April 16, 2012

Offense: What did we learn?

While the Iowa Football team still has a few more practices this week, Hawkeye fans got their only look at the squad before they really get down to business in August.

Change has been the operative word in Iowa City since the end of the 2011 season and that is especially true on the offensive side of the ball with long time offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe moving on to the Miami Dolphins and the arrival of Greg Davis to take over the Iowa offense.

What did we learn on Saturday?

A little, but not a lot seems to be the consensus.

We learned that Iowa is trying to go a bit more up tempo. It won't be crazy up tempo with no huddle all the time, but Coach Davis does want to mix that in a bit and did so on Saturday afternoon during the scrimmage portion. Basically, he wants Iowa to play faster, but also without mistakes.

There were a few glitches on Saturday with timeouts needed and miscommunication with James Vandenberg going one way and Damon Bullock going another, but that's to be expected with the Iowa players still learning a new system with new terminology.

We learned that there's a bit more energy on the offensive side of the ball. Actually, both sides of the ball. While no one wants to say that the offense had gotten stale and it's probably not a fair statement to make, a new offense has a new energy to it. Players seemed to have a bit more of a bounce to their step and the coaches also seem to have a refreshed attitude, which again, is a positive sign that everyone is buying in.

We learned that Iowa's offense is a work in progress right now. Kirk Ferentz and James Vandenberg admitted as much following the practice. Everyone is buying in, but a new offense takes time and by the time fall camp opens in early August, the hope is they will be well on their way to being a more fluid group. Two steps forward and one step back is to be expected given the new offense and we saw some of that on Saturday.

We learned that the wide receivers have some work to do. Keenan Davis has been banged up and while he did practice, he wasn't 100% and that didn't help matters. Kevonte Martin-Manley made a terrific catch on the sidelines and appears to be making strides. However, the rest of the group is wildly inconsistent. Don Shumpert probably had the best day of any of the wide receivers, but he also put the ball on the ground after a reception. In order for Iowa to be a contender for a Big Ten title this fall, the wide receivers are going to have to step up their game. If they don't the door is going to be swinging open for one or more of the true freshmen to earn playing time this season.

We learned that the offensive line appears to be six players fighting for five jobs. James Ferentz is a lock at center and Brett Van Sloten and Brandon Schreff appear to be pretty solid at tackle. The guard positions appear to be a three man battle between Austin Blythe, Conor Boffeli, and Matt Tobin. Regardless of how it turns out, the offensive line seemed solid in the run and pass game, getting good push up front.

We learned that the tight ends are a deep and talented group. How many teams not named the New England Patriots go to a five wide set with two tight ends split out? That speaks to the depth and talent, led by C.J. Fiedorowicz, who appears to be ready to take the next step in his development. Fiedorowicz is a matchup nightmare for opponents on the field and Greg Davis loves the idea of mismatches. Ray Hamilton, Jake Duzey, and Henry Krieger-Coble are young players that have caught the coaches eye, so look for bigger roles for them this fall.

We learned that Mike Meyer is still Iowa's top kicker. Frankly, the Hawkeyes are pretty deep at this position and both Trent Mossbrucker and Marshall Koehn looked equally as good. One thing to watch this fall is will Iowa have Koehn, who has the biggest leg on the team, handle kickoff duties with Meyer sticking to just field goals? That could be an option this fall for Iowa to help some leg fatigue issues that Meyer has had late in the last two seasons.

The next few months will be crucial for the Hawkeye offense. In talking with quarterback James Vandenberg, he said once spring practice ends he's headed to the film room to break down his performance this spring and continue the learning process. He will be joined by many of his teammates on the offensive side as they prepare for summer workouts and then head into camp in August.

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