IOWA CITY, Iowa – For the first and only time this month, Iowa fans can watch their team practice. As such, they should soak up as much as they can during Saturday’s Kids’ Day at Kinnick Stadium.
In 20 years of covering the Hawkeyes, it’s hard to remember a time with there was so much intrigue created by unknowns going into a season. You have a quarterback competition, four coaches in new places on offense, including coordinator Brian Ferentz, and position battles all over the field.
While I’d caution going overboard with Saturday’s observations, there could be more value than normal in what you see. Here are five things I’ll be watching:
1. THE QUARTERBACKS – Ah, yes, the quarterbacks. That this will be the most analyzed portion of tomorrow’s workout goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.
The Nathan Stanley-Tyler Wiegers competition has been hotly contested since January. Neither guy looked particularly good the last time we saw them, which was during April’s spring game. They’ve had plenty of time to take steps forward.
While it’s not like a live game, the coaches still can glean some information on how these guys perform in front of a crowd. So, make some noise and try rattling them. Or not. Your choice.
Keep an eye on how Stanley commands the huddle and the offense. Also, watch his footwork and accuracy. Those are the areas in need of improvement.
For Wiegers, he’s not going to overwhelm anyone with loud tools but he’s at his best when commanding the huddle and offense. He’s technically sound. He must maintain those skills while showing he can make the throws.
It will be interesting to see Ryan Boyle with a spring under his belt since moving back to quarterback from receiver. It’s always fun to watch true freshman like Peyton Mansell for the first time. However, it’s a two-man race right now.
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2. INEXPERIENCED WRs V INEXPERIENCED DBs – Most folks will be focusing on the receivers, in particular true freshmen Max Cooper, Henry Marchese, Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette. That’s a good idea. Their development is important.
What should make things interesting is that they and the other inexperienced wideouts like Nick Easley, Devonte Young and Adrian Falconer will be facing off against green guys in the secondary. Outside of strong safety Miles Taylor, none of them has more than one college start to his name.
Sure, Manny Rugamba, Joshua Jackson and Michael Ojemudia boast some time in the program and even some meaningful snaps under their belts. But, it’s not like they’re seasoned veterans. Even projected starting free safety Jake Gervase, despite enjoying a solid spring game, still needs to prove himself. Throw in Noah Clayberg and Amani Hooker at safety and there’s plenty to watch.
3. RUNNING BACK ROTATION – Ok, I’ll warn you, this one might not amount to much. I could see the coaches limiting contact of their top four backs and hammering the other guys. Still, we might be able to gain some information here.
On Monday, when the media saw about 15-20 minutes of practice, it was clear, to no one’s surprise that Akrum Wadley was the No. 1. What was a bit unexpected was seeing Toren Young receiving reps with the first team and Nevada graduate transfer James Butler and Toks Akinribade working with the second unit.
I won’t draw too many conclusions after watching 15 minutes of practice, but I could see Young seeing more action than we might have expected back in the spring. He’s different than the other backs in that at 5-11, 220, he adds a physical presence to the mix similar to what we saw from LeShun Daniels last year.
4. D-LINE ROTATIONS – Of course we’ll pore over A.J. Epenesa’s play. That’s a given. But there’s a lot more to see here.
With the graduation of Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie, holes must be filled at tackle. Cedrick Lattimore, Brady Reiff and Garret Jansen are among a group of guys looking to work into the inside rotation with holdover Nathan Bazata, who is recovering from injuries that cost him the end of last season and the spring.
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Starting end Matt Nelson, who is working his way back from a broken foot in the spring, is taking snaps inside as is Epenesa. I’m interested to see who lines up and where they line up.
5. TRUE FRESHMEN SIGHTINGS – Epenesa looks to be locked into playing during his first year on campus. We could get a sense of who in the ’17 recruiting class will join him.
Receiver coach Kelton Copeland said at least one or two at his position will see the field. Cooper appears to be the one in the group ahead of the others so far. It’s still early, however.
While Iowa features veterans throughout its offensive line two-deeps, it might want to break in some of the youngsters. Mount Vernon’s Tristan Wirfs could push his way into a role.
The secondary looks like a spot where true freshmen can at least get their feet wet. Djimon Colbert, Matt Hankins, Geno Stone and Josh Turner are candidates. There are some indications that Cam Harrell is playing receiver. We’ll also get to see how they’re using Trey Creamer.
Iowa furnished Ryan Gersonde with a scholarship, so it will give him every chance to win the punting job. Hopefully we’ll get to see he and Colton Rastetter boot some balls.