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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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