Aug. 8, 2015
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — In his 17th University of Iowa football media day, head coach Kirk Ferentz remained steadfast. The Hawkeyes are committed to being a Big Ten championship-caliber football team.
“That has been our goal since 1999 when we got started, and things haven’t changed,” Ferentz said Saturday in the Feller Club Room inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “I believe we have a strong foundation in place right now, and feel good about the adjustments we’ve made since January.”
Aside from altering the team’s practice schedule from afternoon to morning workouts when fall camp breaks, Ferentz says the program’s core beliefs haven’t changed.
“Our focus remains on fundamentals, the basics, the things that make teams successful,” he said. “Whether it’s on the football field, in the classroom, or their citizenship; those things haven’t changed an awful lot over the years.”
The Hawkeyes opened fall camp Thursday and Saturday the team completed its third practice — its first in pads. Ferentz has been impressed with the players’ retention early in camp, and he has seen maturation since spring ball in April.
“The fans deserve a good football team. That has always been the goal. I, our staff, and players understand that. We’re working hard to provide them what they deserve.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
“It’s a reflection of what they’ve put in with the strength and conditioning and they have been in tune football-wise,” he said. “That’s a key thing in college football, if you’re not improving weekly and daily, you’re going to be in trouble, especially in our program. We need guys to keep climbing the ladder.”
For the first time in three seasons, the Hawkeyes have a clear cut starter under center in junior C.J. Beathard. Ferentz has been impressed with the growth of Beathard as a leader.
“His demeanor is different,” said Ferentz. “He’s a much more mature guy, and he has accepted the responsibility. When you play quarterback there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that. He has embraced it, is excited about it, and has played well in three days.”
Ferentz says it is a race against time to get the five offensive linemen ready for the Sept. 5 season opener against Illinois State.
Iowa returns four players with experience on the interior of the line in Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh, Sean Welsh, and Eric Simmons. Ike Boettger and Booner Myers are on top of the depth chart at offensive tackle.
“It’s tougher to evaluate guys without pads on, but today was an encouraging start for us in the morning,” said Ferentz of an offensive line replacing two NFL Draft selections on the outside. “We have the makings, but it’s a matter of a race against the clock between now and that first game week.
“That will continue for a while. We have to be ready for some ups and downs, just like anytime you break in new players at new positions. C.J. doesn’t get that hall pass… the tackles do, not C.J.”
“We gave up too many big plays, and it’s not just the secondary, it’s a team thing,” he said. “We’ve got to get better on the perimeter. We got hurt on the perimeter, run or pass, and in the running game. Those are things on our radar now.
“We’ve got to harden up a little bit, and with the secondary being a more experienced group, we should be able to do that. “
Ferentz says a core of five — sophomores Ben Niemann, Josey Jewell, and Bo Bower and seniors Cole Fisher and Travis Perry — should solidify the linebacker corps in 2015 with redshirt freshman Aaron Mends being a wildcard. Jewell and Bower were starters as redshirt freshmen.
“All of them played with confidence in the spring and have had good summers,” said Ferentz. “We have some good competition there and we have position flexibility. I’m seeing some good things at that spot, and we’ll be more experienced further down the road than a year ago at this time.”
In a perfect world, Ferentz says the freshmen would redshirt, but he is open to anything if the newcomers can contribute to victories this fall.
“We want to win now, so we’re going to try to get them ready,” he said. “We have an open mind. If a linebacker can do something dynamic covering or blocking kicks, we’d be open to that. The guys on the perimeter have an opportunity. Anybody that can help our football team win games, that’s what we’re interested in.”
There it is again. Ferentz is focused on winning games, he’s committed to fielding a Big Ten championship-caliber team.
“The fans deserve a good football team,” he said. “That has always been the goal. I, our staff, and players understand that. We’re working hard to provide them what they deserve.”