Coordinators News Conference Transcript | April 18

TIM LESTER: I would like to lead off by saying that I am excited about the last couple weeks of work. It has been a joy to coach the group. They have been working hard and learning a lot of new. I say we got about 85% of the playbook in. Now we are working on perfecting it. What to do is different than how to do it.

We are stacking reps. It has been a fun group to coach. They have been working hard getting better. A lot to get better at. It’s a marathon and a sprint at the same time. Every time we can get out there and get another rep of executing a play with an adjustment as Coach Parker has brought a lot of different things and adjustments we are going to have to make quickly.

It has been fun to watch our team get better. We have one more opportunity to get better before summer hits.

Q. You guys are using the comm system now. Have you been able to work in Kinnick, up in the booth? How do you address that this spring?

TIM LESTER: It’s been great. Coming from Green Bay, I have a lot of experience with it, so it isn’t anything new to me, but it’s new to everybody else. It’s new to the quarterbacks, figuring out volumes, but we’ve been able to use it at the stadium.

It allows me to talk to them as they get to the line of scrimmage, communicate the plays with them, and hopefully be more efficient.

I think it’s going to be a good thing for college football. It seems to be a good thing for offensive college football because there’s going to be a lot more detail, a lot more things you can do offensively when you can talk directly to the quarterback because you don’t have to have 10,000 signals.

I do think when they passed it, I didn’t know it was going to happen this fast, to be honest, but happy about it, and it’s been a pretty smooth transition that way.

Q. You were mentioning having the 85 percent of the playbook in. What’s been the process of figuring out which things you wanted to implement? I remember you said last year you had 600 pages of pass plays.

TIM LESTER: Yeah, we have it done. There’s still a couple that I’d like to put in. I want to get good at the ones we’re doing first. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing. We’re still in the process of figuring out — each play has five routes in it, and it’s my job to figure out who runs that route the best to make sure that in the fall that I have the right person running that route.

We’ve rotated through with different formations and letting everybody have a shot at running a scar route or a skinner route or all the different routes that there are, and we’re still learning about them and giving them chances. Because their first time they’re not going to be great at it. It’s banking reps and watching the tight ends run the different routes. We’re trying to get good at learning what we can do to be successful in the fall and not so much trying to alter our system to try to go against our defense.

The hardest thing to do is to not try to game plan your own defense as opposed to getting the things in that you know you’re going to need in the fall. That’s been hard because there are times where, man, I want to make this adjustment. We haven’t even run the original yet before we start making adjustments.

It’s been hard. I’ve game planned a couple things but not many. We’re trying to stick true to the system and having the guys learn, but it’s been fun.

I think we installed the plays we knew we needed, and then we’ve started to add a couple of the wrinkles, and it’s easier to learn. You learn the alphabet — you can write a novel, but you have to learn the alphabet first, and they’re getting there.

Q. Now that you’ve had the personnel out on the field for a while, do you feel you have what you need at receiver right now, or do you guys have to be active in the portal this spring and summer?

TIM LESTER: Well, I think you’re always looking. I don’t think anyone ever turns a blind eye to that at any position. I think everyone has plans, and Coach and Tyler will figure out which ones as we move on.

But we’re always actively looking everywhere. But I’ve been happy with our guys. There’s some speed there. We have a little bit of size there. We’re young but getting better. Kaleb has been impressive, Wetjen has been extremely explosive. Jarriett Bowie has been doing a great job.

I do think we have some talent there, albeit young talent. I’ve had young wide receivers everywhere I’ve been. At Green Bay I think we were the youngest receiving corps in the history — it was all rookies and a couple sophomores. We didn’t have a tight end on our team that wasn’t a rookie.

I’m not afraid of that, as long as they work and they have been. A long way to go, but it’s there, we have to continue to bring it out of them.

Q. I wanted to ask you about quarterback. Obviously the No. 1 quarterback is only able to do limited — not drop-backs. How has that impacted what you’re trying to do knowing that right now the No. 1 starter isn’t able to go through a full practice physically?

TIM LESTER: Yeah, it’s been hard on Cade. He wants to go so bad. He’ll get cleared here in the next couple months and be on his plan that he needs to be on. It’s been fun to do a couple individual drills with him, and he’s fighting through all the frustration of wanting to be out there.

But with the rest of them, we have to get all 11 players ready to go, so I am calling plays that we’re going to call in the fall, and Deac and Marco, whether they’re ready for those plays or not, that’s what practice is for.

I put them in some tough spots. We’ve done a ton of two-minute drills, a ton of 3rd downs. Those are the things that come along: red zone offense, 3rd downs, and two minute, they take months. Even when you have veteran players, even when they know what we’re doing, and they don’t know yet, right?

And we’ve done a ton of them, so we’ve put those guys in some tough situations and it’s the best way to learn, learn in the fire.

So they’ve had some rough days; they’ve had some good days. If we can stay in 1st and 10 and stay ahead of the chains, it’s a lot easier to play quarterback. But the receivers, the O-line, they need the reps.

Whoever was going to go in there was going to be by the plan for moving this offense forward and trying to develop them at the fastest pace we can.

I called it as if Cade was in there, really because of the other 10 guys in there. If I was calling a game with each and every guy as I’m learning about them, I would probably call certain situations differently, but that doesn’t help the other 10 guys in the fall.

We’re going to have to be aggressive at times. So that was kind of the plan, the mindset going in.

Q. Following up on the question about the QBs, it sounds like Deacon from our interviews was getting most of the one reps; is that accurate?


Q. What did you see from both he and Marco? You may not be aware of this, but a lot of outside hope that Iowa brings in a quarterback from the portal. What did you see enough to feel good about the 2 spot on your QB line from both of those guys and maybe give me your reflections there.

TIM LESTER: It’s early to tell. I think the plan going in, Deacon has more experience, and so he can go through a progression a little bit more comfortably right now than Marco can. Marco needs more reps. He’s a young kid, and he’s got talent. So Marco is taking all the 2s and the 3s. He’s gotten more reps. For his own development, I know it’s like drinking through a firehose, but I put him out there on purpose, and I told him — we had a talk about it beforehand, that this is my plan for you, and it’s going to be tough at times.

There’s more people sometimes going the wrong direction with his huddle, and he has to deal with the ramifications of a guard going the wrong way and a 3 technique in the backfield all of a sudden.

So it’s been good for him. I said, I know it’s going to be hard, but you need the reps.

I think it’s been good. They’ve been playing good. They have a long way to go. This is a totally new system. Mentally we have to be sharper. Our feet need to be better. I do think we’ve improved. But we’re not even close to where we need to be there, and I’m always going to be hard on them that way.

But we do, we have a long way to go, but I do think they’ve been working hard at it, and I think the game with this offense is slowing down a little bit for both of them, and it’s going to give them a chance to have more success.

Q. Curious your approach when you got the job, did you watch film of the guys on the roster? Did you look into their background, or did you approach it as hey, I don’t want any preconceived notions, and whatever you chose, how has it unfolded?

TIM LESTER: Yeah, I really didn’t. I watched some practices from last year. Well, last year’s spring ball practices because I had never been in a practice here so I wanted to see what the drills looked like, what they felt like.

But I really didn’t watch a ton of the games. Our system is nothing like what’s been done here in the past. I wanted to give everybody a clean slate. It’s been good.

The guys, I have a lot of opinions — everyone has an opinion, right? So a lot of the coaches are saying, this guy is our best at this and I had the coaches kind of write up a report on each of their players.

They’ve pretty much been dead on. A lot of guys, it all depends on how long it takes for the game to slow down for them. I heard a ton about Luke. Luke was coming back from an injury and all that stuff, so he didn’t do much early.

But here in the last couple weeks he looks like everything they told me he would look like. He’s made some huge plays and elevates and catches the ball, and I think the first one was last week, and he elevated, and I was like, that’s what they’ve been talking about.

It’s been fun. We’re still learning a ton. But what we’ve seen — especially that whole group, that tight end group, they play hard. Addy and Scuz, Large and all of them. They fly around. It’s been fun. There’s a lot of stuff you can do when you have big, long, fast guys that can catch and they’re also willing to get their hands dirty in the box.

So it’s been a lot of fun because we’re going to need them. That part has been good.

Q. When you’re trying to install this new offense, how do you balance between holding guys accountable for certain things and also making sure that — knowing that you can be patient with them and how do you balance the accountability versus patience?

TIM LESTER: True, it’s hard, right? I purposely said it’s a marathon and a sprint, and I do have the numbers of the plays we’ve run so I know every time I call a play I know how many times we’ve run it, I know how many times that guy has run it.

That’s what’s going to happen here in the next three, four months, is we see people starting to change the learning curve and they start making adjustments and seeing it the next time.

You have to give them some bandwidth to make mistakes, and there’s been plenty of them made.

But some guys, a lot of guys are already starting to pick it up, are starting to see the adjustments and see the blocking adjustments and the route adjustments and the timing changes, and those are the guys that are going to play. Everyone else we’ve just got to keep encouraging them to come along.

But that comes with stacking reps, right. So that’s the hardest thing, is we can’t get enough reps every single day. The answer is always yes when Coach says do you want more team or — yes, let’s just keep going. Let’s just keep running plays.

Individual is really good, and we need a lot of individual to get our techniques down, but we’re dealing with having to get better at a lot of things.

But as we stack reps, you get less and less patient, and you start getting — it becomes more clear who needs to be out there at that point. And we’re way far away from having to make that decision. There’s no depth chart, nothing right now.

It’s about getting the collective group to play the way we want, to play as hard as we want them to do, and to learn what we’re doing and what’s supposed to happen on each play, and we’re getting closer and closer every time we’re out there.

Q. What are some of the ways that you’ve seen Deacon in particular make some of those strides and improvements this spring as he adjusts to your system?

TIM LESTER: I think his feet have gotten better. I always give my quarterbacks multiple options when it comes to full works because I think there’s a lot of ways to do it. I’ve done it multiple ways as a quarterback in my career.

So he’s kind of honed in on a certain way of dropping that I think makes him more comfortable. I think it’s allowed him to get through reads better. Still needs to be more accurate with the ball. I still think he has a long way to go, but when I got here that was something I noticed with him, that his balance — when his balance was off, the ball was all over the place.

I do think that’s improved. I think he’s starting to get to know the offense.

Now, some of the different systems within the offense, we’ve got a long way to go with. He’s got a natural arm. He can throw the ball. But you have to know where it’s going. So when we get his feet right, the feet tell the ball where to go. He’s gotten better there. A long way to go, but I’ve been proud of that part. He’s been working hard at it.

Q. Tim, I wanted to ask about the offensive line and how things are going. Of course you have a lot of guys back, but it is different, and like with the RPOs and such I know that can be difficult for offensive linemen. How are they taking to the new system, and has having that veteran presence been helpful?

TIM LESTER: They are a veteran — them and our tight ends, and really running backs, too. We have a couple really veteran groups and then we have a couple really young groups. It’s an interesting dynamic.

But the O-line has been great. We have I don’t know how many combinations. I don’t know how many combinations we’ve played. It’s moving everybody around. I can’t wait to get Jones and Dunker back and put them in the mix and Tyler has been playing center.

We’ve been moving everybody around to see who can do what, and as we get everybody healthy, we’ll start solidifying roles and banking reps at certain roles. I think the biggest thing they need to learn is how to run off the ball.

It’s a different pace of a run game that we’ve been trying to install, and really in the past week and a half I’d say — the front side of it at least is starting to — we still have some things to clean up on the backside, but the front side, they’re coming.

They’re running off the ball. It’s looking like I want it to look. I think Coach Ferentz is enjoying coaching it and seeing our guys just get better at it as we come rolling off the ball and the pace of the way the ball hits the line of scrimmage and where it’s supposed to.

As we’ve been tinkering with different ways to block it, which some have worked, some haven’t, but those guys are — they’re the glue, man. We have to get them going. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a great football team that doesn’t have a good one, and we have a huge number of guys that are veteran that have played a ton of ball.

They’re excited about what we’re doing, and they show up and they work every day. It’s a physical practice. We get after it. You can’t not if you’re going against Phil. They’re coming. So you either take it or you have to come off the ball.

It has been fun. The only reason we’ve had some success this spring is those guys up front and those tight ends we’ve been able to move the ball a little bit, and we’re going to need them. We’re going to count on them. I’m not going to shy away from that. It makes playing quarterback easier, makes playing wide out easier, makes playing everything easier when you have guys up front like that.

It’ll be interesting to see when we finally get them slotted in their spots and see who our swing guys are, but at least all our swing guys have experience because we’ve moved a lot of people around.

It has been good for us because that was the plan going in, is we don’t have to make any decisions for a while, so let’s figure out who we have. Let’s give them some banked reps different places. We’ll solidify in the fall where guys are going to end up. It’s a good group and there’s a lot of them.

Q. Not asking you to give away trade secrets or anything here, but two common themes we’ve heard from the players. The offensive side more movement, especially with the tight ends, more motion, and the defensive players have said they’re trying to confuse our eyes more. Can you kind of explain —

TIM LESTER: The word I like to use is consternation, and really hard to spell, but there’s spell check, thank God.

The biggest thing is if you ever let a great defense like the one we face every single day, you’re either going fast and then you don’t have to move a lot, or you’re going slow and you’ve got to change the picture on them because if you let them pin their ears back, it’s going to be a long day.

We have tried to move their eyes around a little bit and switch up their fits, pre-snap, post-snap, because a lot of times if you talk to defensive guys, which I have been one and I’ve worked with a couple defensive staffs last year, they never say — you’re never going to beat the defense, you’re just going to get them to misfit something.

That is part of the goal of any offense is whether it’s through an RPO, whether it’s through a motion, whether it’s through a shift, whether it’s through a post-snap sift, just continue and make sure that they have to be perfect in their fits. We are probably going to try to change their fits two or three times before the snap, and one might be post-snap or they better all be on the same page or we might hit one on them.

That’s a huge part of what we do. We don’t motion every play, but we’ve been using it as a way to hopefully lighten the load a little bit to the guys up front.

The other thing that you do when you do that is you stop linebackers from just coming downhill and blowing up the line of scrimmage. They end up starting laterally, and when they are lateral, if you get to them you already gain four.

It has been good, but sometimes it confuses O-linemen because they’re moving around. We’ve had linebackers run into each other because one thinks they’re supposed to go that way and the other one — you know, and sometimes that helps us, sometimes that hurts us.

It has been a lot of fun for those guys to learn and see it again and again and again, what we think they’re going to — now, once you play somebody, you watch the film, you see their fits, and then you can hopefully find a way to mess with it as much as possible.

But the O-line has to be comfortable with the movement, and that’s why — I think probably why the players brought that up. We are trying to get them comfortable with that. Not a guy just standing there, but he is going to have to figure out a lot of the other stuff going on while we run a normal play that everybody runs. We’re just trying to make it be as effective as humanly possible.

Q. Kind of a two-parter, but a lot of what Tom asked there, is the RPO and the motion kind of designed to create conflict more at the second level to enable your line to be able to get to where it needs to like on a stretch play, versus last year a lot of times without the cut blocks, the linebackers were completely free-flowing to that spot and try to create a little bit more room there? Secondly, at quarterback with RPOs, it’s not necessarily designed run, but you do want a quarterback who can run more out of that a lot of the time. Do you have a quarterback that’s capable of running more frequently than on staff? Do you have one right now?

TIM LESTER: Well, Marco. Marco can run. Every practice I’ve had a couple Marco plays in. With our terms and what we can do, we can easily turn any play into a zone read type world.

In my mind, when I say RPO, it’s less having the quarterback involved. When I’m flowing the ball sideways, this is just a personal opinion, when you’re throwing bubbles and slants and reading ends and running out and running triple option, tight football, the new spread, I call those bail-outs. If we get out numbered we have a play to get the ball where there’s less people.

RPOs, I’m throwing it down the field. I’m trying to score when I run a run-pass option.

So the motions and the shifts and the RPOs — we didn’t run one for at least a week or two because we had to get everything in, and then we started putting a couple in and we hit them early and our guys — they’ve got to throw them a million times so they can do it until their blue in the face, until they can’t screw it up.

We’re still getting better at executing them. Hardest thing was — I had to learn the defense to figure out where it would even give us a chance, where would it lighten the load. It has helped our run game. Now that — any team that knows that you’re an RPO team, those safeties and the second and third level guys have to figure out if I take off to fill right now, then I could get thrown over the head or do I just sit here and wait.

We have done a little bit of that, not a ton. But yeah, it’s really more second and third level. And then when you want to get into the zone read world, now you’re talking first level. We’ve done a little bit of that, too. Not a ton, but just a little. With Marco.

Q. We’ve been hearing about Washington moving from backfield to working at receiver in the spring. What was kind of the genesis of that idea and what’s stood out to you from that spot?

TIM LESTER: Well, he’s a great athlete. He threw the ball to me the other day, and the thing was spinning. And he can throw it, as well.

You know, the biggest thing is we have a couple guys banged up and that were out for a short amount of time, so it just made sense to put him in there. He still played running back. He carried the ball today. So he’s still in the running back room, but he has a skill set that we figured would be great for him to learn out there.

He has gotten a ton of reps at our slot position. Done a good job getting better. Sometimes he runs a route and he still looks like a running back running a route, and then sometimes he looks great.

It’s been a very great — we have a good stack of running backs, and we felt like that was going to be the way that he’d get the most reps and be out there playing football, and then we’d still at the end throw him in for a couple running back reps.

It’s been fun. I think we’re just trying to increase the amount of people that can help us in the fall, and with the amount of reps he got with the 1s this year due to little, he’s going to miss two days, going to miss a day, he’ll be back next week, all at that 1 position, he was able to hop in there and get a ton of valuable reps. Hopefully it’ll pay off for him in the fall.

It definitely will. He learned maybe more than anybody having to switch. Three days in I think he switched positions, but still giving him a couple running back reps every day, too.

I’m happy about — young and super talented, and he just shows up and works, and that’s the best guys to coach.

Q. Saturday will be our last chance to see the team, fans’ last chance to see the team until at least August probably. How it works is we all make big conclusions about what we see —

TIM LESTER: After the spring game, or is it a game?

Q. Anyway, to help us in our coverage, what do you want to see Saturday, and what do you want fans to be able to see Saturday about whatever, progress you’ve made or — what should we expect to see?

TIM LESTER: Yeah, I just want to be efficient. I want to be able to stay on-sides, all the pre-snap, all the logistical part of running a system like this. Getting in and out of the huddle. Getting the shifts, motions, cadence, and coming off the ball.

If we can do that — I’m sure he’s going to put us in some situations — you really don’t know. You just sit there and Coach decides, this is what we’re doing, and we roll. I am sure there will be some two-minute situations and some 3rd and long situations which will be tough for us this early, but we’re going to go out there and swing when we get into some of those situations.

But I’m hoping when we — he’ll put the ball down at some point, and It’ll be 1st and 10 and hopefully we can drive the ball.

We had one last Saturday, I want to say it was 12 plays. We moved the ball down the field really well and they had one today that we scored on.

Just having some success just grinding out 1st downs, which there’s going to be a lot of 3rd downs in there. Hopefully they’re 3rd and shorts and not 3rd and 10s. I just want to see them continue doing what they’ve been doing, because they have continued to show up because we’ve had some rough days, we’ve had some really good days. They always respond.

We watch the film together. We talk about the — the one thing about offense, if one guy screws up, the play is done. So it’s not like — defense sometimes — the left corner can fall down, but if the quarterback throws to the right, you throw a pick six, it’s the greatest play ever, right?

So we need to all be on the same page. We’re not going to put a lot of crazy new plays in or anything like that. I don’t have anything to add from what we put in the last week. We just want to see them go out there and execute this time.

Really we talk about banked reps again and stacking them. Whether there’s 20,000 people there or in Kinnick on the practice field in the indoor, we need them. And I want to see the kids. The guys respond to having people there.

I was worried last Saturday because we were in the stadium. There’s no one there, but it was just different. This time there will be some people there cheering for them.

The ability to stay focused and keep playing the same way no matter what, trying to keep them so busy, working, thinking, and trying to execute, they should hopefully not hear anyone there. We’ve got a ways to go to get there.

But it’s going to be fun. It’ll be fun for everyone to watch kind of our plan and what we’re doing and who’s having success and who’s not. It’ll be competitive because the defense plays hard.

It’ll be fun to see which guys can step up to the occasion. But yeah, I just want to see us get a little bit better at being efficient, taking care of the ball, getting out of the huddle, no penalties, because that takes time.

We’ve done a pretty good job of that, but there will be — I don’t know how many people will be there. I’m the new guy, so a lot of times they answer and they’re like, we’re going to do it like we did last year. I’ll be like, oh, how’s that? Every day at practice like, hey, how does this drill go, just like last year. Oh, how’s that?

So I don’t know what tomorrow is — or Saturday? Saturday is. But we’re going to see. Whatever Coach tells us to do, we’re going to show up and try to get better, and the guys really have been doing a good job of that. So it’s been a lot of fun. Long way to go, but it’s been a good start.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

PHIL PARKER: Thank you guys for coming. Obviously it’s this time of year. In the springtime, it’s unique because we haven’t lost a game yet, so that’s good. I think it’s a great time to develop some younger guys, and I think that’s happened.

Obviously we have some guys up front, Hurkett, Craig and Graves are playing very well.

But you look at Llewellyn, he is a guy that’s at it a little bit more, you see them growing a little bit.

I think Pittman has done a good job, and Allen up front is also doing a good job. You start building a little bit more depth up front. Obviously when you lose guys you have to replace them, so that’s helping us a little bit.

At the linebacker, obviously Jay, Nick, and Fish, those guys are very experienced at the second level, but when you see a guy like Harrell or Sharar he’s coming around a little bit.

Rexroth is doing a good job, so we’re building more depth there, and it’s nice to see that.

Obviously on the back end, the third level, you have Castro that I thought had a real productive year last year.

Quinn Schulte, solid guy in there, but we need some other guys to step up.

I think Xavier has improved a little bit, so everybody is moving forward in that little group, but the surprising thing is there are some young guys like John Nestor who has really came out and he’s been playing well. I like the way he’s playing.

Obviously Deshaun Lee is getting a lot of work and TJ Hall.

But the guy that maybe a surprise a little bit — not a surprise for us, but Lutmer has really done — Zach Lutmer has really improved at the safety position. He’s made a lot of good plays, and he’s moving forward there.

With all that, where I think guys are going and where we’re at with guys to help us out for next year. Obviously we have eight guys returning, but that doesn’t mean anything going into next season.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the defensive line. The correlation between Iowa’s success defensively has come, a lot of cases because you’ve had a lot of good depth and you’ve been able to rotate guys. Where are guys, say, 6 through 9 on that unit? Are they as far along as you need them to be or want them to be, or how far do they need to be before you feel like going into the fall you can throw eight guys out there in a given game?

PHIL PARKER: I think we’re getting a lot closer to that point. There’s some guys over there that’s taking some strides, and you look at them, and you look at Pittman say last year, he was a guy just trying to figure out where to be on the field a little bit. There are some things out there that he’s stepped up his game a little bit, and I think — obviously he’s done a good job. Llewellyn, like I said, he’s improved now.

Are we two deep all the way across? Can we find another guy over there? I think we have some other guys, Gaffney, or you’ve got Hubert — these two guys have been grinding in there, and I think they do a good job, especially when they’re both in there together.

So we’ll find another guy. Maybe it might be two or three guys adding to that eighth guy, but we’ll have enough guys.

Q. If I’m doing my math right, you have eight returning starters, a lot of fifth-year, sixth-year guys. How do you balance giving them their time and maybe setting aside some time for some more developmental guys to get maybe some time with the 1s?

PHIL PARKER: You know, at the beginning of — we kind of told some of these guys that we’re going to make sure we cut the reps out because we needed some other guys to step up a little bit.

I think they’ve been pretty good, but after a while, after the first or second practice, these guys are standing on the sideline and they jump in there when they’re not supposed to be in there, or at least I didn’t think they were supposed to be in there.

I think it’s good, and it shows a little bit of development, leadership for them guys. It’s hard to go out there and not practice for a little bit and then sit here and jump into a game situation.

They want to keep fresh, too. They don’t want to get rusty, which is a good sign.

Q. Phil, you mentioned Zach Lutmer and being kind of a surprise for you, maybe more a surprise for us than for you, but in what ways has he shined to you this spring?

PHIL PARKER: Well, the opportunity is when you put him out there and I see him move around, and obviously he has a great skill set and moving-wise, but his reaction and how he falls into some plays that he’s made that you sit there and say, that’s pretty impressive that he’s — he might be chasing a guy, and how hard and his effort and his commitment to trying to be better.

I’ve been flipping him around between free safety, strong safety, and cash. I think he can play all positions, so to get that, it’s rare to do. It’s hard to find those guys.

I think he’s just shown a little bit. He still needs to grow. He still needs to mature and be a little bit more vocal. Being a young guy coming in and trying to control the back end is not easy. You’re the one who has to be confident, and I think he’s gaining confidence by the day.

Q. I wanted to ask, obviously this is not your first off-season losing seniors and all that, but how do you replace the leadership that you lose from somebody like a Joe Evans on the defensive line? Are you looking for a new leader, seeing somebody step up? What’s that process like from your perspective?

PHIL PARKER: Well, losing Joe, which was obviously a great leader, Logan Lee I think is another guy that’s leadership over there that you can do it.

But that’s the whole growing up aspect of some of the other guys that are coming up. You look at Aaron Graves; might not have been the top leader last year in that group, but now you start seeing him come. The better he’s playing, the better that you can lead.

I see like Hurkett, I see him the same way. Like hey, the better he’s playing right now, the respect that he has and the way people play, that’s how you become a leader, and I think it’s the way you go about your business and the demands that they have.

Obviously Joe was very vocal and he was fun. Obviously what was he, six years, five years, he’s been here a while. I think he left some of that stuff, and that’s what’s been fun to see, these guys gelling together.

Q. You had a lot of guys on defense that could have left, decided to come back. How did you see that unfold from your perspective, and was there any notable instances of guys telling you they’re coming back or anything like that?

PHIL PARKER: Well, it’s always kind of hard when you’re going through that transition of like, hey, you’re going to go out into the real world, whether you go into the NFL or whether you’re going to go to dental school like Quinn is going to do, and he had an opportunity to push that back so it gave him a reason that he could come back and start it.

But everybody has different philosophies or reasons why they want to go. I just thought that the connection that they all had and saw the opportunities here, what could they do this year, how can we be better than we were last year, and I think the connection is really good with these guys, the way they’ve been together so long and playing together. It’s hard to leave because once you leave, there’s no coming back.

Q. I wanted to ask about the NFL Draft which is a week from today. You may have your first-round defensive back since you’ve been at Iowa chosen, but you’ve had a lot of successful defensive backs in the NFL. I’m curious, what would that mean to you to have a first-round pick in the defensive backfield? And also, why do you feel like Iowa defensive backs are so well prepared and almost over playing where they’re picked typically at the next level?

PHIL PARKER: Well, I don’t want to jinx them, but it’s scary, I think — obviously I think he has the ability to play in that league, and where he’s actually drafted varies with every team. What’s their need and where they’re going to play him at. Are they going to play him at corner or inside at the cash or are they going to play him at safety.

So me, I just know he’s a good football player. I know that wherever he goes, he’s going to be successful, and I think the opportunity, the way these guys study the game of football kind of helps them out in their further career, and I think they’ve seen that with other guys that went through this program and are playing in the league right now. And obviously some guys are getting their second contracts that they’re kind of aware of and how they went about their business.

I think they see that, and I think most of the guys that come out of here that are draftable, they seem to stick on the team just because of the work ethic that they have and the routines that they set during the week of how they’ve got to prepare, and I think the same thing is going to carry over to the NFL, and I think that’s what helps them out a lot.

Q. Twofold question: One, what’s been challenging or different about the offense that you’ve faced this spring? What’s impressed you there? Did you ever find out who set up the Broyles thing? You said you were going to find out who did that to you.

PHIL PARKER: I think my wife had something to do with it. They contacted her. I don’t know what I can do about it. So that kind of ended that.

But going back to what was your first question, the offense, it’s kind of funny. There’s 11 guys out there. They’re either going to run the ball or they’re going to pass the ball.

These teams go back, whether they want to get it out quick or whether they’re going to go out and run some nakeds and some play-action pass, it’s all the same thing. Now, is it reduced more or is it spread out?

What it does with some of the motion over there, you have to concentrate and focus on where your eyes are, and you have to be able to — it’s like driving in Chicago during rush hour. Sometimes it goes, but they’re not always doing that.

So I think you have to keep things simple and know how to leverage the ball and understand it, and I think after the first couple days of seeing some things, I think our guys have been comfortable getting to know it. It’s kind of like a standard thing right now.

It’s just a way of doing something differently, but they still run the inside zone, outside zone, still run the nakeds, still run the same pass concepts.

But there is some motion in there that you have to make sure that you see things and don’t be misfitting and making sure you can stop the run and don’t give up the big passes.

Q. You were mentioning Max a lot earlier. Is there a particular aspect of his game where you’ve really seen him especially grow in these last three or four months?

PHIL PARKER: I think when we sit there — we’ve only been out for the last couple weeks of practice, so obviously he’s getting bigger, stronger and faster and all that, but I think his ability, understanding what it takes to be a good football player and understanding the assignment football that you have to take care of certain things, I think he’s been growing. He doesn’t make as many mistakes, I guess, as you do, so that’s helpful.

But I think just the way he goes about his business, he’s getting better.

You see little jumps at a time, and then you keep on — just like everybody, you start seeing him grow a little bit, and then all of a sudden they become a good player.

Q. When it comes to losing a player like Cooper, especially when you’ve got eight other returners coming back, I guess what’s it been like to have — I’m assuming Deshaun step into that role again after he started several games last season? Does that provide you some level of confidence with what’s going on outside despite losing a first-rounder at corner?

PHIL PARKER: Well, you lose a player like Cooper, which he’s very special, I think, as a player, I think other guys learn from him how you’ve got to go about your business, what are you doing in the days that we’re not in the building over here, are you in here working out, what are you going to help yourself be the best player that you can be.

I think there’s great examples of guys that can say, hey, this guy has really worked his butt off to get to where he was, to have this opportunity. I think between Deshaun Lee and TJ Hall and Nestor, I think these guys are really playing well right now, and hopefully there’s some guys — we’re down to three right now because Harris is still trying to get back and I think he’ll be ready for the summer.

I think we’ve got a good pool of guys out there, but everybody is going to have to be a little bit better. That goes from the defensive line to the linebackers to the back end. Everybody has to be a little bit better when you lose a good player. We lost a couple guys up front. We were lucky to keep most of the linebackers.

Everybody is going to — if they improve a little bit, that hopefully we get back to — potentially get back to where we were last year.

Q. Seth got kind of an internal promotion, took on another title. What makes him so valuable to this program?

PHIL PARKER: I think just the way he goes about his business. I know he was back here as a GA a long time ago, and I think he’s very detailed in what he does. I think we really work well together, and he understands they way I would like to call the defense and stuff like that.

It has been very helpful on doing some things with the front and manipulating the front. I think just the way he goes about his business. He’s eager. He communicates well. I think he’s done a great job coaching. He’s been at all three levels, coaching with the defensive line, in the back end with me before then he’s been the linebacker coach.

I think all the qualities you look at a guy with his leadership and skill-wise I think has been really good for me and has been helpful for me.

LEVAR WOODS: First and foremost, thank you guys for being here. I know a lot of you guys, see a lot of faces. A lot of you guys are doing extra work, been spending a bunch of time covering women’s basketball, right, and watching our basketball team. Phenomenal run, awesome to see all that. I know a lot of you guys pulled double duty away from home for quite a while. It’s a pretty cool experience as an alum, as a fan of Iowa sports, and as I mentioned as an alum watching that whole thing. I know you guys were all front and center for that.

But a little bit, we’re in practice 14 of spring football; we had that this morning. I thought it was a good practice overall from special teams standpoint. We saw some guys make a jump.

It’s a different year, a new year, new room that we have in regards to the specialists. Have six players within the room replacing three players. Only two guys that have any playing experience at the college level, so that’s interesting, as you can imagine as a coach. But I feel like we have a really good strong culture of special teams here at this university within the program but then also within — strong culture within our specialist room right now.

I think just want to try to keep that going with the guys that we have within the room.

Anytime you lose a player of Tory Taylor’s caliber, you can never replace a player like that. You can never replace the player or the person, but the role does need to be filled. So that’s going to — there’s a battle for that right now, obviously. We have that going on.

We have the battle at long snapper going on, and then also at kicker. So again, new faces, all sorts of stuff going on.

Phil just talked about a gunner and Cooper DeJean that’s also leaving us, so there’s plenty of opportunity out there. Anytime there’s change that we have going on, there’s an opportunity for growth. So we’re looking for that right now, and that’s what we’ve been focused on here the first 14 practices of spring, and hopefully have a good one here on Saturday.

A lot is going on on special teams. Any questions you guys may have, happy to answer.

Q. Before we get to the other guys, the guy who did hold last year, Tory Taylor, how many calls have you been fielding for him on the NFL Draft? It’s crazy how much love there is out there for him at the NFL, but not surprising, I guess. What do you think he’s going to be like at the next level?

LEVAR WOODS: Yeah, quite a bit of calls on the guy. More so about what is he like as a person. I think you watch the tape, you watch his workout at the Senior Bowl, you watch his workout at the combine, everything I’ve heard has been nothing but positive.

I think it’s going to be really what it comes down with the market, at the pro level, at the NFL level, and what jobs are available, what’s opening or what is open currently for him.

The sky’s the limit for Tory as a player and as a person, and you guys all got a chance to see him, watch him really grow right in front of your eyes. Even though he came here at 22, he was still very young and very green. A lot of opportunity for him ahead of him.

Q. Rhys now, you’ve had 14 practices with him. What’s stood out to you the most about his punting?

LEVAR WOODS: Yeah, I think with Rhys, he and Tory are very different. I think a lot of similarities are going to try to be put on them because they’re both from Australia. They’re both from Melbourne. They both came from the same coach. They’re very different.

I think what we’ve seen so far with him is he’s a very talented young man, but he’s also young and green. You think about the differences, Tory came in at 22 years old, and a lot of us graduated college at 22 years old. He was beginning college.

As you can imagine putting yourself back in those shoes at 22, you’re much more mature at that age than you are at 18 or 19 when you enter college.

Rhys is entering college at 19, so some of those immaturity things in comparison show up. But I think Rhys is going to be fine. He’s incredibly talented. He has a very bright future.

Q. In so many ways, strategically, Tory was even more than a weapon. He was part of the game plan it seemed like for the entire team, not just for special teams. In what ways — it doesn’t seem right that you would apply that type of pressure to a punter to do the same things Tory did, but also it’s part of the overall team plan. How would you be able to entrust a punter like Rhys to do some of the same things, or if it’s not Rhys, and in what ways could that punter — I guess some of the angled punting and that sort of thing, how do they fit into the scheme right now?

LEVAR WOODS: Yeah, I think both Ty Nissen and Rhys Dakin, both of those guys have capabilities to do the shots the Tory did. Now, the difference is going to be Tory has done it a lot longer. He was a little bit more skilled, a little bit more adept at it at this current moment.

But I think it’s all out there. They’re all capable of doing it.

As we get going, get a better feel for their shots, the shots that they prefer, I think we’ll put a good game plan together.

It’s kind of likening it to golf. The Masters was just last weekend. You’re watching. Some guys are playing a 50-degree wedge, some are playing a 52, some are 48. Those things are different.

It all comes down to the punter or the golfer, if you will, and what their best stroke is. When you talk about angles punting or pinning people inside the 10, whatever their best shot is that we figure out over 15 practices and then through the summer, that’s how we’ll build our game plan moving forward.

Q. LeVar, with Drew Stevens, great first half of last season; a little bit of turbulence down the stretch. How have you helped him navigate that come into this season and I guess the competition that he’s got at that position going into the fall?

LEVAR WOODS: Yeah, I think with Drew, what we’re seeing right now is a much more mature version of Drew, as it stands today, a much more humbled version of Drew. He got humbled very hard last year. You guys all saw it and you all watched it, but I think he’s a different kid right now.

I say, use the term kid. When Drew first came here, he began when he should have been in high school. He came here as a second semester — his first semester on campus would have been his last semester in high school. So he came here as an 18 year old kid, and then all of a sudden he comes in and kicks really well as a freshman. So he had wild success right away.

I think that can fool a person very quickly. You see in pro sports all the time, a rookie comes in, sets the world on fire, and then all of a sudden the sophomore is not quite the same or their second season not the same. I think some of that happened with Drew.

But I think you’re seeing a more mature version of him, the way he thinks, the way he talks, the way he approaches his business is much different than last year.

So I think over the course of time, 14 practices now, 15 on Saturday, he’s definitely working through some things swing-wise, but I think as we get going, we’re going to see a different guy with Drew.

I think the things we’ve been working on more so are getting better consistent ball contact. The strength is there. Again, looking at it like golf, he can smoke the ball.

But you watch some of these guys that get in those long drive competitions, sometimes it’s straight, sometimes it’s left, sometimes it’s right, but they’re smoking the ball. Now we’re trying to get a guy to play in the fairway more consistently all the time.

I think it’s in there with him. The leg strength is in there. Now it’s the maturity of not having to hit a 65-yard field goal every time he lines up there.

I think it’ll be fun to watch with him because again, he’s talented, he’s capable, and the culture within the room I think is going to push him forward.

Q. Wanted to ask about return game with kicking and punting. I know Kaden held that down especially after Cooper got hurt last year. Is that the expectation going into this spring game on Saturday and maybe potentially the fall, and who else is in that mix if not?

LEVAR WOODS: I think the position is open. Both kick return and punt return. If you look at kick return, the first return of the year last year went for, I think, 52, 54 yards. That was Kaleb Johnson. It was the longest one we had of the year.

So Kaleb Johnson is definitely capable. We also saw that from him his freshman year. Then he got nicked up, banged up, and Kaden Wetjen stepped in and did a really good job with that. But the competition is open. Those two guys, I think they’re competing for that position.

I also think Terrell Washington is a young guy that you see him with the ball in thinks hands, he does some good stuff. Kamari Moulton in that mix. Zach Lutmer is a new name that could be in that mix, as well.

If you’re talking about punt returning, Kaden Wetjen has been back there the most so far in spring. Kaden, also Alec Wick, and then the same cast of characters I mentioned before as punt returner.

It’s a thing that’s ongoing. Again, we don’t install scheme right now in the return game during spring, but we work on the fundamentals and try to push that forward to get into fall camp.

Q. I want to ask about Rhys as a holder. With the punter that comes in, assuming he gets the starting punting job, is he automatically going to be the holder right away, and how much of your practices go into helping make sure that that transition happens, that he’s a capable holder versus transitioning to just being an American football punter, as well?

LEVAR WOODS: As far as the holder goes, the best guy is going to get the job. It’s not going to be because he is the starting punter that he is the starting holder, sort of like we flirted with Cooper years ago, right. Some other guys we’re flirting with, okay, just so you know. Some other guys we’re flirting with.

But it’s going to come down to can they execute and is the kicker comfortable with him holding to make place kicks.

But overall I think guys that are working at it, Ty Nissen has done a really good job. I’d say currently right now, he he has the upper hand.

And then Rhys has done a fine job with it, as well. It’s going to take reps for him because it’s not something he’s really done in a game before. Neither has Ty here at Iowa, but he’s done it before in both high school and junior college.

Q. Gunners, is John Nestor a guy you’re looking at there?

LEVAR WOODS: John Nestor has done a really, really good job this spring. It’s been fun to watch him grow. He’s still a freshman in college right now, right. But just watching him each practice, whether it’s on defense or on special teams or working as a gunner, he’s growing tremendously. He’s a guy I could see out there. Zach Lutmer is a guy that played in the bowl game, did a really good job at the gunner position, as well. Koen Entringer when he makes his return, I think we all saw his effort and his energy and his speed at the Big Ten Championship game. I really wish he tackled it on the other 6-yard line rather than our 6-yard line, but you can see the ability there.

I think those three guys, and before he got hurt last year, TJ Hall, believe it or not, was actually leading the gunners in tackles in front of Cooper. So those are four guys right there that we feel really good about.

I also feel like there’s other guys in there, Deshaun Lee is a guy working at that. I mentioned Terrell Washington before as an offensive player. I think Jarriett Buie is coming along at that position, as well.

There are guys out there, and it’s been fun watching. I think as we get into fall camp and things pick up, the pace picks up a little bit, it’ll be really interesting to see how it goes.

But again, that’s a good list right now that we have, guys that have been busting their butt, and the other guy in there, I truly overlooked was Deavin Hilson, played for us there last year. Deavin if you haven’t heard already had like a career day in practice today, so it was fun to watch him and see him back there.

Q. When you go about evaluating kick return, punt return, what are some of the criteria you look at as, hey, these are really important when it comes to who we’re deciding is going to be back there?

LEVAR WOODS: So punt returner, kick returner, first and foremost how you field the ball. That also comes into decision making; do you make a good decision, particularly in punt return, should I fair catch this or field this and go, and as a kick returner, we’re looking for guys that can field it and hit the thing as fast as they can because it’s a little bit different game, different hang time, different return opportunities, but those are first and foremost the things we’re looking at.

Then it comes down to how hard they run and then can they make yards and do they have the ability to go the distance.

Q. We didn’t see any fakes last year —

LEVAR WOODS: They were called and then the look did not present itself.

Q. My question is on Drew Stevens. Obviously he got benched, or whatever, in the Nebraska game, and then you guys didn’t score another point or even attempt to kick the rest of the year. What did you see in that process because we didn’t get to see him kick other than warm-ups from Nebraska until now. How was that mental growth up until the bowl game? Did he make that progress you needed?

LEVAR WOODS: I think what you’re talking about as a kicker and as a competitor, which Drew is an ultimate competitor, if you know anything about him, if you ever talk to him, there’s a little fire in there. There’s a tiger inside Drew Stevens, and that’s tough for a competitor.

You ever talk to elite specialists, like Nate Kaeding is a good example for that. Missing a kick and then not having another opportunity for a game, let alone for months, it’s hard to deal with. But I think Drew has had a very mature approach to it. I think he’s really dialed in. I think he’s trying to figure it out, and he’s done an excellent job with that.

I think he’s also taken a better approach to the mental side of kicking, and a lot of that work has come with Carmen Priebe-Tebbe, who’s our sports psychologist; does an awesome job. Players love her to death. She’s been very instrumental within our room, and so I think he’s really taken to that, which maybe he didn’t before. He wasn’t quite a believer in some of the tactics that she uses.

But I think he’s doing that now, and we’re seeing growth.