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Derby slips ahead of Wienke on Hawkeyes’ depth chart

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, speaking on the Big Ten’s first weekly coaches teleconference, said redshirt freshman A.J. Derby has slipped ahead of junior John Wienke as the Hawkeyes’ backup quarterback.

Junior James Vandenberg is entrenched as the starter going into Saturday’s season opener against Tennessee Tech but all those doubts about Derby possibly being switched to some other position apparently are in the past.

“If we played a game tormorrow, which we don’t, A.J. Derby would be the next guy in the game,’’ Ferentz said. “He’s very improved. John Wienke has continued to improve, too … but right now A.J. would be the next guy in the game.’’

Other comments from Ferentz on the teleconference:

On Tennessee Tech:

“They’re a very, very veteran team. I don’t know if we’ve ever played anybody that has 20-some starters back. They finished up on a postivie note last season and we’re going to have our work cut out for us Saturday.’’

On the depth at the running back position:

“Jason White (from Davenport) is an experienced guy who continues to improve and we’re going to find a role for him. We also have D’Andre Johnson and a couple of true freshman who are involved. You’ll probably see a couple of them in the game if not this week then in the next couple of weeks.’’

On the new divisional set-up and championship game for the Big Ten this season:

“I think it makes things a little more interesting for everyone. If you’re fortunate enough to get to Indianapolis, it going to be very exciting. I’ve never been a part of anything like that before.’’

Wrapping up the spring

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

Random thoughts and observations from the Hawkeyes’ spring-ending workout Saturday at Kinnick Stadium:

– Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said freshman A.J. Derby and junior John Wienke are “neck and neck’’ for the backup quarterback job, but Derby looked much, much better in Saturday’s workout. He has a stronger arm and seemed to make better decisions. In fact, he probably looked better than starter James Vandenberg.

– Keenan Davis was the clear standout among the receivers but walk-on Steve Staggs looked like he could be a solid possession receiver comparable to Colin Sandeman.

– Three players were back fielding punts during the workout – Keenan Davis, Micah Hyde and freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley. Based on the way he looked on two interception returns for touchdowns last season, Hyde may be the favorite to win the job.

– Hyde was used at free safety this spring on sort of an experimental basis and looked good enough that it seems probable he will stay there in the fall. That sets up a major battle for his old cornerback job between veteran Greg Castillo and upstart B.J. Lowery. Those two had the only interceptions of Saturday’s controlled scrimmage.

– Neither of the two kickers – Mike Meyer or Trent Mossbrucker – looked very good in the work-out, but the cold and the wind weren’t exactly conducive to quality kicking.

– Several linemen – Thomas Nardo, Steve Bigach and Nolan McMillan – disappeared off the depth chart between the start and end of spring drills with very little explanation from the coaching staff. None of them suited up Saturday although all still are listed on the roster. They apparently are either injured or still recovering from winter workouts.

– Senior punter Eric Guthrie looked very erratic Saturday, alternating booming kicks with weak wobblers. Don’t be surprised if Australian-born freshman Jonny Mullings steals the job from him in the fall.

Rhabdo still being discusssed

Friday, April 8th, 2011

We had another interview session with “selected’’ Iowa players Friday and, as expected, there were a few questions about rhabdomyolysis, the ailment that hospitalized 13 Hawkeyes player following an extremely tough January workout.

There were questions. Not many answers.

“I haven’t even thought about the whole rhabdo thing,’’ defensive back Micah Hyde said. “While it was going on, it wasn’t that big a deal to me. I’ve been working out every day and haven’t missed a day.’’

It’s hard to believe Hyde hasn’t thought about it at all, especially since about half of the players who were affected play the same position he does. Surely, he noticed that fellow DBs Shaun Prater, Jordan Bernstine, Willie Lowe and Tommy Donatell went about a month-and-a-half without working out. Surely, he has heard that Lowe still is feeling the effects of the ailment and plans to transfer.

Iowa players have heard about Lowe, but the ones who were there Friday say they don’t really know anything.

“I haven’t seen him in awhile,’’ quarterback James Vandenberg told us. “I don’t know all the facts. I know he was a great guy when he was here. I liked him a lot. His locker was just down from mine and he was always a fun guy to be around.’’

Hyde, Bernstine auditioning at safety

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

There are indications that Iowa has been doing a great deal of experimenting at the safety positions in the opening week of spring practice.

Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood have started side by side at the back end of the defense for the past three years, but both are gone now.
Tanner Miller, who played sparingly as a true freshman last fall, is expected to replace Greenwood at free safety but he is sitting out the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. That has left the door wide open for auditions at the two spots.

There is a handful of players who have been in the program for a few years who are contending for those spots — Collin Sleeper, Jack Swanson, Tommy Donatell, Nick Nielsen, Kyle Steinbrecher – but don’t be surprised if either Micah Hyde or Jordan Bernstine ends up starting alongside Miller. Both have been cornerbacks for their entire careers but both have lined up at safety in the past week.

Bernstine, regarded as the top prospect in Iowa when he came out of Des Moines Lincoln,  was projected to start at corner in 2009 but broke his ankle in preseason practice and has not been the same since. Hyde started every game at cornerback as a sophomore last fall, but he is a natural ballhawk who might be even better at safety. His brother, Marcus, was a starting safety at Michigan State last season.

Shaun Prater, a returning All-Big Ten player at the other corner, has been impressed by what he’s seen of both Hyde and Bernstine at safety. He said Bernstine seems more committed and dedicated now that he is down to one last season of college ball.

“I think you could put Micah in there right now,’’ Prater said. “I think you could put him and Jordan in there together and they’d fine. They are making it look so easy right now.’’

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. Hyde seems better suited to play free safety while Bernstine has the look of a strong safety. Our guess is that Bernstine could end up replacing Sash with Hyde either supplanting Miller at free safety or going back to his old corner position. If Hyde stays at safety, sophomore B.J. Lowery, who has been compared favorably to Amari Spievey, probably would start on the corner.

Lots of stat milestones

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Iowa’s 8-5 won-loss record wasn’t quite what fans hoped for, but the Hawkeyes reached more than their share of individual statistical milestones this season:

– Ricky Stanzi’s passing efficiency rating took a hit in the Insight Bowl – with two interceptions and no touchdown passes for the first time in 21 games – but he still ended up setting the school’s single-season record. Stanzi’s final efficiency rating was 157.6, topping the 157.1 mark by Brad Banks in 2002. Stanzi also became the fourth Iowa quarterback – and the first not named Chuck – to pass for 3,000 yards in a season, finishing at 3,004. His career totals of 7,377 yards and 56 touchdowns both rank third on Iowa’s all-time list.

– With nine points in the Insight Bowl, Mike Meyer broke Iowa’s freshman scoring record. Meyer kicked 14 field goals and 31 extra points to give him 73 points, breaking the previous record of 70 by Trent Mossbrucker in 2008. Ironically, Meyer replaced Mossbrucker as the regular kicker three games into the season.

– Only three players in Iowa history have collected a dozen interceptions and more than 200 tackles in their careers, and two of them played safety for the Hawkeyes this season. Brett Greenwood finished his career with 12 picks and 229 tackles and Tyler Sash will enter his senior season with 13 interceptions and 217 tackles. Damien Robinson (1993-96) is the only other player to accomplish the feat. Sash, assuming he does not turn pro a year early, has a shot at becoming Iowa’s all-time leader in interceptions. He trails only Nile Kinnick (18), Devon Mitchell (18), Jovon Johnson (17) and Robinson (14).

– Marcus Coker’s monster performance in the Insight Bowl left him with 622 yards for the season – the fourth best total by an Iowa freshman. Two of the better freshman totals came in 2009 when Adam Robinson went for 834 and Brandon Wegher for 641. The only other higher number was 679 by Ladell Betts in 1998. Coker’s 219 yards in the bowl game was the sixth best single-game total in Iowa history and the best by a Hawkeye running back since Tavian Banks went for 314 against Tulsa in 1997. Unbelievably, Shonn Greene never had as many yards in a game as Coker did. Greene’s career best was 217.

– By catching 53 passes this season, Marvin McNutt became the first Iowa receiver in six years to have more than 50 receptions in a season. Two players – Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon – did it in 2004. McNutt’s total of 861 yards is the 10th best in Iowa history and his career total of 1,546 is the 16th best. It would take a record-shattering senior season to get there, but Derrell Johnson-Koulianos’ career record of 2,616 may not be beyond McNutt’s reach.

– Adam Robinson is now 13th on Iowa’s career rushing list with 1,775 yards. Of course, it remains to be seen if A-Rob has played his final game as a Hawkeye.

– With five tackles in the Insight Bowl, Jeremiha Hunter finished with 269 career tackles, which ranks No. 20 on the career list.

Hampton, A-Rob are gone too

Monday, December 13th, 2010

As if Iowa football fans hadn’t endured enough in the past few weeks.

Three straight losses to finish the regular season. The stunning arrest and suspension of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. The not-so-stunning official close of Brandon Wegher’s career.

Now the university has said that the program’s two most experienced running backs are gone, one permanently one for at least the Dec. 28 Insight Bowl. Sophomore running back Jewel Hampton is leaving the Iowa program to transfer to another school and sophomore Adam Robinson, who rushed for 941 yards this season, has been suspended from the team for the bowl.

Hampton, who has had surgery on both knees in the past 18 months but was expected to return at full strength next season, had hinted that this was coming with a series of posts on his Facebook page in the past several days. Last Wednesday, he wrote “NOBODY IS SAFE!!!!!!!” On Friday, he wrote “FAREWELL.’’ At about 9 p.m. Sunday, he wrote “Former Hawk-eye!!! wats next????’’

Several people, including Robinson and defensive end Lebron Daniel, commented on the post. Robinson wrote “hmm…. first and for most… LIVE IT UP!”

Starting to look like Arizona

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

It’s certainly not a sure thing yet, but my hunch is that the Iowa football team is headed for Arizona for the holidays to play in the Dec. 28 Insight Bowl in Tempe. There is good and bad in that.

 It’s good that they’re not making another trip to Florida for a bowl, which wouldn’t be all that appealing to the fans. It’s good because the opponent is going to either Missouri or Nebraska, teams that will get the fans geared up much more than some faceless SEC team.

It’s bad because this is a lesser bowl played at 9 p.m. Central time only a few days after Christmas. While I’ve been pretty much convinced Iowa fans weren’t going to travel well if they were going to Florida again, this might not be any better. Although it’s a new venue and an intriguing opponent, it almost forces Iowans to be away from home for Christmas. That’s something even we media types are struggling with.

One other aspect to this game that may not be a big plus: The Hawkeyes are going to be facing a tougher opponent. Had they gone to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, they were going to face a 7-5 Florida team that’s in even more disarray than they are themselves. Instead it’s going to be 10-2 Missouri with a high-powered offense or 10-3 Nebraska with a very stingy defense. Both are tough matchups. If the Hawkeyes don’t show up any better than they did at Minnesota and Northwesterm, this could be ugly.

Things we learned Saturday

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Things we learned from Iowa’s 18-13 victory over Indiana on Saturday:

– Maybe anybody really can beat anybody on any given day in the Big Ten. Iowa looked like a championship team in drilling Michigan State 37-6 last week while Indiana hasn’t won a conference game in more than a year. But the Hoosiers were one bobbled pass in the end zone away from winning on Saturday.

– The running back position at Iowa is in very good hands even after Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton have used up their eligibility. Freshman Marcus Coker looked awfully good for a kid who missed most of preseason training camp with an injury.

– Brett Greenwood is playing some of his best football as the end of his college career approaches. The Pleasant Valley grad had a fairly quiet first half of the season, but he now has an interception in each of the past three games and he had the hit of the day when he separated Indiana’s Darmarlo Belcher from the ball with a ferocious tackle in the third quarter. You kind of wonder if Belcher was still thinking of that collision when he dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute.

– Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is now fully committed to freshman Michael Meyer as his kicker. He stayed with the kid Saturday even after he missed a chip-shot 22-yard field goal. Don’t be shocked if sophomore Trent Mossbrucker already is planning a transfer.

What we learned Saturday

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Things we learned in Iowa’s 37-6 victory over Michigan State on Saturday:

– There’s a very good chance that the fourth best team in the Big Ten will end up in the Rose Bowl. Michigan State is still in the driver’s seat because it would win almost every three-way tiebreaker, but the Spartans were exposed Saturday as a less-than-championship quality team. They appear to be no better than the fourth best team in the Big Ten, but are going to benefit from not having to play Ohio State this season.

– Iowa has tremendous depth at linebacker and has few worries about the future at that position despite having four senior linebackers on the roster. James Morris and Shane DiBona made their first career starts Saturday and didn’t look at all like freshmen. Both will be major contenders for starting jobs next season.

– Adam Robinson is not the best running back in the Big Ten, but he might be the most versatile. In addition to rushing for 69 tough yards and a touchdown Saturday, he also caught a 32-yard touchdown pass. And when Ricky Stanzi scrambled to his left in the first quarter, Robinson leveled maybe the best linebacker in the country, Greg Jones, with a ferocious blindside block. There doesn’t seem to be anything he can’t do.

– The Hawkeyes’ secondary is getting better. It may have played its best game of the season Saturday. Three of the four starters had an interception and the fourth guy, Micah Hyde, took a lateral from Tyler Sash and turned it into a 66-yard touchdown return. Michigan State spent much of the day trying to pick on Shaun Prater but the junior cornerback responded to the challenge with a timely interception and a team-high 10 tackles.

– Coach Kirk Ferentz is gaining confidence in freshman running back Marcus Coker. After not using him in any of the past three games, Coker got the ball 16 times in the second half.

– Ferentz isn’t completely adverse to using trick plays. Some of us have been waiting for two years to see ex-quarterback Marvin McNutt throw a pass off a reverse and they finally did it Saturday although the timing was odd. They called the play in the fourth quarter, long after the outcome had been decided.

Site gives Kinnick a 4 on a scale of 5

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Kinnick Stadium was featured last week on a website called stadiumjourney.com, which basically is a handful of ordinary guys who travel around the country doing reviews on sports venues ranging from independent league baseball parks to the biggest stadiums in the country. Its stated goal is “to become a world-class community resource for sports fans, built around optimizing the experience of traveling to and attending live sporting events.’’

So, how did Kinnick fare in the site’s review? Pretty well. It received an average score of 4.0 on a 5.0 scale in seven categories. It got perfect 5s for Atmosphere and Neighborhood; 4s for Fans, Access and Return on Investment; and 3s for Food and Beverage and Extras.

“The atmosphere at Kinnick is one of the best in college football,’’ reviewer Nick Kappel wrote. “The team is introduced from the tunnel to AC/DC’ s ‘Back in Black,’ firing up the already rowdy crowd.’’

Of the 20 or so college stadiums that have been reviewed this fall, only Alabama (4.7), Ohio State (4.6), Notre Dame (4.6) and Central Florida (4.1) received higher scores. Almost all the college stadi-ums received scores between 3 and 4 with the worst grades going to Ball State (2.1) and Colorado State (2.3).