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What to like, and be concerned about, heading into Hawkeye spring football

[ 0 ] March 21, 2014 |

What a difference 12 months, eight victories, the emergence of one quarterback, the decision of one left tackle and a favorable schedule makes.

Iowa football fans are feeling rejuvenated with a program that seems to be on the upswing for the third time under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz.

The feeling now is different than last spring, when Iowa was trying to bounce back from a 4-8 record in 2012. Now fans are wondering if Iowa is poised to have another brush with prominence.

It’s rare that a coach has a chance to lead a third resurgence, but that’s what Ferentz is doing with his Hawkeye team coming off a season in which it finished 8-5 and played in the Outback Bowl for the fourth time.

Ferentz will meet with the media Wednesday to mark the start of spring practice. This gathering figures to be more upbeat than last spring’s introductory news conference, although you can assume that Ferentz will be guarded in his optimism.

There is lots to like about the 2014 Iowa team, but also questions and concerns that need to be addressed.

Five things to like

The schedule: Any schedule without Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or a directional school from Michigan is encouraging, although the Wolverines are in danger of losing that distinction. Iowa State, Wisconsin and Nebraska all must come to Kinnick Stadium, while the road schedule could be much worse with games at Pittsburgh, Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois.

Jake Rudock’s blindside: Nobody probably was more relieved or excited about Brandon Scherff’s decision to stay in college than junior quarterback Jake Rudock. A right-handed quarterback’s best friend is a dominant left tackle, and that’s what Rudock has with Scherff patrolling his blindside. Iowa’s offensive line would’ve been respectable on paper without Scherff, but now it’s potentially a major strength.

des.s0915FILEcyhawk  -  Photo by BILL NEIBERGALL/ DES MOINES REGISTER   AMES    SEPT. 15TH , 2013 -   FILE PHOTO ...    Iowa quarterback #15 Jake Rudock looked down field to pass during the football game against Iowa State played at  Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday Sept. 14th, 2013.

OK after C.J.: This is no knock against tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who used up his eligibility last season, but life at his position should go on smoothly without him. You normally wouldn’t say that about replacing a first-team all-Big Ten selection, but the Hawkeyes are stacked at tight end. Senior Ray Hamilton excels as a blocker, while junior Jake Duzey and sophomore George Kittle are better at stretching the field. All three have considerable game experience and junior Henry Krieger-Coble isn’t too far behind in that respect.

Carl and company: Senior-to-be Carl Davis went from being somebody who flashed at times in 2012 to a second-team all-Big Ten selection last season. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Detroit native is joined at defensive tackle by fellow senior-to-be Louis Trinca-Pasat and junior Darian Cooper, giving Iowa a reliable three-man rotation. Former four-star recruit Jaleel Johnson, who appeared in eight games as a redshirt freshman last season, could make it a four-man rotation if he improves this spring.

Running wild: A team can never have enough running backs, but Iowa sure seems to be trying. The top four running backs — Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock and LeShun Daniels — all return from last season and will be joined by redshirt freshmen Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley. Sophomores Michael Malloy and Barkley Hill also could be in the mix if they can stay healthy. Malloy was expected to compete for playing time last season, but he never appeared in a game. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was evasive when addressing Malloy’s situation during the 2013 season, saying only that it was a medical issue without being specific.

Five things to be concerned about

Reloading at linebacker: A top priority this spring will be replacing one of the greatest senior triumvirates to play linebacker for the Hawkeyes. James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens started together for the past two seasons, with each performing at an all-Big Ten level last season. Senior Quinton Alston is considered the favorite to replace Morris at middle linebacker, while 17-year-old sophomore-to-be Reggie Spearman and former walk-on Travis Perry, a junior from Urbandale, were listed as the backups at the other two linebacker positions throughout last season. It’s naïve to think that Iowa won’t have a drop in productivity at the three linebacker positions. The question is how much of a drop?

Two punters better than one? A message was sent to junior punter Connor Kornbrath with Iowa’s 2014 recruiting class. Even with Kornbrath on scholarship, the Iowa coaches went searching for a punter, landing junior-college prospect Dillon Kidd. Ferentz said in February that he wanted more competition at punter. That was his nice way of saying that Kornbrath, who averaged 40.0 yards on 65 attempts last season, needs to improve or risk losing the position. So for now, the punter position is unsettled. It’s always a concern when you’re trying to break in a new starting kicker. Mike Meyer held the position for the previous four seasons and was steady, but not spectacular. Iowa has a history of playing in closing games under Ferentz, so having a dependable kicker is a must. It’s uncertain if Iowa will have that next season. Two of the candidates include walk-on Marshall Koehn, who is from Solon, and incoming freshman and Texas native Mick Ellis.

YAC Attack: YAC is short for yards-after-catch, and that’s where Iowa often comes up short at wide receiver. Senior-to-be Kevonte Martin-Manley led Iowa with 40 receptions last season, but only averaged 9.7 yards per catch. Damond Powell led Iowa’s receivers with a 24.2 yards-per-catch average last season after transferring from junior college, but he only caught 12 passes. Sophomore Tevaun Smith showed signs of having big-play capability last season. He now has to show more consistency, especially with the addition of four redshirt freshmen receivers, who will be competing for playing time this spring.

Unlucky 13: Somewhat overshadowed by the team’s resurgence and Jake Rudock’s success as a starter last season is that he threw 13 interceptions. That’s an average of one per game, which is too many. Sophomore backup C.J. Beathard was intercepted twice in 27 attempts.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 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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