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Archive for April, 2008

Sporting News has four Hawks going in Draft

Friday, April 25th, 2008

The Sporting News has its complete, seven-round mock draft up on its Web site, and it predicts four Iowa players will be selected, all on Day 2.

Cornerback Charles Godfrey, who I’ve seen projected as high as an early second-round pick, is the top Hawkeye in The Sporting News mock. They have him going to the Rams with the second pick of the fourth round. (Click here to read TSN’s complete take on Godfrey) A lot of the knock on Godfrey is that he’s a better athlete than a football player, which I guess I can see. He tests incredibly well for a guy who had limited production in two seasons as a starter. But I do think he’ll develop into a solid NFL corner. Maybe not a starter, but he’ll contribute as a nickel back. And he’s always been a great special teams player. Bottom line: I expect him to go higher than TSN’s fourth-round prediction. I’ll be surprised if he’s still around in the middle of Round 3.

TSN has defensive end Kenny Iwebema going to the Vikings with the 18th pick of the fourth round, which is right around where I think Iwebema will end up going. (Click here for TSN’s take on Iwebema) I’m not sure the Vikings are going to draft an end after trading for Jared Allen. After talking to Iwebema this week, I’m guessing he lands in Kansas City. The Chiefs have to replace Allen, and I’m sure, with something like 13 picks in the draft, they’d be willing to take a shot on a guy like Iwebema in the middle rounds. Iwebema has the physical tools to have a lasting NFL career. If he can stay healthy, I expect to see him playing on Sundays for years to come.

Bryan Mattison, who is making the move inside from defensive end to tackle, will be the next Hawkeye off the board, according to TSN. They’ve got him being selected by the Saints with the 11th pick in the seventh and final round. (Click here for TSN’s profile of Mattison) Scouts are very high on Mattison’s intangibles. Why not? He’s the son of long-time college coach and current Baltimore Ravens assistant Greg Mattison, and he’s got nothing but positives on his resume. He’s not the most physically gifted d-line prospect out there, but he’ll get a shot, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a career of it. If he’s not drafted, he’ll surely be signed as a free agent as soon as the draft is over. I was a bit surprised to see TSN write that Mattison will have a better NFL career than Iwebema.  

The last Iowa player TSN expects to see drafted is linebacker Mike Humpal, who they have going to the Browns with the 24th pick in Round 7. (Click here for TSN’s take on Humpal) I think Humpal, who led Iowa in tackles last season, will go before Round 7. Like Mattison, he’s not the most gifted athlete at his position, but he can play, and he’ll be a productive guy at the next level.

As for other Iowa players with a shot at being selected this weekend, click on their names for TSN’s profiles: Mike Klinkenborg, Adam Shada, Damian Sims and Albert Young. I read a few months back that Klinkenborg, for several reasons, didn’t plan to pursue an NFL career. He had problems with concussions last season, and it might not be worth risking futher injury. It looks like Shada will be making the move from corner to safety if he’s going to make a roster at the next level. Young and Sims will have an uphill climb because they’re small and neither has great speed. I do think Young, if he can stay healthy, can play in the NFL. He’s not going to be an every-down back, but he could contribute.          

Hawkeyes add receiver

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

The Iowa football coaching staff has landed a late addition to its 2008 recruiting class. According to Web site Rivals.com, New Jersey wide receiver Matt Marshall has verbally committed to the Hawkeyes.

Marshall, a 6-foot-2, 203-pounder is expected to sign a binding letter of intent Thursday. He chose Iowa after visiting North Carolina and Arkansas. A state sprint champion, he also had Division I interest from track and field programs. Marshall is one of two receivers in Iowa’s incoming class, the other being Shane Prater of Omaha, Neb. Marshall plans to move to Iowa City at the beginning of the summer to begin working out with the team.

“I’m going to go in there with the mentality that I want to play as soon as possible,” Marshall told Rivals. “I think I’m a strong, fast receiver, and I’m going to work as hard as it takes.”

Marshall is a native of Camden, N.J., where Iowa assistant Darrell Wilson once coached high school ball in the early 1990s.    

Around the Big Ten

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

It looks like spring games around the Big Ten took on a similar theme to the one at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. Many major players didn’t play because of minor injuries. Few teams were impressive. No position battles were won. That’s the way it goes this time of year. Here is a little rundown of what went on:

Indiana’s offense beat the defense, 36-34,in a game that used a scoring system that awarded points for first downs, big plays and big hits. Several starters were out, including top running back Marcus Thigpen, who runs track, top receiver Andrew Means, who plays baseball, and All-Big Ten quarterback Kellen Lewis, who has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.

Illinois’ defense dominated, allowing only one touchdown to the offense that is trying to replace running back Rashard Mendenhall.

Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo was an honorary coach for one team in East Lansing, and the passing game took center stage for the Spartans, who return quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Penn State had 73,000 on hand at Beaver Stadium, and those fans saw two quarterbacks battling to replace Anthony Morelli. It appears the competition, like Iowa’s, will continue into fall camp.

Seems two-time defending conference champ Ohio State couldn’t quite satisfy fans who really, really want to put two BCS Championship game debacles in the past. There were more than 76,000 fans on hand, but the team failed to impress. Incoming recruit Terrelle Pryor was there, though, and the 76k gave him a standing ovation. I’m sure it won’t be his last in Ohio Stadium.

At Purdue, defense mattered more than offense, as the team made up of the first defensive unit and back-ups on offense beat the first offense and second-string defense. QB Curtis Painter only played a half, but it sounds like he’s building chemistry with his new tight ends, which will be critical.

Wisconsin has a hot quarterback competition, too, one the coaches say will go into August.

    

Spring fever

Monday, April 14th, 2008

The Iowa football team is in its final week of spring drills and Saturday will pull back the curtain for a few hours in an open practice at Kinnick Stadium. It’s not the traditional spring game some schools put on, where the first team takes on the second team and only the quarterbacks are free from contact. No, what Iowa does is a regular practice. The players go through position drills, then they break down into offensive and defensive groups, then they’ll go “live.” (It’s never really live, because whistles blow as soon as contact is about to be made on the ball carrier)

Last year, I kept stats on first-year starter Jake Christensen and rushing and receiving stats for others the best I could throughout the day. I haven’t decided if I’m going to take it that far again Saturday. What I keep asking myself is: Does it matter?

Is Saturday’s practice — probably in front of 15,000 to 20,000 fans — any different than today’s practice that will take place behind the covered fence that surrounds the Hawkeyes’ practice field? Is it any more important than the practice that takes place Thursday afternoon? What if Christensen or any other player has had 14 excellent practices and then has a lousy day Saturday? Then he’s not the guy? Then he will be ridiculed in newspapers and on message boards for the next five months? And what if a player has had 14 terrible practices and then comes out this weekend and goes nuts? Then he’s up for the Heisman?

Spring football, aside from National Signing Day, is the most over-hyped event on the college football calendar. Yes, it’s good for teams to get out there and work out the kinks, experiment with some new schemes and keep players focused. But do you really believe positions are won or lost in the spring? Do you really believe Kirk Ferentz when he says, as he did last year and the year before, that the depth chart is wide open, written in pencil, and so on and so forth? No.

Spring ball, more and more these days, is for the fans. It’s to keep them interested and get them excited right around the time tickets go on sale for the upcoming season. It’s to give them hope, to give them something to talk about over the summer. And it’s amazing how much people talk. I saw posts on a message board by fans looking at still photos on the Iowa athletic department Web site and getting excited about what kind of play it looked like the offense was running in the picture. And it isn’t just at Iowa. Last week, 78,000 fans turned out for Alabama’s spring game, 14,000 fewer than last year, when the Crimson Tide set a national record. Florida had 61,000 at its spring game last weekend, an event that was televised nationally. And tickets to Nebraska’s sold-out game this Saturday are going for as much as $95. For the record, tickets to Nebraska’s home game against defending Big 12 North champion Missouri next fall are going for $99.

Iowa, especially coming off a 6-6 season, won’t generate that sort of hype, or ticket gate — admission is free. But there will be those who show up Saturday and draw all sorts of conclusions about the team and its prospects for 2008 based solely on what they see in one practice. I’ll be there, but I’m withholding judgment on this team until the fall, probably Week 4 when the Hawkeyes travel to Pittsburgh. I’d advise you do to do the same. But what are you, the fans, looking for this weekend at Kinnick?        

  

Cleveland charged … so long Jevon

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Former Iowa wide receiver James Cleveland was formally charged with two counts of unlawful possession of prescription drugs this week, that according to Johnson County Court records. He’ll be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. April 24. He was not charged with violation of Iowa’s tax-stamp law, which is a felony. The drug possession charges are misdemeanors.

Word on Cleveland, who pleaded not guilty March 5, is he’ll be seeking a transfer to Sam Houston State, a Football Championship Subdivision (I-AA) school in his native Texas. Assuming he avoids jail time on the drug charges, I imagine Cleveland will have a solid career at that level — if he can stay out of trouble. He was well on his way to being a productive receiver in the Big Ten, so I wouldn’t be shocked if we hear from him in the future.

With the announcement that Jevon Pugh is leaving Iowa, that makes 18 players who have left the program for one reason or another since the beginning last season. A lot of outlets are making little of Pugh’s departure, saying he probably wouldn’t have factored into the equation in the backfield, that the starting job was going to be shared by juco transfers Nate Guillory and Shonn Greene, who ran for 378 yards at Iowa in 2005-06 before losing his way in the classroom. But I think Pugh would have had a say in it. He had all the physical tools, and I keep going back to what Albert Young said about him after Pugh scored that winning touchdown against Michigan State: “I’ll tell you, he’s a horse,” Young said. “He’s got great speed, and he’s strong as an ox.”

Young isn’t a guy who would go around throwing undue praise on a true freshman, so that tells me Pugh had displayed considerable skill in practice. Why else would the coaching staff not have redshirted him last season? No, until I see the undersized Guillory take the beating a back does in the Big Ten and until I see Greene, who hasn’t yet been accepted back into school at Iowa, on the roster, I’m going to assume the Hawkeyes lost their best back when Pugh decided to take an extended spring break back home in Naples, Fla. And I fully expect incoming freshmen Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton to challenge Guillory and Greene come fall. And don’t totally rule out Paki O’Meara who has looked decent running the ball in the few times I’ve seen him. This is going to be a by-committee deal.    

A look at the spring roster and depth chart

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

A quick look at Iowa’s 2008 spring roster, which was released last week, revealed 17 players listed on the 2007 roster no longer are with the program. The reasons vary — five are known to have transferred to other programs, three were dismissed, two suffered career-ending injuries and seven others are gone for unknown reasons.

I’ve only been around this program for a year now, but, to me, 17 defections seems like a lot. Obviously it has to do with the rash of problems the Hawkeyes have had off the field in the past year. It remains to be seen how the losses will hit the program in the fall.

Speaking of the depth chart … spring two-deeps were released last week on the first day of spring practice. There were a few surprises, most notably the fact the two-year starting center Rafael Eubanks is listed as a co-starter with senior Rob Bruggeman. That could mean one of two things — Eubanks has been underperforming as the leader of a line that gave up a Big Ten-high 46 sacks last season or we didn’t fully recognize what a big blow it was to lose Bruggeman to an ACL tear before last season. Coach Kirk Ferentz seems to be pretty high on Bruggeman, but it’s interesting to see a guy (Eubanks) who has started two seasons be challenged. My guess is we’ll see them both in some role, whether it’s splitting time at center or playing one at guard and the other in the middle. They are two of Iowa’s top seven, and we’ll need to see them all for the Hawkeyes to have success on the field in 2009.

The other thing that jumped out to me was that the four other starters on the o-line are in different positions than they were in 2007. Again, the line was terrible last fall, so maybe the coaching staff is looking to give guys a fresh start. I like moving sophomore Bryan Bulaga to left tackle. I think that’s where he’ll be the next three seasons, and, as I’ve written before, I think this kid is going to be really good by the time he’s done. He’ll be recovering from shoulder surgery this spring, but I don’t expect that to slow him come fall. 

The receiving corps looks pretty thin with Andy Brodell and Trey Stross listed as the starters, backed up by Colin Sandeman and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Stross came on late last year after fighting through a hamstring injury and finished the season with 16 receptions for 272 yards and four touchdowns. Brodell played in four games before tearing his hamstring and had 13 catches for 96 yards.

The book is still out on Brodell. If not for two monster games at the end of ’06 (7 rec., 159 yards, TD at Minnesota and 6 rec., 159 yards, 2 TD against Texas in the Alamo Bowl) he would be a totally unproven guy. Without those two performances, he has 45 receptions for 571 yards and two scores in 25 games. Those aren’t the numbers of a guy who is going to light up the Big Ten as a senior.

If Tony Moeaki, who will not practice this spring after wrist surgery, comes back at full strength, the tight end tandem of Moeaki and fellow senior Brandon Myers could be formidable. Of course, they’ll need a quarterback to get them the ball.

Speaking of quarterback … It appears as though it’s Jake Christensen’s job to lose. Arvell Nelson is gone as a challenger, and I’m not sure Marvin McNutt or Ricky Stanzi have what it takes to beat Christensen out at this point in their careers. Because I think in order for an incumbent quarterback to lose his job, the other guy has to be significantly better, and if either Stanzi or McNutt were significantly better, they would have gotten a shot last fall when Christensen was struggling. A lot of those struggles, I think, had to do with poor protection and a young group of receivers. That was two-thirds of the problem. But the other third is on Christensen, and he’ll have to improve, along with the other units, for Iowa to win in 2009.

Right now, regardless of what you think about his issues with accuracy and completion percentage, the book is still out on Christensen, and he’s still got two years to define his career, good or bad. Not a lot of guys step in as sophomores with a new line and new receivers and have success. Drew Tate, who was lights out as a sophomore in 2004 while leading Iowa to the Big Ten championship, was special in that regard, but even he had a pretty good line in front of him.   

Looks like it’s going to be between sophomore Jevon Pugh, junior college transfer Nate Guillory and Shonn Greene for the starting running back job. Pugh and Guillory are listed as co-starters this spring. Greene, who played two years at Iowa before running into problems in the classroom, has not yet been accepted back into school, but he is expected to be back in the fall after a year at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.

I watched Guillory for a short time at last Wednesday’s practice and the one thing I noticed was he is really small. He’s listed at 5-10, 185, but he makes Damian Sims look like a giant. But Guillory does appear to have good speed. Assuming Pugh stays around — there are rumors he’s leaving school — I think he’ll be solid. Albert Young had great things to say about Pugh’s ability. Hopefully, for Iowa’s sake, it pans out on the field.

As for the defense … the line, I think, will be better than it’s been in years with Mitch King and Matt Kroul back as four-year starters in the middle and the explosive combo of sophomores Christian Ballard and Adrian Clayborn coming on the outside. They’ll have to find some depth here, but I expect this unit to be the strength of the defense.

Losing Mike Klinkenborg and Mike Humpal at linebacker is going to hurt. Sophomore-to-be Jacody Coleman looked strong at times last season, especially against the run, but Mike & Mike were savvy veterans, and you’re not going to replace that with athleticism. A.J. Edds should keep improving (remember, Ferentz did compare this kid to Chad Greenway at last season’s preseason news conference).

The defensive backfield will be slowed in the spring because Jordan Bernstine is out recovering from shoulder surgery. And Ferentz said there are a few incoming freshman who will contribute immediately at corner. Not sure who of the six coming in that is going to be, but I’m sure he’s right. I’ll be interested to see how senior Bradley Fletcher handles being a starter after playing very well in the place of Adam Shada late last season when Shada was out because of an injury. 

Brett Greenwood and Harold Dalton are back at safety after starting side-by-side the second half of last season. They had good moments and bad. I expect more good than bad this season, but I think we’ll see others like Diauntae Morrow, Lance Tillison and, perhaps, Tyler Sash factor into the mix.

The Hawkeyes seem to have the specialists in place with punter Ryan Donahue and Daniel Murray and Austin Signor at kicker. Murray and Signor really need to develop the consistency that Donahue did late last season. He showed the potential to be one of the best punters in the Big Ten, but he still needs to be more consistent. I expect that to come with age. Murray and Signor also will be pushed in the fall by freshman Trent Mossbrucker, an Indiana product who has a powerful leg.  

I think, after last season, I predicted 6-6 for the Hawks next fall. Or maybe that was this spring after ESPN picked them 10th in the Big Ten. I’m still not entirely sold on this team. It has a lot of holes to fill and questions that need answering. Iowa is 19-18 the past three seasons and last season missed a bowl game for the first time since 2000, Ferentz’s second season as head coach. Is it a program in decline? Or was last year the bottom and will 2008 the beginning of the rebuilding process? It could go either way, but I think ’09 is a very important year, on the field and off, for everyone in black and gold. And it starts this spring. We’ll all get an early look April 19 when the Hawkeyes hold their open scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium.

Between now and then, if you’ve got any questions, drop me a line at epage@qctimes.com.

Players who are not on the spring roster who were on the team at the beginning of ’07

Richie Amendola, jr., OL, Corallville - unknown

Nyere Aumaitre, sr., OL, Camden, N.J. – unknown

Anthony Bowman, so., WR, Detroit – transfer

Nick Brayton, so., DL, Iowa City – unknown

Dana Brown, jr., RB, Clairton, Pa. – dismissed

James Cleveland, so., WR, Baytown, Texas – dismissed

Dominique Douglas, so., WR, Detroit – transfer

Rashad Dunn, sr., DL, Evans, Ga. – unknown

Cedric Everson, so., DB, Detroit – transfer

Adam Farnsworth, sr., QB, North Ogden, Utah – transfer

Alex Kanellis, sr., OL, Iowa City - injury

Grant McCracken, sr., DE, Ankeny – unknown

Devan Moylan, sr., DB, Panora, Iowa – injury

Arvell Nelson, so., QB, Cleveland, Ohio – dismissed

Abe Satterfield, fr., DB, Erie, Pa. – transfer

Derrick Smith, fr., DB, Cleveland – unknown

Eddie Williams, sr., FB, Rock Island, Ill. – unknown