IOWA CITY, Iowa – Opinions vary greatly on what’s ahead for the Iowa football team in 2015.
The glass-half-full crowd points to a favorable schedule, improved running game and C.J. Beathard taking the quarterback reins as reasons for optimism. A 9- or 10-win season is attainable.
Detractors look at the loss of significant players off last year’s underachieving squad facing a similar schedule and predict doom and gloom. A .500 record is a stretch for these people.
In reality, nobody knows. But a fun part of sports is speculating.
All we have to go on at this point is what we’ve seen. That’s a Tennessee beat down of the Hawkeyes in the Taxslayer Bowl and two open practices this spring. It leaves plenty of unknowns.
With that in mind, here’s one man’s opinion (mine) on how the Iowa positions rank coming out of spring and heading into the summer. We’ll go from worst to first:
9. Punter/Kicker/Special Teams: I wish we saw more of the punters in April but our only exposure was at the spring "game" at Kinnick Stadium last month. In that setting, the No. 1 place kicker, Marshall Koehn, performed better than scholarship punters Dillon Kidd and Connor Kornbrath. While having Koehn handle those duties along with kickoffs wouldn’t be the end of the world, you wonder about the wear and tear on his leg. It’s better to split up those chores that’s why most teams do it. We’ll have to wait and see on the coverage and return teams but they’ve been terribly inconsistent in recent years. Provided his leg doesn’t fall off, Koehn could be one of the conference’s better kickers.
8. Linebacker: The good news is the linebackers made positive strides this spring. That bad news is that they couldn’t get much worse than they were last year. The second level remains a major concern for me. The group struggled against the run in the spring and continued to have problems containing the edge. There’s upside here like at offensive tackle, but this unit might still be a year away from consistent production.
7. Wide Receiver: I was underwhelmed by this position this spring. No. 1 Tevaun Smith and Beathard seemed disconnected. Jacob Hillyer still drops too many balls. I like Matt Vandeberg but he should be a complimentary piece. The spot also lacks depth. Incoming freshmen Adrian Falconer, Jerminic Smith and Emanuel Ogwo will get a look but the list of impact freshmen receivers in the Kirk Ferentz Era is short.
6. Offensive Line: Iowa must replace two NFL draft picks at tackle and it looked like it in the spring. Boone Myers and Ike Boettger have bright futures, but there will be growing pains, potentially severe. The bright side is the middle men – Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh, Eric Simmons and, potentially, Sean Welsh – are a formidable group. There’s a major drop off after the top 6-7 players on the O-Line, adding to my concern at this spot.
5. Quarterback: I thought Beathard looked decent this spring. He controlled the huddle and showed more relaxation and command at the line of scrimmage. Oddly enough, known for a big arm, I thought the junior displayed more consistency on his short passes than he did down field. You have to think the downfield plays will be there if the receivers can get separation. Backup Tyler Wiegers took a big step forward from the first to second open practice last month. It still would be panic time if Beathard was injured.
4. Tight End: A deep position was thinned out late in spring when projected starter and the most experience player at the position, Jake Duzey, underwent knee surgery that could sideline him until Big Ten play. Fellow senior Henry Krieger Coble is returning from surgery late last season that limited him this spring. George Kittle took a step forward in April and could be a weapon in the passing game. Jon Wisnieski, also coming back from knee surgery, is one to watch.
3. Running Back/Fullback: The coaches limited the miles on Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels this spring which exposed us a lot to Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell. What we learned is this is a comfortably deep, versatile group of running backs but perhaps lacks a workhorse. Fullback should be a strength with Adam Cox and Macon Plewa back healthy.
2. Defensive Line: Like the offensive line, the defensive front lost two main cogs in Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat. The D-line is in better shape than its counterpart on offense because ends Drew Ott and Nate Meier are proven seniors and there’s also veteran depth at tackle, albeit inexperienced. Matt Nelson appears to have a bright future at end and should be able to spell the starters to keep everyone fresh.
1. Secondary: Three of four starters return in the back end of the defense and there’s more quality depth here than at any other position group. Jordan Lomax improved as last year advanced and he should be a worthy leader from the free safety spot. Desmond King will be one of the better corners in the Big Ten and opposite him, Greg Mabin, who’s had his ups and downs, will be pushed by Maurice Fleming. Miles Taylor and Brandon Snyder provide punch at the strong safety spot and Anthony Gair is a valuable utility man.