Assume the Position is our offseason guide to the Iowa Hawkeyes football depth chart. The math is difficult, so take it from us: As time moves on, we'll know more. That's why we rank the positions from most certain to least certain.
Tonight: Tight End
As part of an upcoming post, I've been contemplating which positions in Iowa's system are most complicated. Obviously, quarterback and MLB/WLB top that list, but there's a growing track record for tight end. Not only does an Iowa tight end need to run routes like a receiver and block like an offensive tackle, but the tough part for most incoming tight end prodigies -- the blocking -- is the key component in breaking into the setup in the ever-more-essential second tight end spot. He might be listed as a backup, but the second tight end is probably more important to Iowa's overall offense than the slot receiver.
Brad Herman (#39, Senior, 6'5", 250, Metamora (IL) HS)
Brad Herman's career has been strange. He entered Iowa as one of those classic Ferentz recruits: Completely ignored by everyone, with only intermittent interest from non-BCS programs like Northern Illinois and Purdue, despite playing both ways for a state champion. By all accounts, he was big, agile, productive, and hardworking. He was so good, in fact, that he didn't redshirt as a freshman, instead spending the season on special teams. He was trapped behind upperclassmen at both linebacker and tight end (hence the linebacker number), but coaches at both positions raved about his weight room work. For two years, it looked like Herman, and not Reisner, would succeed Tony Moeaki at tight end.
And then 2010 came, and Allen Reisner -- not Herman -- took over at tight end, and C.J. Fiedorowicz -- not Herman -- received all the accolades from the coaches, and Herman was kind of forgotten. Sure, he was the second-string tight end throughout the season and had his first productive season (9 catches, 154 yards). But Brad Herman, who the offensive and defensive coaches fought over, who didn't even redshirt despite being a small-school guy who nobody wanted, who had so much buzz, was losing out to Allen Reisner? In three years, he has 10 catches and 157 yards? He's still playing special teams?
Brad Herman finally has his shot at the top spot with one year of eligibility remaining. For the first time, there's no upperclassman in front of him. There's nothing standing between him and the big season we've expected for three years. That is, if he can hold off the challenge of the next big, agile Iowa true sophomore special teams standout...
The Polish Hat
C.J. Fiedorowicz (#86, Sophomore, 6'7", 250, Johnsburg (IL) HS)
From the moment he decommitted from Illinois and signed with Iowa, Fiedorowicz's potential has fascinated Hawkeye fans. He's huge, he runs like a deer, he received four stars from every recruiting service, he played seven positions in high school (including quarterback and safety), and his name is awesome. There were questions of his toughness, of whether he could take contact, but they had little foundation. When word came that he wouldn't redshirt, fans stopped asking whether he would switch positions and began speculating on whether he would immediately start.
Neither of those happened. Unsurprisingly, Fiedorowicz played special teams. And Fiedorowicz lit people the fuck up. I remember the first few times I saw Bob Sanders light someone up, and it felt like that. Polish Hat so consistently crushed people on special teams this season that we have to think Ferentz is reconsidering using him as a tight end. If the contact questions are gone -- and they most certainly are -- then why not offensive line or defensive end?
Fiedorowicz will likely take the second tight end spot this season, giving him a chance to work on his blocking. Given the sheer volume of tight ends on the Iowa roster, if he takes to it like he took to special teams duty last year and wouldn't be opposed to a change, I don't think the position change questions are definitively answered. Until we hear otherwise, he's a tight end, and a potentially freakish one at that.
While You Wait for the Others
Zach Derby (#85, Junior (RS), 6'3", 235, Iowa City HS)
Yes, he's the older brother of A.J. Derby. Yes, he had some disciplinary problems in the past. Yes, he's the second tight end on the roster named after a kind of hat. Yes, I was confused for a second when much of the post-spring game talk was of Derby's performance (for a second, I honestly thought they'd moved A.J. into the rotation). But Zach Derby, a former walk-on who many believed was on the roster solely as an additional chip to play in A.J.'s heated recruitment, might be a legitimate threat. He split reps at TE2 with Fiedorowicz in the spring open practice. While Fiedorowicz's pedigree might give him a leg up here, it won't with Ferentz; walk-on tight ends have followed Derby's track more than once before.
Austin Vier (#81, Freshman (RS), 6'7", 225, Ballard HS (Huxley, IA))
Vier was a complete unknown when he landed an Iowa offer at a summer camp; there wasn't a scouting service who had even mentioned him, and he had no other offers to speak of (despite going to school 15 miles south of Ames). He's got a massive frame and played quarterback in high school, two calling cards of Ferentz recruits. He's ostensibly a tight end -- he's still listed there on the depth chart -- but more likely he's still a man without a position, and could show up in any of a half-dozen spots.
Ray Hamilton (Number unknown, Freshman, 6'5", 230, Strongsville (OH) HS)
Rodney Coe, Darian Cooper, Cyrus Kouandjsiowjeflaskdfm and others may have gotten more press this winter, but Ray Hamilton might have been Iowa's biggest recruiting score of 2010. Ranked as the eighth-best tight end recruit in the country by Rivals, Hamilton held offers from everyone who is everyone outside the SEC: Michigan, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Florida State, Oregon, UNC, Wisconsin, etc. Even Ohio State got in the game late. It didn't matter, though, as Iowa landed his commitment in June and held on the rest of the way without drama. Odds are he redshirts, just as odds are on any freshman redshirting, but those big, agile types seem to find their way to special teams duty recently.