IOWA CITY, Ia. — Forget, for a moment, that Iowa’s football team is in search of a quarterback.
The rest of the offense has coach Kirk Ferentz feeling fairly optimistic as spring practices begin.
“To me, we had more questions last year,” Ferentz said Wednesday. “The good thing about last year is, there were some positives.
“And one of them is, a lot of guys got out there on the field. We know a lot more about them.”
The Hawkeyes return 19 letterwinners from an offense that ranked 111th nationally out of 120 major-college programs in scoring, with an average of 19.3 points, and 114th with 310.4 yards per game.
Much of the blame landed on departed quarterback James Vandenberg, but injuries at running back and on the offensive line also contributed.
Rebuilding from 2012’s 4-8 finish began with Wednesday’s practice.
“We’re here to get started,” Ferentz said. “I think we’ve had a good offseason. The players have worked hard. The staff has worked hard. And I think we’ve made some gains.”
The quarterback competition between Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard remains a dead heat.
“It’s not often that this happens, but we’re going in with a truly open mind,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think anybody has a clear advantage or edge.”
Others, however, have made strides.
Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock are the pace-setters at running back.
“As recently as the end of August last year, I had no idea if we had anybody who could carry the ball and hang on to the ball in a Big Ten game,” Ferentz said. “Funny how things change.”
Weisman led Iowa with 815 rushing yards, averaging 5.1 per carry. Bullock finished with 513 yards and an average of 3.8.
Both are expected to be at full strength heading into the fall.
“Last year, we wanted Weisman and Bullock in there at the same time, and we didn’t have that chance,” Ferentz said. “That’s something still we’re interested in.”
Kevonte Martin-Manley is the Hawkeyes’ top receiver, having caught 82 passes the last two years for 894 yards.
Jordan Cotton is the only other receiver with starting experience, but sophomore Jacob Hillyer may be poised for a breakout.
“He’s had that year of not knowing what to do and being tentative,” Ferentz said. “I think of (sophomore) Tevaun Smith the same way.”
C.J. Fiedorowicz is a three-year letterwinner at tight end, with 61 career receptions, 600 yards and four touchdowns.
The offensive line will benefit from Brandon Scherff having started seven games at left tackle.
“He played OK at guard in 2011,” Ferentz said, “and was really playing well before he got injured last year.”
Brett Van Sloten started all 12 games at right tackle. Austin Blythe will move to center after making nine starts at guard.
There are plenty other pieces for Ferentz to mix and match, but the Hawkeyes’ offensive puzzle won’t be complete until they find a quarterback who fits.
“I think we’re a lot farther down the tracks, right now,” Ferentz said. “It’s just a matter of getting that work done, where the guys play confidently.”
HAWKEYE ROSTER NOTES
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz announced Wednesday that:
- Sophomore Macon Plewa has moved from linebacker to fullback.
- Greg Mabin has moved from receiver to safety.
- Nate Meier will spend time at defensive end.
- Steve Ferentz is moving from tight end to center.
- Offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan and defensive lineman Louis Trinca-Pasat will miss spring drills following surgery.
- Running back Mike Malloy suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago and will miss practice time.