the face of our program, but our ability outside to make plays. But like I said, it’s a continuous process, and they need to continue to grow and develop, get stronger in the weight room, but I am excited to see what those young guys can do.
Q. There was a time last year where Damond Powell was without question the most explosive guy you guys had on the outside. How is the process of getting him to be that sort of every down guy?
Bobby Kennedy: That is the process. What I am trying to do with Damond is trying to get him to be a complete player rather than just a guy that goes deep. He had a bunch of opportunities, and he did some things really well. But, you’ve got to remember, also, that he’s in a new offense. He was really it was just like him being a freshman. Coming in, he got in late last summer, so it was kind of thrust upon him, and he did some things really well. He struggled with some other things. I see him through this spring and then also another training camp really hopefully making a move and continuing to develop. But he’s not a finished product, just like y’all get tired of me saying this, but I always say, we’re a work in progress. Every year you start over, and you have some guys that are a little more established, a little more game tested. He got those reps last year, so hopefully he’ll continue to develop and we’ll see big things out of him.
Q. With Powell, what are you seeing right now that leads you to maybe think that he’s on the right path in terms of that development that you’re describing?
Bobby Kennedy: Yeah, I just think his overall understanding of stems and attacking the DB, getting in and out of his cuts, not thinking as much. Like I said, whether it be a freshman or a guy that comes in from a junior college, a lot of times their mind locks them up because they’re thinking so much, and so their athletic ability can’t take over. And so I see a little more comfort out of him, and he’s doing a good job. The great thing about him is he’s a great guy for our room. He’s got a great, as you all know, big personality, and the guys respect him. But he also has a really good work ethic.
Q. How much did your familiarity with Coach Davis help you guys last year in developing the offense?
Bobby Kennedy: Yeah, obviously Greg and I are very familiar with each other, and we’re on the same page more than not, which is a good thing if you’re dealing with an offensive coordinator and a receiver coach, quarterback coach. But yeah, there is a comfort level. I remember sitting in here last year and somebody asked me a question about a disconnect between maybe the receivers and quarterbacks and stuff like that. I think we’re moving in the right direction. We still have a lot of work to do eight days into spring, because like I said before, every day is a new year or every year is a new day, new experience. You start all over with guys that have played, but there’s different factors that go into that.
Q. Iowa has a reputation for running the ball, power running team. Does that impact you when you’re out looking for receivers?
Bobby Kennedy: You know, I’ve had very favorable responses from the guys that I’m recruiting. But also I think we have something to sell. If you look at the National Football League, there’s 32 teams in the league, probably 16 of them run the West Coast offense, 16 of them run the three digit system that we use. So to me selling the pro style, selling kids, come and play in a pro style offense so you’ll have a comfort level that if you are good enough you’re going to step into one of those places, if you get drafted, if you sign a free agent deal that, heck, you at least have a 50/50 chance of kind of knowing what’s going on when you come in. So we’re getting good response from recruits. It’s a crap shoot sometimes. You’ve got to you’ve just got to hit the pavement and keep going. And I will answer this for Chris White because he didn’t say this, that guy is a relentless worker in recruiting. I remember it was funny we came back after May last year after being out on the road, and I was not a Twitter guy, and I was a Facebook guy, and I saw him we’re sitting on the couch talking, watching TV, doing whatever, and he’s on his phone all the time, and he was messaging these kids. I kept asking him, hey, you’ve got to teach me how to do that, and he did, so that’s what we’re doing now. My wife gets mad at me, too.
Q. Derrick Willies is a guy I think Coach Davis mentioned him as sort of standing out. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about him.
Bobby Kennedy: Yeah, great kid. He obviously has a tremendous upside with his size and speed. Not fully developed. Now just add a little sweetener and shake it up and then they just kind of develop. He still has a lot of work to do. But the thing that encourages me about Derrick is I have seen him make great strides from when he stepped on campus to where he is now. You can tell just his overall comfort level, like I said before, the understanding what’s going on in the offense, his mind freeing him up. He’s made some really good plays and some really big plays this spring, and so it excites us because here’s this kid who’s big, fast, can run, and he has a really good demeanor about him. So I see really good improvement out of him, and I see him being a key player for us in the future.
Q. How does it impact your job having the same quarterbacks coming back from last year?
Bobby Kennedy: Yeah, well, overall familiarity. You know, there’s a comfort level now that the quarterbacks have with the receivers, receivers have with the quarterbacks. There’s more of an idea of where they’re going to be, and just developing that relationship. You know, I kind of said this last year when I first got here, one of the things I was really impressed with more than probably any place that I’ve been is the time that the guys are away from us that they work on football, that they’re really they like to throw with each other. They like to be out on the grass. They like being around each other. And so when you develop that comfort, okay, hopefully that’ll pay off on game day, and so what I see out of these kids and out of the quarterbacks is there’s really great work ethic. There’s really a great desire to get better and want to be better, and so for a coach, that’s exciting because you see guys working on their craft when you’re not requiring them to do it. So that’s fun for me to just be able to sit back and watch those guys compete and work together.
Q. When you look at guys like Tevaun and Jake Hillyer, how much of it is consistency considering what they showed you late last season and now being a year older and probably taking on a bigger role?
Bobby Kennedy: Yeah, well, hopefully as you get older you get better. There’s no elevators to success. You’ve got to take the stairs. So what I see out of those guys, Tevaun should have a bigger role. He’s played a bunch of games, he’s had a bunch of reps. Jake Hillyer, I think a lot of times he’s underappreciated. Jacob is, and he did a lot of really good things down the stretch, made some tough catches, made some big plays, and so for me, we’re finally developing a core here, a core of guys with some young guys coming. I think that bodes well for our future.
Q. Of course the offense revolves around the running game, when Michigan State and Wisconsin where the run game was shut down, it seemed like the whole offense shut down in a sense because we didn’t see a lot of big plays. Are you working on ways to get past games where the team does shut down the run so you guys aren’t shut down as an offense?
Bobby Kennedy: I’ll tell you this: I think Michigan State did a good job against a lot of people, so there’s no doubt that we’ve got to be able to throw it and catch it better. I heard a question earlier about recruiting and running backs and this and that … I know this, I think we’re moving in the right direction, with our tight ends, with our receivers. I think as we develop you’ll see some more explosive plays. But we’re a very I wouldn’t say necessarily just a run first offense, okay, but if you look at what we do at the line, signaling receivers, doing those different things, we go into certain plays, when we get up at the line, we go in sometimes with three plays. One might be run, pass, run. One might be run, run to pass. One might be pass, run, run. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to take advantage of what the defense is doing and then getting in the best play, and that’s where Jake did such a great job. Obviously he’s a really bright guy. He allows us to do a lot in our offense.
Q. It seems like your receiver positions break down into three distinct maybe skill sets that fit with each of them. I know you counted Damon last year, and I think you had the splitting over the top off the defense, at least that’s part of his role. What about the other two?
Bobby Kennedy: Yeah, so you look at Tevaun, and Jake plays out there, Willies is just going to play out there at the X receiver position, he’s a guy that we like one on one match ups that when we go to a certain coverage that you bang it to him. Kevonte, Matt VandeBerg, Derrick Mitchell, Riley McCarron, those guys are kind of a slot, the guys that kind of do the dirty work, have to slip a linebacker, find space in zones, things like that. The outside receiver, what Jake and Damond also played, they get some one on one coverage but not as much. They’re guys that kind of find the holes in zones, also, but they’re usually to the field. Not always but usually to the field. There’s different kind of skill sets that each position has. I think what we’re growing to and what I’d like to see us growing to and what we did at the last place was we moved guys around a little more, and I think we’re growing in that direction, but also to be able to do that, guys like Kevonte, guys like Jacob, they’ve got to be able to play more than one position. It would be nice to stick Tevaun in the slot or put Kevonte out at X, but also what they have to do is while growing in the offense they’ve got to be able to execute that spot. We did that, like I said, a lot with some of the guys we had in the past, and it helped because then people didn’t say, well, this guy is playing this spot every time, this guy is playing this spot, and they couldn’t do as much coverage wise.
Q. Is that Kevonte’s strength, he’s a big strong guy working in traffic, and he seemed last year to really see the game the best he’s seen it since he’s been here, planning those spots and zones?
Bobby Kennedy: Yeah, I think he continues to develop. The best thing you can say about Kevonte is that he is a relentless worker, and so I do think the game slowed down for him. But what I always tell him is I don’t know if players always want to hear this, but the thing that makes him good is what he does Monday through Friday because he works so hard. He’s a great leader for our group. I talked to the younger guys about you should watch the way that guy works, watch the way that guy competes, and not only does he work but he’s a great competitor, too. So he’s more comfortable. I think he’s starting to see the game a little better. There’s a bunch of things he needs to improve on. There were some things in the bowl game that he could have done better that would have helped us. But I know this: he’s willing to put in the work, and so hopefully he’ll continue to improve.
Q. What is his ceiling this year? He’s been in the program now for a while playing. What do you see his ceiling being as an individual?
Bobby Kennedy: Well, that’s a hard question to answer. To me he’s still a young guy in this game. It’s not like he’s 30 years old, so he can continue to get better. His skills haven’t started to diminish, and so once again, with work and with effort and the way he competes, I think the sky’s the limit, but I think he’ll hit his ceiling if he doesn’t continue to do those things, and hopefully the game will even slow down for him more so that he can make some more plays. But he’s a guy I think there’s been some people that have said, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have that, whatever, but he’s a guy that I see continuing to improve, continuing to work, and I think he can be as good as he wants to be, but you know, every player has limitations. Maybe this guy can do this, this guy can’t do that, but it’s working on those limitations and minimizing them.
Q. Can you talk about the other three red shirt freshmen, really don’t know much about those guys, Jones and Harris and Willies?
Bobby Kennedy: Andre Harris, boy, the sky’s the limit for him. He has really good ability. We continually talk to him about maturing and growing up because he’s really a good kid, he just doesn’t let everybody know it yet, so he’s young in his development. I see really good quickness out of him, really good getting in and out of his cuts, a natural ball catcher, which is important for a wide receiver. So with him, I think he might have the opportunity if he continues to develop to give us maybe a little bit of juice that we’ve been missing. But on the other hand, these guys are still young, and like I said, they’re not finished products. It’s a process that we’ve got to continue with these guys. Derrick Mitchell is a really strong and powerful guy. If you look at his shoulders, he can probably put a two-by-four on his back and not see it. He’s a really wide shouldered kid but really strong and powerful. He has to do a little better job of getting in and out of those cuts. Sometimes he doesn’t play as physical as he could be, which I think he’ll grow into, but also a natural ball catcher. He’ll make a great play and then miss one. He’s got to develop his consistency. Willies is a phenomenal athlete, but what he has to do, also, which I think Tevaun is helping him with and Tevaun has grown into a little bit is just consistent overall. A lot of these young guys will make a play, make a play, make a play and then bust one or drop what people call an easy pass or a gimme pass. So for the group, once again, they’re not a finished product, but I see them moving in the right direction. A guy that’s not talked about a lot that we played as a freshman is Matt VandeBerg, and he’s a guy that has got to develop a little more strength, and sometimes that’s tough. Their metabolism is so high, putting weight on sometimes is tough. But he’s got really good strength, he’s got really good quickness, getting in and out of cuts, can stretch the field. I see him as a guy who has an opportunity to play and make some impact.
Q. We talked a lot about running backs needing a rhythm or getting in a flow. How do you keep so many guys engaged when only so many can be on the field at one time?
Bobby Kennedy: What we do is we find the first guy, then the second guy, then the third guy, then the fourth guy, the fifth, then the sixth. We usually have a six man rotation, and so to keep them engaged, they know they’d better start producing and better start playing well in practice, and it starts in practice. We chart everything from routes on air to seven on seven to my individual drills, throwing, catching the football, and it’s really easy sometimes to pull a kid aside and say, “you’ve had three drops today. You tell me that you’re ready and you’re trying to get in the mix, but you’re not practicing like it.” So I think some of those guys are trying to get in that group, and then there’s some other guys that are trying to hold them off. Riley McCarron is a little bit like Jacob Hillyer where he does a lot of the tough and gritty stuff, blocking and he might go deep once in a while, he might have a re route, et cetera, but these guys need to develop that in terms of the grittiness. Then guys like Riley McCarron need to continue that grittiness but also show that they can make plays. So to get in that group, I think it’s going to be a little tougher around here to play. Recruiting has been talked about in this room before. I think with some of the guys that we’re on or some of the guys that we think or hope to have a chance to get, it’s going to be even tougher. I tell them all the time that competition is a good thing. I get it that it’s no fun to stand on the sideline, but the way this program is built and the way it’s set up is that you’ve got to earn your way in. It’s no different in the wide receiver room. There is more competition, and we’ve got to continue that.
Q. How do you keep so many guys engaged when only so many can be on the field at the same time?
Bobby Kennedy: Obviously we have an experienced quarterback coming back, we have some receivers that have played, running backs that have played, and guys like Scherff coming back are a huge thing. There is excitement, but also, like I said before, every year is a new experience. I thought offensively we did some good things. We’re not there yet. I’d like to see where we are after training camp, but you know, the thing that I’m talking to my guys about on a consistent basis is let’s start faster. Let’s make people worry about what we’re doing on offense. So there’s some excitement, but also as a coach what I do every day, I see the good things but I also see the warts. Like I said, the things that this program has been built on is continued development. It’s been a neat experience for me seeing how Coach Ferentz runs things because he always talks about getting better during the season. I think you saw that down the stretch last year with our last couple games. We were a developmental team but we continued to get better. So hopefully that’ll continue.