football Edit

Five Things That Stood Out From Iowa's 2023 Spring Game

Iowa held its open-to-the-public spring practice on Saturday, an opportunity for fans to see some old and new faces as the Hawkeyes transition to the 2023 season. Though new starting quarterback Cade McNamara only participated in 7-on-7 play, new tight end Erick All Jr. received limited action and contact was limited, folks in attendance had an assortment of things to watch and take away from the day's events. Here's a list of our biggest takeaways.

Aaron Graves has Gotten Bigger, and the D-Line is Deep


When Aaron Graves (pictured at the top of the article) got to Iowa City last year, he stood at 6'4" and 270 pounds. As of Saturday, he's up to 6'5", 290.

"At the end of the season, [my weight] was about what I'm at now," he said. "But, my body composition is a little better. I've been stuffing my face. They feed us three meals every day. It's all healthy, just a lot. I've been in the weight room, too. This phase before spring ball and after the season was big for me."

"[Graves] is a beast," teammate defensive end Deontae Craig said. "This is my first time really getting to go a long time playing with him -- getting a feel for his moves and what he likes to do upfront. It makes me excited to just know that there are guys at every spot upfront that are going to make plays. He's another one of the great D-linemen we have in that room."

While Graves has grown physically, his game is expanding, too.

"I've definitely been working on my pass rush," Graves said. "Getting information before the snap, reading the backfield, seeing the formation and getting as much information so I can play as fast as I can."

"Technical stuff is what I worked on more during the winter phase, when we weren't practicing" Graves added. "Four or five times a week, I would come in and work on different stuff Coach (Kelvin) Bell would have me do for 45 minutes or an hour. I think it definitely showed up in spring this year. [One specific thing] I worked on was my cross-chop. That's my go-to move when we need a speed rush or a good rush in general."

Even without Logan Lee and Noah Shannon, who missed Saturday's open practice while recovering from surgeries, the defensive line showed some significant depth on Saturday with Graves, Jeremiah Pittman, and Jackson Filer getting snaps.

"Yahya [Black] is hurt too, so that's three of our four rotation guys for defensive tackle," Graves said. "I think our depth has really shown this spring."

Of course, Craig was in the mix, too.

"It feels good [to have that kind of depth]," he said. "Knowing that we can go out there and produce with three of our top guys sitting on the sideline. It gave the younger guys the chance to step up this spring, and we're excited to get those three back for camp."

The Tight End Group is as Deep as Ever

With All's limited participation in the practice, Addison Ostrenga, Luke Lachey and Steve Stilianos got plenty of run on offense. Ostrenga stood out the most with several catches, including the first big passing play of the day where Deacon Hill connected with him on a 29-yard gain up the seam.

"I'm friends with his high school quarterback," Hill said. "Addy and I connected through him. Ever since I got here he and I kind of clicked. He's a really good dude. We've connected really well."

Ostrenga caught just one pass last season for six yards. Lachey came into his own in 2022 when Sam LaPorta missed a chunk of time due to injury. He caught 28 passes for 398 yards and four touchdowns.

Though All was limited, he did snag a touchdown pass from McNamara in the end zone during the seven-on-seven portion of practice.

“I think our tight end room is very special," McNamara said post-game. "That’s going to be the strength."

The Wide Receiver Room Needs Help

With Seth Anderson and Nico Ragaini out for today's game, Diante Vines was the only scholarship receiver on the field. Other than All, one could tell Vines was McNamara's favorite target. In the seven-on-seven work that the Michigan transfer was able to participate in, he found Vines was across his body to the opposite corner of the end zone. Vines had it drop right into his breadbasket.

The non-scholarship receivers played fairly well -- Max White caught a 48-yard touchdown pass from Joe Labas on a play-action pass and Graham Friedrichsen caught a fluke of a deflected touchdown pass and hauled in an acrobatic grab over Cooper DeJean. Jack Johnson made some nice catches and Ohio State transfer Austin Kutscher added some solid play as well.

"I think that room's going to be okay," Ferentz said postgame. "Those guys have worked hard, made strides, improved. Hopefully, we'll keep pushing that forward as we get through August."

But the wide receiver room needs help, and Ferentz knows it.

"Definitely," he said regarding looking at the receivers availble in the portal. "[That's] an area that we'll look at if we can help ourselves on the perimeter."

Corner Is a Need, Too

At least, according to Coach Ferentz it is.

"We're not deep at corner, either," he said following the comment on the receiver position. "[Those are] probably the two areas we're kind of looking at."

DeJean and Jermari Harris are the two sure things on the outside of the Iowa defense, with TJ Hall and Deshaun Lee close behind in depth. The group has enough talent to get by, but Lee and Hall are young and inexperienced, and there's always the possibility of injury.

So, as Ferentz said, they'll look to the portal for help at the cornerback position as well.

Deacon Hill is QB2 (So Far)

McNamara was the presumed starter in 2023 from the beginning. Even with Labas stepping up for the Music City Bowl and Hill transferring in from Wisconsin, the former Michigan QB had the position locked down.

With Labas the only healthy QB returning from last year's team, it would've been safe to assume that he'd take over the second-string quarterback position. Though nothing is set in stone at this point in the year, Ferentz told the media postgame that Hill is second in line at the moment.

"It's still wide open," he said. "As of today, it would be him. That could go back and forth. It's like a lot of stuff right now: nobody's got any jobs locked up right now. Everybody's going to keep working here, keep competing. We'll see who improves and what things look like in August."

"He's made a good showing for himself. A big, big part of his struggle, he can throw a ball obviously, but the language, the nomenclature, being able to call plays. At least he was in a system, but he wasn't really working with the ones or twos. I would say he's been in a system where you go in the huddle and call plays instead of holding signs up and everything."

Hill does believe he's learning quite a bit about what it means to play quarterback for the Hawkeyes.

"Getting out with the guys and building the chemistry has been the biggest thing for spring ball," he said. "I'm working on the concepts [of the offense, too]. We're just trying to be a master of our craft is what we're trying to do."

Don't miss out on any of our exclusive football, basketball, and recruiting coverage. Sign up with Go Iowa Awesome here.