Here are the transcripts from today’s interview sessions with Iowa assistants LeVar Woods and Chris White.
I asked what the division of labor was with special teams. No clear answer, but think of it this way: Woods is probably running the special team based in defense, punt return and everything that comes with that. Chris White definitely has the specialists and might have kick off/return with grad assistant Kelvin Bell in that mix and possibly carrying the FG team.
– Woods talks about competing in space and that is an excellent point. That is the challenge for every special teams that doesn’t come with jets.
– He also talks senior linebacker Anthony Hitchens and his path, which had some twists and turns as a first-year starter last year.
Last season was a learning season for Woods, who was in his first year as Iowa’s linebacker coach. What all went into the learning? Recruiting, practice schedules and some of the really strict definition of what needs to be coached.
He brought up a roughing the kicker penalty against ISU last season. Iowa was in punt safe and DE Dominic Alvis made it to the punter and nearly blocked the kick. He missed and was hit with the penalty. As soon as he saw that, Woods realized that he hadn’t coached the ends what to do in that situation in punt safe, the proper technique. (IIRC, the drive still resulted in no points.)
He also talks about his NFL experiences here.
Here, the discussion is on the backups, which will become supremely relevant in 2014, when the Hawkeyes replace the three senior starters from this season.
– I asked if the three seniors — James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens — have what it takes to become NFL draft picks.
– I also asked if he could put percentages on the time he spends with defense compared to special teams. He didn’t know and wouldn’t venture a guess.
LeVAR WOODS: How’s everyone doing? Just to start off, I’d like to thank everyone for coming here, obviously. It’s an exciting time for us here at Iowa with spring football going. With the new facility, the indoor facility, we’re able to use that now. We’re using it this spring for the first time in spring football. It’s been a great facility. And also with all the excitement going on with the rest of the facility, the rest of the phase is being completed.
So exciting times around here at Iowa football, and some different faces with the coaching staff and some recruits we have coming in that we’re excited about. Guys here, particularly the linebacker position, the position I’m around the most, guys are excited. Guys are hungry. They’re here working every day. They’re here when you come to the office early in the morning, the guys are here and you leave late at night and guys are still here. They’re at your office wanting to know what more can I do, how do you see this, those kind of things. That as a coach makes you very excited and getting ready to keep moving, building on momentum that we’re trying to build here in spring football into the summer and then into the fall.
Q. How has the adjustment been for you so far as far as working with Jim in terms of working with the linebackers and with Chris in special teams?
LeVAR WOODS: It’s been good. Jim is an excellent coach, man. This is the first time I’ve actually really been around him. I know he came here a couple years ago to do some clinicing with Norm Parker. I wasn’t a part of that. So this is the first chance I’ve actually really got to spend time with him. He reminds me a lot of Norm in the way he teaches, and he has a lot of wisdom. So that part has been very good for a young coach like myself, it’s been good to try to learn from him.
And also with Chris, I’m excited to work with Chris because he has a background that from playing ‑‑ or excuse me, from coaching in the National Football League that I think will add a new dynamic to our team, and we’re doing some things, coaching wise in making things competitive with special teams in the spring that should help our team moving forward coming up.
Q. What part of special teams ‑‑ how is it divided up?
LeVAR WOODS: You know, everything we do right now is together. We’re focusing on competition and competing and making sure that the guys understand how to compete, how to win and particularly in space. Special teams is a game very often when the ball is actually kicked, right, when you’re competing in space, which is something sometimes forgotten and it’s hard to do. But it’s hard to be able to compete in space, make plays, blocks and tackles in space. So those are the things we’ve been focusing on most so far.
Q. Coach Ferentz said your experience in the NFL one of the reasons you had success was on special teams among other things. How are you able to translate that into coaching these guys and teaching things?
LeVAR WOODS: You know, that’s a good question. One of the things that, again, I think sometimes special teams, if you don’t have a familiarity with it, which I did not when I first went into the NFL, if you don’t have a familiarity with it, you don’t quite understand how difficult it is to do.
But if you ‑‑ the thing that I think that having played special teams and having a good understanding of it are some of the little tricks that can happen, because sometimes when it’s ‑‑ you have officials that watch the game. They watch everything, but they can’t quite see everything that happens. So sometimes they’re ‑‑ sometimes plays, there are penalties, although there are plays in special teams that go unnoticed, and my point with that is that there are some tricks and little techniques that you can use to help guys be able to finish their block or help guys to understand and know where to fit on a kickoff or on a punt and know how to make the play.
I think having that experience as a player can help, being able to teach those kind of things to the guys, but also, the thing I was particularly excited about with Coach White is that he brings some of those elements to our team, some of the same schemes that I’m familiar with, having played in, Coach White worked with a coach at Minnesota who I played for his father, and some of the things are very similar, so some of the terminology and things have been sort of seamless, and excited to keep moving forward here.
Q. Anthony Hitchens last year made a lot of tackles, but was inconsistent in positioning and technique. What did you see of him on film that suggested he can become better and more consistent and kind of an elite type of defense?
LeVAR WOODS: Absolutely. That’s a good question. Anthony was a young player last year, a guy that it was his first time ever starting at linebacker. He had been a safety and a running back all before that and then played a little bit at linebacker his sophomore year. And then not very much at linebacker, and his junior year was his first time really starting. Some of the things that Anthony, that we’re cleaning up some of the techniques and his footwork and his reads, I think Coach Reid has done an excellent job with Anthony in this spring, guys that have been around have seen, I think he’s improved.
Anthony has a tremendous amount of ability, and he’s a guy that I think the sky’s the limit for him as a player, and as long as he keeps honing those skills and keeps working on that with his technique and footwork and cleaning up his reads, I think the sky’s the limit for him. And we’re excited about him, the things that you had spoke about, with all the tackles he had and being able to compete and finish the way he wants to finish.
Q. Do you have any change in Christian, and you have a lot of experience coming back at linebacker. What does that do for this spring? Does it make it easier? Are you allowed to put more things in? What can you do with all the guys having all that starting experience?
LeVAR WOODS: First and foremost, the guys have experience. Those four guys that you named. Also Travis Perry has some in‑game experience and then Marcus Collins, who’s still defensively pretty young at that and Cole Fisher, those are guys that all played at some point last year, whether on special teams or defense.
What we are focused on is making sure that we have our fundamentals down before we keep installing more defense. But the thing that’s exciting, like you said, the three guys all played together last year, so there’s a great chemistry amongst those guys. They’re always competing to see who can make the play, who’s going to be the one to make the play rather than waiting for someone else to make it. So they’re constantly competing, going back and forth and pushing each other. And when they push each other, they bring the rest of the guys in the group with them. And then when they do that, you bring the rest of the team with them.
It’s been said the linebackers are the heart of the defense. They pump the blood into everybody. They make all the calls, get everyone lined up, and that’s something that’s held true around here at Iowa and around defense in general, and particularly at Iowa. It’s been exciting to see that here this spring.
Q. I imagine you didn’t play a lot of special teams at Iowa. But you had one memorable return of a blocked field goal, Coach Ferentz’s first win at Iowa, your first season with him. Do you recall, is that a special memory of your time at Iowa, that play?
LeVAR WOODS: Can’t remember it at all. No. Of course. It’s a play that I’ll remember my whole life. I was actually talking with the video guy Bob Rayfeld today, wondering we just had another baby last week and starting to think about from video standpoint is it possible to get that on video so some day I can give it to my kids so they can watch that. But absolutely I remember that play. It was an exciting play for me.
Q. How have you found the recruiting in Texas? Kind of what’s your approach there with so much competition for players?
LeVAR WOODS: I love it. I love recruiting Texas. I love recruiting in general. Texas is fun. It’s very similar to the setup. We go from spring football here in Iowa, at the University of Iowa to right down there, it’s like you never left spring football, the way that they’re set up and structured. It’s fun because it’s very welcoming, very inviting.
All the coaches want you to come there. And they’ll drop anything to have you there at school and talk with you and visit with you about players, and it’s a great opportunity in spring practice to see kids playing football, which is that’s what we’re trying to evaluate them doing is playing football.
So love recruiting Texas. It is competitive, because every school in the country is down there, but I think if you can ‑‑ there are a lot of Hawkeyes down there that’ll help out that know different areas or know kids that’ll pass on, you need to check this guy out. So that’s been fun.
Q. This weekend you got practice. With that going on and have you ever experienced anything like that, load up, get on the bus?
LeVAR WOODS: Not here at Iowa, but in the NFL we’ve done that before. I think the guys are excited; change of pace. It’s a new venue. Any time you do that in spring football is good. All it’ll do is it’ll help us ‑‑ it’s a way for us to pay back the fans in central Iowa, western Iowa that can’t always make it to Kinnick Stadium during the fall. But from a player’s standpoint I think they’re excited to be around kind of just a change of scenery a little bit, instead of hearing myself saying the same things over and over, it’s a little change of pace.
Q. Did you do that in the NFL?
LeVAR WOODS: We practiced in Tucson when I was with the Cardinals. And then I know other teams do stuff like that quite a bit.
Q. Is it any kind of distraction or how do you keep the job at hand?
LeVAR WOODS: When you’re a player, you’re so focused on what’s going on that you ‑‑ at least I hope. I should back that up, that the guys are like that, that they’re focused on the task at hand and it’s a practice to them. It’s the same schedule. We should be focusing on improvement like we do every day.
Q. When you think back to your first opportunity as a full‑time assistant, what did you feel is going to help you now going down the road?
LeVAR WOODS: There were so many things last year. Every single practice, every single game, every single instance was a learning experience for me. I look back, one thing off the top of my head was we played Iowa State, and we had an opportunity, we had just defensive stay, all right, a punt safe look in there. Had a guy come off the edge and rough the punter, right, which immediately I think back, that was my fault. I’d never coached them on it, never even told them about it, never thought, hey, he may get there and block the punt because we weren’t set up to block the punt. We were set up to just be in punt save.
So instantly I learned, boom, right there. Some things I learned from Coach Ferentz and looking back and sometimes trying to be too perfect or trying to tell guys too much, if that makes sense, you know, like you can ‑‑ sometimes I think you can kind of paralyze a young man when you tell him do this, do this, do this, if he does that, do this. So that kind of paralyzes a guy. So I’m working hard to kind of just let guys go, let them play. Here’s your responsibility. You know you have to be outside. You know you have to do this. Now go and play and then afterwards come back and say you could do this the next time and sort of just ‑‑ rather than kind of paralyze them, if that makes sense.
And from a recruiting standpoint, that was really my first time getting out on the road in my own territory and recruiting. Man, I learned a bunch out there as well because now I kind of know the lay of the land in Dallas, at least how to get around and where some of the kids are, basically a notebook and here are some schools to look at and then go to schools and you learn about other prospects and kind of door‑to‑door salesman almost, the first time, but no, when I went back down the second time in our winter recruiting, it was a lot easier. So I’m excited to get back down there in spring and get back on the road recruiting.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about some of those younger backups? I know everybody knows the three starters, but the progress they’ve made this spring, because you’re going to need them a year from now.
LeVAR WOODS: Absolutely. The guys have been a hungry group. I think the whole team has been that way, hungry, and excited to improve. And any time you have that, it’ll help your team, it’ll help your group. Some of the guys that have been working, we have some guys that are here for the first time with Chad Gilson just transferred in, and then also John Kenny is here on campus. He decided to come early.
And then we have some younger guys like Travis Perry, he’s a guy that played a little bit, like I said, and excited about his development and where he’s headed as a player. Then you have Quinton (Alston), who I know Coach Reid is excited about Quinton as am I, because one thing for Quinton, he’s been sort of sitting waiting in the wings a little bit the whole time. The thing that’s been good about him, when he gets in, there’s not much of a dropoff, or at least that’s what’s in his mind, that there shouldn’t be a dropoff playing behind James like he did last year. I’m excited about him mashing ‑‑ I use the term mash the gas, keep the pedal down, keep going forward and learn as much as you can, because it could be a broken shoelace and he’s in, if he doesn’t unseat ‑‑ if he doesn’t actually win the spot here in spring.
And then from the will linebacker standpoint, some of the young guys like Laron Taylor, this is the first time I’ve really gotten a chance to work with Laron, because he’s been down scout team before, and then also Marcus Collins, who’s a young player and Cole Fisher who has been a young player, those guys just getting the work. And the great thing we had a great off season in the weight room. Guys have come back stronger and quicker than they were last year, which is good, and then continue to develop guys moving forward.
Q. Are James and Christian, you guys talk about going into the NFL, are they that caliber? I think Christian’s only been playing since his sophomore year, I think.
LeVAR WOODS: Christian’s a young man. He turned 20 last year and he’s going to be a senior next year.
Q. Can they make that leap? You know what it takes.
LeVAR WOODS: I think all three linebackers have the chance to play in the NFL. I do.
Q. Do you have to spend extra time with John Kenny making the big adjustment?
LeVAR WOODS: Absolutely. Coach Reid’s been working with him pretty extensively. I worked with him a little bit when he first got here. The biggest things for John, the reason I think it’s good for him to be here is he’s able to get some of the kinks out.
Sometimes it’s stressful for a kid not knowing where do I pick up my books or where is my first class, and you’re focused on that and you can’t really focus on football. So he’s getting all of that worked out right now while he’s learning the defense. I think he’s doing a good job for a guy that’s never done it before. He’s sort of playing a little out of position, but he’s doing a good job.
Q. Can you put a percentage on your time with special teams and your time with the defense? I have no idea how that works. I’m just curious.
LeVAR WOODS: I can’t. It’s really no shift ‑‑ you just shift from special teams to linebacker. It’s all kind of the same thing because a lot of linebackers play special teams and a lot of parallels, but as far as ‑‑ you’re talking about division of labor and time like that? I can’t put a specific number on it.
Q. Linebackers play a lot of special teams because they’re usually fast, good in space and at contact. How much does that help you kind of identify who could maybe make that transition from maybe second team linebacker occasionally on the field for that, but then also play three or four‑‑
LeVAR WOODS: Very easily. You look at guys ‑‑ two guys that come to mind right off the bat, guys that have played in the program, Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge. They both came in, earned their way. They were backups, backups and then they were playing on special teams, competing on special teams.
I think that instantly allows the coach to see this young man, if he can excel on special teams, if he can do that, then you can translate it to playing linebacker. That’s the thing I’m excited about this year, some of the young guys getting the opportunity to play on special teams and then we’ll have three seniors leaving the next year, that they’ll be able to be that much better as linebackers in the defense.
Q. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
Chris White, Iowa’s newest staff member, talks running backs here. I think you;ll find his comments on RB/FB Mark Weisman very interesting. They’re working on his flexibility and have hopes that he’ll become a “big-time back.”
The first question here is about getting Weisman and RB Damon Bullock on the field at the same time. Sounds as though Bullock motioning into the slot is a real thing that really might happen. Or not. Why would they tell us anything concrete right now?
– White said he plans for Iowa to run the same kick return scheme the Vikings ran for Percy Harvin the last couple of years. Remember, White comes to Iowa after four years as a special teams assistant with the Vikings.
– It’s either this video or the next when White discusses starting field position for and against and how important he considers that number.
Lots of running backs stuff here. The AIRBHG question was kind of asked. As you might expect, White is aware of the history, but that hasn’t changed his thinking with contact and practice for RBs.
Iowa RBs will be hit in practice. White said they “need to learn how to fall.” If you think about it, that makes a lot of sense.
– He also was asked about Iowa’s power running game.
Later off camera, White was asked to defend his tweet, basically, that Iowa has two of the better backs in the nation in Weisman and Bullock.
“Well, I just think that, you know, first of all, they’re experienced players coming back, and you know, the way that you can use Mark in terms of like his physicalness and Damon’s speed and elusiveness and combine them, putting both of them on the field at times, okay, and then giving one a rest and the other comes in and there’s no dropoff, I really believe that we’re going to wear people out, you know, just with the style of our offense, the tempo of our offense, and you know, we got two guys who can come in there and you won’t see any dropoff.”
Would that have flown on the Jeselnik panel?
Q. Give us a little comment about getting settled at Iowa City and then go from there.
CHRIS WHITE: Good afternoon. Just real excited to be here. You know, I left a job at the Vikings, it was a great job. And I got an opportunity to talk with Coach Ferentz, and I think we just hit it off, our conversations about what he was looking for and what I was looking for.
I missed college football. I just missed the interaction with the players, the whole college atmosphere. And I came down here and I just got blown away. I’ve always admired this program. You know, I was at Syracuse for a number of years. We played, I guess it was ’06, I believe, when they came to the ‑‑ Iowa came to the Carrier Dome, and we had that great game; and I can remember the goal line stand there that they had, and the thing that stuck out to me about that game was the crowd. The away crowd was probably the biggest away crowd that we had at Syracuse, and it was all Iowa fans. So the people here are passionate about their football, and it’s very evident just coming for Sunday’s deal at the valley and it sold out within how long.
And then the next year we came back and played here, and that was impressive, a night game, and we got whipped pretty good. And the other things, I think I worked with Chad Greenway. Chad Greenway to me epitomizes what Iowa football is all about, and you don’t make them any better than that. And come down here and there’s a bunch of Chad Greenways here.
So this has been a great experience for me. It’s been a whirlwind just trying to juggle everything, but I’m really super excited to be here and I hope I can help out.
Q. When you kind of look through your career, you coached everything from receivers to defensive backs and quarterback. Is running back a different kind of challenge for you? What about that position drew you to it?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, I think if you coach football, especially, you know, like you said, I’ve coached offense and defense, and special teams I think kind of puts everything together, and to me running backs has been my special teams world.
I used running back drills to teach the returners, in terms of ball security, how to catch a football, how to tuck it high and tight. And I’m very fortunate that I have an older brother that coaches running backs at University of Florida. He was at Wisconsin for a bunch of years, the offensive coordinator. He coached Ron Dayne, and I may be biased, but I think he’s the best running back coach in the country, and I lean on him for drills and really philosophy a lot.
Q. Just your thoughts on the running backs you have here. You’ve had a chance to look at them now.
CHRIS WHITE: My thoughts? I’m super excited. I think we have a great combination coming back with Mark and Damon. And they’ve bought in big time. It’s been such a joy to watch both of them, and really the whole group, you know, we’re working on some things with each guy. I think we’re working on some things with Mark in terms of his flexibility. And what I look for in a running back are four things. It’s part of our deal that we talk about with them. It’s base, bend, balance, burst; four Bs, and we’re working on Mark with his bending. And he made a couple of jump cuts the other day in practice, I was like, wow. I mean I didn’t see that last year on film. And it just really ‑‑ it’s step one here just to see the guys improving.
Damon, Damon is a really talented player, and what he’s focused on right now is little things, exchanging the football, getting the ball high and tight, not loose on his body, really being a physical, complete player. He made a block on a blitzing linebacker the other day that the whole team ‑‑ he earned the respect of the whole team, including the head coach and the assistants. So that’s been fun to watch.
Jordan, Jordan has a chance to be a really good back, and the younger guys, you know, Michael Malloy, unfortunately he had a little tweak right before spring, and he’s ‑‑ hopefully we’ll get him back before the end of spring football. And then Barkley Hill, he’s coming back from an injury right now and he had a good practice the other day. I’m excited to see him.
And we have three young recruits coming in that I watched film on that I think that the future of the program is in pretty good hands.
Q. There’s been sort of a lot of talk or a lot of thought of playing Weisman and (indiscernible) together, what that might present in challenging your defense. What are your thoughts on that?
CHRIS WHITE: You gotta put the best players on the field. I mean I think that, you know, defensively, you know, you don’t know if we’re going to be in a two‑back set with Mark being the fullback and Damon being the tailback or ‑‑ you know, Damon’s worked a lot of ‑‑ we’re trying to get him spread out in space and see if he can play some wide receiver type of deals, you know, in formations. And with Mark being the featured running back and vice versa. I think the more we can do from one personnel package and get into multiple formations, I think that Coach Davis does a great job with that just trying to match up people, and I think it’s a great idea.
Q. After coaching special teams in the NFL, have you had to cut back the sophistication at all or will you just go with your basic beliefs there?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, it’s a different game. I don’t know about sophistication. I’m trying to install pretty much the same stuff that we did at Minnesota.
There’s things, rule things that are different, you know, for example, on punt, you know, this whole spread‑out shield punt deal you can’t do in the NFL because they can’t go down field. Only the gunners can go down field. So that’s a whole different world. It’s a huge adjustment for me. That’s why I’m leaning on LeVar on a lot of things, too.
When I left college football, the shield punt was just kind of starting to be a new fad. Now it’s the thing to do, and I don’t know a great ‑‑ I don’t extensively know a lot about it. So little things like that I think are different.
But as far as in style, we’re going to run the same returns that we ran with Percy Harvin. I hope Jordan can do the same things Percy did and I know Jordan did a nice job on kickoff return last year.
Q. You mentioned shield formation. Is that something you contemplate installing here at Iowa or are you going to stick with the basic?
CHRIS WHITE: We’re going to stick with what I know and what the kids have known. You know, we’re going to change up some fundamentals a little bit here, tweak a little here. Like LeVar said, I came ‑‑ before I got to the NFL, I thought I knew a lot about special teams. I didn’t know much. You know, in the four years that I’ve been there, I learned a lot. Mike Priefer is special teams coordinator with the Vikings, and LeVar mentioned his dad. His dad is a legendary special teams coached, retired a few years ago for the Lions, and some of the things, just the little nuances that he taught me are invaluable. And the kids love it. They love watching NFL tape anyhow.
Q. With all the running backs healthy this spring, this was a big thing last year, how exciting has it been to have them healthy and see the different packages that you can use with Weisman having to take most of the carries last year, now with Damon healthy, how exciting has it been to see the combinations you have?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, I have nothing to compare to from last year, obviously, but I’m just excited about the whole group. You know, I mean ‑‑ and that’s not ‑‑ this is really. I mean every day has gotten better, and they see themselves, to me they carry themselves in a different light. You know, they’re walking around with a little bit more confidence. And that ‑‑ to me that makes me proud. And you know, stay healthy, that’s football. We need to stay healthy. We need depth.
We got some young fullbacks, Adam Cox, and we moved Macon Plewa over, and I’ll tell you what, those guys are football players, and they’re making an impact. So it’s been fun. And then we’re going to continue to get better each day until spring ball ends.
Q. The special teams, the specialist kicker punter, young guy last year punter, I think it’s Mike this year, kicker, is there competition in those spots?
CHRIS WHITE: There’s always competition. There’s no doubt. I mean you gotta start with someone taking the first rep, and Mike and Conor, I think have earned that throughout their play last year. We need ‑‑ I think if you ask Conor, obviously it was growing pains for him at times last year, and we’re trying to get him to be more consistent. You know, he has a really strong leg. He’s a big kid. He’s flexible for a big guy. Working on a few techniques and fundamentals just to keep him nice and compact and really driving through the ball. And we want to just eliminate the miss‑hits with him and really just be more consistent, because I think he’s a very talented kicker/punter.
Q. How much easier would it make all this talk about opening up the offense and creating those matches, if Weisman can prove to be that sort of north‑south swabber‑knocker type of guy that he was last year?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, I think he’s proved it. I mean I watched the film. I mean our offensive line does a great job, and Mark ‑‑ swabber‑knocker I’m trying to make Mark a big‑time back, and he’s buying in. He’s not just a swabber‑knocker. He’s going to knock it full. I want Mark to break arm tackles. I want Mark to really stick his foot in the ground and run through a guy or run around a guy or stiff‑arm a guy or break a tackle. That’s the thing that I’m challenging Mark to be, a complete back and catching the ball out of the back field. He’s perfectly capable of doing that.
Q. With the injury history does it affect how you guys go through practice this spring a little bit, not that you take it easy on them?
CHRIS WHITE: The history of it?
Q. Not only the history with Weisman and Bullock, but with the eight running backs in the last four years, just different injuries and leaving the program. Does that affect how you approach the spring at all?
CHRIS WHITE: As far as I’m concerned, no. You know, you need to be smart about how many times you tackle a ball carrier, and we are very conscious of that. But it has nothing to do with the history of the running backs here. It’s about being smart in general.
And you know, I firmly believe you have to learn how to ‑‑ you have to learn how to fall with the ball in your hand. So there’s times where we need to tackle the guy to the ground. But there’s also times where, you know, the defense needs to be smart too. This is a thud carry, don’t take the guy out ‑‑ don’t take his legs out.
Q. If you coached special teams in the NFL, a lot of times the camera is focused on the special teams coach in the NFL, good or bad, it seems like ‑‑ I don’t think Kirk has had sort of a quote, unquote director of special teams. Do you like that hat? Do you like that sort of spotlight? Are you ready for it?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, yeah. Special teams has been kind of what I’ve been known for since I’ve been coaching, and I’ll tell you what, it’s a different deal when you need to punt the ball back in your own end zone and get the ball out of there. There’s a different feel, butterflies going in your belly. But it’s exciting at the same time.
The thing that excites me about special teams, okay, is that they can galvanize the whole football team, and I saw it happen last year at Minnesota. We went from a 3 ‑‑ I think we were a 3 and 13 team to a playoff team, and we ended up being ranked the No. 1 special teams in the NFL, and it had a lot to do with our kicker. We had a great rookie kicker. We had a really good rookie class of guys.
But they bought in. And the special teams here have been pretty good over the history of the program, and I think what Coach Ferentz wants to do is make sure the emphasis is back to where, you know, he always says this is how we win here. We’re tough. We got the best strength coach in America, special teams, Chad Greenways of the world. They’ve worked their way up, okay. And we’re smart, tough, disciplined and play great special teams, and that’s why I’m here.
Q. How do you envision Iowa running the ball? Now that you’re here, is it kind of what you thought it was on the inside?
CHRIS WHITE: It’s even more impressive to me, I mean just being here and seeing ‑‑ Brian Ferentz is an outstanding offensive line coach. I mean just how he teaches and his knowledge. And a lot of people think this is a vanilla offense. This is not ‑‑ this has a lot to it. And we’re going to be exciting to watch next year, just watch.
Q. You’ve been away from recruiting for a while. Is it like riding a bike?
CHRIS WHITE: Oh, my God. No. Yeah, kind of, but I didn’t know what huddle was. I came here, it was like everything’s on, you know, the computer age now, which is a great thing. I had to open my first Twitter account, and then the people here, I mean within hours I had 500 followers. So I’m like, what the heck’s going on here. So you know, I gotta do this, and that to me is the biggest thing.
When coaches say, would you prefer to be in the NFL or college, recruiting is why most coaches want to be in the NFL. My phone’s ringing off the hook. I got 3,000 emails. That’s the part that kind of wears you. You gotta juggle that with the special teams and the running backs.
You know, I think I’ve lost seven pounds since I’ve been here. My wife’s not here yet and we gotta get our house settled. So I haven’t been eating well.
Q. What’s your philosophy in recruiting? What’s your approach with kids?
CHRIS WHITE: I don’t know if I have a philosophy. I think I just try to ‑‑ my deal is everyone has a story to tell. I don’t care who you talk to. And I don’t try to pitch myself. I don’t try to pitch really the program. I want to see if it’s a fit for the kid, family and Iowa. And if it’s not a fit, then you know, you don’t try to force that fit, because it’s not going to happen. He’s either going to transfer. He’s going to get in trouble, those type of things. We need the kid who fits our profile and he wants to be here and I’m going to go out and attack that guy.
Q. Fullback’s been on the field about 25 percent to a third of the time during the last couple of years. Has that position been de‑emphasized a little bit or do you expect the percentages to go down or will it stay about the same?
CHRIS WHITE: I don’t know. You know, first of all, I think it’s hard to find fullbacks nowadays because they don’t exist. Offenses in high school and college, you know, they’re all spread deals, you know, and I think we have a couple good candidates, but to get back to your question, now you’re seeing hybrid tight ends and we got some good tight ends here. Let me tell you something, these tight ends are impressive. We have the swabber knocker guy, CJ, and then you got a couple other guys that are really good movement tight ends who can insert like a fullback does.
So that’s the dilemma that we’re going to have. Well, not dilemma. It’s the good problem we’re going to have of figuring out which do we want the tight end in there or do we want the fullback in there.
Q. Maybe the wide back kind of replace some of the stats where it could be like offset high.
CHRIS WHITE: Yeah.
Q. One thing that Coach Fraser ‑‑ you talked about the 3 and 13 team, once he knew the starting possession, was it a big thing for you guys, like you said, you went off the (indiscernible) and you guys were No. 1 in that. Is that something you want to bring to Iowa, too, talk about starting possession?
CHRIS WHITE: That’s all I care about. I’m not a stat guy at all. I could care less, you know, where we rank in terms of in the Big Ten. I want to know where the defense gets the ball, all right, where their starting position. I want to know where our offense starts the drive. It’s all what we call complementary football, and that’s all the job is with special teams is to complement your offense and defense.
Q. Coach, on Twitter you said you have the success of one‑two candidate in the country.
CHRIS WHITE: Well, I just think that, you know, first of all, they’re experienced players coming back, and you know, the way that you can use Mark in terms of like his physicalness and Damon’s speed and elusiveness and combine them, putting both of them on the field at times, okay, and then giving one a rest and the other comes in and there’s no dropoff, I really believe that we’re going to wear people out, you know, just with the style of our offense, the tempo of our offense, and you know, we got two guys who can come in there and you won’t see any dropoff. Their production is going to be that high.
Q. You mentioned Jordan being one of the return guys. Who else are you looking at kickoff, punt return?
CHRIS WHITE: There’s a whole list of candidates, and to be honest with you, I’m trying to learn everyone’s name. I think Kevonte has a chance to be a guy. Little Riley McCarron, I tell you what, he catches punts great. There’s a couple defensive guys that catch the ball pretty good. Fleming. That’s just off the top of my head right there. Jordan Canzeri is a punt return and kickoff return.
What we’re doing, like LeVar said, is we’re trying to put the guys in competitive periods. At the end of practice everything’s going to be a compete deal, and for the returns as well. We’re either going to punt it or shoot a jug there and there’s going to be guys flying at them. I want to see who can catch it with bullets flying at them, who can leverage the ball, who can get off a block and make a play. So we’re finding out a lot about the guys who can play in space and the guys who can catch the ball and who are not afraid to catch the ball.
Q. Barkley Hill and Jordan Canzeri are both coming off injuries, how much contact are they dealing with at practice now and how are they looking in their return?
CHRIS WHITE: To me, you’d have to ask Russ and everyone else, but from my observation, I think Jordan is like ‑‑ I don’t see ‑‑ I wouldn’t even know if he was injured. He’s full. He’s nothing. He’s gone and he’s done really a nice job. He’s got some skills, a skill set that we can use.
Barkley, I think, is more in the we need to make sure that you don’t give him too many reps, make sure that he’s ‑‑ I think he’s still kind of feeling his way through that injury. And he’s fighting it, but it’s good.
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