Spring Game Notebook

April 16, 2011

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation


QUARTERBACKS: It was windy and cold for Saturday’s open practice. If this were a game day, Iowa’s running backs would have had 40+ carries and the game plan would have been pretty simple; run the ball and throw some controlled, short play action plays into the wind and take your deep shots for two quarters of the game when the wind was at your back.

I didn’t have any preconceptions that we were going to see stellar quarterback on Saturday and from my vantage point, we didn’t see that.

However, I felt that James Vandenberg was competent and threw the best ball of any of the three quarterbacks. He’s clearly the #1 option with the eyeball test as well as what the coaches have told us.

That being said, I came away more impressed with A.J. Derby than I have at any other time. He has a long way to go before I’d want to see him under center in a Big Ten game, but he is only going to be a redshirt freshman. These next four months are going to tell the story for him as it relates to being a quarterback at Iowa or someone that makes a move to another position. But Kirk Ferentz said that the battle for the #2 quarterback is “even” right now between John Wienke and A.J. Derby, and that did surprise me. Here is what Ferentz had to say after the open practice on the Iowa quarterbacks:

ON VANDENBERG: “Overall he did a good job this spring. He is respected by his teammates and is a good leader. Everyone respects him. Now, he has to go out there this fall and have some success in game conditions and I think he will. He will have some ups and downs, too, like any young player does.

: “I’d say it’s even right now. That will be determined in August. The good news is that both of them can improve between now and then. I think right now that it’s kind of even.”

VIDEO: This was shot by Marc Morehouse of The Gazette. To see several of his player interviews plus two from Kirk Ferentz, click on this link.

SPRING GROWTH: I thought Keenan Davis was the ‘Saturday MVP’. He made three spectacular catches, all three of the diving variety and two of them were diving one handed stabs that were completions. The two one-handed grabs would have made ESPN’s Saturday Top Ten highlight clips if they happened in season; they were that noteworthy. Here is what Ferentz said when asked who the players were that stood out this spring:

“Steve Staggs made some grabs today and he has been good all spring. We have some openings at that position with some guys being hurt this spring. CJ Fedorowicz has made progress, I felt Adam Gettis had a good spring. Johnathon Gimm at fullback has done a nice job progressing. On defense Dominic Alvis (who played the defensive tackle slot occupied by Karl Klug last year) is coming along and has improved. Colin Sleeper did well for not playing much, Lowery, Castillo and Bernstine have done well. Kirksey has done a good job as well as Hitchens. We have a lot of guys that are all moving forward.”

INJURIES: There were no significant injuries on Saturday or this spring. Here is what Ferentz said about this topic:

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“The best thing that happened today, other than one hamstring injury, is we didn’t have any injuries. Our issues were coming into the spring with surgeries. That’s why things can be ugly in spring. We have six to eight guys that should be in our two deep that did not work but this spring but will be ready in June. Marvin (McNutt) will be ready to go in June, too.

Ferentz also said this about fullback Brad Rogers: “That is a different discussion. As you know they took him off the field in Arizona (cardio issue). We had some tests back a few weeks ago that had a positive outcome and they are closing in on what it is. There is a chance we could get him back in a month or so.”

That is great news for Brad and for the football team. Iowa will be a better team this fall if Rogers is able to play. He offers the most versatility at this position since Jeremy Allen back in the early portion of the last decade. Allen has been the best running fullback of the Ferentz era and I believe Rogers can challenge for that ‘title’. He proved his mettle as a blocker last year when he started at Michigan and he has good running skills. This means the defense has to account for him at all times as both a blocking and running threat. You definitely want him playing.

THE DEFENSE: As mentioned, Dominic Alvis played inside this spring and looked shifty at times on Saturday. He also got caught in the wash a few times on running plays against the #2 defensive line and was taken entirely out of the play. However, he is new to the inside as he has been mostly outside during his time on campus. Here is what Kirk Ferentz said about the defensive line:

“I think they are progressing. Alvis, it was good having him out there. Carl Davis missed the first week of practice with a dance marathon injury as Norm mentioned but he got some good work. Lebron has done some good work. It will be a ‘by committee’ thing next year, where we will play six or eight guys. Nardo and Bigach have been out but will be back shortly. It will be a group effort.”

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There are two sides to this…most ‘by committee’ efforts, regardless of the sport, usually mean that you don’t have many bell cow players. Mike Daniels is the best defensive lineman on the team and he is certainly a star. After that, you have a lot of capable players but few you can point to and say ‘this guy can take over a game,’ like Iowa had last year.

However, there was a huge drop off last year between the first five and the next three or four, so much so that Iowa suffered from some fatigue late in games late in the season. If you are playing six to eight players and the drop off between them is not significant, that can make them actually be better players later in games than their counterparts. They are still the same players, but if they fresh, late, they are better than they were to start the game as it relates to matchups, if that makes any sense.

Last year, I think the feeling was a 75% Clayborn was better than a 100% backup. This year, you might see players that are 85% of what Clayborn and Ballard were at the start, but there will be more of them which allows the player to stay closer to his ability level for the entire game. We’ll see how it works and how it shakes out. There is a lot of time until the first football game including two more important growth periods.

RUNNING BACKS: Ferentz talked about the gains Marcus Coker made this spring, primarily in the passing game. Ferentz said Coker didn’t do too much of that in high school, both catching the ball as well as experience in pass protections. He said he improved on his catching as well as in the protections department.

As for the backup running backs, here is what Ferentz said:

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“We have to develop some depth there. Jason White has done a good job this spring, has made some strides. De’Andre Johnson has miles to go but he looks more like what we hoped he would look like last year. The freshman class, it’s realistic someone will help us out here.”

I got a chance to see Mi’Kial McCall in the press box and he has a good build to him. If I had to wager on which freshman running back gets the most action next year, McCall or Coe, I’d bet on McCall. I may well be wrong about that, but I just have a sneaking hunch Coe winds up on the other side of the ball in his career, especially if he has any issues keeping his weight where it is right now. But make no mistake; he is going to get every chance at running back.

OFFENSIVE LINE: I liked what I saw on Saturday. They did a good job for the most part and it’s great to see so many heatlhy and capable players. Brandon Scherff held his own and Gettis looked real good. Ferentz said Nolan MacMillan has some orthopedic issues he is working through. But for the most part, this group is healthy.

WILLIE LOWE STATUS: This is what Ferentz said on Willie Lowe, and then his comments on Rhabdo: “He (Lowe) is still in school. You know what I know. He has expressed an interest in looking around and we have traded voice mails late this week.”

On the other players that were affected by Rhabdo: “For the most part they have been 100%. We have all moved on. You won’t hear anyone on our team talk about it after today. We are moving on. I think we beat that horse to death.”

KICKING GAME: Eric Guthrie was more consistent than Johnny Mullins on Saturday and it sounds like he has taken the lead for that job, with Ferentz saying “I think Guthrie’s improvement has been good and he has shown us that he can be a good punter.” As for place kicker, Ferentz said this: “Mike Meyer done a good job all spring. He is the starter right now.”

: Here is what Ferentz had to say about this group: “Micah Hyde really did a good job at safety. We have had some good competition at corner. I am not sure what we will do and we have time to think about it. With this team, its like ’08, ’03 and ’01; there will be a lot of moving parts in August and September. Stanzi and Angerer started out on the bench in 2008. I can see things like that happening this fall. This gives us a good chance to look at combinations back there. We have some options available, some healthy options too.”

Look for a Hawkeye Spring Game Mashup later tonight as more and more media outlets publish their content from the day and we aggregate it for you in our Mashup Series.

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