Maybe it's coincidence, but after a 4-8 season, the Hawkeyes will hit the road for a practice in Des Moines for the first time ever.
Whether or not it's 4-8 that spurred the idea for the field trip -- which coach Kirk Ferentz calls "a thank you" -- the reason you might view Sunday's open practice with binoculars and maybe a more jaded eye is the Hawkeyes' 4-8 campaign in 2012.
You need to see some something. You need to see a reason to believe 4-8 won't happen again.
Yes, all the automatic caveats are in play. It's spring practice (approximately half way through). Rarely does anyone play their way into or out of a position in spring. What you see now might not matter or happen come August. Still, 4-8 has you looking a little more closely.
QBs Jake Rudock/Cody Sokol/C.J. Beathard -- They are pretty much tied to the hip. It sounds as though this is happening: Rudock has shown a lot of "quarterback" in his play. He's cool, calm and knows the offense better than the others. He has a tighter connection to offensive coordinator Greg Davis' offense after spending last season as "the backup who never played." Sokol has some athleticism, a strong arm and playmaking ability. He's behind in seeing the game and that has lead to mistakes, which will kill any QB's starting campaign. Beathard has talent, but is he ready physically?
This probably would be a pretty great reality show. You know you'd watch.
Center Austin Blythe -- Don't discount the degree of difficulty in the move from guard to center. Blythe spent his redshirt freshman season as a guard being told by three-year starting center James Ferentz where to go, in at least a few cases. This year, Blythe is doing the telling. Another thing Ferentz did was set a relentless pace. Blythe, a former national-level prep wrestler, has that in him.
Defensive tackle Carl Davis -- Linebacker James Morris said the 6-5, 315-pound junior has showed pop this spring. What a bonus Davis would be to a D-line that could use an anchor. Junior DT Louis Trinca-Pasat is out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery, so Davis has a chance to lay down some video. All signs say that is happening. (By the way, the knee injury that held Davis back early in his career was a kneecap he dislocated twice. Ouch.)
Defensive end Drew Ott -- Two years ago, the 6-4, 265-pounder played eight-man football for Giltner (Neb.) High School. He now is listed as the starter opposite senior Dominic Alvis at defensive end. That's a huge leap. Perhaps the biggest question is who's his competition? Ferentz acknowledged defensive end was a need in the '13 recruiting class and that it was a swing and a miss. Suddenly, a lot is riding on Ott's shoulders.
Wide receiver Tevaun Smith -- Think of the changes that have gone into the WR position after last season's struggles: Iowa has a new WR coach in Bobby Kennedy. The Hawkeyes signed five WR prospects in February. That's as much of a facelift as a college position can endure. Smith played as a true freshman last season and saw minimal action. During fall camp, he did show the ability to blow the top off a defense, something that would certainly help open up space. The 6-2, 200-pounder has track credentials (11.05-second 100 meters and 22.72 in the 200). Smith also is a 20-year-old sophomore (went to prep school after high school), so the maturity is there.
3 REASONS TO WORRY
1) The Hawkeyes defensive line is under the gun. Lack of a pass rush strained the entire defense last season. Alvis is the most proven pass rusher and he has 5.5 sacks in three years. All the usual caveats with pass rush, but have you seen an Iowa defense function well without a consistent pass rush from the front four? (Answer: You haven't.)
2) Safety play suffered last season when Phil Parker moved to defensive coordinator. He's still DC and now he's back as secondary coach, too. Being in the right place at the right time, it sounds too simple, but it's everything for a leverage-first defense.
3) It's difficult to characterize Iowa's special teams play. Perhaps the best way to describe it is Iowa has made it into opportunity, but has basically held serve. Special teams underwent the same facelift the WR corps had this offseason. Chris White was brought in as special teams coordinator. Linebackers coach LeVar Woods has a hand in it. There's opportunity in special teams.
3 REASONS FOR HOPE
1) Iowa's offense has a chance to have an identity with physical running game. The Hawkeyes had that last season before injuries sidelined tackle Brandon Scherff, guard Andrew Donnal and running backs Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock. They're all back and they're all healthy.
2) Iowa has a lot of promising bodies at defensive tackle. You have Davis (315), sophomore Darian Cooper (280), Trinca-Pasat (290), redshirt freshman duo Jaleel Johnson (310) and Faith Ekakitie (287). That's Big Ten size on the inside. Glass-half-full crowd will see that and see huge potential. Half-empty crowd will see a lot of inexperience. This group stays together and progress, it could be scary, just a matter of when.3) Iowa has three senior linebackers who, according to their position coach, have NFL potential. James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens are poised for impact seasons. Another positive that should help the defense overall is Jim Reid. It'll be interesting to see how Reid's influence is felt (if it's perceptible) within the defense. He's coached defensive football for 30 years. He was coordinator for the No. 28 team in total defense just last season. Iowa's defense might have a few new moves for opponents to consider. (It's not what Iowa does, but how it does it. But with Reid on board, Iowa could carry a degree of mystery to its defense that it hasn't had.)