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Harty: Are these Hawks the key to UI’s success?

[ 0 ] August 12, 2012 |

Even though it might have seemed like it, the long list of Iowa football players who missed the Kid’s Day practice Saturday because of injuries was not the only storyline.

Here are some players who caught my eye and who could have something to say about the success of the 2012 Iowa football team.

Receiver Don Shumpert has gone halfway through his college career without catching a pass, but that should change this season. Shumpert worked as the third receiver during practice at Kinnick Stadium and performed as if he belonged out there.

Shumpert is one of the fastest player on the team, and new offensive coordinator Greg Davis has made it no secret that the Hawkeyes need more speed at the receiver positions. Shumpert also presents a nice target with his lanky 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame.

Being Iowa’s third receiver is an important complementary role and perhaps it’ll be even more so this coming season considering the lack of depth and experience at running back and the presence of pass-happy senior quarterback James Vandenberg.

Sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley was Iowa’s third receiver last season and finished with 30 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns. The offense would receive a huge boost if Shumpert could compile similar statistics this fall, especially if some of his catches stretch the defense.

Damon Bullock did nothing spectacular during Saturday’s practice, but the sophomore from Mansfield, Tex., also did nothing to suggest that he is in over his head as the starting running back. Bullock has enough size (6-0, 195), enough speed and enough versatility to get the job done.

Bullock also gets the benefit of the doubt after having played high school football in talent-rich Texas. He was named one of the top 50 players in the Dallas/Fort Worth area as a senior. You don’t make that list without having talent and without having proved yourself.

Many assume that sophomore Nico Law would be the starter at strong safety for the Sept. 1 season opener against Northern Illinois, but fifth-year senior Tom Donatell isn’t ready to concede the position.

Donatell worked as the starting strong safety during most of Saturday’s practice and it was hard to tell a difference between him and Law.

They bring physicality to the position, but the 6-2, 205-pound Donatell also brings a chip on his shoulder as a former walk-on quarterback who switched to linebacker before finally finding a home at strong safety.

Donatell could become the latest walk-on to shine at safety for Iowa, a list that includes Derek Pagel, Sean Considine and Brett Greenwood.

The Iowa coaches could be trying to send Law a message, but it also could be a case of a fifth-year senior finally getting his chance to seize the moment. Donatell started two games at outside linebacker last season against Northwestern and Indiana and Iowa was victorious in both.

Starting fullback Brad Rogers was among the injured players that missed Saturday’s practice. His absence created an opportunity for sophomore walk-on Mark Weisman, who transferred to Iowa from the Air Force Academy before the 2010 season.

Weisman definitely looks the part with his 6-0, 225-pound body wrapped in muscles. But he also played the part Saturday by showing a nice burst on running plays and by shown an ability to block linebackers.

This is hardly a revelation that junior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz appears set to have a breakout season.

The things that held him back in the past no longer seem to be hindering his progress. Fiedorowicz said the light finally turned on for him about midway through last season and it’s been shining ever since.

Nobody has ever questioned his physical attributes with Fiedorowicz standing 6-7 and weighing about 265 pounds, but rather his focus and his willingness to block.

True freshman running back Nate Meier is a big kid (6-2, 235) who ran hard Saturday, sometimes even dragging defenders. He isn’t a typical tailback from a size or speed standpoint, but he is a bruiser who could help in short-yardage situations if the coaches trust his ball security.

Meier is making the transition from eight-man football to the Big Ten, so it’d be asking a lot for him to be a major contributor this season. He also could play linebacker or fullback if running back doesn’t work out.

True freshman quarterback C.J. Beathard is a long shot to play this season given his lack of experience and his skinny frame. But he threw arguably the two best passes during Saturday’s practice, including one in which he threaded the ball between a linebacker and a cornerback for a completion near the sideline.

Junior-college transfer Cody Sokol also performed better compared to spring practice. He looks more comfortable behind center and his passes seemed to have more zip.

Sophomore Jake Rudock still is the No. 2 quarterback, but Sokol could be narrowing the gap. The original plan was to redshirt Sokol this season, but that’ll be hard to do if he’s pushing Rudock.

Freshman receiver Tevaun Smith showed a nice burst off the line of scrimmage as well as the ability to stretch the defense. The Toronto native should be in the mix this season because of that ability.

Freshmen defensive linemen Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie are intriguing prospects with legs the size of beer kegs, but it’s unlikely that they’ll make an immediate impact.

The key to Iowa’s success on the defensive line instead will fall more on the shoulders of veteran players such as Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione.

The punter situation still is a delicate work in progress with a backup quarterback (John Wienke), a former Australian rugby player (Jonny Mullings) and a true freshman (Connor Kornbrath) competing for the spot.

Kicker, on the other hand, appears more stable with junior Mike Meyer having made 28-of-37 field-goal attempts as a Hawkeye. His next step is going from being pretty good to very good.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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