IOWA CITY, Iowa – With the season creeping closer, the Iowa coaches still are working out who they’ll put on the field in the opener against Illinois State a week from Saturday. Depending on how you look at it, that could be a good or bad thing.
The glass half full folks will believe that tight competition at a number of key positions will result in a raised level of play from last year’s underwhelming 7-6 finish. Pessimists will say the uncertainty on the two-deep directly parallels a program heading in the wrong direction.
Ultimately, the proof will be in the results. Everyone will learn a lot more following the Week 1 match-up with the FCS runner-up Redbirds and even more the following Saturday at Iowa State.
Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and coordinators Greg Davis (offense) and Phil Parker (defense) answered quite a few questions with that caveat Monday morning here at the football complex. While they felt good about various aspects of the team, they won’t know for sure until the season kicks off.
Iowa moved closer to finalizing the depth chart for Game 1 with a scrimmage Friday night in Kinnick Stadium.
"The tempo was good. The attitude of the team has been strong all the way through (camp). We’ll continue to evaluate our roster and just make some decisions on our depth. We took a step on Friday. We’ll continue that process through this week as well and see where that goes," Ferentz said.
The most surprising news of the day came at linebacker, where Parker said fifth-year senior Cole Fisher has overtaken sophomore Bo Bower at the No. 1 WIL slot. The latter started 13 games at LEO, where Ben Niemann now tops the depth chart. Josey Jewell, who started the last four games of ’14 at WIL, has become the starter at Mike.
"(Fisher has) done a good job. We’re very pleased with what he’s doing," Parker said. "He seems more comfortable and the game has slowed down for him a little bit."
The pieces still are moving along the offensive line with less than two weeks before they play for real. Ferentz mentioned eight different players being in contention.
After a shaky Kids Day practice, the coaches are working Cole Croston into the mix for a starting tackle spot, although Davis said Boone Myers (left) and Ike Boettger (right) remain atop the two-deep. Myers is lining up strictly on the left side, while Boettger and Croston are playing both tackle spots.
Ferentz strongly expressed his confidence in Myers, Monday, despite the sophomore’s struggles against defensive end Drew Ott at the Kids Day practice.
"That’s the luxury we have. We’re watching the players daily. He’s done a lot of good things, too, and he’s won a lot of battles," Ferentz said.
"It was ironic because that week he made progress. It was really clear to me that he was improving, as was Ike. It didn’t show up that Saturday but that’s part of the experience. And it could happen this fall, too. That’s not unrealistic to think that any of our younger guys are going to have it hit the fan a little bit. That’s part of football."
Inside, Austin Blythe seems pretty stable at center. From what Ferentz said Monday, Jordan Walsh and Sean Welsh will play. He also said Eric Simmons and true freshman James Daniels are pushing for time.
In the spring, Davis and receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said they were searching for a fourth receiver behind Tevaun Smith, Matt Vandeberg and Jacob Hillyer. Davis and Ferentz confirmed on Monday that Riley McCarron has emerged in that role, topping Jay Scheel, Andre Harris, and true freshmen Jerminic Smith, Emmanuel Ogwo and Adrian Falconer.
Ferentz said LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri are set to form a 1-2 punch at running back with Derrick Mitchell Jr. working his way up to No. 3. Akrum Wadley was competing for that third spot as well.
"We’re really pleased with (Daniels and Canzeri). They’re both really doing well. We let them both get tackled (Friday) night. We thought that was important and they both did a really nice job. Both did well at the goal line. So, those two are going," Ferentz said.
"Derrick Mitchell still needs a little bit more work but pleased with his progress, too."
TRUE FRESHMEN: Ferentz said they’re getting closer to figuring out which true freshmen will play heading into the season, although nothing has been finalized.
"We’re keeping the book open in the receivers (Ogwo, Falconer, Jerminic Smith) still. James Daniels certainly still is in the conversation," Ferentz said.
"And then defensively, a couple of guys, (defensive back) Michael Ojemudia might be in the mix a little bit. We’ll see how that goes. And possibly a linebacker, maybe two linebackers. Part of that is playing defense and part of that is playing our special teams and really helping fortify that."
Ferentz said Daniels doesn’t need to win a starting spot to play. The Ohio native could end up being in some kind of rotation this fall, the coach added.
QUICK-HITTERS: Scheel was seen wearing a (non-contact) red jersey leaving practice Monday. Ferentz said his freshman receiver got "nicked up" but should be fine…No decision has been made on the third-team quarterback behind C.J. Beathard and Tyler Wiegers. True freshmen Ryan Boyle and Drew Cook are competing for that spot with both likely to red shirt barring injuriess…McCarron and Desmond King lead the race for punt returner with the kick return job more wide open…Marshall Koehn and Dillon Kidd still are locked in competition to be the starting punter. He’s pleased with both guys…Iowa announced Monday that it would wear alternative Blackout uniforms for the Minnesota night game on Nov. 14 at Kinnick. Ferentz said they would reveal what they look like later this week.