WEST DES MOINES — The big “V” in the middle of the field stood for West Des Moines Valley High School, but the semi-trailer truck in the parking lot and the 8,000 fans inside Valley Stadium were here for the Hawkeyes.
For the first time, the Hawkeyes hit the buses for a spring practice outside of Iowa City. Sunday’s event seemed to go off without a hitch. The practice itself, that, of course, remains to be seen. Iowa is nine practices through its 15 spring drills.
The next glimpse you’ll get will be April 27 at Kinnick Stadium. As you’d expect halfway through spring, Iowa did some things well and some things need polishing.
– The three quarterback candidates, Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard, switched every two snaps during the 119-play situational scrimmaging. It was two-and-out out regardless of who was doing well and whichever unit — first-, second- or third-team — was on the field.
“That’s what we’ve done in every drill since we got started,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “As a result, all three are working with the first group, second and so on. It’s not like anyone has an advantage that way. I don’t know how much longer we’ll keep doing that, but we’ll keep rotating them.”
Sophomore Jake Rudock, the likely front runner, threw three TD passes and to illustrate the randomness of the QB draw, they were thrown to sophomore tight end Henry Krieger Coble, redshirt freshman tight end George Kittle and redshirt freshman walk-on wide receiver Riley McCarron.
“It’s kind of hit or miss right now and that’s kind of the way our whole offense is at this point,” Ferentz said. “We’re rotating them and so it’s probably hard for them to get a feel. They still have things to work on. At this point, it’s early to try to predict and we’re not going to. We’ll let the guys continue to compete.”
Rudock looked the most comfortable. He seemed to see the field a little better than the other two and was a touch more accurate.
“I think he’s doing a lot of good things,” Ferentz said, “but there’s no sense trying to make a conclusion right now. We don’t need to. In fairness to all three, we just want to watch them all compete.”
– Running back was difficult to gauge, but sophomore Jordan Canzeri, who missed last season with a torn ACL, was the Hawkeyes’ most dangerous offensive weapon on Sunday. He did most of his work against the No. 2 defense, but he broke several long runs, including a 39-yarder.
“I was really excited to get through all the rehab successfully and be able to come back,” Canzeri said. “I’m just ready.”
– A minor injury (undisclosed) sidelined strong safety Nico Law on Sunday, but the defense was as advertised. The linebackers were the strength, the corners were tough to beat and the D-line lost more than it won.
During the physical O-line vs. D-line drills, the offensive line scored several knockouts. During one inside rush drill, right tackle Brett Van Sloten pancaked sophomore defensive end Drew Ott in on back-to-back plays. That’s a fifth-year senior going head-to-head with a true sophomore.
It’s sort of symbolic of where Iowa needs to go up front on defense.
“We understand that it all starts up front,” defensive tackle Darian Cooper said. “We need to get better and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Some personnel notes here: Redshirt freshman Faith Ekakitie played more defensive end than tackle. The 6-3, 287-pounder was listed as a tackle when spring started. Junior tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat is out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery (torn rotator cuff). In scrimmage situations, Iowa’s first-team defense held up fairly well against the run.
– If the passing game is going to grow, the receivers are going to have to stop dropping the ball. It really is that simple. Sunday, there were at least seven drops, including four by wide receivers.
Tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ray Hamilton teamed up for seven catches and 143 yards. There was pass rush, but these two found space in the middle of the defense and along the sidelines when the QB needed them.
– That guy No. 83? That’s McCarron. He’ll face more competition in August when the five receivers Iowa signed in February show up, but so far, so good for the 5-9, 182-pounder from Dubuque Wahlert.
He caught three passes for 21 yards and the TD. He also ran a lot of reps with the first-team offense. He also had a look with the punt return unit.
“He did a good job on scout team last season, but that’s like pick-up basketball, sometimes guys lose something in translation,” Ferentz said. “He’s done a good job. This has been a big spring for him. He’s competing well, he’s eager and is a tough guy.”
– The zone read, the QB option rush that has made San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick a superstar, has been something Iowa toyed with over the years. All three QBs showed that look Sunday, but only Rudock took off with the ball.
“We installed that, so we have a little bit of zone read where we have the option to run, too,” Sokol said. “It’s kind of something new.”