Big Ten Media Days were last week. Fall practice gets underway on Friday. Football is just around the corner, people. I can almost taste it. In the meantime, here are five things to pay attention to as we jump on every morsel of information that leaks out during practice. We'll do the offense today and the defense tomorrow.
1) The Garmon Has Landed
In case you've been living under a rock, the running back situation has
improbably TOTALLY PROBABLY gotten even more muddled since spring. Back then we were still coming to terms with the transfers of Marcus Coker (fight on, Sea Wolves!) and Mika'il McCall and reeling from the ACL injury suffered by then-leading rusher Jordan Canzeri. We assumed Damon Bullock and De'Andre Johnson would be battling it out as Iowa's two most experienced (lol) options, aided and abetted by the incoming freshmen, Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill.
Then Garmon got clipped for marijuana possession before he even made it to Iowa City and Johnson decided to personally boost Iowa's position in the Fulmer Cup standings with a pair of relatively minor offenses (a disorderly house ticket last week, a speeding charge last weekend). Oh, and Canzeri picked up a citation for being in a bar after hours and former walk-on running back Marcus Binns engaged in a little shoplifting. Binns and Canzeri were unlikely to contribute much to Iowa's season this fall (especially since Binns had left the team after spring practice) and Ferentz has said he doesn't intend to suspend Garmon, but still: things are a little crazy right now. In brighter news, rumors also circulated that Penn State running back Akeel Lynch (a former Iowa recruiting target) was looking to cash in his "get out of jail free" card and come to Iowa to bolster the running back corps.
The takeaway is that running back remains a complete and utter clusterfuck. There's a reason running back has yet to feature in the ATP series and why it's unlikely to be featured there anytime soon. Johnson's transgressions earned him a suspension from football activities and almost certainly a spot in Ferentz's doghouse. Which means Iowa will likely enter 2012 with James Vandenberg as their leading returning rusher (78 carries, 61 yards). Damon Bullock is the leading returning rusher among actual running back-types, at a blistering stat total of 10 carries for 20 yards. It's unlikely fall practice will tell us anything definitive about this position, but it's still worth paying attention to see if anyone -- Garmon, Hill, walk-ons Andre Dawson and Michael Malloy, or Lynch (if he ends up transferring to Iowa) -- generates some buzz heading into the fall. Bullock will likely be the starter by default (unless he gets hurt -- /KNOCKS ON EVERY TREE IN MINNESOTA), but the odds of him taking the job and dominating it the way Shonn Greene did in 2008 or Marcus Coker did in 2011 are very slim. Someone else -- probably several someones -- will get a bunch of carries in 2012. We just don't know who that will be yet.
2) New 'Multiple' Offense Seeks Fun-Loving Wide Receivers For Swinging Good Time
When last we left the wide receiver position, there were two known quantities: Keenan Davis, the senior leader and Iowa's leading returning receiver (50 receptions, 713 yards, 4 TD) and Kevonte Martin-Manley, the solid third wheel (30 catches, 323 yards, 3 TD). Beyond that, the wide receiver depth chart was a ghost town. Four months later, we're still waiting for things for some other names to emerge and fall practice is the most likely place for that to happen. Those "other names" could come from contenders already on campus (see: Jordan Cotton, Don Shumpert, Steven Staggs, Blake Haluska, or Jacob Hillyer) or they could come from a true freshmen just arriving now (see: Greg Mabin, Cameron Wilson, Maurice Fleming, or the wonderfully-nicknamed "Canadian Missile," Tevaun Smith). It's no secret that Greg Davis was not exactly enamored with the wide receiving options on-campus when he arrived last spring, so there's every reason to think that he'll give a long look at the newcomers to see if they can be more effective in his offense. They'll have to prove they can block (Davis or not, I doubt Ferentz's feelings on that point have changed much), but if they can get past that hurdle there's every reason to think that we'll be seeing some true freshmen running routes this fall. We should have a better idea of who those freshmen might be after fall practice.
3) Offensive Line Musical Chairs
James Ferentz is going to start at center. That much is a given. Beyond that the offensive line is a crapshoot. Brett Van Sloten and Brandon Scherff have been penciled in as the starting tackles since spring and Matt Tobin and Austin Blythe have emerged as the starters at guard -- but I wouldn't necessarily bank on that line-up being the same by September 1st. The most experienced guy among those names is Tobin and he's a slightly... divisive figure. Suffice to say that his performances have not exactly blown anyone's doors off and locked up a starting offensive line gig for him.
Ferentz's mantra since time immemorial has been that he'll start his best five offensive linemen, even if that means shuffling guys around a little. Conor Boffeli is a guy they seem to like a lot and while he is (or was) the nominal back-up center, he's not going to see much playing time there as long as Ferentz is around -- might they give him a longer look at one of the guard spots during these practices? Nolan MacMillan was one of Iowa's rising stars along the line before injuries effectively crippled his last two seasons. If he's finally healthy (and effective), he'll be in the mix at either guard or tackle. Andrew Donnal was a highly-touted recruit and while he hasn't seen much action yet, it wouldn't be a huge shock if the proverbial light turned on him for during practice and he made a push for a starting spot. There's definite intrigue along the line.
4) Is The Offense Going To Go Down Like A Vanhindenberg?
The onus was already on James Vandenberg to prove that he could improve from 2011and show that his gaurdy stats were not just a slightly misleading summary of his play last year -- that he could get better (particularly in terms of blitz pick-up) and lead Iowa to more than seven wins. That job got even trickier when the architect of the only offense JVB had known for the past four years decided to take his talents to South Beach, leading to the arrival of formerly exiled offensive coordinator Greg Davis. So now Vandy has to a) get better and b) learn a new system. He (and the coaches) have said all the right things in interviews, but he didn't look great during the spring football-type game substance (an admittedly very small sample size) and learning a new offense isn't easy. This is another issue where we aren't going to really know how things are going until we see JVB in action in September. But it would still be nice to hear some positive reports coming out of spring practice.
5) Release the Polish Hat!
I am contractually obligated to mention C.J. Fiedorowicz in every 2012 Iowa football preview piece. C.J. is very big and very fast, but he has very soft hands. This makes him very good at playing football. I am very excited to see C.J. play football for the Iowa Hawkeyes this fall. The Iowa Hawkeyes are my most favorite football team in the whole world. I hope C.J. catches 15 touchdowns and wins all kinds of awards. The end.
TOMORROW: Defense! And special teams!