March 31, 2013

Spring Position Battles

With seniors moving on and underclassmen moving up, spring football is always filled with a few intriguing position battles that Hawkeye fans should be paying close attention to in the next month.

This spring is no different as Iowa tries to rebound from a disappointing 4-8 season in 2012.

The battles are officially underway and some of these significant tussles will probably linger on into fall camp in August.

Here's a look at five good battles to watch this spring and when we might see a conclusion to the race.

QUARTERBACK

This is the one that most Iowa fans will be talking about this spring for a couple of reasons. One, it's the position most fans focus in on. Two, it is the great unknown on the Iowa rosters simply because none of the contenders have played a snap for the Hawkeyes.

Everyone knows their names: Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol, and C.J. Beathard. What no one knows is which one will eventually win the position. In terms of size and stature, all three are very similar, measuring 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 and weighing between 195 and 215 pounds. All three are more of the pocket passer variety and won't be confused with spread option quarterbacks.

Jake Rudock was placed at the top of the depth chart, but Kirk Ferentz mentioned on Wednesday that his listing was based on where he stood on the depth chart at the end of last season and that all three would get equal snaps with the first, second, and third teams this spring.

While Ferentz hopes that one of the three will jump up and grab the job this spring, it's unlikely to happen given the lack of playing time for each of them. The best guess is that this race lingers into fall camp for at least two weeks and then at that point, Ferentz will have make a decision on who starts for the Hawkeyes this fall. At this point a rotation going into the season seems unlikely and this will be a very important spring for all three quarterbacks.

RUNNING BACK

Yes, Iowa more than one healthy running back, so there will actually be a fight for playing time this spring. That sound you hear right now is Kirk Ferentz knocking on wood.

Like the quarterback battle, there are three major contenders for playing time at running back. Last year at this time, Jordan Canzeri was leading the pack until he tore his ACL. Canzeri is healthy and will be pushing hard to get his old job back. Mark Weisman was nothing short of sensational last year after he was forced to move from fullback to running back due to injuries. Then there's Damon Bullock, who started the season at running back and then missed a good chunk of the rest of the regular season due to concussion issues.

All three are healthy and that's a step in the right direction for a program that has seemed like a revolving door for running backs. Unlike quarterback where Ferentz may want to settle on a player, the sense is he would be ok with some sort of rotation this fall. There's really no favorite at this time and each of the top three have their own individual style of running the football. Bottom line, it's good to have options at a position that hasn't had a lot of them in the past few seasons.

WIDE RECEIVER

The Hawkeyes have one known commodity at wide receiver, a somewhat known commodity, and a lot of question marks beyond that as we get spring practice underway.

The known is Kevonte Martin-Manley, who has been a rock solid performer in the previous two seasons. While he might not be a huge down the field threat, KMM is willing to make the tough catch and he's a strong leader for the group.

The somewhat known player is Jordan Cotton, who stepped forward last year. Cotton emerged as the season progressed after battling injuries and consistency issues during his career.

Beyond that, it's a lot of question mark. Tevaun Smith is listed a starter, but he wasn't a significant contributor in his freshman year. Is he ready to step forward into this larger role? Will he be pushed by sophomore Jacob Hillyer, Cameron Wilson, or Don Shumpert? There's been some early spring ball buzz around redshirt freshman walk-on Riley McCarron, so perhaps he is a name to watch as well.

If no one really takes hold of a spot beyond Martin-Manley, things will get very interesting in the fall with the arrival of junior college transfer Damond Powell and a group of pretty talented freshmen.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The biggest question mark on the defensive side of the football is with the defensive line. The biggest battle for playing time is also among the contenders on the defensive line.

At this point, it would appear that Iowa players probably have a leg up on the competition. Dominic Alvis has proven himself at defensive end and it would certainly be a surprise if someone were to unseat him from a spot in the starting lineup. The same could probably be said about defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat, who started last year. However, LTP is sitting out the spring due to offseason shoulder surgery, so opportunity will be knocking at the tackle position.

The spring depth chart lists Carl Davis and Darian Cooper as starters at tackle and they are backed up by a couple of hyped redshirt freshmen in Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie. This is a big year for Davis. He passes the old eyeball test and then some with is 6-foot-5 and 315 pound frame and showed flashes last year. The key for Davis is developing a mean streak and consistency in his down to down performance. Cooper might be a bit undersized, but his motor runs high on nearly every snap. At the other end position opposite Alvis the current starter is Drew Ott, who saw playing time last year late in the season.

The other end position is probably up in the air a bit with Riley McMinn, Bud Spears, Mike Hardy, and Daumantas Venckus-Cucchiara in the mix. The coaches seemed pretty high on McMinn last year before injuries limited his playing time. If he's healthy, look for a push from him this spring.

Bottom line, Iowa needs to generate a pass rush from their front four and stop the run better than they did last year if Iowa is going to show growth on defense.

SECONDARY

This might be the least intriguing position battle of the spring, but it is worth watching. At cornerback, Jordan Lomax, who missed last season due to injury, is listed as a starter. He would have seen significant snaps last year in nickel coverage and should transition smoothly into the lineup. He will get a push from Sean Draper, who some in the program feel is potentially the best cover corner on the roster. Redshirt freshman Reese Fleming is already in the two deeps at corner after moving to the defensive side of the ball during last season.

At safety, Tanner Miller and Nico Law are the starters and it's going to be hard to see how either of them will be beat out this spring. Law made his share of mistakes due to inexperience, but flashed high level potential. Miller struggled all season at safety and hopes to rebound in 2013. Other names to watch include Johnny Lowdermilk, Anthony Gair, and once he gets fully healthy, Ruben Lile.


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