Pat Harty: Powell may be frustrated, but he says the right things
Remarkably, Damond Powell didn't flinch.
Iowa's speedy senior receiver could've taken the bait that reporters kept dangling in front of him Tuesday, but instead Powell took the high road, where the team always comes first.
The bait came in the form of questions about whether Powell was frustrated with his limited role after three games. The Toledo, Ohio, native was expected to play a significant role this season, but he has only three catches for 42 yards and one touchdown heading into Saturday's game against Pittsburgh (3-0) at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
I know about the bait because I was among the reporters asking the questions. Our goal wasn't necessarily to get Powell to unload on the coaches or to point fingers, but that's always a possibility when you ask delicate questions.
But they also were fair questions because it's peculiar the way Powell is not being used on offense this season.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said when asked Tuesday about Powell's limited role that Powell still was young in terms of his development after playing his first two seasons in junior college. Ferentz also was asked about redshirt freshman receiver Derrick Willies in the same question.
Powell and Willies have shown flashes of brilliance, especially Powell. But neither had a ball thrown to them against Iowa State.
"They're young guys," Ferentz said. "Derrick is young, chronologically. (Damond Powell), as you remember, he's been here for a year, basically. He missed the entire preseason with a hernia surgery. He's working his way back in. We love the guy. He's a really talented player, high energy guy. We'll work him in.
"Nothing against either of those guys. It's just where they're at right now. They've got growth to make."
In fairness to Ferentz, he isn't driving the Powell hype train. It been us in the media and the fans, intrigued by Powell's speed and by what he accomplished in a limited role last season. Powell caught only 12 passes in 13 games last season, but four of his catches covered at least 38 yards, highlighted by his 74-yard touchdown on a tunnel screen against Minnesota.
Powell finished the 2013 season with 291 receiving yards, averaging a whopping 24.2 yards per catch.
He was a big play waiting to happen, and yet here he is a year later, still mostly waiting as a senior. Powell returned from a hernia operation much sooner than expected during preseason practice, but his progress on the field has been slow.
And with Iowa struggling to throw downfield, Powell was a popular interview Tuesday. He could've rocked the boat, but he said all the right things instead.
Here is part of Powell's interview with reporters:
Q: Was it tough not getting any touches in the game last Saturday?
DP: "Not at all. I know that's part of the plan. One week it might be your week, another week it won't be your week. So we just have to put that loss behind us and get prepared for this week."
Q: Do you not really know going into a game what role you're going to play, or do you just kind of let the game dictate that?
DP: "Yeah, I just kind of let the game dictate that and then whatever the coaches have planned for me, then I have to roll with it."
Q: Coach (Ferentz) said you're still a young guy, meaning on campus. How much of the playbook do you feel like you're still struggling with or haven't gotten the gist of what's keeping you from playing a lot more?
DP: "I'm pretty comfortable with the play book. It's just that I got here last year and basically I'm a sophomore, but I'm a senior. I'm comfortable, but at the same time, I just got here."
Q: Do you think your speed can help this offense?
DP: "Yes. I fell like my speed can help this offense and it has in the past and it will continue this season."
Q: How frustrating is it that the explosive plays and the potential of the offense hasn't really clicked yet?
DP: "It's frustrating. But at the same time, playing this game you have your highs and your lows. It's a competitive sport and the defense played real well for Iowa State. We just have to bounce back from last week and continue to get better this week and be prepared for this Saturday."
Q: What do you have to do, though, to make sure those plays translate from practice to games because they really haven't yet this season?
DP: "It's up to the coaches. We just have to continue what we do and get better."
Q: When you go into a game, you expect or you think you might get a certain amount of targets or a certain amount of looks or balls thrown your way. Is it hard coming down from not having any targets? Do you have to kind of talk yourself down from being real frustrated and angry, almost?
DP: "You just have to stay focused and be prepared for when your number gets called because if you stay mad and when your number gets called and you don't make a play, then it's bad."
Q: This is new for you. You've always been a star since high school. Talk about dealing with the adjustment.
DP: "Just knowing my role here. I have a different role than I had in junior college and in high school. This is a different program. And at the same time, I just have to continue to keep working hard. And when my number is called, I have to be ready to make a play."
Q: Do you find your role in the offense that defenses say when (you) come on the field, "OK, he's either going long or it's going to be a tunnel screen"? Do you find yourself too easily scouted that way, do you think? Do you need to have more plays that aren't that?
DP: "I really can't answer that. I'm not sure what they really have for me. Like I said, whenever my number is called, I have to be ready to make a play whether it's a tunnel screen or it's going deep."
Q: You've shown that when you get the ball in your hands, good things happen. Does that make it frustrating when you don't get the ball in your hands?
DP: "Not at all. Whenever my number is called, I just have to make a play. And whenever I touch the ball, I just feel like I want to score."
It would be easy with Iowa struggling on offense to criticize the coaches for wasting Powell's talent, but that wasn't my intent with this column.
A potential problem was averted Tuesday thanks to Powell's unselfishness and his maturity. His performance under the glare of the media spotlight was huge because he avoided being a distraction.
It's reasonable to assume that Powell is frustrated and growing impatient with playing such a small role in his final season, because that's part of being human. Everybody wants to have individual success and to shine on the grand stage.
Hopefully, Powell will get his chance to shine because he took one for the team Tuesday, earning my respect.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.