So what did we learn from Iowa's sparsely attended "spring game" on a cold, windy, and dreary April day? Not much, but frankly that's nothing much new -- we never learn much from these matters. They are, after all, nothing more than one practice out of fifteen, with the bulk of the time spent up with a variety of drills and situational practices. Saturday they spent only fifteen minutes on "live" scrimmage action, and even that doesn't tell us much when (a) the defense is hamstrung and (b) you tend to get the 1s vs. the 2s (and vice versa, or some combination thereof). It's not exactly like against like competition out there. Really, the practice action we saw on Saturday didn't look terribly different than what we've seen over the past 4-5 years -- some good plays, some bad plays, a lot of totally unremarkable plays -- and we've seen a wide gamut of results for Iowa in those years when fall (and meaningful action) came around.
So, no, Iowa didn't look great on Saturday -- but they hardly ever do in April. Last year's team (deservedly) entered the season with sky-high expectations, but they didn't look appreciably better than this year's squad in April. I would advise you not to make any bowl plans of any sort based on Saturday's glimpse of the team -- there's still a long, long way to go. That said, it's no fun if we don't make a few wildly speculative assumptions based on our small gimpse into the team's inner workings.
* Keenan Davis might be ready for his close-up. In a day with few standout plays, Keenan Davis was usually the man at the source of most of them. He made a total of five catches for roughly 100 yards between the 7-on-7 scrimmaging and the full-team scrimmaging and most of those catches were of the highlight variety (you can see a few in the highlight clip up above). Davis was far and away the star of the show on Saturday and gave every indication that he's finally ready to live up to his prodigious recruiting hype and become the reliable option Iowa needs to have opposite McNutt.
* Don't give up on DERBY4QB just yet. Much more on this tomorrow, but aside from Keenan's coming out party, the other development of note from Saturday's open practice was the revelation that A.J. Derby is far from ready to give up on his QB dreams -- and for good reason, because he looks genuinely promising as a QB. In fact, statistically speaking, he was arguably the best of the Iowa QBs in the scrimmage portion of practice:
- Vandenberg - 6/18 for 74 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT (there were 3 or so drops and Binns broke up 2 passes)
- Wienke - 5/12 for 54 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT (had a couple of nice throws towards the end of the session)
- Derby - 5/7 for 73, 0 TD and 0 INT (had 1 throw away and another caught out of bounds)
Again, those aren't like-for-like comparisons so I'm not trying to say that based on those numbers Derby should start over Vandenberg -- Vandy has a body of work based on his (admittedly somewhat limited) in-game action, as well as 3+ years of practice at this point, so I have no reason to doubt that he's the most-ready for the job as of right now. But those numbers do suggest that QB isn't a lost cause for Derby. He's already, per Ferentz, neck-and-neck with Wienke for the QB2 spot -- which means he might be just a WOOTENOCALYPSE away from seeing the field next year (knock on entire forest). Again, we'll have much more on Derby tomorrow, but he was the other standout story from the practice, so I didn't want to ignore him.
* We know the starters... for the most part. But beyond that? Chaos. Vandy will start at QB, Coker will start at RB, and McNutt and Davis are the clear 1-2 punch at WR. Herman appears to be a solid favorite to start at TE. Four of the five offensive line spots look pretty bolted down: Rieff and Zusevics at tackle, Ferentz at center, and Gettis at one of the guard spots. Brandon Scherff looks like a slight favorite at the other guard spot, though if Nolan MacMillan can ever get healthy he could regain his spot there, too.
Even the defense looks pretty well sorted from a starter standpoint (with a few notable exceptions). Three of the four defensive line spots look obvious: Binns and Lebron Daniel will likely start at DE and Mike Daniels will hold down one of the defensive tackle spots, though it's anyone's guess who will start beside him. James Morris and Tyler Nielsen will occupy two of the starting linebacker spots and the other one looks like it will come down to either Anthony Hitchens or Christian Kirksey -- though Shane DiBona or Dakota Getz might also be in play there. The secondary is the one area where things are pretty murky. Prater will start at cornerback and Hyde will start somewhere, though it's still unclear whether that will be at the other cornerback spot or at free safety. If he sticks at free safety, either Greg Castillo (who looks much improved -- honestly) or B.J. Lowery will probably start at the other cornerback spot. If he moves back to cornerback... who knows. Collin Sleeper and Jordan Bernstine could be in the mix at safety and Tanner Miller will have a good shot at starting when he heals up. Either way, safety is the great unknown for the Iowa defense right now.
Special teams are also a little mysterious. Eric Guthrie looks like the clear favorite at punter -- he was the most reliable option on Saturday; Mullings was inconsistent and still appears to take too long to get punts off. Meyer and Mossbrucker were pretty even on Saturday (Mossbrucker made 5/6, Meyer made 4/7; both guys had some kicks that looked good and some kicks that looked bad); I think Ferentz sticks with Meyer unless Mossbrucker proves to be a definitively better option. They didn't do much with the return game, although Bernstine, Hyde, and Davis were all back returning punts. Hyde looks like the most intriguing option there, if only because of his excellent returns on interceptions last year.
But after you get past the first line on the depth chart, things appear wide open at most spots. In a few cases (QB, TE) you have a pair of guys battling for the main back-up slot (Wienke and A.J. Derby at QB, Fiedorowicz and Zack Derby at TE). Technically speaking, that could also describe the RB2 situation, but while both Jason White and De'Andre Johnson looked fine on Saturday, there was nothing in their play that made you think that the incoming freshmen (particularly Coe and McCall) won't have an excellent shot to see the field. WR looked like an absolute mess after Davis on Saturday (McNutt didn't practice, but we already know he's the top option). Despite the hype, Kevante Martin-Manley didn't do much on Saturday. Nor did Don Shumpert. I'm not sure if Jordan Cotton even played. Steven Staggs probably had the second-best showing after Davis (he had 4 catches for 53 yards), but before we get too excited about him, let's remember that Don Nordmann blew up at a few past Spring Games -- and then was a non-factor during the fall.
While most of the starting jobs are set along the offensive line, there also appears to be a pretty solid set of back-ups along the offensive line: Tobin and Van Sloten at tackle, Orne and MacMillan at guard, and Boffeli at center. The overall depth along the offensive line looks pretty good. On the other hand, the depth along the defensive line looks far more questionable. Ferentz has gone on record as saying he wants to do more defensive line rotation this year and play 6-8 guys, but after the top three (Binns, Daniels, Daniel), it's hard to know who those next 3-5 guys are. Bigach? Nardo? Forgy? Gaglione? Mike Hardy made a few nice plays (including an interception on Wienke). Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis are two intriguing options, too; Davis has uncommon size for a young Iowa defensive tackle (he's already 6'5", 310 lbs) while Alvis was one of the most active and disruptive players among the DL guys. He's a little small (6'4", 250 lbs), but he could be the next Mitch King or Karl Klug-type.
Linebacker is also a position with uncertain depth. After James Morris and Tyler Nielsen, it's the great unknown. Kirksey or Hitchens are the presumptive favorites to start at the other linebacker spot right now but neither guy has actually, you know, played much thus far. Bruce Davis has been a reliable special teamer and back-up for a few years, so he provides at least a little experienced depth. After him? Shane DiBona, Dakota Getz, and a host of freshmen. The secondary seems like a matter of sorting out who the most talented guys are and finding a way to get them on the field. Two of those guys are Prater and Hyde. The other two might be Bernstine and Lowery. Or Miller and Sleeper. Or maybe one of the incoming freshmen (say "hi," Nico Law). Or perhaps even the somewhat unfairly dismissed Greg Castillo. The depth here might actually be more encouraging than along the defensive line or at linebacker -- even if, for instance, Bernstine or Lowery don't make it as starters, they could still be valuable in nickel situations or as replacements if someone gets hurt.
So, really, we know very little. But we know slightly more than we did before, so -- progress? For now, it'll have to do.