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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.’’

A look at the quarterbacks

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Projected starter – Ricky Stanzi (6-4, 230, sr.)

Top reserves – James Vandenberg (6-3, 212, so.), John Wienke (6-5, 220, so.)

Futures – A.J. Derby (6-4, 225, fr.), Wyatt Suess (6-2, 200, fr.)

Stanzi’s touchdown-to-interception ratio isn’t going to land him any All-Big Ten votes, but this one statistic looks pretty good: He is 18-4 as a starter over the past two seasons. The Hawkeyes were 9-0 with him at the controls last season when he went down in a heap in the end zone against Northwestern. His 2009 season was marked by moments of electric efficiency punctuated by moments of amazing ineptness. Four of his Big Ten-leading 15 interceptions were returned for touchdowns, but his leadership qualities are unquestioned. He spent the off-season studying the interceptions and analyzing why they happened. Don’t be shocked if he is immensely improved this fall.

Vandenberg looked lost after replacing Stanzi in the Northwestern game, then staked his claim to the job for the future by nearly engineering an upset of Ohio State on the road the following week. Kirk Ferentz said Wienke may have been the most improved player on the team in spring drills so he may yet challenge Vandenberg for the backup job.

Derby was regarded by many as the top recruit in the state of Iowa last season, but there already are rumblings that his future may lie at some other position. But at the Kids Day scrimmage on Aug. 14, he looked to have as strong an arm as any quarterback on the team. Some of us fully expect him to remain at quarterback for the duration of his career.

Depth for fall may be better than ever

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Iowa may or may not have one of its best football teams ever next fall.

One thing that does seem certain: It will be one of the deepest teams it has had.

The Hawkeyes will be pretty well insulated against injuries at almost every position except pos-sibly the offensive line and safety. Everywhere else, there are pretty good players waiting in the wings in case the starter goes down.

A look at the Hawkeyes by position following spring drills:

Quarterback: Ricky Stanzi is going into his third season as the starter and should be less turn-over-prone. That was a major point of emphasis in the spring. James Vandenberg showed last sea-son that he can be a capable backup and you get the feeling southpaw John Wienke gained ground on Vandenberg in the spring. The coaches said he made a major step up and you could see it in the spring scrimmage. Wienke looked crisper and more accurate than Vandenberg that day.

Running back: If Jewel Hampton, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher all are healthy, this is going to be very interesting. Robinson may have a slight edge in some of the little things like pick-ing up the blitz, but the other two probably are more elusive and have a bigger upside. It’s almost guaranteed that one of them will get hurt anyway. If more than one gets hurt, I still think there is a chance freshman Marcus Coker could be a factor right away.

Fullback: Senior Brett Morse is solid and there’s not a ton of drop-off to junior Wade Leppert. This isn’t an every-down position anyway.

Wide receiver: Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos have a chance to be the Hawk-eyes’ best receiver tandem since … well, maybe ever. Colin Sandeman and Paul Chaney are pretty good, too. If Keenan Davis improves as much as the coaches hope and Jordan Cotton continues to progress and 6-foot-6 Don Nordmann is as good as he looked in the spring scrimmage, they’re loaded.

Tight end: Don’t be surprised if Allen Reisner duplicates the statistical numbers Tony Moeaki provided last year although he’s probably not going to be as good a blocker. Brad Herman and Jonathan Gimm apparently made strides as the backups this spring but they still might have trou-ble holding off high school All-American C.J. Fiedorowicz, who should be game-ready when he arrives.

Offensive line: There is good depth at center, where James Ferentz and Josh Koeppel are bat-tling for the starting job, but this is one place the depth is a bit thin. There are a lot of big bodies behind Riley Reiff, Julian Vandervelde, Markus Zusevics and Adam Gettis but apparently no one who is ready to play with any sort of consistency. Coach Kirk Ferentz said converted defensive lineman Cody Hundertmark is the closest to being ready. If no one steps forward in the fall, there may be an opportunity for Ohio high school star Andrew Donnal to see playing time as a true freshman.

Defensive line: The Hawkeyes may be deeper than ever here. All four starters – Adrian Clay-born, Karl Klug, Christian Ballard and Broderick Binns – return intact with Clayborn and appar-ently Klug primed for starring roles. And some of us have felt for some time that Ballard ranks among the most underrated players on this team. Backup tackle Mike Daniels is good enough to start for half the teams in the Big Ten and young ends LeBron Daniel and Dominic Alvis have emerged as potential stars of the future. Pencil in Daniels and Daniel as certain starters for 2011.

Linebacker
: This is another area where the competition has been fierce. Jeremiha Hunter is a third-year starter and Jeff Tarpinian and Tyler Nielsen have emerged as the starters at the other two spots, but Bruce Davis and Troy Johnson are still pushing. Even long-time walk-on Ross Peter-sen looked good in the spring scrimmage. You’ll still see some true freshman play here in the fall, though, as the Hawkeyes brace for the future. Hunter, Tarpinian, Johnson and Petersen are seniors and Davis and Nielsen are juniors.

Cornerback: Shaun Prater is solidly entrenched on one side and sophomore Micah Hyde may be a future star on the other side. Jordan Bernstine, projected to start ahead of Prater last fall before breaking his ankle, may have a hard time finding playing time but he, Greg Castillo and William Lowe provide quality depth.

Safety: Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood – known to some of us as Sashwood – are one of the best tandems in the country but it’s hard to even guess at who the backups are at this point. Walk-ons Kyle Steinbrecher and Tom Donatell ran with the No. 1 unit in the spring scrimmage, apparently moving ahead of two scholarship players, Jack Swanson and Nick Nielsen, in the final week of drills. All those players have good size and Nielsen had two interceptions last Saturday. The depth isn’t necessarily bad, just unproven.

Kicker: Daniel Murray is the returning starter, but Ferentz has made it clear he wasn’t com-pletely satisfied with the job he did. Trent Mossbrucker, who redshirted last season after being the kicker for much of 2008, has at least an shot at winning the job.

Punter: Another place where the depth isn’t great behind four-year regular Ryan Donahue. But how often does your punter get hurt anyway?

‘Experts’ can be quiet now

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Although James Vandenberg and his teammates insisted they weren’t into moral victories or consolation prizes, there were a lot of things they could take away from Saturday’s 27-24 overtime loss to Ohio State.

They proved that the Iowa offense does not move by Ricky Stanzi alone. They showed that no one on this team is completely irreplaceable. Vandenberg served notice that the Hawkeyes have a quarterback of the future, once Stanzi is gone.

Best of all, they shut up some of those national “experts’’ who gave Iowa zero chance of even being competitive with Ohio State.

Some of the pregame commentaries were pretty outrageous. One of the “experts’’ on the 9-hour pregame show on a Columbus radio station said this was one time Ohio State could go into “Michigan mode’’ a week early because this wasn’t even going to be a contest.

(Sure, like Michigan is going to be a big test. The Wolverines are no better than the ninth best team in the Big Ten. Right now, at this point in time, they might be No. 10 or 11. I’d say Ohio State can go into Rose Bowl mode about six weeks early.)

On the ESPN Game Day show, Desmond Howard (an old Michigan man, by the way), said Ohio State would beat Iowa by at least three touchdowns. His cohort, Lee Corso, said Iowa had two chances to win – “slim and none.’’

Of course, a lot of us long ago stopped regarding Corso as any sort of expert.

Vandenberg-Wienke battle bears watching

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

One of the most intriguing battles for the Hawkeyes in fall camp won’t be for a starting job. It will be the head-to-head duel to see who is the backup quarterback behind Ricky Stanzi.

Redshirt freshmen James Vandenberg and John Wienke are – by all accounts – very comparable in ability, intellect and temperament and also have become good friends. Any time coach Kirk Ferentz or offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe or Stanzi is asked about the two youngsters, they’re very careful to point out how equal they are.

Based on the little bit we saw in the spring scrimmage, which was closed to the general public, Vandenberg looked a little smoother and a little more accurate throwing the ball. But that was just one day. Whatever happens in workouts the next three weeks will decide this thing.

The Hawkeyes are only carrying three quarterbacks on the roster – a few less than most college teams – but Ferentz said he’s not really concerned about that. It just means those three may get more reps in practice each day.

It no doubt helps that Marvin McNutt, who is battling for a starting receiver job, spent the first two years of his Iowa career at quarterback. He would be available to move back behind center on an emergency basis should there be multiple injuries at QB.

So much for a QB controversy

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Word out of Iowa City is that sophomore backup quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who in the spring appeared to be pushing incumbent starter Jake Christensen for the job, is out with a shoulder injury. Apparently, Stanzi was hurt during drills Friday morning. Rumors on the Rivals message boards say he is out six to eight weeks. I couldn’t confirm that, but I did confirm that he left the football complex with his arm in a sling.

This is bad news for the Hawkeyes.

Stanzi probably wasn’t going to be the starter when Maine comes to town six weeks from Saturday, but he did figure to challenge Christensen during camp. If Stanzi is in fact out six to eight weeks, Christensen will be pushed only by redshirt freshman Marvin McNutt and incoming freshmen John Wienke and James Vandenberg. That’s not enough. After a sub-par sophomore season during which Christensen took every meaningful Iowa snap, he needs all the competition he can get as he prepares for 2008.

I have no doubt Christensen will be the starter against Maine — I had little doubt before learning of Stanzi’s injury. But competition in camp would have helped him be a better quarterback to start the season. And it would have been good for the Hawkeyes to build some depth at the position — some much-needed depth. If Stanzi were to play, say, the fourth quarter of each of Iowa’s first two games, against Maine and Florida International, both of which figure to be lopsided wins, that would have, at the least, given Stanzi some valuable game experience, and, if he played well, given the coaching staff confidence to go to him if Christensen struggles as he did in 2007. They had no confidence in either Stanzi or Arvell Nelson last year and had no choice but to stick with Jake through thick and thin.

Now, let’s say Stanzi is out six to eight weeks — again, I can’t confirm that. Best-case scenario, he misses all of training camp and returns as a distant backup before the opener, and probably doesn’t see much time. Worst-case scenario, he returns before the Sept. 13 matchup with Iowa State, probably as the third-string quarterback behind McNutt, Wienke or Vandenberg, whichever one plays mop-up dutie against Maine and Florida International. This, right here, could be the defining juncture of Stanzi’s career at Iowa. Right when he’s in position to compete for playing time, even the starting job, he could be pushed to the back of the line.

Again, all we know right now is that Stanzi hurt his shoulder and he left Friday with his arm in a sling. That’s it, but that certainly isn’t a good sign for Stanzi or the Hawkeyes as they sit just a few short weeks from opening camp.