WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa defenders wildly celebrated each big hit, interception, sack, deflected pass, forced fumble and sack during Saturday’s open practice here at Valley High Stadium.
That was the good news.
The bad news was that it came at the expense of the Hawkeyes discombobulated offense. At least it ended on a high note when kicker Marshall Koehn booted a long field goal through the uprights to end the scrimmage portion of the workout.
The day wasn’t a total loss for the offense. The running backs looked good and the line opened holes for them at a good rate.
LeShun Daniels showed he’s a shifty big back more in the mold of Shonn Greene than a fullback playing running back like Mark Weisman did last year. He ripped off a run on the stretch play Saturday where he cut back to the hole, slipped though it and then powered over a few tacklers.
The challenge for Daniels will be to do that on a consistent basis. But he has the tools.
Jordan Canzeri also enjoyed a nice day. He got to the edge on several runs and turned the corner. It was the first contact of spring for he and Daniels.
Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell saw more reps than the top two guys on the depth chart and showed well. Wadley lost the ball once, something that stung him last year, but Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said that aspect of the sophomore’s game has improved.
You wouldn’t have known that Mitchell recently came over from wide receiver. He displayed good vision, an ability to make people miss and was tough to tackle. C.J. Hilliard and Marcel Joly also experienced productive moments.
Jonathan Parker flashed what the coaches were hoping for when they switched him from running back to receiver. He caught passes consistently underneath and caused people to miss in space.
C.J. Beathard performed well in his first public appearance since taking over at starting quarterback. He threw dart-like passes on the receivers and scrambled successfully when he needed to tuck it and go.
Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer, a pair of senior wideouts, proved to be Beathard’s most reliable players at their position. Tight ends Jake Duzey, George Kittle and Jon Wisnieski stood out as well.
The first-team offensive line held its own against a more experienced defensive front. Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh and Eric Simmons anchored the middle very well.
Senior defensive ends Drew Ott and Nate Meier challenged and pressured sophomore offensive tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers. Those blockers accounted well for themselves in the running game but need more reps to upgrade their pass-pro.
The linebackers were a focal point after gross inconsistencies in ’14. They were OK on Saturday but still need to do a better job of containing the perimeter and increasing strength. Too many times the backs pushed forward or broke tackles.
Based on what I saw Saturday, the secondary might be the strongest unit on the team. Desmond King and Greg Mabin locked down the corners, Jordan Lomax looked much more reactionary at free safety, and Miles Taylor and Brandon Snyder each delivered teeth-rattling hits.
We were not exposed to the punters. Actually, there was very little special teams work overall. I was surprised by that.
Back-up quarterback Tyler Wiegers can zing it but he has a long way to go. He fumbled several snaps, fell down after having his foot stepped on by the center on two occasions and struggled with accuracy. He’s been rushed into back-up duty with the transfers of Jake Rudock and Nic Shimonek the last two years, so it’s difficult for me to come down too hard on him.
Wiegers had company as a reserve who must make up ground between now and the opener at the end of August. For me, that was the biggest worry produced from the day – a noticeable lack of competent depth all over the field.
The second-team offensive line was not good. The receivers beyond Smith, Hillyer and Parker were not good.
Overall, I don’t think I was surprised by anything I saw on Saturday. It looked like a very average football team with some noticeable strengths and apparent weaknesses.