Iowa Notebook: Hawkeyes name captains

Competition continues at safety, Soldier field hype

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March 31, 2014 | 11:37 pm

IOWA CITY - Early in the season, there are kinks to be worked out during weekly media sessions with the Iowa Hawkeye football team. Freshmen may not know where to go. Some players may have class during the allotted time.  But one basic foundation is built upon reporters gathering information from players.

Tuesday, the roles were reversed for senior cornerback Micah Hyde. Instead of giving information, he was on the receiving end.

When asked what it was like to be named of four captains on the team, it was news to him.

"Really? Wow. It's an honor," Hyde said. "I've been trying to do a good job leading this entire summer and me and the other guys, like I'm sure Vandy (James Vandenberg) and (James) Ferentz, I'm guessing they're..."

Hyde, stopped and looked at the group of reporters surrounding him, looking for some type of acknowledgement that both Vandenberg and Ferentz were in fact also named captains.

Then again, he was now a captain, so his word was as good as any.

"I mean I voted for them, so," Hyde said before receiving the information they both also elected captains.

He joined Vandenberg, Ferentz and linebacker James Morris as the four Hawkeye captains. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz led off his weekly press conference with the news.

Vandenberg served as a captain for every game last year as well.

For Hyde, Ferentz and Morris, it's their first.

After acquiring that information, Hyde knew what his first action as captain would be.

"I guess I'm going to walk into the complex and start thanking people," Hyde said.

Strong (safety) competition

The word "OR" is bolded six times in Iowa's game notes for its upcoming game against Northern Illinois on Saturday. It delegates a position that is still up for grabs. The "OR" under "SS" might as well be bolded, highlighted, underlined and increased in font size.

While the ends on the defensive line are still questionable, as is the running back position, which could and will cycle through three backs, the strong safety position possibly has drawn the most buzz.

At this point -- four days from gameday -- the heavy weights, Nico Law and Tom Donatell, in the fight for the position are ready to stop talking about it and just play.

"I'm definitely a guy that just wants to play," Donatell said. "If I'm the best guy, I'll play. If he's the best guy, he'll play. Talking about it isn't always the most fun but you know it's a part of the situation."

"I mean yeah, they should just let the playing do the talking," Law said.

The people are talking about the two safeties in part due to their background. Neither can be discussed without some NFL comparisons arising.

The buzz hovering around Law has been his similarities to Bob Sanders. Right now those similarities end at a hard hitting safety that has worn an Iowa jersey.

"I'm not trying to be Bob Sanders, I'm just trying to be myself," Law said. "Bob Sanders is a great person and I still haven't done nothing yet."

For Donatell, his link to the NFL is his father, who is currently the defensive secondary coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

Whatever the link, it has created a swarm of attention focused on the two competing for one spot. Some may think it could have created a tear within the secondary, but in spring and summer practices, competing a part of life.

"People might think it's a new thing but since I've been here I've always been in a competition," Donatell said. "Whether it's for the first spot, second spot, you're always in a competition. I think the longer you're here the more you're used to it. It's a good thing. It brings the best out of everybody."

It's hasn't gone unnoticed either. Their defensive captain has seen the growth of Donatell and Law first hand.

"To be honest, in a competition like this, they've done a good job teaching each other," Hyde said. "It doesn't matter who's taking first team reps or second team reps, whoever made the mistake they are both paying attention. There has been multiple occasions where I've seen both of them working together on the sideline. They're talking about a play, talking about a formation and stuff like that. And that's good. That's what you need."

The work has also impressed the coaches, who will be content with either defensive back patrolling the secondary.

"We're comfortable with either guy," Kirk Ferentz said. "I think whoever ends up getting the start, both will probably play some and they'll both play on special teams."

Soldier Field hype

I didn't matter if they were seniors like corner back Micah Hyde.

"I can't wait, I'm excited," Hyde said.

Or a red shirt freshman like Darian Cooper.

"I'm way too excited," Cooper said. "It feels like freshman year of high school."

The cherry on top of the season opening game against Northern Illinois was the fact it will be played at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears.

"You're playing in a pro stadium,which is exciting to players. I think they like that opportunity just based on some of the bowl games we've played in pro stadiums," Kirk Ferentz said.  "To me it just makes sense. I think the big thing is we don't want to do it every other year, wear off the novelty."

Saturday will mark the first time since the 2009 season when the Hawkeyes played Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl in Jan. 5, 2010. It's the first time since 2007 that Iowa will play at Soldier Field. The Hawkeyes opened the season with a 16-3 win over Northern Illinois.

The Huskies are 0-2 all-time at the home of the NFL's Bears.

There is some concern over the playing surface as the field will host high school football games this week, but Ferentz wasn't phased by it.

"We'll play whatever is there. If it's a parking lot, we'll play there," Kirk Ferentz said. "Last time we were there, it was a little bit hard, to say the least. There's nothing we can do about it. We'll play on whatever is there."

Homegrown line

When James Vandenberg drops back Saturday, he'll be looking to five Iowans in front of him for protection. The Hawkeyes boast an all-Iowa offensive line to kick off the season. It's something those five guys in front of Vandenberg take pride in.

"Everybody's got pride in that," senior left guard Matt Tobin said. "... We all kind of grew up the same. None of us were on farms but we were all kind of around farms and things like that. We all kind of take pride in being Iowans because I've said before, Iowa citizens have a hard work ethic. We all kind of have the same thing going."

Tobin hails from Dyersville, while left tackle Brandon Scherff is from Denison. James Ferentz, out of Iowa City, mans the center position. On the right side of the line, guard Austin Blythe is from Williamsburg and tackle Brett Van Sloten calls Decorah home.

Don't expect Alabama

Michigan opens the season against Alabama. Michigan State hosts Boise State. Kirk Ferentz is content leaving the state of Michigan to opener the season with perennial powers.

"I'm comfortable with what we're doing. I think we're on the right track. Scheduling has always been the challenge, seems like it has," Kirk Ferentz said. "I think it's going to continue to be one. I'm comfortable with what we're doing."

Then again, Northern Illinois can be whispered in the same breath as the Crimson Tide and the Broncos. The Huskies are one of 10 FBS teams to win 11 games the past two seasons. Two of those 10, Alabama and Boise State.

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