IOWA AGAIN WILL HOLD AN OPEN PRACTICE IN DES MOINES. The gates open to the public at 11:30 AM tomorrow at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines. The Hawkeyes will make this trip for the third April in a row. Unlike the previous two years, no tickets are necessary. Just show up and get a first look at the 2015 Hawkeye Football team.
I've been to plenty of these. They'll open with some special teams work and then break to a dynamic warm up as a team. They'll then go to individual group work and then some 7-on-7 work on one side of the field while the linemen get after it on the other. Finally, we'll see some scrimmage that concludes with goal line and then some kicking game. Practice officially starts at 12:30 and expect it to last two hours.
WHAT WE'LL WATCH. Let's start with quarterback. We know C.J. Beathard is clearly the number one but is he the only one. The competition is just red-shirt freshman Tyler Weigers and while Weigers is not threat to create a controversy, how well he appears to grasp the offense could have an impact on the play-calling for Beathard (QB runs).
Next, we'll want to see what Iowa's running back situation looks like. Last year, Iowa tried to make too many people happy with carries in the early season. This year, Jordan Canzeri is the clear #1 but running backs coach Chris White said LeShun Daniels could get Weisman's carries from a year before. Daniels has dropped a few pounds and White says he looks more athletic. We want to see if he's improved from a year before and if he's 100% after an ankle injury that ended his 2014 season.
Behind Daniels, Akrum Wadley has gained 10 pounds (per White). We want to see if Wadley can hold on to the ball and if he hasn't lost a step despite packing on weight. Behind Wadley, Derrick Mitchell is probably the most interesting running back on the team. It's his third season and he's at a new position moving from wide receiver. White said Mitchell took the role of Melvin Gordon on the scout team and the coaches saw enough to move him to RB. This isn't the first time we heard about Mitchell "wowing" coaches. After bowl prep for LSU in 2013, Jon Gruden wondered on live TV why he wasn't playing wide receiver.
Speaking of receivers, that's next on the list. Iowa does have two seniors returning and Matt Vandenberg will take over Kevonte Martin-Manley's role. What's after that? Jay Scheel will make his first appearance as a Hawkeye (for the public). There's also Andre Harris and Andrew Stone. Harris has looked pretty good before during these one glimpse practices. Particularly last year at the same time/place. It failed to translate to any snaps yet on the field.
Next, we have to focus on Iowa's two new offensive tackles. There's two, maybe three seniors in the interior of the OL but the outside is a scary proposition. Ike Boettger looks the part but let's see how he moves his feet. Also, we want to see if Cole Croston is ready to play if needed.
Schematically, is Iowa working on the read option again at all? How are they using the tight ends differently from season's prior? Jake Duzey is one of Iowa's most dynamic receivers and they need to get him the ball. We'll be looking to see if there's any new wrinkles there. Also, if Brian Ferentz appears to have more of a role on the field.
On the defensive side, we want to see how the two new defensive tackles hold their own against Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh. If Darian Cooper can't return, we want to know if there's depth at the tackle spot. Same goes for defensive end.
How do the linebackers cover? There's practice pictures and personally, I don't believe some of the weight gains at linebacker. We want to see if Jewell, Bower and Niemann look bigger and ready for Big Ten football. We especially want to see if they can cover a running back out of the backfield.
In the secondary, we want to see if Miles Taylor or Brandon Snyder has an edge for starting strong safety. We also want to see if Iowa has developed depth. Where is Malik Rucker and Solomon Warfield? The clock's ticking for those two and perhaps you can say the same for Maurice Fleming. Will anyone step up and push Greg Mabin? That's what we're hoping to see.
Finally, the punting game. But, it may make more sense to really try to evaluate this is August.
So, that's the tip of the iceberg. These practices are a good chance to see a lot of reps out of red-shirt sophomores and freshmen. What specially are you interested in learning?