Below is a transcript from the Q&A portion of Paul Rhoads’ media day 2010 press conference.
Sims is just going to miss one game then?
Is he going to practice coach?
That’s the end of that then?
CPR: Yes sir.
You want to improve offensive productivity. How much of that has to do with Austen Arnaud?
CPR: it starts there. It certainly doesn’t end there as we go through the position groups and what they all must do to improve from a year ago. The quarterback is the leader of the football team. They touch the ball every single play and because of that, he has to be the leader both mentally and physically. I think Austen was our most improved player coming out of spring ball. Two areas he need to improve in, in good measure. One was mechanics and his fundamentals of playing the position of quarterback, where he steps, where he follows through, where his vision is, his hips and so forth. He has done a fantastic job with that in the spring and in the offseason. Secondly, he decision-making, which will improve with better knowledge and grasp of the offense. I look for Austen Arnaud to have a very successful senior campaign.
What can Darius Reynolds do to help Austen Arnaud because it has been a long time since Iowa State has had a deep threat?
CPR: Darius Reynolds gives us a playmaker. When I say ‘playmaker,’ I talk about a guy capable of taking a five-yard throw and turning into a 55-yard gain or getting behind defenders for a 70- yard completion. I also believe that along with Darius, we are going to have some added depth at receiver with kids coming off a red-shirt year as well as a couple of incoming players, Chris Young, Albert Gary and Jarvis West all I think bring similar qualities that Darius does to the field to give us more wide open threats at the wide receiver position. With the guys that return, there is no question that he is the guy that had that ability. We saw it in training camp though. You didn’t see it during the season but we saw it again in bowl preparation even when he wasn’t 100 percent. Without a doubt, we are going to be more productive as an offense. We have got to get more big plays from the offense and that will be through the wide receiver position primarily.
How important is Alexander Robinson to the team this year?
CPR: Extremely important. I think we have a pretty good stable of running backs and that was showcased this spring with Jeff Woody, James White and Beau Blankenship all stepping up and certainly the incoming freshmen will get an opportunity. When you have a 12 or 1300 yard rusher, whatever A-Rob was in nine or 10 games of play, you have a key player. I wish we could control the health. We can control how he practices but we can’t control what happens in the game and that is where he suffered all of his injuries. Nobody takes care of their body and trains smarter than Alexander and we count on him to help his health as he goes through the season.
Do you expect those two freshmen (Shontrelle Johnson and Duran Hollis) to come in and compete for that number two spot?
CPR: I expect them to compete and we will see how quickly they can rise and what they can show. Jon Caspers is the only player of the 2010 class that we have told will red-shirt, unless there is a need. As we go into fall practice here, everyone will have an opportunity to compete for playing time and the running backs are no different.
Can you talk about the development of your linebackers?
CPR: It has got to happen fast. Be careful how close you get to the practice field because Wally (Burnham) might grab you and coach you too. We are that thin at the linebacker position. We need all the numbers and bodies that we can get. I don’t think we have a hungrier, more intent group of players than that linebacking core. It is the position group that has to improve the most. We have the least amount of snaps played. I think that group will do exactly that. Jake and A.J. and Matt, they realize that and understand that and the challenges ahead.
Is linebacker a spot where a newcomer might be able to come in and make an early impact?
CPR: I have always felt that the farther away from the football you are, the easier chance to contribute right away. The closer you are, the physical pounding play after play and is more intense and more physical. When you are 18 years old, sometimes you just are not quite ready for that, mental maturity or physical maturity. With that in mind, I think the wide receiver position has a chance for a number of players from the incoming class to contribute. I think Shontrelle Johnson, based on what we saw in evaluation, has a chance to come in. Anthony Young, who was here in the spring, I believe has a chance as a defensive back. All the linebackers just because of the shortage of depth have a chance to be in the two-deep very quickly and can be involved on special teams. Those would probably be the position groups that I would highlight. Ricky Howard also because he was here in spring and is a member of the three-deep right now.
Rhoads on the defense (couldn’t hear question)
CPR: I believe that the defensive front has got to understand the importance of them making plays and not just taking up space and not just finding themselves located in a gap. I think they started to show that in the last week of spring practice. We have to take off right from there. I believe they have the ability to do that. Now in the month of August, we need to make sure it becomes consistent. The linebacker position is the hardest to play in defense because you are involved so quickly in both the run and pass game and there is a big transition there that has to take place. Being young and inexperienced, that group is going to have to learn, they are going to have to rep and progress as quickly as they possibly can.”
How do you approach what looks to be a really difficult schedule with your team?
CPR: We do bring it up right away and we have already brought it up. They know it is out there. They know what the challenge is. By some folks, it has been rated the toughest schedule in all of Division one football. They also embrace that. If they didn’t, we’d have the wrong kids in this program. We would have been recruiting the wrong kids. They are excited about that challenge and they will prepare to play those games no differently rather it is one or 12, top 10 or not in the top 25. Our focus right now is not even on Northern Illinois. Our focus is to improve on a football team and program, as we work our way through camp. Once we break camp, then our focus will take place on Northern Illinois and we won’t look beyond that.
How do you feel about the depth of your offensive line?
CPR: Much better than a year ago. A year ago, we had six players we could have put on the field and won with. Right now, I think we have 10 guys and a true two-deep that we could put out there and not just be scared to death if somebody went down. How they line up is not how they rotate, if we had someone fall out completely. We have a number of guys coming off of red-shirt seasons that are prepared to contribute, as well as getting Hayworth Hicks back from a red-shirt year.
The fact that the defense needs the most work, will you find yourself on that side of the practice field a little more?
CPR: Without a doubt. But I think I have a tendency to gravitate that way more just because I am more comfortable down there. As we get into game week or as certain things dictate, I will spend more time behind our quarterbacks on the offensive side and work to make sure things are getting sured up. But I think I bring more to the defensive side and I can contribute more on the defensive side. With where we are at, yes, I will be positioned there much more closer than I am with the offense.
How about Rashawn Parker? Is his knee ready to go?
CPR: He is up to speed. I don’t know if he is up to the daily grind yet, until we get out there. You just never know with the knee. He has a clean bill of health, the whole team does. We will have nobody that will be sitting on the sidelines. I would suspect that I would give Rashawn a day or two off at some point during camp, just to give the knee a rest but he is full speed as we start.
Coach last season you told your team that you wanted to coach them to a bowl victory. What are you telling them before this season?
CPR: The exact same, on our way to building a championship program. There is no timeline for that. When I talk about program, I talk about APR. I talk about graduation rates, how we conduct ourselves on and off the field and I am talking about winning Big 12 Championships on the field. The expectations will remain the same year in and year out and that is to win a college bowl game. That is what you are preparing for and that’s what you are playing for.
What does Bob Elliott bring to your program?
CPR: He brings experience first of all. He brings a passion and genuine qualities for coaching kids out of this state and in this program. I think there is a comfort level that goes with coaching at a place multiple times and as he begins his third tour of duty, he feels that and it shows on the field and it shows in his recruiting. Anytime you can add continuity that quickly with a hire, your program benefits from it.
How much do you think Josh Lenz will contribute this year?
CPR: What took place with him was a couple of hernia surgeries during the offseason. When he got slowed late in the campaign last year, when he stopped returning kicks because he was being plagued by hernia problems and was not a full speed. He missed quite a bit of spring practice because he got dinged early in the shoulder and we never got him back. He is healthy according to the medial reports and we count on him being a big factor with that wide receiver group.
What are the keys this year for Austen Arnaud?
CPR: The word I would use to best describe him right now is poised. That comes from all the things that I talked about in the beginning that he has improved upon. He knows he is a better fundamental football player right now. He is not hoping. He knows he is a better fundamental football player. He also knows that he understands an offense fully and thoroughly as he enters. That leaves room for little doubt, do I make that throw right there or do I move onto my next read and make the safer throw? That is why he appears poised. He will be a tremendous leader of this football team. He will be a tremendous leader of this offense and you will see it on the football field when we begin September 2nd.
Jeremiah George was here for the spring game and talked about wanting to play right away. What is his confidence like?
CPR: That passion hasn’t changed for him. I have told a number of people that Jeremiah will be a captain before his time is done here at Iowa State. He will do whatever it takes to help this football program right away as a freshman. There are obstacles he has to overcome to get that accomplished. He has to learn the defense and physically be able to handle to be productive as a football player. It might be special teams first and it might be a little bit of linebacker. August will tell.
What does Leonard Johnson have to do to have a better year than he did last year?
CPR: He is already doing it. He is a very focused young man right now. As witness last year on this stage, he was out there with mic in hand, doing some interviews of his own. I don’t know if he would do that today. He is very focused on what he has to accomplish. I don’t know if embarrassed is an accurate word but he does not feel he played up to his level a year ago. He just began to learn how to play cornerback, in my opinion, as a former defensive backs coach. He has kicked the crutches away. He won’t rely on coaching and he will understand things better himself. He will play with better technique instead of relying on physical ability. I don’t have any doubt that he isn’t going to have an excellent fall camp.
How did your team respond to all of the conference realignment talk over the summer?
CPR: That’s a good question and one I’ll gladly respond to. They stayed focus. I didn’t have one player walk into my office and ask what was going to happen. They were focused on having a great summer, which they did and preparing over the entire length of it and getting ready to start practice here on August 5th.
There has been some talk out there about the Iowa game getting lost in the shuffle. What do you think about keeping that game on the schedule?
CPR: It is an exciting game for the state. There isn’t a person in this state that doesn’t enjoy that week. The powers that be will decide that as it moves forward. The nine game schedule, whether it be the Big 12 or the Big Ten hasn’t completely been decided yet. Those respective offices will announce that change when and if it takes place.
What did you learn personally last year during your first as a head coach?
CPR: I have hired an excellent staff and I have learned to stay out of their way and let them coach and do the things that they were hired to do. I had thoughts when I first got the job about being more involved and doing this or doing that. I have too many things to do in running the program to hold the program back. I will continue to stay out of the way of the great staff that I have and let them coach our players and prepare them. I will coach knee bend and tackling and motivation and having people on time.
One of your focuses when you took this job was better tackling. Is it there now?
CPR: It is better. It is not there. When I coach tackling, I want to be the best tackling team in America. There is no statistic for that. Whenever we chart game-by-game how many missed tackles we have as a football team, if you can have that number in single digits, you are one of the top tackling teams in the country. We consistently were in that area last season. I would like to see that over every game this season. If that is the case, then I would say yes. We are not ahead of where we were last season because we don’t have guys with as many snaps.