IOWA CITY — Going into Saturday’s spring scrimmage, the Hawkeyes had a veteran, kill-bot of an offensive line and a new-ish defensive. At least it looked that way on paper, with returning starters and all that.
After Saturday, forget the paper.
Iowa has a chance to have a veteran, kill-bot of an offensive line. They drew a lot of laundry before an estimated 8,000 fans at Kinnick Stadium, but when Iowa’s O-line clicked, it was dominant. The defensive line went in with arguably one starter from 2010 and it remains a work-in-progress.
“It’ll probably be more of a committee type thing next year,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of the defensive line. “We’ll probably play six or eight guys, hopefully.”
For the most part during Saturday’s blustery, dreary day, the D-line was seniors Broderick Binns and Lebron Daniel at ends with senior Mike Daniels, the returning starter, and sophomore Dominic Alvis and freshman Carl Davis rotating in at tackle.
Iowa rode Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug the last two seasons. The bill is due and newbies are submitting resumes.
“We are on the path, but we’ve still got to get better,” said Binns, who went from 9.5 tackles for loss in ’09 to just 1 last season as a part-time starter. “A lot of the little things, stepping right, lining up in the right place, using the right technique. I feel like we have time and that the sky is the limit for us.”
Binns and Daniel and Daniels are solid, but there will likely be a rotation. Bodies are being poured in, with Alvis (6-4, 250) playing tackle and end. Davis, the biggest D-lineman at 6-5, 310, has a chance, but has to play lower. Senior Tom Nardo (a 6-3, 277-pound walk-on) and junior Steve Bigach (6-3, 280) missed spring with surgeries (right leg for Nardo and upper body for Bigach), but could factor on the inside by the time fall camp starts in August.
“It’ll probably be more of a group effort than it was last year and we’ll go from there,” Ferentz said.
One weird thing about the scrimmage portions was the presence of the zone blitz, where a defensive back or linebacker blitzes and a D-lineman drops a few steps into coverage. Iowa did it with success at least twice, with Binns knocking a pass down and reserve tackle Mike Hardy picking off reserve quarterback John Wienke.
“I think that’s something you could potentially see more of this year with us bringing the blitz,” said Binns, a 6-2, 261-pound fifth-year. “But I’m not sure, that’s something you’d have to ask coach [Norm] Parker.”
Last year at this time, Iowa’s D-line of Clayborn and et al ran roughshod over pretty much this same group of offensive linemen. Aside from three holding — one of which came on the outside, which was likely a receiver — and two false starts, it was a whole new game.
Left tackle Riley Reiff made that point with a leather-glove to the face of Daniel, whom Reiff planted in the turf and stared down in the harmless barking that followed the one-on-one pass-blocking drill.
The interviews with the O-line and Kirk Ferentz’s post-scrimmage comments clearly show the bar is set Sears Tower (or Willis or whatever) high for the offensive line. It has to be. It’s the most-veteran unit Iowa will field in 2011 and, perhaps, the most talented.
“I’m still learning, I have to get better,” said Reiff, a junior and a second-team all-Big Ten pick last season. “We have to stay on top of the little things, like hands and technique.”
Coach Ferentz went right to the holding penalties and QB protection when the O-line was brought up. But he knows how important this group will be to 2011 Iowa.
“The three guys with experience are all capable of getting better,” Ferentz said. “If we’re going to have a good football team, we’re going to need that to happen.”
Without star senior Marvin McNutt, you might have thought the receivers would’ve struggled Saturday. There were a few drops and a few blown blitz routes, but the young wideouts were the ones you left the stadium talking about.
Junior Keenan Davis made a pair of one-handed stabs that got the crowd off the cold aluminum bleachers. On one, he went back shoulder on cornerback Shaun Prater for 28 yards, also drawing the pass interference on Prater. He topped himself later with a one-hander for 19 yards with reserve safety Jack Swanson all over him.
“He needs to play like a starter, real succinctly,” Ferentz said. “It’s his time. He’s been here two years and he’s more than capable and he’s willing. The next step for him is to play with consistency.”
Junior walk-on Steven Staggs looks as though he wants in the receiver rotation. In a span of six plays, the 6-3, 195-pounder caught three passes from backup QBs Wienke and A.J. Derby for 46 yards.
Ferentz said Wienke and Derby are “even” for the No. 2 QB spot. The stats from Saturday are unsteady at best, but Wienke threw a pair of interceptions while Derby completed 9 of 11 for 115 yards.
Ferentz was asked what it would take for the Derby “position switch” conversation to cease.
“Probably start,” he said.
And maybe not even then.