This is going to be an abbreviated version of the report card, which I’ll continue to do after every game this fall. I’ll break down Iowa’s performance in its open practice position by position, starting, of course, with the quarterbacks.
Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi both look better than they did last fall. Jake, especially, looks calmer in the pocket and seems to be throwing with a bit softer touch. He made a few nice throws early in today’s practice to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, soft throws that hit Koulianos in step, throws Christensen missed last season. Final numbers on Jake: 8-13, 169 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a rushing score. Solid. Splitting reps with the first team, Stanzi looked more confident than he did in the spring — he seemed that way, too, in the post-practice interview. Final numbers on him: 12-21, 154 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. It’s clear the competition is between Christensen and Stanzi. While they both looked better, they have to be more consistent. Second-year freshman Marvin McNutt started the day 1-for-6 and finished 7-13 for 83 yards. The two freshmen — James Vandenberg and John Wienke – had their ups and downs. Wienke really impressed me. The kid just looks like a classic drop-back college quarterback. He’s 6-5, 225 and looks like he could easily carry 15 to 20 more pounds. He’s just smooth. I think he’ll be a good one at Iowa before he’s done.
RUNNING BACKS (C)
It was hard to get a good read on the running backs because the offensive line was so dominated by the defensive front seven. Shonn Greene, Paki O’Meara and the rest rarely had any room to run. I was impressed with Greene, though, especially given the fact that he has been away from the game for a year. He’s clearly the No. 1 back. He looks faster and more physical than Albert Young, and he hits the hole much harder. If he can stay healthy and the offensive line can gel — two big ifs — Iowa could have a decent running game this fall. As I wrote in my notes, Nate Guillory looks like he’s going to have trouble breaking tackles. He almost looks like he’d be a better slot receiver, get him out in space, get him the ball and turn him loose. I just don’t know that he can navigate the front sevens of the Big Ten.
RECEVIERS/TIGHT ENDS (C+)
Another tough group to judge based on the fact that the starters — Andy Brodell (lower back), Trey Stross (hamstring) and Tony Moeaki (foot) — were on the sidelines. So, what we saw Saturday isn’t necessarily what we’re going to see through the season. DJK looks like he’s improved his hands and his route running, but he still looks confused at times. (Remember, he’s a converted QB who didn’t play receiver until college) He broke off at least one route during the blitz read portion of practice. That’s what got the Hawkeyes into a lot of tough spots in ’07. The receivers have got to help out whoever ends up under center. DJK and Paul Chaney started the scrimmage in place of Brodell and Stross, and Brandon Myers was in for Moeaki. Myers can play the tight end position. He can block, run and catch, as he showed on his 58-yard touchdown reception from Christensen. But the key to this season, besides the O-line coming together, will be the health of the receiving corps. Brodell, Stross and Moeaki need to be on the field for Iowa to have a chance, and it looks like Moeaki already is out for the opener.
OFFENSIVE LINE (F)
Honestly, the O-line looked worse Saturday than it did giving up 46 sacks last fall. I counted 14 surrendered by the first and second units. Eleven players rotated in with those groups, with some odd combinations. I know Iowa’s defensive front is going to be pretty good, but, like Rob Bruggeman said to me after practice, it shouldn’t matter. They can’t look across the line and see Matt Kroul and Mitch King and lose the battle. No. 1 for the line is establishing the run game. If they can’t, teams are going to stack the box, load up the blitz and make it impossible for Christensen, or whomever’s taking snaps, to get rid of the ball. If they can get the run game going, it will free up some time for the QB to make reads down field. It’s really pretty simple, which is why this whole thing will hinge on the offensive line. From what we saw today, the group has a long, long way to go. Yeah, Bryan Bulaga, who I think is Iowa’s best O-lineman, was out, but 14 sacks is way too many to give up in one practice. My No. 1 line, right now, left tackle to right: Bulaga, Seth Olsen, Bruggeman, Dan Doering and Kyle Calloway.
DEFENSIVE LINE (A+)
Even without sophomore end Christian Ballard, who I think might be the most explosive of the bunch, Iowa’s front four was absolutely dominant and, really, pretty fun to watch. Broderick Binns filled in for Ballard, and he and Adrian Claybornwere coming around the outside hard. Inside, King and Kroul were unstoppable. Seeing Binns perform was a good sign. We also saw some good things from tackle Karl Klug and end Chad Geary. Depth will be key for the front four this year. Too many times last fall we saw King, Kroul, Bryan Mattison and Ken Iwebema play every snap of the game and get worn down in the fourth quarter (see P.J. Hillrunning wild in the fourth quarter at Wisconsin). It looks like the Hawkeyes will have a solid rotation to work up front, which is going to make it easier to break in new starters at corner and two linebacker positions.
A.J. Edds is going to have a big year. He moves well and really flows to the ball, and he showed it Saturday. I think Iowa has two solid middle linebackers in Jacody Coleman and Pat Angerer, and, in the absence of Jeff Tarpinian, Jeremiha Hunter really showed what he could do on the weakside. Hunter came up with an interception and Angerer a sack, and Coleman absolutely lit up Bruggeman after Chris Rowell made an interception and was returning it up the sideline. This group looks like it’s going to have some depth, which will make the front seven pretty solid. Kirk Ferentz said after practice that the battle between Coleman and Angerer is a dead heat, and I believe him. I think they’ll both play, with Coleman maybe being used more in run situations and Angerer against the pass.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (B)
Starting corners Saturday were Bradley Fletcher and Amari Spievey. Safeties: Brett Greenwood and Harold Dalton. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s your Week 1 secondary, but the rotation at right corner and strong safety will continue into the fall. Spievey impressed me. He moves well and he’s got good hips, but I expect Jordan Bernstine, Drew Gardner and possibly a couple of the new freshmen to be in the picture there, too. Rowell has shown he can make plays, intercepting Christensen in the spring game and Stanzi on Saturday. (He took the pick in the spring game back for a touchdown) Greenwood and Fletcher are locks, and they showed why Saturday. Fletcher had a pick and was solid in coverage, and Greenwood pulled in a really nice one-handed interception during 7-on-7 drills. Though he started 12 games last year, Dalton is going to be pushed at strong safety by Tyler Sash and Lance Tillison. Tillison played free on Saturday because Diauntae Morrow was out with an injury. Sash really impressed me. He had one interception (off Stanzi) and nearly got Christensen twice. He’s a hard-hitter, too, which Iowa lacked back there last fall.
SPECIAL TEAMS (D)
Iowa needs a kicker. Daniel Murray is the guy at this point, but he’s far from consistent. He’s pretty reliable inside 40 yards, but if the Hawkeyes are going to win the close games they’ve been losing the past three years, they need a foot from 40 to 45. Freshman Trent Mossbrucker, who has been pushing Murray through camp, did not look good Saturday, making only 6 of 13 attempts, including 1-for-6 from 40-plus yards. This is an area Iowa has to address, and you can tell Ferentz is worried about it with the season less than two weeks away. As for punting, Ryan Donahue looked really good Saturday. The kid’s got a leg. He puts hang time under the ball, and he sinks it inside the 20 — in drills anyway. He did all that pretty consistently at the end of last year. He’ll have to put it together for 12 or 13 games this fall, because with a good defense and a mediocre offense, field position is going to be important.
I always enjoy watching Ferentz during practice. He usually isn’t real animated. He stands behind the offensive huddle and conducts things much like the director of a movie would. Saturday, he got a little worked up, though, even getting what I would call colorful at one point after a string of penalties and miscues. I get the feeling Ferentz is pretty frustrated with the inconsistency of his offense. Like he’s knocking his head against a brick wall and starting to really feel the pain. Whether he admits it or not, he is feeling pressure brought about by a 6-6 season last year and the string of off-field issues that have tainted the program he worked so hard to build. He’s got more of a sense of urgency about him than he did this time last year, which he showed a bit after practice when he basically called out a few of his players who have missed extended time because of minor injuries. He also said he had hoped, with so many starting positions up for grabs, that there would be more heated competition in camp. It almost sounded like he was issuing a little challenge to the players through the media. I like that.