Four Downs — The Post Spring Anthology

Let’s throw in preseason MVP, emerging star and top newcomer

Marc Morehouse, The Gazette
Published: May 20 2014 | 5:24 pm - Updated: 20 May 2014 | 8:53 pm in Football, On Iowa by Marc Morehouse, Sports, Sports Rotator, University of Iowa,

Oh no, he’s just going to run the links to the Four Downs stuff again. Boring!!!!!

OK, OK, I’ll throw in this bonus: The MVP, emerging star and top newcomer. This is an exercise I’ve done for a preseason publication (which comes with much, much more than this).

This list came to mind quickly this year.

MVP: OT Brandon Scherff

The fifth-year senior would’ve been a first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, but decided he enjoyed Iowa and announced his decision to stay in December. ... Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz: “There’s not a better offensive lineman in college football, that’s my opinion.” ... Three-year starter who missed the final five weeks of ’12 with a broken fibula and dislocated ankle. ... Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle frequently post videos of Scherff’s weightroom feats on social media.

Emerging Star: CB Desmond King

As a true freshman last season, he started 12 of 13 games after the starter was injured in the opener. ... Named a 2013 freshman All-American by the Big Ten Network. ... Earned Iowa’s first Big Ten freshman of the week honors after racking up 12 tackles at Ohio State. ... Finished sixth on the team with 69 tackles. ... Finished second on the team with eight pass breakups. ... Has inserted himself as a possibility at punt return.

Top Newcomer: WR Derrick Willies

Three-star prospect from Rock Island, Ill., red-shirted in 2013, but it wasn’t an easy decision. ... Iowa needs a boost from the receiving corps and is getting one with four red-shirt freshmen. ... At 6-4, 210, offers a combination of size and speed that is unique for Iowa’s receiving corps. ... Won the 110-meter high hurdles state title as a junior at Rock Island. ... Listed as a No. 2 on the depth chart in the spring

OK, now links.

Quarterback — It’s not a controversy, it’s a discussion point

Will C.J. Beathard play in games? Iowa has to keep him interested and there’s no better way than playing him.

The one thing that was totally clear from Iowa QB this spring was the gap between Jake Rudock/Beathard to No. 3 Nic Shimonek, a red-shirt freshman just getting into this. Iowa needs Beathard fully engaged, but it also has a starter in Rudock who has a better resume and who has continued to grow his game

Running Back — Managing a numbers crunch on the roster

Iowa will have nine scholarship running backs in camp. That’s a lot a lot.

You know the pieces in place, but what’s unknown is how the veteran running backs will be used. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis talked about not being able to evaluate running backs until there’s real contact. That’s why August camp.

You know the backs, but how can Iowa maximize their use to keep everyone happy and help Iowa win? Wait, probably reverse that last part.

Wide Receiver — No one should be comfortable

Iowa adds four red-shirt freshmen, including Derrick Willies (6-4, 210) who introduced himself to the Iowa football world with a pair of productive performances in the public practices, WR coach Bobby Kennedy has had another year to translate the offense and the WR corps is perhaps the deepest it’s been in Kirk Ferentz’s 16 years as head coach.

Offensive Line — Running a roster gamble

Iowa has offensive linemen, some great ones, too, but it doesn’t have a ton of experience. The Hawkeyes have run this route on the offensive line, so it’s not a total hot-button issue, but there are some players with short resumes who’ll be asked to play key roles.

Tight Ends — Iowa wants a vibrant passing game, but there will be mouths to feed

We learned this spring that all four TEs will have a role. Iowa ran quite a bit of the “13” package in its spring game at Kinnick. That’s one running back with three tight ends. That also happened to be a formation that offensive coordinator Greg Davis said he wished Iowa would’ve used more of in last season.

Defensive Line — Iowa into the age of two-down linemen, pass-rush packages

Defensive ends Drew Ott and Mike Hardy will be second-year starters this fall. No, they’re not premium pass rushers, but Iowa coaches know this and don’t ask them to be players they aren’t. The duo set an edge on first and second down and, most times, come out in on third down in favor of the “Raider” package, which this spring included six defensive backs with safety Nico Law chipping in at linebacker.

Linebackers — Starters seem settled, now it’s leadership, tempo

We didn’t learn a whole lot about how the three prospective starters — Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry — might perform. The mantra from linebacker coaches this spring was “fast mistakes.” Iowa wants its new linebackers to play fast and worry about tightening performance in fall camp.

That’s an excellent way to play it, really. No one wants a linebacker standing still and spinning his mental wheels.

Secondary — Role could expand in 2014

Iowa coaches are still sorting out the strengths and weaknesses of their players. The Raider package, a third-down blitz package Parker unveiled midway through last season, likely will stick, but it could change its form and that could include more defensive backs.

“This year it [the Raider] might be a little bit more nickel or maybe even nickel/Raider type of deal, so it might put a defensive back in there instead of a linebacker,” Parker said. “We’re still making those decisions. We still want to learn how to play first and second downs really well and see what we can do with our guys’ base fundamental stuff first.”

Iowa’s personnel could dictate that tweak to third down philosophy. Senior Nico Law (6-1, 205) has a chance to be a hybrid cog in this. Or, maybe, these linebackers prove to be too valuable to take off the field and this stays the same as 2013

Special Teams — Iowa might have its kicker, definitely has competition at punter

If Iowa gets what it needs out of kicker Marshall Koehn and if long snapper Tyler Kluver also proves himself, that likely will lead to two more scholarships among the specialists, raising that number to five (Kornbrath and Kidd will be seniors in ‘15 and Ellis).

That’s a lot, probably unbalanced, but it’s also down the road in 2015. It’ll probably sort itself out.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@sourcemedia.net



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