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Archive for August, 2008

Week 1 Big Ten predictions

Friday, August 29th, 2008

The Big Ten’s nonconference schedule doesn’t exactly turn heads.

Yeah, there’s Ohio State-USC and Michigan State-Cal and Illinois-Missouri, but there’s also Penn State-Coastal Carolina, Iowa-Maine and Wisconsin-Cal Poly.

The list of yawners goes on and on while a league in desperate need of national respect coming off a 3-5 bowl season and two straight BCS Championship game debacles continues to dodge marquee matchups.

It’s not entirely unique to the Big Ten — most BCS conference teams play inferior competition in the pre-conference season — but the Big Ten is one of the worst offenders.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to see a game like tonight’s matchup between Illinois and Missouri, the No. 20- and No. 6-ranked teams in the nation.

Yes, a lot of it’s timing — two years ago, these teams were terrible, and no one would have cared. Now, with both teams coming off banner years in 2007, the showdown at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis is easily the most compelling game of the opening weekend of the college football season.

The Big Ten has flopped in games like this the past few years, so the Illini could prove a lot with a victory.

Even with a loss, any kind of loss to Missouri is better than a win over Cal Poly, isn’t it?

 

Stanzi growing game in film room

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

The game is starting to slow down for Ricky Stanzi.

Or is it Rick? A fellow reporter at Tuesday’s news conference wasn’t sure which to use in his story. The program says “Ricky,” but it’s funny how each draws a different picture of a college quarterback. “Rick Stanzi” sounds like your classic, clean-cut, drop-back passer. “Ricky,” well, he’s the gun-slinging, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants type who will win you some games with his heroics and lose you some others with his stupidity. We don’t know which Stanzi is yet, but we might start to find out Saturday when the Hawkeyes open the season against Maine.

Judging by the vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt he was sporting Tuesday and his past-the-bottom-of-the-ears sideburns, I’d say Stanzi is a moderate Ricky. I’ll let his play on the field decide to what degree.

Stanzi won’t start Saturday — Kirk Ferentz announced Tuesday that job belongs to incumbent Jake Christensen — but he likely will get a chance to play meaningful reps for the first time in his career. To date, Stanzi has four pass attempts, all in a 35-0 rout of Syracuse last fall. All four were incomplete. One was intercepted.

“Obviously, the Syracuse game was not the best performance I’ve ever had,” Stanzi said Tuesday. “It’s fun. It’s exciting to go out and, hopefully, throw it to the right team, make the right decision instead of the wrong one.”

Stanzi has made up a ton of ground in the past nine months. When the Hawkeyes finished their season last November, he wasn’t even in the picture — Ferentz said Tuesday that Arvell Nelson was the Hawkeyes No. 2 QB last fall — which is why Christensen took every snap that mattered in 2007. Ferentz has said over and over again that there were no other options at QB. Well, now, there seems to be at least one. In fact, Ferentz said Tuesday that he feels more comfortable at this point with either Christensen or Stanzi than he did with Christensen last year at this time. 

So, what happened? How did Stanzi, a third-year sophomore, make such significant strides in a matter of months? How did he get the game to start slowing down? The answer lies in the film room, where sophomore receiver Colin Sandeman said Stanzi spent more time than anyone in the offseason.

(This is a long quote, but it was interesting to hear what Stanzi had to say about his growth from watching film.)  

“I think I understand the game better,” Stanzi said. “I understand concepts, as opposed to what one guy is doing, and looking at a bigger picture. With film study, that tends to happen. You see it on the film and understand it and then see it on the field and recognize it and have confidence.

“I started to feel some of that last spring. Coming into camp, I was more confident about what we’re trying to do as an offense and seeing what the defense was trying to do. With the reps and the film study, that’s where confidence comes from. The more film you watch, the more comfortable you are. The more reps you take, the more comfortable you are. As that happens, things start to slow down and you feel more confident and you’re able to go out there and play with less butterflies and play without making mistakes, because you know what you have to do.

“You see things better. That really does reflect off film. If you don’t watch film and you get out there, it’s like a blur.”

The results have been promising for the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Ohio native. He looked light years better than last year in the spring scrimmage and last week’s open practice. He appears more relaxed and takes his time reading his progressions. 

“He’s just doing everything better,” Ferentz said. “He’s a lot more knowledgeable. He’s a lot more confident. Those two things go hand in hand. He throws the ball well. He’s playing stronger, all the things you hope guys do as they get older. I think he’s ready to go in there and play.”

Stanzi said this camp was a different experience than others, being in the mix for the starting job.   

“The first camp you come in and you’re like, ‘Whoa, this isn’t what I expected,’ because it isn’t. It’s a whole new ball game,” Stanzi said. “As the next year and the year after come, things slow down and your confidence is up and you’re not so worried about making mistakes. You’re more excited about making plays.”

The question still remains: Will it be Rick or Ricky when Stanzi gets his chance this weekend?

Notes from Ferentz news conference

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

IOWA CITY — Here are a couple quick notes from Kirk Ferentz’s news conference this afternoon, and I’ll be back online later tonight with a full blog post from today:

- Jake Christensen has won the starting quarterback job. Ferentz said Christensen was improved in the spring over last fall and has made great strides since the spring. He did add that Ricky Stanzi also has made a ton of progress and that he expects both to play Saturday against Maine.

- Nate Guillory, a juco transfer who a week ago was listed as Iowa’s No. 2 running back, has left the team and decided to transfer. Ferentz did not say to where Guillory was headed, just saying “somewhere closer to home. Home is Houston. He came to Iowa after two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. Ferentz said he leaves Iowa in good standing and that he wished him well. Guillory’s a small guy who seemed to have trouble grasping the offense. I suspect, being in the same class as Shonn Greene, who is listed as the starter, probably was a sign to Guillory that he wasn’t going to get many carries over the next two seasons.

- The line that will start Saturday’s game is, left tackle to right, Bryan Bulaga, Andy Keumpel, Rob Bruggeman, Seth Olsen and Kyle Calloway.

- Jacody Coleman and Pat Angerer still are battling it out for the starting linebacker position. Both will log a lot of time Saturday, Ferentz said.

- Four players are out for sure: Tight end Tony Moeaki (foot), receiver Trey Stross (hamstring), lineman Dan Doering (hand) and Mike Sabers (ankle). Weakside linebacker Jeff Tarpinian is questionable with a hamstring injury. He is not listed on the depth chart.

- Neither Daniel Murray nor Trent Mossbrucker have won the kicking job. Murray will handle kickoffs. Ferentz said he isn’t sure who will kick the first field goal or PAT.

- Amari Spievey has won the starting job at right cornerback, beating out sophomore Jordan Bernstine.

- Captains for this week’s game are Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Rob Bruggeman and Gavin McGrath.

- 2,600 tickets remain for Saturday’s game, which means the Hawkeyes streak of 30 straight sellouts in Kinnick Stadium is in jeopardy. 3,400 tickets still are available for the Florida International game Sept. 6.

I’ll be back on tonight after I get my stories typed up for the print edition. Feel free to drop any questions you have in the comment section below, and I’ll get to them later tonight.

Brad Rogers and the Big Ten Network

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

I’m planning on giving weekly updates throughout the fall on high school players who have committed to Iowa. Iowa high schools don’t kick off until next week, but one Iowa commit was in action Friday night.

Brad Rogers, a 3-star running back from Toledo, Ohio, carried 15 times for 72 yards and a touchdown to help Central Catholic open its season with a 24-7 win over Bowling Green (the high school, not the college). According to Toledo Blade sports reporter Steve Junga, who covered the game, it was a hot night in Toledo and Rogers cramped up a few times. The 5-10, 230-pounder who missed half of last season because of an ankle injury carried only three times in the second half. 

Interesting note on Rogers … he was supposed to be the feature back this year but now will split carries with Mike Marrow, an Alabama commit, who moved to town when his father, former NFLer Vince, joined the University of Toledo coaching staff.

Mediacom, BTN close to deal

Reports are out, citing unnamed sources, that the Big Ten Network and Mediacom, Iowa’s largest cable TV provider, have reached a deal. There has been no on-the-record confirmation from either party, but it looks like this thing is going to happen before the season kicks off Aug. 30.

If the deal does get in place, that’s great for Iowa fans, whose team is scheduled to be on the BTN at least six times this season, including the Sept. 13 matchup with Iowa State.

The deal comes a week too late for me. As I said in the live chat the other day, with football season coming, I canceled Mediacom two weeks back and switched to DirecTV. Had the BTN deal been in place, I would have stayed with cable.

That said, Mediacom customers are getting a great product. The BTN gives in-depth coverage of the conference that you simply can’t get anywhere else on TV. It’s going to be great for Iowa and Big Ten fans in the state.

Speaking of the live chat …

I want to thank everyone who checked in from 2-4 p.m. Thursday. I had planned on only going for an hour, but we had such a great turnout and so many great questions that I took it until 4. I’m planning to keep it at 2 hours as long as we have an engaged audience. So, keep the questions coming. I’ll be on live again next Thursday, Aug. 28, from 2-4 p.m.

Wegher decision coming tomorrow

Sioux City Heelan running back Brandon Wegher, as you know, is scheduled to announce his college decision at around 8:30 p.m. tomorrow after a scrimmage with his high school team. A lot of you on the live chat wanted to know about Wegher and where he’s headed. As I said in the forum, I get the sense it’s Iowa. Last word from Wegher is that his final five is Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas.

Most of the analysts who’ve talked to Wegher believe it’s going to come down to Iowa and Nebraska, which wants him as a safety. I get the feeling that’s going to play a big part in his decision, because I think Wegher wants his hands on the ball.  

We’ll know for sure — well, as for sure as a verbal commitment can be — in less than 24 hours.    

Still plenty of positions up for grabs

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Iowa sent out its pregame notes today for the season opener against Maine, which contained an updated depth chart. I’m not certain how updated it actually is, though.

Yes, tight end Tony Moeaki and receiver Trey Stross are off the two-deeps, and both are expected to miss the Aug. 30 game — Moeaki because of a foot injury and Stross because of a problem with his hamstring. Brandon Myers, who started in the place of Moeaki the final eight games of 2007 once again will get the nod at tight end, and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa’s leading receiver from a year ago, will fill in for Stross. Paul Chaney has been elevated into the two-deeps at wideout.

So, we know who’s injured — except Dan Doering has been rumored to have suffered a wrist or hand injury and still is listed as the co-starter at left guard along with Julian Vandervelde. In fact, according to the depth chart released today, none of the position battles that were open going into camp have been settled.

Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi still are listed as co-starters at quarterback. Jacody Coleman and Pat Angerer still share the top spot at middle linebacker, and Lance Tillison and Harold Dalton do the same at strong safety. And three of the offensive line positions — center, left guard, left tackle – remain unsettled. And another position, right cornerback, still is totally up in the air, as Drew Gardner is listed as the starter with Jordan Bernstine as the backup, but neither played in Saturday’s open practice. Amari Spievey looked like the starter that day.

All this uncertainty could mean one of two things, one of three really: 1) The competition has been so heated and so good that the coaches haven’t been able to make a decision, 2) the competition has not been good and no one is stepping forward and grabbing hold of a position or 3) head coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t feel the need to release his actual game day depth chart nine days before the opener when the team still hasn’t broken camp. 

At this point, the answer, most likely, is No. 3, but I got the sense Saturday that there is a lot of No. 2 in there, too. Ferentz said he was disappointed with the level of competition in camp, said that he thought the position battles would be more heated and, in so many words, that he didn’t see a sense of urgency in the players trying to win starting jobs. It’s getting pretty urgent now, and from the looks of the depth chart, there’s still plenty to be settled in the next week.

From the looks of things, a lot of these position battles will continue into the fall through the nonconference schedule.      

Wegher to announce Saturday

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

I got a call from Sioux City Heelan athletic director Jason Pratt this morning, and he said Heelan running back Brandon Wegher will announce his college decision at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Heelan’s football field.

Wegher, as most of you already know, is rated a 4-star prospect by Web site Rivals.com and has scholarship offers from all across the nation. He was quoted earlier this week in the Sioux City Journal saying he is down to five schools: Iowa, Iowa State, Nebraska, Kansas and Arkansas. I had gotten the impression it was down to Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, and his father, Rick, has told me he expects Brandon to stay within a ”half day’s” drive. I really think it’s either going to be Iowa or Nebraska, and everything I’ve heard from both Weghers in regards to the Hawkeyes has been very, very positive.

Wegher’s a talented kid. He plays running back and safety, and, according to recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, has ”All-American potential” at both positions. He wants to play running back in college, and that’s where the Iowa coaching staff is recruiting him to play. He’s fast (10.7 100 meters) and strong. (You can check out his highlight video, which includes footage of him working out, on our home page) Last fall, he ran for 2,334 yards and scored 34 total touchdowns while also kicking 48 PATs. (Heck, Iowa could use a reliable kicker, too) He led Heelan to an 11-2 record and a state runner-up finish to Keokuk, a team quarterbacked by Iowa freshman James Vandenberg.

Landing Wegher would be a big get. It would give Iowa a near-sweep of the top-tier instate prospects in the class of 2009. The Hawkeyes already have landed 4-star wideout Keenan Davis, 3-star athlete Jordan Cotton and 2-star lineman Drew Clark. They had secured a commitment from 4-star offensive lineman David Barrent, but, again as most you already know, he pulled that commitment in favor of Michigan State.

Iowa also has a commitment from Brad Rogers, a 3-star running back from Toledo, Ohio.

A commitment from Wegher on Saturday would be a big lift for this class and give the coaching staff a lot of recruiting momentum going into the fall.     

Report card: Open practice

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

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.

QUARTERBACKS (C+)

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.

LINEBACKERS (B+)

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.

COACHING (B)

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.          

Considine, Greenwood … Conklin? Perhaps

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

IOWA CITY — There’s an entire section of Iowa’s media guide dedicated to the tradition of walk-ons the program has enjoyed over the years. The two-page spread includes names like Dallas Clark, Bruce Nelson, Derek Pagel and Sean Considine.

Considine, a safety, is a guy whose name gets brought up a lot around the Iowa program. He was someone who didn’t look like much, wasn’t the greatest athlete, but just had a knack for being around the ball and making plays. He came to Iowa as a walk-on out of Byron, Ill., worked his way onto the depth chart with strong play on special teams and left in 2004 as an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection and a fourth-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles. The 6-foot, 212-pounder first played on special teams for the Eagles but in his second NFL season took over as the team’s starting strong safety.

It’s a great story.

It’s when the Iowa coaching staff and older players talk about sophomore safety Brett Greenwood that they make reference to Considine. Greenwood was a standout athlete at Pleasant Valley High School but not quite big enough or fast enough to warrant a scholarship offer from the Hawkeyes. So, he walked on. He redshirted and then played on special teams early last season before being thrust into the lineup midway through the year. He had his struggles, but he showed the same knack for making plays as Considine did when he was a Hawkeye. The ultimate example, of course, was Greenwood’s interception at the goal line to preserve an upset win over No. 18 Illinois. That pick easily was the signature moment of 2007.

Well, Monday, at Iowa’s media day, I was hearing Considine’s name once again, first from defensive backs coach Phil Parkerwhen talking about Greenwood’s steady improvement and leadership in the secondary, then, again from Parker, when he was talking about walk-on cornerback Joe Conklin.

Conklin, a sophomore out of Davenport Assumption, joined the Iowa program last fall after spending two years at Iowa State. He suffered a pretty severe foot injury while on the Cyclones roster and missed the entire 2006 season, then got lost in the Dan McCarney-Gene Chizikshuffle and decided to make a fresh start in Iowa City. Apparently, he’s been making an impression, the same kind of impression Considine and Greenwood made before him.

“Joe’s a little guy. He makes plays. That’s what he does,” Parker said of the 5-11, 200-pound Conklin. “I was real excited about what he did in the spring. He’s going to help us somewhere on the team. He could block punts. He could be a gunner. It’s going to be tough for him at corner, but he’s going to help us somewhere on the field.”

And Greenwood, who doesn’t seem easily impressed by anything he or others accomplish, also has taken notice of his former Mississippi Athletic Conference rival.

“Joe is a hard worker,” Greenwood said. “He comes every day, trying to improve. He’s one of the hardest workers we’ve got back there. He’s just trying to get on the field any way possible, like I did last year. He had a real good spring. I’m sure we’ll see more good things in the fall.” 

Conklin is one of nine players from the Quad-Cities area on the Hawkeyes roster this season. Greenwood and Tipton’s Chad Geary, a junior defensive end, have made the transition from walk-on to scholarship regular. Whether or not Conklin will be able to climb the same ladder remains to be seen, but he is earning high praise early in his career.

Couple links worth checking out

In my regular perusal of college football sites, I found a few Iowa-related bits worth checking out:

- ESPN.com has ranked the coaches in all six BCS conferences. Hawkeyes fans might be upset, or at least a little surprised, with where Kirk Ferentz sits in their rankings. A few years ago, Ferentz would have been at the very least No. 2 on the list. Now, he’s No. 8. Here’s what ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg had to say:

8. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa — The Hawkeyes have backslid recently and embarrassed themselves off the field. Ferentz’s teams were always known for sturdy line play, but Iowa surrendered 46 sacks last season. Still, it’s foolish to discount what Ferentz accomplished from 2002-04, when Iowa won 31 games and made three consecutive January bowl appearances. This guy still can coach, and he’ll have to prove it this season. 

And, just so you know, former Iowa player and assistant Bret Bielema was No. 4:

4. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin — Think this is too high for a 38-year-old? Consider what Bielema has done in just two seasons on the job. Michigan’s Fielding Yost and Tressel are the only other coaches in Big Ten history with as many or more wins than Bielema (21) in their first two seasons in the league. He set a school record for victories (12) in his first season and has Wisconsin back in the top 15 heading into the fall. 

And The Zooker, No. 5:

5. Ron Zook, Illinois — Zook quieted many of his critics last season by engineering the nation’s biggest one-year turnaround and guiding Illinois to the Rose Bowl. His recruiting prowess is undeniable, but some still question him on game days. A bowl win would raise Zook’s profile after three failed attempts, and if Illinois’ defense continues to reflect his philosophies, he’ll jump up the list.

- Sports Illustrated has the Hawkeyes ranked No. 31 in its preseason 1 to 119 ratings. Ohio State, by the way, was No. 2.

- Rivals.com has its Big Ten preview out and has the Hawkeyes picked to finish ninth, ahead of Indiana and Minnesota. They’ve also listed several other predictions, including their coach on the hot seat, which, to no surprise, was Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. Here’s what they said:

COACH ON THE HOTTEST SEAT: Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. Actually, no one’s fanny is flaming, but there’s a sense of urgency for Ferentz. He has seen his star fall in recent years, suffering the ultimate double-whammy of on-field struggles and off-field foibles. Ferentz has built up enough goodwill to keep the wolves at bay for now, but things could get hot in 2009 if Iowa struggles this season. 

Rivals also is out with its position rankings for the Big Ten, and the Hawkeyes didn’t rank too well there, either. 

Q&A with Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Iowa assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson has been recognized in the past as one of the top recruiting coordinators in the Big Ten and even the country. This year, his job duties were shifted a bit. He’s now coaching linebackers instead of tight ends and spending more time concentrating on recruiting, about 70-30, as I understand it.

I spoke to Johnson for a bit on Monday at Iowa’s media day and asked him about the challenges of recruiting and this year’s class, which got a big boost last week when instate prospects Jordan Cotton (3-star receiver), Drew Clark (2-star offensive lineman) and Keenan Davis (4-star receiver) verbally committed to the Hawkeyes. Per NCAA rules, Johnson can’t talk about specific players, but I did ask him how the staff maintains communication with players once they’ve A) committed to Iowa and B) committed to other schools. Neither of us said his name, but I’m pretty sure we were talking about West Des Moines Valley offensive lineman David Barrent (4-stars), who first committed to Iowa and then changed his mind and said he’ll attend Michigan State.

Here is the transcript of my conversation with Johnson. Enjoy:

Q: Can you talk a little bit about instate recruiting? Obviously there is a good group of players in the state this year. How have you guys approached it?

A: We haven’t really approached it any differently than we have in years past. We’ve always had the philosophy – coach has had the philosophy – that our class, our team, starts with the instate guys. We try to do as thorough a job as possible evaluating the instate guys. Sometimes, it’s a little bit slower. You evaluate them of senior tape, more so than junior tape. This year, like you said, it’s a good group of guys that we were able to get some good evaluations off the junior tape. It’s a good class. We’ve gotten a couple very good players. We’ve lost some, but we’re excited with the way the class if shaping up on the instate side.

Q: After you get a commitment from a player, a verbal, how do you maintain communication with them?

A: We basically, treat them, because you have to the way recruiting is going now, you have to treat them like they’re not committed. Because there are a lot of teams that still go after the kids that are committed. So, nothing changes from a letter standpoint, an e-mail standpoint, when you’re able to make phone calls, a phone call standpoint. We treat them just like they haven’t committed.

Q: Does anything change then with players who have committed to other schools? Do you continue recruiting them just like you would? 

A: It just kind of depends on what type of feel we have for the kid. If we think that kid’s very solid, we may pull off the kid. If we think there’s a little opening, we’ll continue to recruit the kid.

Q: How different are the dynamics or recruiting in a year like this when the final class is only going to be 13 to 15 players, as opposed to years when you’re bringing in 25?

A: You just have to be a little more careful on how many guys you actually offer. When you have 20 to 25 scholarships, you can throw your net over a wider range of players, and if one of them commits, you’re still alright. Now, you’ve got to be sure you’re ready to take that player if he does commit.

Q: So, how many offers do you throw out for a class of 15?

A: It really depends. This year, we haven’t offered a whole bunch of guys. We’ve really been careful in our evaluations and tightened it down a little bit. It’s not a direct number that you can give, but it’s less than it has been in the past.

Q: Is it more challenging as a recruiter when you have a smaller pool to bring in?

A: I think it’s more challenging for the fans, because they’re nervous about how many guys are committing. For us, it doesn’t really change too much, because we know what we’re taking at each position. We’re just trying to offer the guys we feel comfortable with at those positions.

Q: With all the knowledge that’s out there online now and the access the fans have to the recruiting game, are you under more of a microscope as a recruiter?

A: I think all aspects of the program are under a real microscope. Everyone’s got their opinions, and nobody has to post their names for those opinions. We don’t let that affect us really. We just try to do our jobs the best we know how to do it and go the way we think is right and take it from there.

Q: How important is momentum? Obviously, this past week was a good one.

A: This was a good one. I think, hopefully, we’ll have success this season and the kids will see that success on the field and that will generate even more momentum. Getting some of the guys we got this week, there’s no question that gives you a little pop in recruiting.

Quick update on Wegher

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

There are rumors swirling that touted Sioux City Heelan running back Brandon Wegher is set to announce his college decision. Not so, says his father, Rick.

I’ve been trying like heck to get Brandon on the phone the past couple days, mainly to get his reaction to Iowa’s recruiting haul last week. (The Hawkeyes got commitments from instate prospects Jordan CottonDrew Clark and Keenan Davis.) But I haven’t had any luck. According to his dad, he’s still undecided, but it is down to Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.

“He’s still mulling it over,” the elder Wegher said. “He’s weighing his choices, considering everything and trying to be a kid at the same time.”

Rick Wegher said Brandon probably will make a commitment within the next week or so. Everything I’ve heard coming out of the Wegher camp with regards to Iowa has been very, very positive. I’d even say Brandon sounds like he’s leaning in that direction. But he reportedly visited Kansas last week and also has been in Lincoln in the past month.

Getting Wegher would be huge. It would give the Hawkeyes a near-sweep of the most highly regarded prospects in the state’s class of 2009 – the only significant loss being offensive lineman David Barrent, the state’s top-rated senior who committed to Iowa and then reneged in favor of Michigan State – and give the coaching staff a solid foundation on which to build their 2009 class through the fall and into the winter.

I talked to Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson about the Hawkeyes’ recruiting efforts Monday at media day. It was interesting. I’ll have the transcript of that interview posted in the blog later tonight.