IOWA CITY — Saturday’s open scrimmage will give you your first glimpse into the 2012 Hawkeyes doing football things on a football field.
A couple of things to keep in mind: 1) This will be Iowa’s ninth consecutive day of practice. This is how it went last season. This is supposed to be the really, really hard part. 2) The Hawkeyes will be coming off two practices on Friday.
This is the first scrimmage in Kinnick. There likely will be two more, and, obviously, the closer they get to breaking camp and the Sept. 1 opener at Soldier Field against Northern Illinois, the more the Hawkeyes should resemble a football team. Think of today as more of a two-hour conditioning test in front of 5,000 to 15,000 fans.
Gates open at 11 a.m. at Kinnick Stadium.
Let’s look at some of the things you might see (as always, this is just one of 25 practices, so you’re not seeing a giant percentage of what’s been going on):
1. Pace of the offense — The Iowa offense wanted to go two speeds last season — deliberate in the Hawkeyes’ traditional sense and hyper-speed. Hyper-speed spread looked wonderful against Pittsburgh, engineering the biggest comeback in school history. A few weeks later at Penn State, hyper-speed ran into a wall in a 13-3 drubbing that included an 11-minute advantage in time of possession.
First-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis talked this week about having the play out and the team at the line of scrimmage with 18 seconds left on the playclock. Several players mentioned the brisk pace of practice.
The no-huddle was a signature move for a few of Davis’ Texas offenses. He’s compared Iowa senior QB James Vandenberg to former Texas QB Major Applewhite. Davis has said Iowa might use six or seven wide receivers during the course of a game. He’s also said 11 personnel (one RB, one TE and three WRs) has been prominent in Iowa’s profile from spring practice to fall camp.
Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa teams have dabbled in no-huddle. Ferentz has said he believes the defense has to keep pace with a no-huddle offense.
How fast will the O go?
1.1 — Six or seven wide receivers, that probably sounds really great to the wide receivers. It’s opportunity abound. Beyond Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley — clearly in the plans — let’s go Jacob Hillyer, Don Shumpert, Steven Staggs, Jordan Cotton, Tevaun Smith and/or Reese Fleming.
1.2 — How will tight end work? Junior C.J. Fiedorowicz is No. 1 and senior Zach Derby is the 2. Greg Davis also said this week that wide receivers will be competing with tight ends for spots on the field.
1.3 — Clock is now ticking on freshman QB Jake Rudock. His job is to win the No. 2 spot. He has to win some trust, with junior college transfer Cody Sokol pushing him. Davis would like to redshirt Sokol, but Rudock has to show proficiency.
2. The running back thing — Got running back fatigue yet? Hope not, this story is going to be getting yards after contact all year.
The Big Ten Network aired its Iowa practice show on Thursday. Analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith said sophomore Damon Bullock looked like the No. 1. They liked true freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill, but Garmon’s pass protection made them nervous.
Pass protection will shape this race. If Iowa has a back who’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and can’t block, opponents will lock on to that quickly.
2. 1 — The closest Iowa has had to a “running back by committee” has been 2009, when Adam Robinson rushed 181 times and Brandon Wegher went 162. Even that wasn’t really an RBBC, though. They passed the baton between injuries.
2.2 — Can Bullock hold off the freshmen? How long? Remember, Bullock first caught the staff’s eye last August as a wide receiver.
2.3 — If Davis does lean 11 personnel, is fullback Brad Rogers the running back? Probably.
3. Who’s doing what on the defensive line — Iowa’s offensive line is good, so this is going to be game conditions for a young and experienced group.
What will this group be asked to do? In the spring, first-year defensive coordinator Phil Parker said he wanted to stick with Iowa’s two-gap philosophy, meaning the D-lineman is assigned both gaps on the O-lineman he’s across from. The primary idea here is clogging rush lanes. It’s a tough, physical job.
3.1 — Will freshmen Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie play in ’12 or redshirt? DiNardo thought redshirt.
3.2 — Where will the pass rush come from? Well, according to strong safety Nico Law, “There’s more man coverage and there’s a lot more blitzing.” Who’s blitzing? “You’ve got people coming from everywhere.”
3.3 — Two positive developments since spring: 1) Sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat seems to have claimed a defensive tackle spot. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said he nearly quit in December, but has grown by leaps and bounds. 2) Tackle Carl Davis and end Dominic Alvis are healthy. This unit needs them and might as well put “needs” in all caps.
4. Punter? — You won’t see much of them today, but let’s quickly run through what’s going on: Senior John Wienke does warm-up drills with QBs now and that’s it. He’s all in at punter and currently sits atop the depth chart. Sophomore Jonny Mullings has the strong leg, but has a hitch that takes too long. True freshman Connor Kornbrath has a shot here.
4.1 — You’ll see some potential punt returners, but the job belongs to senior corner Micah Hyde.
4.2 — You’ll see the kickers — junior Mike Meyer, freshman Marshall Koehn and senior Trent Mossbrucker — face off, but this is where the “just one practice” creedo stands. Meyer should hold his spot, but the job is open.
5. Miscellany — Through no effort of his own, Law is starting to develop a persona and he hasn’t played a significant down. . . . Notice very little mention of the offensive line. The best and deepest position on the Hawkeyes’ roster. . . . Senior cornerback Greg Castillo suffered a minor hamstring injury and missed the practice the BTN was in town to shoot. He has since returned and should find his way to nickel/dime defense today.
5.1 — The first 3,000 entrants at Kinnick will receive a free poster. I don’t have a pic, but it’s sharp, with a view looking down on an Iowa helmet with the “ANF” decal prominently displayed. Be one of the first 3,000.
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