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4/13/2011: Iowa spring football notebook

Posted on 13. Apr, 2011 by in Iowa Football

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Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe (left) helps defensive coordinator Norm Parker down from the podium in between their two press conferences on Wednesday, April 13, 2011, at the Hayden Fry Football Complex in Iowa City, Iowa.

By Brendan Stiles

HawkeyeDrive.com

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Norm Parker is a defensive guru, make no mistake. He cautions from making comments about offensive players for the same reasons he speaks passionately about defensive players — coaches take pride in the players they work with specifically.

He did give away one observation though about what he has seen from the offense this spring that should have everyone taking note, however.

“He’s a popular guy, and the people respect him because of the hard work he does,” Parker said. “I think it’s a little bit like Ricky [Stanzi]. The same qualities that Ricky had, I think this guy has got in terms of relationship with the team. That’s just from the way I look at it.

“He’s one of the good guys, the kind of guy you like to see.”

The Hawkeye defensive coordinator was referring to Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg, a junior who is now the heir apparent to a three-year starter in Stanzi.

Both Parker and offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe feel the transition from Stanzi to Vandenberg has been a lot smoother than some might have anticipated. Although the Keokuk native has two starts to his career, he spent pretty much all of 2010 carrying the clipboard on the sidelines.

Yet O’Keefe took Parker’s comment about the signal-caller a step further, giving examples of how Vandenberg has earned the respect and credibility needed to be a successful quarterback.

“He’s an extremely positive guy, so he communicates well in that regard and he really cares about helping his teammate,” O’Keefe said. “Not only will he correct a mistake of his after practice, but he may take a receiver — a young receiver, especially — or running back and keep him off practice until they get something straight on whatever route it is they want to straighten out.”

“He’ll grab the young guys and work on things with them, and they grab him to do the work as well.”

Vandenberg’s leadership traits sound reminiscent of things Stanzi did over his Hawkeye career, but whether the results turn out the same, O’Keefe said, remain to be seen.

“If he plays better than Rick did, then he’ll be better,” O’Keefe said. “You know, that’s the one way we’re going to be able to measure it. Sitting here, I can’t tell you at this particular point in time. He has got to prove it on the field.”

2-deep notes

Since the initial 2-deep was released three weeks ago when Iowa began spring practices, there has been some movement.

The most notable item was confirmed last week when junior Micah Hyde said he had been practicing at free safety as opposed to corner, where he played all of last season. Hyde is currently filling in for sophomore Tanner Miller, who hasn’t practiced this spring since having offseason surgery.

With Hyde’s switch to free safety, junior Greg Castillo is now listed first string at corner with sophomore B.J. Lowery behind him, and senior Jordan Bernstine is currently listed second string behind senior and first-team all-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater.

“He looks good as a free safety, and I think it looks good for him,” Parker said. “Whether he ends up back there or he goes back to corner, I think he’ll better understand his position at corner by playing free safety.”

Other items on note on the defensive side of the ball include up front, where redshirt freshman Carl Davis has emerged as one of the first string defensive tackles along with senior Mike Daniels. Meanwhile, the outside linebacker position that had sophomores Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens listed as co-starters now has Kirksey listed as the lone starter with Hitchens behind him. Junior Terrance Pryor is listed at middle linebacker behind sophomore James Morris, dubbed by Parker as “the All-American boy,” while sophomore Dakota Getz is now listed behind senior Tyler Nielsen at the other outside linebacker spot.

The battle between Kirksey and Hitchens seemed to get a rise out of Parker.

“They are good hitters,” he said. “They can run and they will hit you. There’s promise there. Now, they are going to make young mistakes, but they are going to be good players.”

The offensive side of the ball doesn’t feature as many changes. Junior Steven Staggs has emerged ahead of sophomore Don Shumpert at the wideout spot normally held by senior Marvin McNutt, who is out this spring following offseason surgery. The biggest change (perhaps literally) is that redshirt freshman Brandon Scherff is now listed as the starting left guard, while senior Adam Gettis has moved over to right guard.

“He’s still a guy trying to get the system figured out, and [offensive line coach Reese Morgan] is doing a great job with him,” O’Keefe said about Scherff. “You can see him flash and you can see him use that body at times, which makes a huge difference. But he has got to know what he’s doing on every play.”

Parker more appreciative than before

When asked about his health condition and how he was progressing, Parker said he was getting closer to feeling 100 percent. Parker missed the majority of last season after complications from Diabetes resulted in him needing a prosthetic leg put in. He used a cane to help him up to and back down from the podium on Wednesday before and after he spoke to the press.

He said there was a lot of reflecting done while he was away from the game, with most of that reaffirming how he felt before dealing with the health issues last fall.

“I never doubted it,” Parker said. “But it reconfirmed some thoughts that, ‘Hey, this is where I belong. This is what I like to do.’ You know, I mean, ‘This is how much I would miss it if I wasn’t there all the time.’

“I appreciate [coaching] more, let me put it that way. I appreciate it more.”

Parker reiterated his desire to coach as long and as much as he can. He did acknowledge however that any coaching he’ll do from here on out will be from up top.

“I think I would be a hazard, not only to myself but to somebody else out there if I couldn’t move around, if I had to get out of the way, even with my cane,” Parker said.

As for how Parker has been doing this spring, O’Keefe has noticed little change in Parker’s demeanor and has seen first-hand just how much the game of football means to him, calling him “the example of the toughness” the football program seeks in every aspect.

“For other people, these are giant obstacles to overcome,” O’Keefe said. “For him, these are small bumps in the road.”

A learning opportunity, if nothing else

Fans wanting to see an actual spring game inside Kinnick Stadium on April 16 might want to temper their expectations.

O’Keefe was asked Wednesday about the importance of performing well this weekend before the team breaks for the rest of the academic year and summer workouts. He said while the team wouldn’t mind treating its fans to more of a game-like feel to Saturday, it won’t be at the expense of what the coaches are looking to accomplish with the players in the final days of the spring.

“We have still got to work on red zone,” O’Keefe said. “We have got to work on all of the situational things that we want to work on, and then you know, we’ll fit part of it into what we want to do with the spring game.

“There is not one practice that’s more important than another. These guys are constantly being evaluated.”

Parker echoed similar remarks, adding that his primary concern for Saturday has less to do with how certain guys perform and more to do with players making it through the rest of the week unscaved.

“The No. 1 thing I hope is that when the day is over, they are all still there, that nobody gets hurt. That’s the big thing,” Parker said, adding that he also hopes the players all practice hard because he views them as a fun group to coach and be around.

The final spring practice is scheduled to take place at 12 p.m. Central that afternoon and is open to the public, with gates A, B, and E of Kinnick Stadium opening at 10:30 a.m.

4/13/2011: Norm Parker transcript

4/13/2011: Ken O’Keefe transcript

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