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?