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Harty: Playing point/counterpoint with the Hawks

[ 0 ] April 29, 2013 |

The 2013 Iowa football team was a mystery to me before Saturday’s scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium and even more so now with spring practice over.

It seems like for every positive about this Iowa team, there is something negative to temper the enthusiasm.

For example: Iowa’s three senior-to-be linebackers have combined to start 65 games, but so far honorable mention all-Big Ten is the highest honor bestowed on any of the three. Anthony Hitchens was honored after last season, while James Morris made honorable-mention all-Big Ten as a sophomore in 2011.

It’s reasonable to think that at least one of the three linebackers — Christian Kirksey being the other — would have to make first- or second-team all-Big Ten this coming season for Iowa to upgrade its defense. All three have flashed at times, but it’ll likely take more than just being average at linebacker for Iowa to rebound from last season’s 4-8 record.

“I think Morris and Kirksey have played pretty well for us,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “Hitchens I know has made a lot of tackles. But I think he played better this spring. And that’s the value of experience and the benefit of experience.”

Two of Iowa’s nine full-time assistant coaches are working exclusively with the linebackers. Combine all that supervision with the experience and it would seem the circumstances are in place for somebody to emerge as a star this fall. What’s uncertain is whether any of the three linebackers will be capable of doing it.

Let’s continue this game of point/counterpoint by moving on to other areas.

Point: Defensive tackle is hardly a position of strength at this stage, but it is a position of intrigue because of the depth. From juniors Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat to sophomore Darian Cooper to redshirt freshman Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekatikie, the competition for playing time should be fierce and steady throughout next season. None of the defensive tackles have distinguished themselves as stars at the Big Ten level, but their potential was evident throughout Saturday’s scrimmage.

Counterpoint: The inability to pressure the quarterback was probably Iowa’s biggest weakness on defense last season, with much of the blame falling on the defensive ends, and deservedly so. I saw nothing Saturday or during the open practice April 14 in West Des Moines to make me believe the problem will be solved by this fall.

Point: Iowa’s three new assistant coaches — Jim Reid, Bobby Kennedy and Chris White — have brought years of experience and an enthusiasm that was apparent on Saturday, especially every time Kennedy shouted out instructions or encouragement to one of his receivers. I could hear what Kennedy was saying most of the time despite sitting on the other side of Kinnick Stadium.

Counterpoint: The addition of the three new coaches came at the expense of former assistants Lester Erb, Darrell Wilson and Erik Campbell. Say what you want about Erb because the special teams did struggle under his watch, as did the running backs with attrition. But Erb also excelled as a recruiter, especially in the Chicago-land area. Whether that continues with Brian Ferentz and Jim Reid recruiting in Chicago remains to be seen. Wilson also had success recruiting on the East Coast, particularly in Maryland, before he resigned to take a coaching job at Rutgers.

Point: All three of the returning quarterbacks on scholarship seemed more comfortable and more in sync with the offense Saturday compared to the few times we saw them practice last fall. Jake Rudock might have a slight edge simply because he’s been in the program for a year longer than Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard, but it was hard to tell.

Counterpoint: The system used by Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis seems better suited for a dual-threat quarterback because of all the short passes and because of all the plays in which the quarterback rolls out into space. Rudock, Sokol and Beathard aren’t statues in the pocket, but they’re hardly dual-threat quarterbacks, either.

Point: Iowa’s receivers all did a nice job for the most part of catching passes during Saturday’s scrimmage.

Counterpoint: The inability to gain yards after the catch was still a problem Saturday because none of the receivers, with exception to senior Jordan Cotton, has that extra gear to create space and stretch defenses.

Point: You could make a strong case that Iowa looks better on paper at most positions compared to last season. Most of the 15 returning starters had little to no starting experience heading into last season, while now they have a year of playing extensively from which to build.

Counterpoint: Iowa could have a better team but still finish with a similar record to last season because of the upgrade in schedule, which includes Ohio State and Wisconsin replacing Indiana and Penn State.

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

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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