In the lead up to this weekend's spring game, the Hawkeye coaches held a press conference in Iowa City that was fairly informative and open. Specifically, we got a better sense of the coming positional battles and what the look and personality of the team on the field will be like in 2014.
Here's a link to the comments from Kirk Ferentz, Greg Davis and Phil Parker. Ferentz was light on player personnel stuff—which is completely fine, mind you; he had a coach departure to talk about and scheme questions are better for the coordinators anyway—so we'll set his section aside and just focus on Davis and Parker.
Q. Is C.J. Beathard closer to Jake Rudock now than he was at this time last year or could you even make that comparison?
Greg Davis: We are real pleased with C.J. He's doing a good job. But we are real pleased with Jake, too. Jake is an extremely bright guy, he's gifted. He's healthy again. He's running around, making plays. I just feel fortunate that we have two quarterbacks that we feel like can go in and play.
Reading between the lines: Beathard must be showing more in practices than we saw out of him on the field last year and at the open practice. You can't blame the coaches for being tantalized by him; physically, there's nothing Rudock can do that Beathard can't. In terms of execution, though, there still appears to be a significant gap--hence Davis' praise of Rudock for being "bright" and "gifted." The evident difference is between the ears.
Tevaun Smith has had a really good spring and is playing at a very high level. Kevonte, you kind of know what he's going to be, and even though he hasn't practiced the last couple days with a groin, it's not a big deal. I mean, he'll be there. Jacob Hillyer is kind of like a security blanket. He will block he attacks the ball with his hands and so we're real pleased with where he's at. And I didn't mention Damond Powell. Damond is a guy that has gotten better and is learning, is continuing to learn and hopefully he'll be able to play a little bigger role next year.
Reading between the lines: You want to hear more about a senior with the physical blessings of Powell than "continuing to learn" and "hopefully... a little bigger role." Maybe that's reading too much into the semantics of Davis' statement, but it stands in contrast to, say, his unequivocal praise of Smith (who did look really good at the open practice--like, "best WR on the team" good). Iowa's deep at wideout, to be sure, and if there are enough able bodies that you can continue to use Powell in only spot situations, that's a nice problem to have. It's just that guys with game-breaking athleticism don't wear the black and gold very often, and it'd be nice if Powell's potential were maximized, and we are not being led to optimism there.
[We] had nine first and goals at three or less, we scored nine touchdowns. We had nine first and goals at the seven to the nine, and we scored five touchdowns, and that's not good enough. We spent a lot of time, first down at the seven, eight or nine this spring working on the best possible way to get the ball in the end zone.
Reading between the lines: Well, it's good that the Iowa coaching staff at least recognized the problematic red zone production. This is more an issue of play-calling than execution--execution's always tougher when the defense has fewer than 20 yards of vertical space to cover--so whether the play-calling can be creative enough to generate yards without getting too cute will be critical.
Q. Kirksey brought a lot of things that maybe didn't get enough credit until later on, how challenging is it to replace him and the many different personal things?
Phil Parker: It's difficult and we are going to have to change personnel groupings. He was a rare guy. Usually don't get those types of guys here at Iowa that can close on power O off a tight end and then walk out and cover a No. 2 wide receiver man to man with no help. That's a challenge. That's where you have to adapt and change your personnel grouping and substitute in if you have to. But for that position, he was unique and it's been a challenge but I'm not worrying about what we are doing right now. But in the fall, we'll definitely make some adjustments.
Reading between the lines: Iowa was spoiled last year with Kirksey on the field. Flat-out. The coaches are going to have to use multiple personnel packages—and thus lean on depth, especially in the back seven—much more than last year. and having to swap players out situationally can telegraph potential weaknesses more than being able to say "yep, we're sticking with those same 11 guys."
[Sean] Draper is working very hard and so is Maurice Fleming. But there's another guy, Greg Mabin, that's made a lot of plays this spring and you guys probably don't even have him on your list. But he's a very tall, lengthy guy and he's made a lot of plays for us and he can run. He has not had very much playing time and he has not tackled very much but he's made some progress there. It's going to be a challenge to figure out. Right now I couldn't tell you who is going to be the No. 2 corner right now.
Reading between the lines: I think we have to take Parker at his word that there's a legit competition here. Draper, Fleming and Mabin all looked impressive in spots during the open practice at Valley a couple weeks ago. Mabin in particular is fascinating, because he's a physical freak for the corner position and he's come so far with such little experience at the position that one might think he has the highest ceiling. At the same time, all we saw was one practice from a guy with the biggest experience deficit in the entire backfield. So if the coach isn't handing the keys to a guy who's as big and fast as Mabin and made as many plays as he did at the practice, that tells us Mabin's still got a lot of learning to do—and in a crowded secondary (remember, Malik Rucker has already cracked the two-deeps as a redshirt freshman as well), that is not an ideal position to be in.
Q. You guys kind of find out what you guys can do and then
Phil Parker: You have to adapt. I mean, the package is still going to be there. It's just what personnel grouping is it going to be. Is it going to be four linebackers on the field or five linebackers like we had last year; or, is it going to be five DBs on the field, still have three linebackers or four linebackers on the field and two defensive linemen. So the thing that's going to be a challenge is to see what way we are going to go.
Reading between the lines: Keep Calm And Cover 2 is lost to all but nostalgia now. And let's be clear: without that creativity, the Michigan and Northwestern games are probably losses, and we're having a very different discussion about Iowa football this offseason.