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Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz explains why he's 'keeping an ear to the ground' for a graduate transfer at running back Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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BETTENDORF, Ia. — Last summer, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz dipped his toes into one of the latest trends in his sport by bringing in a graduate transfer running back.

James Butler proved his value as the primary backup to Akrum Wadley, rushing for 396 yards despite missing four games with an elbow injury.

Ferentz is considering an encore in 2018, he told reporters Thursday before an I-Club gathering at the Waterfront Convention Center here.

Iowa is thin again in the backfield, with sophomores Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin as the top two running backs coming out of spring practices. Both saw light action a year ago but have not proven themselves as starting-caliber players at this level.

Toks Akinribade, who played sparingly two years ago as a freshman, is apparently going to miss a second consecutive season due to an unspecified medical condition, Ferentz revealed.

“I think there’s still too many questions right now,” Ferentz said. “We’re kind of coming down the home stretch there, but it’s like any medical situation, you’re always going to err on the side of being conservative, I think.”

Ferentz said running back is one position where he’d be comfortable bringing in a summer transfer with the goal of getting him ready to play heavily in the fall.

“I think it’s a position where they have a better chance, better opportunity to get a grip on things. That and probably receiver,” Ferentz said. “When you look around, there’s a lot of grad transfers moving around. It’s amazing. It’s kind of become a new phenomenon if you will.

“And we’ll keep an ear to the ground, but nothing firm at this point.”

Ferentz and son will both be on sideline

Kirk Ferentz said he hasn’t given much thought to his son, Brian, joining him on the field in his role as offensive coordinator this season. Brian spent all of last regular season, his first as coordinator, in the press box. He was on the field for Iowa’s Pinstripe Bowl victory over Boston College and has decided to give that vantage point a try in 2018.

“He was pretty much in that mindset after the last ballgame,” Kirk Ferentz said of his son choosing the sideline. “He labored over that one a year ago, what was best. You can make an argument for either way. I’ve seen it done successfully, really successfully, either way. Greg (Davis) enjoyed being up there. Ken (O’Keefe) was an on-the field guy. Tom Moore always felt better on the field.

“I think the key thing, if you’re on the field, just have somebody you can really trust and is reliable upstairs.”

Kirk Ferentz said they haven’t identified yet who will serve as the eyes upstairs. He said it could even be a graduate assistant coach, as long as that person is heavily involved in the weekly game-planning and knows what Brian Ferentz’s thoughts are.

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Fran McCaffery speaks of the invaluable experience two of his players are getting by testing the NBA Draft waters Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

 

McCaffery: Tyler Cook 'very professional' in NBA process

Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery, also at the I-Club event, said his star forward, Tyler Cook, was in San Antonio on Thursday working out with the Spurs as he decides whether to enter the NBA draft or return for his junior season as a Hawkeye.

It was the second team workout for Cook, who has four more scheduled, McCaffery said. Cook must decide his future by May 30.

“He’s gotten two done while he’s trying to get papers done and tests and so forth,” McCaffery said of Cook’s workload during finals week. “I’m really proud of how he’s handled that. Very professional approach, which you would expect.”

McCaffery said he isn’t aware of any NBA teams bringing shooting guard Isaiah Moss in for a workout. Moss also is testing the draft process but has said he plans to play for the Hawkeyes again this winter. Moss is guaranteed some feedback from NBA personnel even if it’s just based on his college film.

“It’s just incredibly valuable feedback you don’t normally get. You always want to play in the NBA. You want to know what they think of you. And they tell you,” McCaffery said. “And if you come back, ‘OK, now I know a few things that maybe if I do a little differently I’ll move up.’

“If either of them kill a workout, then they might make a little money this year.”

How the Hawkeyes are spending their extra practice time

NCAA rules allow coaches to spend four hours per week instructing their players this summer, double the total of a year ago.

“Four hours doesn’t seem like a lot, but they’ll also have time in the weight room, they’re also taking classes, so I think it’s a good number,” McCaffery said. “Because you want to be able to get them out there. You don’t want to make it seem so long that the season feels like it never ends.”

McCaffery said he’ll spread the four hours out a bit in June, but will concentrate that time on Mondays and Tuesdays in July since coaches are on the road recruiting Wednesday-Sunday each week.

And, yes, defense is an emphasis after the Hawkeyes struggled on that end of the court during a 14-19 season a year ago.

“We did a lot of skill development stuff. So that’s on-ball defense, rotations, help, help recover, stay in your stance, blockouts — all those kinds of things that are fundamental but need to get better,” McCaffery said of the concentration during practices so far. “You break it down but then you put it back together.”

Two Baers for the price of one

McCaffery was in the hometown of senior forward Nicholas Baer, who will be joined on the team this year by his younger brother, Michael. Michael Baer was a student manager for the Hawkeyes last season. He will be a walk-on player this season, replacing the graduated Charlie Rose.

“He’s a terrific young man. He’s very much like his brother. He’s a little quieter,” McCaffery said of Michael Baer.

“But he’s also got some size. When you’re putting your walk-on group together, you want somebody who can play the frontcourt position. He’s also skilled. He can put it on the deck. He can shoot it. So he’s thrilled, and we’re thrilled to have him.”

The Baer brothers will be roommates.

 

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