IT WAS A NICE DAY FOR A PRACTICE. Last year, it rained on and off again during the day. Yesterday, the weather was warm. Almost too warm as some players not used to hot weather yet were getting on a knee and getting some water. Carl Davis needed a trainer a time or two. Chad Gilson was cramping up on the sideline and Jordan Canzeri was getting his hamstring stretched.
It was windy and that affected punting and throwing. Connor Kornbrath was booting the ball 60+ yards with the wind at his back and Alden Haffar drilled a field goal attempt that would have been good from 60 yards. With the wind, it was tough to really gauge the punting and kicking competition. Marshall Koehn did have one of his long attempts blocked by Sean Draper so maybe that's a sign that he needs to get the ball up.
We'll go through each position with a little bit on some individual players that really stood out.
QUARTERBACK. Last year, it was a three-man race and all the reps were divided evenly. This year, Jake Rudock took almost all the reps with the first team. C.J. Beathard did get some snaps with the first unit later in practice but Rudock is the man.
JAKE- We saw him make a couple of bad throws. Travis Perry made an interception on a bad pass thrown directly at him. Other than that, Rudock looked solid and is the clear starter for Iowa. The offense sputtered at times but Rudock was the best and sustaining drives.
CJB - Beathard still has the bigger arm but his problem seems to be he loves his arm too much. As my friend Curt noted, it's either go deep or run for Beathard. Still, he's a very solid insurance policy to have if Rudock were to suffer an injury. Based on Rudock's one season, we can assume we'll see Beathard at some time in the season.
SHIMONEK. I liked what I saw out of Nik. He's a big kid compared to the other three; as tall as Rudock and thicker than both. It's important the staff keeps CJB around because Shimonek does need another year of seasoning. He throws a tight spiral and pretty ball but he looks uncomfortable taking snaps from under center. This is his first spring and I expect him to look much improved by fall.
RUNNING BACK. We didn't get to see a lot out of this group today. Iowa struggled a little bit to run the ball against the first team defense. Mark Weisman got the first carry in the team's walk-through. Damon Bullock was next followed by Jordan Canzeri, Barkley Hill and LeShun Daniels. Weisman and Bullock maybe had 10 carries combined throughout the day. The staff knows what they have in the two seniors and limited their work, I assume.
BARKLEY HILL - The coaching staff has mentioned Hill a couple of times this spring and even after practice. He seems to be coming along and gives Iowa yet another option at tailback. He might be ahead of Daniels right now in the rotation.
LESHUN - He's huge but he needs to learn to run lower, especially on the goal line. Iowa was trying to punch it in from within three yards and Daniels was stuffed by Jordan Lomax which was the hit of the day at least until later when Anthony Gair laid out Andrew Wellik. His pass protection still needs work too but it's early and that's why they have these practices.
CANZERI - As I mentioned, he was getting his hamstring stretched early in practice. I don't know if that held him back a bit but his reps were limited until later in practice. Like Daniels, he also still needs to work on his pass protection. As a runner, we know what we have here. He's quick and can get lost behind Iowa's big OLine. It appears he's number the number two option behind Weisman.
BULLOCK - He's maybe the forgotten man in all of the running back talk but I thought he looked good yesterday. He's a nice option for Iowa's offense as a pass receiver and I expect his role to be Iowa's third down back.
AKRUM WADLEY - He's maybe still a year away as he's awfully thin. He's a quick back but he did have a fumble after getting an ankle twisted in a pile up (he did return to practice a few snaps later). He's not going to take on any blitzing linebackers just yet. If he plays this year it's in mop-up time or if Iowa has something especially designed for him.
WIDE RECEIVERS. Last year, we saw a lot of Iowa's walk-ons and scout teamers at the Valley practice and Iowa added six new faces to the team in the fall. The first unit of wide receivers went: Damond Powell, Kevonte-Martin Manley and Tevaun Smith (remember, Hillyer sat out). The first in rotation with this group was Matt VandeBerg in the slot. He appears to be the 4th/5th option for the offense. The second unit was: Andre Harris, Derrick Mitchell and Derrick Willies.
DAMOND POWELL. His role will be much expanded this season. He was used on the outside but ran several square in, stop, out and slant routes. Iowa went to a three wide and used a wide receiver bunch package. Powell will be utilized much more than just as a deep threat. He also worked on a kick return drill where two gunners come down the field to get the ball carrier at the goal line. I commented on Twitter that he made Macon Plewa and John Lowdermilk look like Rocky chasing a chicken. After several cuts back and forth he torched them both for a TD.
WILLIES. He was the star of the practice. He got behind Jordan Lomax once for a 40ish yard gain to the three yard line. He also benefited from broken coverage and was wide open down the middle of the field for another 40+ yard TD. He's still learning and will have to work on being consistent. One play call the ball was thrown to a spot in his direction and he didn't turn around to get it. It was an impressive day but what's more impressive is he's a red-shirt freshman and will only get better.
MITCHELL. He was the first one out to field punts on the day. He probably won't win that spot any time soon as he had some trouble catching the ball (the wind was playing tricks). I'd guess Martin-Manley has that locked up. He's definitely behind VandeBerg in the rotation but he'll see the field a little bit this fall.
HARRIS. If not for Willies, Harris would have been the star of the day. He also got behind broken coverage a couple of times for long touchdowns. He's got some speed and like Mitchell will play a little bit in the fall.
A.J. JONES. The kid looks like an Under Armour mannequin but he catches like one too. That's probably unfair, he did haul in some nice catches in WR-QB drills. He didn't get much work with the top two units and could be with the walk-on group in terms of potential playing time. He's a project and needs another year, maybe.
VANDEBERG. He's a smooth receiver despite still being on the skinny side. He's quick off the line and gets open from the slot. He'll be a nice option behind KMM if he can hold off Mitchell. Right now, I'd say he has a big advantage over Mitchell but there's still a lot of time to close that gap.
TIGHT END. It looked like Henry Krieger-Coble was maybe ahead of Duzey but they'll both play, and a lot. When Iowa went three tight ends both were on the field with Ray Hamilton. This is a solid group and I'd call Iowa's group of tight ends perhaps one of the best in the country from top to bottom. Jon Wisnieski has really filled out and looked all of 235 pounds, if not more. He, along with George Kittle, will play this year.
FOR THE OLINE AND DLINE, I'LL DEFER TO FOTP MARC MOREHOUSE'S VIDEO. He's yet to post it on the On Iowa Blog but it'll come some time today.
Real quick, Scherff is a monster. Welsh seemed to hold his own while Eric Simmons got some time subbing in for Jordan Walsh. Andrew Donnal looked pretty good at right tackle and I saw Cole Croston make a damn good block on Bud Spears working with the second unit.
Along the defensive line, Darian Cooper was the first sub, filling in for LTP. Jaleel Johnson is the next DT off the bench. Faith Ekakitie was working with Johnson at DTs with the twos. He's coming along too. The third team includes Nate Bazata and I'd guess red-shirt frosh Brant Gressel.
At end, Riley McMinn is healthy and will provide some depth spelling Hardy or Ott. He looked pretty good at times yesterday getting pressure and a sack of Beathard. Nate Meier got a hand up and deflected a Rudock screen pass attempt that was intercepted by Reggie Spearman. Iowa did show a Raider package in 7-on-7 and a time or two in practice. It appears that's still in the works for 2014.
LINEBACKER. Spearman and Quinton Alston appear to have some chemistry together. They looked good going forward but going in reverse still needs practice. Rudock fooled both linebackers on a play fake and found a wide open Bullock on a wheel that Spearman clearly missed. Iowa's going to be okay here. Not great like last year but still solid.
Travis Perry and Cole Fisher worked in with Alston and Spearman. Perry had Smith lined up but didn't finish the tackle and he went for 40 yards. That certainly needs cleaned up. But, overall, they did some good things. As a group, pass coverage needs work and there's plenty of time for that.
The second unit of LBs went: Cole Fisher, John Kenny and Laron Taylor. It was good seeing Taylor get in the mix at outside linebacker. Behind this unit was Josey Jewell, Chad Gilson and Bo Bower. Gilson brought a little pop and Jewell had the most noticeable day among the third teamers. He's still thin but he'll be in the mix for playing time next season.
DEFENSIVE BACK. The first unit went: Desmond King, Jordan Lomax, John Lowdermilk and Sean Draper. The next four was Greg Mabin, Anthony Gair, Nico Law and Maurice Fleming. Law also worked a little bit with the first unit, Fleming did too maybe a series. Behind the top two units was David Tann, Kevin Ward, Solomon Warfield and Maurice Rucker. I hoped the latter two would push the second unit but neither looked ready yet. Overall, it's clear why Iowa recruited five new defensive backs. They need depth here.
Lomax looked okay at free safety (it's only been nine spring practices). I do think it sticks heading into the first game with UNI. I didn't see anything from Law that says he's pushing either Lomax or Lowdermilk for a starting spot.
Desmond King is set in stone as a starter and he was clearly Iowa's best option in the secondary. I hoped for a little more from Gair, he did bring a big hit as previously mentioned, but he's likely a special teams contributor this year. Overall, it was tough day for the defensive secondary. The QBs had a big wind and balls were floating deeper than they're probably used to. Their mistakes in broken coverage were obvious by the big passing plays given up to the offense but they have plenty of time to work it all out.
So, that's it. I'd love to hear your opinions on what you saw yesterday. We'll get more from the media and we'll update the comments as links roll out. The next time, and last time this spring, we get to see the team is April 26th at the annual spring game in Kinnick. The Big Ten Network viewing guide shows the live broadcast for the game available online only at BTN2GO. A replay on the BTN will likely be available that evening or the next day.
ALSO. I put together a depth chart as I see it. It's April and we know this will change. We'll try to keep it updated as the season moves forward.
Offense (click to embiggen)
Defense (click to embiggen)
HAWKEYE SPORTS HAS HIGHLIGHTS.
MORE PRACTICE LINKS:
- Tevaun Smith video interview
- John Lowdermilk video interview
- First impressions from Iowa's practice
- Six practice videos plus Kirk Ferentz from Hawkeye Drive
- C.J. Beathard video interview
- Jordan Canzeri video interview
- Carl Davis video interview
- Kevonte Martin-Manley video interview
- Marc Morehouse OL/DL video one, two and three
- Practice photos from Hawkeye Sports
- Practice photos from Hawkeye Report (free)
- Practice video from Hawkeye Report (free)
- Blythe a valuable ‘technician' for Iowa
- Hawkeyes air it out in Des Moines
- Scherff among Hawkeyes looking to improve