LIKE LAST YEAR. The Iowa Football team will travel West to hold one of their spring practices in front of Central Iowa fans at Valley High School Stadium in West Des Moines, Iowa. Fans were asked to get tickets to the free open practice and it's reached near sellout status. There may still be a few tickets available so call around to the participating Hy-Vee stores for availability.
The gates open for fans at 11:30 AM (CT) and practice gets going at 1:00 PM (CT). The annual spring game will still take place at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City Saturday April 26th.
Since this is a practice, you can expect to see Iowa specialists take the field first warming up with kicks and punts. Players will take the field and go through a brief warm-up session before breaking off with their individual position coaches for 12 minutes of drills. Although, last year we saw something different, they opened practice with onside kick coverage practice and some punt recovery stuff.
From there, positions combine for more drills. Quarterbacks will throw to wide receivers; running backs will block linebackers. Then Iowa will get to a skeleton look (7 on 7) with linemen squaring off at one end of the field. After some 7 on 7 work Iowa comes together as a team to scrimmage a bit. It's controlled, meaning it's a situational scrimmaging. Finally, Iowa will work on goal line offense and finish up with special teams (field goal/extra points).
There's not a lot of major changes to watch in Iowa's offensive philosophy this season. Last week we saw a short video of practice from Hawkeye Report where Iowa ran three plays in 50 seconds (real time). Maybe pacing will be something to keep an eye on as players are no doubt much more comfortable in Greg Davis' system this being his third spring on campus.
SOME THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO READ BEFORE PRACTICE.
- There's a lot of new faces so the roster is certainly handy
- Here's a breakdown of position battles
- Spring prospectus
- Here's a link to the On Iowa Podcast in which Marc Morehouse and I breakdown position battles
RUNNING BACK. There's probably not too much to see here with Iowa returning their stable of running backs. The Hawks have their top four and after that it's a battle of younger running backs for reps. Expect Barkley Hill, Jonathan Parker and maybe Akrum Wadley to get a lot of work. Wadley is a maybe because he has a wrist injury and in last week's practice pictures he was on the sideline without pads.
Last year we saw Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri get some work with the wide receivers in some drills. Iowa even split them out wide in a few different offensive sets. We'll see if that's part of the plan for this year's team.
NEW FACES AT RECEIVER. Derek Willies is the first of the four red-shirts from the 2012 recruiting class to break the two-deeps. Damond Powell (JUCO transfer) and Matt VandeBerg are also wide receivers added in 2012 that will be part of Iowa's wide receiver rotation this Fall. Willies is a big body, similar to Jacob Hillyer, another wide receiver in the mix for the upcoming season. Willies may be faster than Hillyer and we'll see if he can get separation against Iowa's secondary during drills.
Derrick Mitchell, Andre Harris, A.J. Jones, Connor Keane and Trev Hadacheck will also get plenty of work. The first two, Mitchell and Harris, may figure into Iowa's plans this season. Mitchell wowed fans last August during "Kids Day" with a one-handed grab along the sideline. Harris is on the smaller side and perhaps better suited for the slot. A.J. Jones is a bigger body like Willies. Of this group, Mitchell and Harris might be the two that we'll see sneak into the lineup in September.
How much Powell will we see this season? When Iowa gets to the scrimmage portion we'll see how expanded his role will be. He's gained weight in the off-season and maybe we'll see more slants and quick outs from him. He has the speed to spread the defense and that speed should mean some soft corners. He finished 2013 with 12 receptions and that number should easily double or maybe triple in 2014.
TIGHT END. There's one departure from this group, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and one new, Jon Wisnieski. Ray Hamilton will assume CJF's role as the number one tight end on the line of scrimmage. Jake Duzey is Iowa's second tight end and plays more of the H-back in the offense. Henry Krieger-Coble backs up Hamilton and could be the second tight end if Iowa wants to go big in a 22 or 21 formation. George Kittle is Duzey's backup in as an upback. Wisnieski lists slightly heavier than Kittle on the Iowa roster (235 lbs) so where he fits will be interesting.
OFFENSIVE LINE. Sean Welsh is the newest face and maybe a surprise as a red-shirt freshman making the first line of the 2014 season. He'll get plenty of coaching on the field and is the guy to focus on during line drills. Let's see how he handles his own against Carl Davis or Jaleel Johnson.
Eric Simmons is another guard that's working with the first OL unit. He'll be in the mix all season and could be Iowa's first interior line sub when needed. Tommy Gaul is getting work with the second unit at center but Simmons could sub there too if Austin Blythe were to suffer an injury.
The second unit, from a practice video in INP last week, went: Cole Croston at left tackle, Boone Meyers at left guard, Tommy Gaul at center, Mitch Keppy at right guard and Ryan Ward at right tackle. That's certainly different from the two-deep posted two weeks ago. Croston is still light for a left tackle (270 lbs) but the coaches obviously see something here. The real season is still four months away and 15 pound weight gain is possible in that amount of time.
We'll discuss the defense and the special teams a little bit tomorrow.