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September 26, 2018

Phil Parker

Iowa City, Iowa

PHIL PARKER: First of all, I'd like to thank you guys for coming here and listening to me talk. I wanted to make sure we cover some of the defensive things, the progress we have in the first four games and see where our defense is really headed.

I'm very confident that you look at the game last week and we'll go back to that is Wisconsin, the atmosphere was great. We had a chance to win. We didn't win. Everybody is at fault. We lose as a team, win as a team, and I think our guys really learned some lessons from that game, and I think it's going to make us stronger here in the future.

Just touching base with our defensive personnel-wise, our D-line, is the strong point of our defense. We have enough guys up front that we can rotate and keep guys fresh so they can be productive on the playing field. Then also at linebacker, we've been having some changes go through there, but the ironic thing is the positives of the linebacker group, it really doesn't matter who starts the game. They're all in, and it's been very exciting to us.

Then on the back end, we do have some experience, so I think that's really been carrying out and helped us in between. We've got the guys up front. We've got the guys in the back that have probably the most experience, which takes a little bit of pressure off with the guys in between with the linebackers.

Obviously, when we go back and look at this, defensively what do we need to work on? Don't give up explosive plays. I know I talk about explosive plays all the time, and 25 yards to me is an explosive play. The first three games we gave up, maybe two -- one or two in a total of three games, and we were giving up eight points per game. Last week, we gave up three or more, and we gave up 28 points, so we definitely need to work on that.

On the positive side, the scoring defense overall, I think we're okay. We could be better than where we're at with 13 points a game. Our rushing defense is better, but I think we could also be better in that situation.

I think the opportunity for takeaways will come. We haven't got as many as we wanted, and we're looking forward to improving that.

But this week has been very good, very positive. We're moving on, and the best thing that we can do this week is to improve as a defense, and the best thing I like about it is the way our guys, the culture and the way they get along together with everybody, and that's been a positive.

The big thing is about improving where we are right now and getting ready for Minnesota.

Q. What is the plan at linebacker with Nick out?
PHIL PARKER: I think Barrington Wade has been playing out there, and he's been doing a good job in practice. So we're pleased to see where he's going. We'll probably move Kristian and he'll be taking some reps there at outside backer. He played there early in camp, and he has flexibility, so we're confident we can move him out there too. So he'll be taking reps at both places.

Q. You talked about the numbers and overall very good, and the turnovers aren't there. Is that just kind of one of those things that catches up eventually? Because the numbers suggest that maybe you guys would have more turnovers.
PHIL PARKER: Well, sometimes maybe you don't have as many opportunities to make. The teams that you're playing against, sometimes they protect the ball a little bit better than other guys. I think the first couple games that we had here, we probably didn't create enough of them or they were doing a good job of making sure that they made everything a little bit easier for either the quarterbacks and the running backs holding on to the ball a little bit more, but we just haven't got them.

Q. Early in the spring Amani Jones seemed to have a lot of equity in the program as a starter. He was mentioned throughout the spring, certainly in the summer. Then within a couple series of the first game he was pulled and Jack Hockaday was in. Was it anything that you anticipated that he might struggle with as far as whether it was just recognition or being in the right place at the right time? I mean, what happened?
PHIL PARKER: Amani Jones is still an important part of our program. He's done a great job in the special teams, but he's also been a great leader. When we get in together and run the field and we're on the sideline at a timeout or anything, the enthusiasm and the energy that he brings to the guys on the field that are actually playing is a positive.

Yeah, so there's been sometimes that we say, hey, we'd like to be a little bit better in this, a little bit better in that. But everybody could say that about every position. It's just right now we feel that Jack (Hockaday) is the best guy that can help us move forward and have a chance to win every game. Not saying that Amani won't get back in there, I think he has a lot of upside and we like his energy, and we like the way he can find the ball. Sometimes we're going to have to put him in there and we have to live with some mistakes that goes on. But we're very pleased with the way he's handled the situation and how positive he's been.

Q. How good a player is Amani Hooker?
PHIL PARKER: Amani Hooker is a good player. It's hard to say where he stands up with some of the guys I've coached here. But he does have some skill sets that enable him to maybe play a little bit of man-to-man coverage down and the opportunity to see the field a little bit more. I think he has a good sense of football knowledge and awareness.

I think he's a good football player. I think he has a lot more that he could have a lot more upside, and he's working on that every day, and that is the great thing about him and Jake is the way they work and go about their work preparation-wise, and the way they go to practice. They come to work. They go out and play hard. They understand the game. They talk football.

It's like having another coach on the field. Maybe like a Sean Considine or a Bob Sanders, those guys, they talk football, they understand it, and they ask the right questions.

Q. I'm not going to ask you to speak for Seth Wallace, but what did Seth tell you guys when he came upon Amani in Minneapolis?
PHIL PARKER: We found him. He's a guy we liked as a football player on film. We didn't know what his status was as far as eligibility. We were still trying to figure out a little bit more about his grades. But we just know he came from a good family and had his brother playing basketball at a high level. We knew there was some skill in the family. We thought he would fit our profile.

He exceeded that, and I think he's going to be a very, very good player here in the future. He's obviously doing well so far.

Q. Is he too valuable to put back on punt return as a returner, or has he still been in the mix there?
PHIL PARKER: He's been in the mix. I think he has really good hands. He has the ability to catch the ball, and he has good running ability. When that opportunity comes, I'm sure that I would recommend that he take a look. I think he's been working back there. So wherever that process goes and who makes that decision I think it's moving on with LeVar and the head coach, and what is the best fit for us.

Q. Julius Brents, his opportunity he got on Saturday night, how did you think he did, and how has he played overall so far?
PHIL PARKER: I think he played okay. As a true freshman, it's hard to come in and compete at this level. You don't have much time with them in the summertime to really prepare and understand the whole defense that we're running, so it kind of limits you when you go in there and try to call a defense. How much can he play, and how much does he understand that? I think he's done a good job to this point. He does have a lot of skill, but doesn't have a lot of experience yet.

But we're happy in the progress that he's making. He's a very smart, intelligent kid, and the more he goes, he's going to be a really good player.

Q. Has Epenesa shown you the first four games he's an every down guy and his role can increase?
PHIL PARKER: Yeah, the way he's been working is really good. The one thing about it, we always want to make sure the depth of our defensive line, and the multiple positions that the guys can play inside and outside and make sure that our guys are fresh, I think has been more productive.

If we played him more, would he be as productive? That's the thing you've got to really watch out.

I really think the way we're handling the situation, and it worked out the first four weeks, is that 25, 26, reps a game has really been his potential to really make some big plays.

Now, obviously, you want to keep on doing that and pushing them forward, and I think he will the more you go on in practice.

Q. Is he playing the run?
PHIL PARKER: Yeah, he's playing the run. He's starting to play the run the way he should. So we're pleased with that. He's making progress, and I think it's a matter of -- the decisions are made, when do you put him in, what series, how long did the series go? Sometimes they rotate by series. Sometimes they rotate -- what was that series? Was that an eight-play series or was that a three-play series? And the rotation sometimes you've got to make sure you keep track of how many reps they're getting.

Q. The defensive ends that he's rotating with, how well are they playing? They appear to be both playing pretty good.
PHIL PARKER: Yeah, I would think so. If you just go back by our rush defense, it is somewhere like 85 yards a game, with those guys playing at that high level, to play good on first and second down. He has an opportunity to come on third down and make things happen and get off the field, which is pretty good.

So, sometimes, he's learning how to get those guys on third downs. When he's playing on first and second down, we can get into third down. Can he be effective on third down, if he played on first and second down.

Q. Weak side linebacker right now, is Djimon your guy going forward?
PHIL PARKER: I think he's played well. I think Djimon and Kristian both have to go in there. We've put Amani a little bit in there, working him a little bit maybe at the Will. So we'll find a guy in there, and I think as we go moving Kristian back out and giving him some reps at the Will backer might help us out in the long run.

Q. What has surprised you the most of the linebackers as a unit?
PHIL PARKER: I just like the way they're all into it and everybody has bought in. Nobody really cares who is the starter. Everybody understands that they might play. They might play ten, they might play 15. They might play the whole game. Just the way they are unselfish about how the thing -- what is best for the team.

When you go out to practice and you evaluate every play, every snap that they're in, there is going to be a guy that's up above somebody else. That's just the way it is. It makes your confidence level that, hey, I feel best with this guy today.

Sometimes I can go out there and say at any position and say, boy, he really didn't have a good day. But I know, I know him, I know the history. He's still the best player to play. Then sometimes when you don't actually, hey, there's a guy that's making it tough, them are the hard ones.

The easiest thing for me to do is sit there and I evaluate guys. Sometimes a guy might be running with number twos. He might be a little bit down. Hey, I'm not starting. Why am I not starting? Well, you've got to gain my trust, okay? Sometimes guys go the other way, and they say, you know, it's not that important to me to hustle, effort, whatever. But the guys make the decision. If I know this guy is playing, this is a guy I'm counting on because he impresses me the most. He's the one I want to count on when it's tough, when you've got to make a decision, a split-second decision.

When it's really tough as a coach is when they're really playing well together, and you really don't know who is better at what. They've got some good qualities here, some good qualities there. This guy would be good against the run. This guy might be good against the pass.

Well, tell me when it's going to be run or pass and then I'll put him in.

Q. The other day when you went to a dime package, I think you had Kristian as your single linebacker, and you went to goal line and you had Amani in there. Is that how you're trying to par some snaps in, because maybe they are better in those situations?
PHIL PARKER: No, I think it's all based on personnel that we see on the film. In the Wisconsin game they had some heavy guys in there. They had an offensive lineman in a tight end's jersey, and they switched that back and forth during the game. We knew it, but we weren't notified.

One thing that we knew was they've got heavy guys in there, we've got to get big guys in there. We have to match their personnel. When they get fast guys in there, I thought we could match it up with our dime personnel, and we actually put Hooker down and put him on the tight end and the bigger guy on the tight end that can move. Those are the decisions we made during the week. And we made them a long time ago. We made them early in the week.

Q. Is there somebody we haven't seen yet that maybe you've identified?
PHIL PARKER: Yeah, there are some other guys that are going to help us on the way. I think there's a guy that sticks out to me, and he's already been playing on special teams, Riley Moss. I think he's really done a good job in the secondary to help us out. I think Kaevon Merriweather has done a good job. So he's progressing, where that's a safety spot. Another guy that can help us inside.

So I'm looking at those guys, and that's what this week is all about, is to make sure we're pushing the guys that have a chance and that have played a little bit, and are we going to, you know, play more than four games with them or are they going to get red-shirted? And if we can see the progress with them and they can help us win, we're going to make sure that they're on the field trying to help us win.

Q. With Neimann's injury, does that mean Seth Benson, for instance, he played quite a bit as like a second-teamer early on in the fall camp. Does he move up into that maybe number two role?
PHIL PARKER: He's definitely been working that spot right now, and that's where he's the back-up. But also playing Kristian back there, so, knowing that, hey, the red-shirt thing is still there.

So we have him at both places. He's done a very good job. I can also see right now we're going to keep him outside because I think he does a good job and understands what's going on. But at some point in time in his career, he probably could bounce back inside.

Q. How has the red-shirt change affected your day-to-day?
PHIL PARKER: It doesn't affect me at all, because I'm not going to get red-shirted (laughing). But, what it does to me, I mean, we're going to play the guys that we think can help us. The big decisions are going to come later down the road. You might be on the 10th, 11th, 12th game, you're on the 12th game, do we really want to play this guy?

We've got the 12th game and we have a bowl game. Is it worth it to them? Because usually you get a thousand snaps in the year if you're the starter; 800, 90 snaps if you're a starter, that's pretty good. Now, do you just want to have four games you might have played 20 in each game, you've got 80 plays, do you want to buy that thing back or do you want to waste that? Can I get 800 plays out of them? That's at least 700 to 800 more plays that I get a valuable, good football player.

So it's kind of been nice to play some guys early when you have to, and I think you play them on special teams. And some guys we're full bore already saying, hey, they've got to play. Like Julius Brents, we're going to let them play. Riley Moss, they're too valuable at all positions on special teams. And they have a factor where they could be an impact on our defense. So we won't have anymore discussions about those guys.

It's the other guys that might have a few part-time jobs that are going on.

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