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April 16, 2013

FREE Rhoads Report: Presser Q & A

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads held a spring football press conference Tuesday to preview the Cyclones' spring game on Saturday and talk about the 11 practice sessions already in the books.

Here is the complete transcript of Rhoads' Tuesday presser, only from CycloneReport.com.

Opening comments:

Let me start with our off-season workouts and spring ball practices, the organization, the efficiency of those, because of the brand new Bergstrom Football Complex and its adjoinment to the Bergstrom Indoor Training Facility, have been significantly enhanced how they've affected the growth and development of our football program. And we couldn't be more excited about that as we continue to move forward one year and one day at a time.

Very pleased with the intensity and enthusiasm this football team brings to the practice field every day, and for that matter, to the meeting room as well. It's a group that likes to practice. It's a group that likes to play the game and that's been very evident through 11 practices thus far this spring. Additionally, I'm appreciative of the final four opportunities that we still have and look forward to getting that started this afternoon with practice number 12.

Spring game format will be very similar to the previous four years. The scoreboard will really be irrelevant as we go through it. It will be an offense versus defense scrimmage not unlike what we've done the previous two Saturdays. There will be very little kicking involved. We'll kick field goals, we'll kick PATs, some times we'll do them two at a time. But just looking forward to another opportunity to get better as a football program and not worry about the score or a winner and loser as it's concluded.

It will start with a 2 p.m. kickoff time, if you will, this Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.

What have you seen from the kicking game competition between Arceo and Netten?

I would call it a dead heat; I think that's accurate. I think both have had good days; I think they've had off days. And maybe they've had them together, quite honestly. Saturday we didn't kick very well, didn't have great conditions to kick in. And spent the bulk of that time, every time we kicked from a spot, both of them got that opportunity. Wind was swirling in Jack Trice and it was only the third time that we've gone out this spring.

The thing I didn't really anticipate is the effect of breaking in a new holder in this process. Justin Coleman is working at that and doing a very nice job and Kirby (Van Der Kamp) is also a candidate that could be the main guy, could be a back-up. But that's affected them a little bit as well.

How do you deal with the numbers you have at running back and maybe a half dozen guys to get carries?

That's a good question and it's a good problem to have, first of all, to try to figure out. DeVondrick Nealy has had an impressive spring both running and catching the football. Jeff Woody has had three straight days of really making us a better offense, making us a better football team by doing a number of things. Things he hasn't really done at all or to a level that we need him to in the three previous years. That's physical blocking, that's moving around, motion as an H back, that's even lining up in the traditional tight end location. And he carried the ball well in Saturday's scrimmage.

James White remains steady as he always has and shows us the things that he does well. And Aaron Wimberly has burst on the scene much like we were hoping he would. He's very dynamic, he's fast, doesn't need much of a hole to get through and catches the ball extremely well. And we do count on Shontrelle (Johnson) to be back and healthy as well. Rob Standard missed a couple of days with his head dinged up and then came back and had a very productive day Saturday. And he's put on additional weight, he's in the neighborhood of 215, which could put him in a position like Jeff of being a lead blocker, a pass protector, and so forth.

When you get to August and you really starting to competing for those carries and those snaps, is when we'll sort that out a little bit. But we're afforded the opportunity to do some more stuff with two backs. We're afforded the opportunity to maybe put a guy split out as well as still have backs on the field. Any time you can do that with similar personnel groupings, it creates match-up problems and call problems for a defensive coordinator. And that's the positive that the depth at running back will allow us to do. You're always going to have injuries, never goes away at that position, and having that depth will be positive for us.

What has having a true number one quarterback allowed you to do differently this spring?

I don't know if it changes the format, the practice organization, the coordinator's thoughts a whole lot, that he has to juggle less. Has to juggle less on who's getting the one reps and dividing that up and the play calling to go along with that so you're getting equal exposure to evaluate. Grant (Rohach) and Sam (Richardson) have gotten probably (an) equal number of reps, maybe separated by a dozen or so through 11 practices.

So we've gotten to see both, evaluate both. You want to get them timing with all the receivers so they're used to that, both quarterbacks and receivers. But I think there's probably a sense of, I don't know if calmness is the right word, by everybody that operates with or in the number ones of having the same guy out there barking the signals and operating and running. But I don't go on or off the practice field every day being thankful for that because it's a very important position, but one of eleven we're trying to figure out to help make us better.

Is it coincidence the light seems to come on for your three linebackers going into their junior year when they haven't had a redshirt year?

I think that's the coincidence piece to it. That for those three particular guys, it's all been going into junior season. Because the light goes on at different times for different players. Jeremy Reeves was playing as a freshman and Jake and A.J. and Josh and those guys, I mean the light did go on earlier for those guys and they played better at an early age. I know this, with all three of those guys, I sure wish we had the redshirt left.

And comparing a guy like Alton Meeks, who came in just like Jevohn after the fall semester of his senior year of high school, Jevohn we didn't think we could afford to redshirt and went ahead and played. Alton we're already talking about trying to find a way to maybe redshirt him this fall. Then his light could go on next year as a redshirt freshman if we accomplish that.

One thing that I know I am happy about is the light has gone on and we've got three first-team linebackers that are having good springs and really playing very productively, both on normal practice days and scrimmage days.

How do you judge progress in the spring with a young defense?

It's easier to see sometimes the leaps and bounds that the younger players are making. And it's also easier to see when they have bad days. The positive of those bad days is there's a lot of upside. The negative is you're going to be playing through that experience. Especially up front, we really have that youth that's going to be a part of our two- and even three-deep as we, you know, will play eight, ten guys on that defensive front.

Certainly pleased with the talent. There's a learning curve that the light hasn't gone on with some of those guys, similar to what we talked about with the linebackers. And we're pressing hard to get to that point. We don't have the luxury of waiting until these guys' third year or junior year. They're going to have to play right now.

What makes spring games fun for coaches and players and what do you most look forward to?

Well, I think probably the funnest piece is having our fans in the stands and them getting an opportunity to see the 2013 football team for the first time and the cheers that go along with that. Any time you people in front of them there's a response. We had a high school coaches clinic about two weeks ago and those coaches on the practice field liven things up a little bit.

Things get dummied down a little bit with what we do that day and probably not as fun from that standpoint. This past Saturday's scrimmage would have had more offense and defense and this Thursday's practice would have had more offense and defense. From that part it takes away a little bit of it and gets to the game in its rawest piece in that we're just seeing who can make plays, get off blocks, make catches, make people miss and so forth.

What kind of team should the fans expect to see on Saturday?

Well I think the team that I talked about in my opening statement. One that's very intense, that flies around the field with great enthusiasm and emotion that we think are vital parts to this sport. It's a group that likes playing together, competing against each other. I spoke earlier in the spring about every time I see this group take the field I want to see a group that loves to play the game.

If you get to that point in how you practice, I don't think you have off Saturdays or you work hard not to have off Saturdays. And that's very, very hard to do with any football team. Eventually the tank's empty. Eventually you have so many [injuries]. Eventually you've got up too many times. But we're trying to build a mentality that we just flat out love to play and I think the fans will see that on Saturday. Unless I practice them too hard on Friday night, which I could do.

Are there any specific things you want to see?

I think on the offensive side of the ball, I want to continue to see plays being made. Those guys, wide receivers and running backs first and foremost, certainly tight ends included and then the quarterbacks, coaches can only do so many things as far as teaching drills and this is how you cut and so forth.

You've got to recruit the talent, and it exists, where those guys have to go out and make people miss. They've got to turn 6-yard plays into 60-yard plays. I don't know what the comparison is on our explosive plays but they've been out there this spring and that's encouraging to see. Offensively I want to see that, I want to see plays being made.

Defensively, the first Saturday scrimmage had too many missed tackles and extra yards. This past Saturday we cut down on those numbers but they were still too high. I'd really like to see those guys go out and play fundamental football and tackle singly, tackle more aggressively when they have a partner there, not lose containment and things like that. I really want to see a very fundamental Saturday by our defensive troops.

How much should fans expect to see the pistol or two tight ends or things on offense that might be a little bit different?

We've been very banged up at the tight end position all spring so you won't see a lot of two tight end offense on Saturday and how much we get to that in the fall just depends on how much we like it and it comes along. Pierce Richardson hasn't practiced all spring because of a lower body injury. Brun's been out, Bibbs has been out and Boesen has been out here recently. So we've been very thin there. Pistol offense has been integrated more, part of our zone read package. And you could see a good bit of it more Saturday and certainly in the fall 2013 as well.

Are you seeing the more physical offensive line you hoped for, even with losing Dika?

Yeah we are and I think it's a renewed intensity towards the game by that group. Coach Klenakis has certainly brought that to the field with a different philosophy than we had been teaching with. We've hit the sled a lot more this spring and any time you're hitting and driving that heavy apparatus, I mean there's going to be growth mentally and physically that takes place.

He refers to that group as "the union." I like that, I think they've embraced that and played better as a unit. When I say better as a unit, I'm talking about the combination blocks that must take place successfully to lead you to a second level block and we've been seeing more of that. I think we've blocked better on the perimeter, whether it be the screen game or the outside runs. And they keep getting better and better every day. They need to. They maybe as a group, I look forward to the next four days more than any other.

Is there a heightened sense of security for the spring game in the wake of what happened at the Boston Marathon Monday?

It always is, it's always a concern and I know the administration has already discussed that before and will again after yesterday's events. Any of our sports venues, any of the activities that take place, not just in athletics but on this campus, that will always be a priority.

What have you seen out of Sam Richardson this spring and how's he coming along?

Commanding would be the word I'd start with. As much as you try, it goes back to the linebacker conversation, the more, as much as you try to get a guy to come along earlier, sometimes it just doesn't work that way. Sam had an opportunity last year to be the guy. Sam had an opportunity no different than Steele or Jared to take the ball on the first offense and run with it. And never stepped forward to do that. It was too easy for him to sit behind a couple of veteran guys and wait for his time.

I'm seeing that in Jevohn Miller right now. Jake Knott was there and (Jevohn) did not take the significant steps forward to really improve like he is right now. Sam has now made those steps and I see him more commanding in his presence of the offense and in his level of play. He's making good choices. Mess doesn't like the way he runs physically, his style, but it's very productive. He had a 41-yard touchdown run in Saturday's scrimmage and had eight carries for 81 yards overall. He's always thrown a very catchable, accurate ball and he continues to do that.

So all in all pleased with his progress. He's a guy that's not satisfied and that's encouraging as well. There's a good chance he's down the hallway right now watching tape with a receiver or two. He snags them as often as he can and brings them in there. I'll walk down that hallway and he'll be up on the grease board with them, pointing things out and then sitting down and further digesting film to go through it. That's what you need your number one leader on the offensive side of the ball to do.

What is wrong with his running style?

It's just not a style that makes you think this guy is really cagey and has the ability to make 11 guys miss and end up in the end zone. It's more upright. But he's very effective.

Does he look for contact or try to avoid it?

He'll be both. I think you saw in the West Virginia game he dropped his shoulder one time late in the game and moved the ball into the red zone and got demonstrative after. So yeah, he's capable of being physical and dropping a shoulder. But you need those guys to be smart and stay healthy and stay on the field.

Are some young receivers stepping forward to take bigger roles?

All of them are and I think I'd be wrong in not bringing up Justin Coleman at this time, too, who's going to be a senior. Former scholarship player at Nebraska-Omaha who joined us as a walk-on. He's right at the top of our list in explosive plays this spring and will be a definite contributor to our football team as a wide receiver this fall.

I think Dondre Daley, if you look at that total class of young receivers, he's the guy who's really making the late push here and really standing out. All these guys are big and rangy. You can be big and rangy, but you've got to play fast and play to that size as well and he's doing it as he gets more comfortable. I think P.J. (Harris) started strong and leveled off and we need him to giddy up and go again. Again, that's why these four opportunities this week are very important. It's not a time to put it in cruise and take the foot off the gas and just finish up. Last week as I mentioned to you, I don't know what day it was, Thursday, the third week is a week you could've done that. We avoided that. Now we've got to do the same thing this week. We must get better all four practices and P.J.'s one of those guys. Quan West has come off the knee surgery. They've been a little bit more conservative with him, understandably so, he's had some swelling. But I've been pleased with how he's pushed through that and got himself right back on the field catching the ball well. He's turning into what we were hoping in that he's that physical presence, that size puts him in position where he could play a number of spots. He could be a guy that, if your tight ends are banged up a little bit, you could put him in that spot where you normally flex out a tight end. And then you can play him in the traditional wide receiver spots that we have. But he's a big body as well and sometimes you just can't get to the football as a defensive player with targets of that size

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