So we've gone through a few good plays from last year and the talent in the senior class. Maybe that wasn't enough to leave you feeling are warm and tingly inside about the upcoming season. I get it. So, in case you are still feeling overly pessimistic about the 2013 Iowa Hawkeyes, here are 3 finals reasons for optimism.
One of the big mysteries from last season was the strange situation that played out at quarterback. James Vandenberg was the only QB to see any playing time. So, it's easy to forget that at every other position there was good number of players that gained experience through meaningful playing time.
There were 36 players that started at least 1 game last year and 29 of those players return. Just along the offensive line there were 9 different starters, with 7 returning. The starting 5 on the depth chart for Saturday (Scherff, Boffeli, Blythe, Walsh, and Van Sloten) combined for 32 starts last year.
Then you flip to the other line and you see one of the more drastic examples. Drew Ott burned his redshirt to play in the final 5 games. He collected only 3 tackles. But the experience has helped propel him to a co-starter at DE.
Even positions like linebacker, where there are 3 guys solidly set as the starters, should benefit from the experience the backups got last year. Quinton Alston and Travis Perry both started games for injured James Morris and Anthony Hitches respectively. More than anything here, I think the backups will be major contributors on special teams.
And of course, running back is the big one. We might have never discovered Mark Weisman without injuries to Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon. And now there are 3 backs that have played significant snaps and (knock on wood so hard) Iowa is in a position they haven't been in a long time with some actual experienced depth at running back.
Greg Davis 2.0
This is all a "I'll believe when I see it" sort of deal, but I think we'll see an improved offense this year. The coaching staff has been shaken up a little and should be better aligned with what GD is trying to do. The terminology isn't brand new any more. And Davis supposedly has a better idea of what Iowa can and can't do.
There also the whole no huddle thing that I think, despite Kirk Ferentz trying to dismiss it all the time, is going to be the large majority of Iowa's offense. I think they'll use that to gain advantages with their flexible personnel (like Bullock as a RB/WR or standing up a TE in the slot or out wide). And, though the offense still looks like it'll revolve around an inside zone run, this year it'll probably be from shotgun with a zone read look and may even be packaged with a WR screen.
The real reason to be optimistic though, is that a drastic improvement isn't even needed. Last year the offense was horrid, absolutely horrid, and yet Iowa was right there and only one score away from winning 5 more games. If Iowa's offense was just kind bad last year instead of terrible, it probably would have been a 7 win team, playing in a crappy bowl game
I'm confident this year's offense can be a score better per game. There will be more than 7 TD passes. There will be some actual vertical passes. There will be some runs into a box with less than 8 defenders. It will be better.
I think the one we're all excited to see is Damond Powell. The kid can run and showed some big play potential in the open practice. He's been one of the first names out of the coaches mouths when talking about the offense. And he put up crazy numbers in JUCO (he averaged 30 yards per catch!!). He hasn't been on campus long and maybe doesn't know the system as well as some of the other WRs, but I'd bet there are some special plays drawn up to try to get him the ball and see what he can do.
The other exciting incomer is LeShun Daniels. It's hard to see enough carries to go around for all these running backs, but knowing Iowa, by week 3 he might be the only one left. Daniels may end up being more of the true backup at RB, where Bullock and Canzeri may play a more hybrid position. I'm not sure what GD has cooked up for this group, but I think Daniels just adds to its potential.
There are some other players that aren't new to the program but will be new to significant playing time that should have a big impact. Jake Rudock is the obvious one. I also think Jordan Lomax is going to be a good corner. He missed last year with an injury, but jumped right up to the starting spot as soon as he was healthy again. I think Tevaun Smith is another guy that could emerge. He did play in a few games last year, but only had 3 receptions. He is another guy like Powell that could maybe make some much needed big plays.
So there you have it... What it all really boils down to, is that Iowa should have a decent group of play makers this year. And if they can maintain the steady defense and slightly improve the offense, then there is no reason this team can't get back on the right track. The schedule is probably going to prevent any 2009 type of season, but if this team continually improves, the schedule does set up for a relatively easy start, with some potential good match ups at the end. Let's not lose hope yet.