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THE PROLOGUE 2015: THE OFFENSE

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Kirk Ferentz has his signature quarterback. Does he have his signature offensive line?

"Beathard to Daniels" has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
"Beathard to Daniels" has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

QUARTERBACK

ASSUME THE POSITION

STARTER: C.J. Beathard, 6'2", 209, Junior

BACKUP: Tyler Wiegers, 6'4", 222, RS Freshman

The closest thing Kirk Ferentz has had to a mediocre QB during a great season was first-year starter Nathan Chandler, who quarterbacked the Hawkeyes to a 10-3 year in 2003 (and did a damned fine job of it, to be clear); past that, you'd better be prepared to badmouth Brad Banks, Drew Tate or Ricky Stanzi. Each of those quarterbacks came into power as the result of tough competitions in which they weren't the most experienced QB (the closest you'd come is Banks, but Iowa spent the last half of 2001 talking itself into him, and thank goodness) and lo and behold, that's the situation into which Beathard finds himself flourishing today. Jake Rudock understandably peaced out to Michigan after finding himself benched for a bowl game for the second straight year (and in his home state of Florida for both years' bowl games, no less) and Iowa was happy to see him on his way. Rudock wasn't bad, but for a coach having to decide between him and his backup, he was expendable, and now he's Michigan's problem.

RUNNING BACK

ASSUME THE POSITION

STARTERS: LeShun Daniels, 6'0", 225, Junior; Macon Plewa, 6'2", 244, Senior (FB)

BACKUPS: Jordan Canzeri, 5'9", 192, Senior; Akrum Wadley, 5'11", 185, Sophomore; Derrick Mitchell, 6'1", 212, Sophomore; Adam Cox, 5'11", 234, Senior (FB)

If LeShun Daniels is what Iowa fans and coaches want him to be, he'll be the next great tailback in a long line of Hawkeyes. Physically he's Ladell Betts, but he'll require the adjustment period of Shonn Greene—and let's not forget Greene wasn't a game-killer until the last half of 2008. And that's Daniels' ceiling. We're not teasing anything better from anyone else on the roster, but let's not pretend Daniels immediately fixes systemic problems by himself.

That said, there's a bevy of other options, a field so crowded Jonathan Parker moved to wideout so he'd be a more reliable part of the offense. Daniels isn't the plodder Weisman was (thank goodness), but Canzeri offers the passing game versatility that Damon Bullock made himself indispensable with, and Wadley and Mitchell are likely to delight Hawkeye fans with their change-of-pace athleticism. This is a deep and dangerous position group, especially with a pair of experienced fullbacks in Plewa and Cox to lead the way.

WIDE RECEIVERS

STARTERS: Tevaun Smith, 6'2", 205, Senior; Matt VandeBerg, 6'1", 185, Junior

BACKUPS: Jacob Hillyer, 6'4", 212, Senior; Jay Scheel, 6'1", 195, Redshirt Freshman; Jonathan Parker, 5'8", 185, Sophomore; Adrian Falconer, 6'1", 180, Freshman; Jerminic Smith, 6'1", 180, Freshman; Emmanuel Ogwo, 6'0", 170, Freshman

One of the biggest spots of uncertainty over the offseason has been wideout, where Tevaun Smith leads the pack as a senior and there's basically nothing established behind him. VandeBerg has the edge of experience over Scheel, but the staff is begging for an excuse to introduce its freshman talent. Falconer and Smith have garnered more preseason praise than Ogwo, but nobody's talking about any of these newcomers as go-to guys, and that should redirect your attention to Tevaun Smith, who's in line for a totally monster year.

TIGHT ENDS

ASSUME THE POSITION

STARTER: Henry Krieger-Coble, 6'4", 250, Senior

BACKUP: George Kittle, 6'4", 235, Junior

INJURED: Jake Duzey, 6'4", 248, Senior

It's impossible to talk about this position without discussing a guy who won't even be on the two-deeps at kickoff this weekend: Jake Duzey, who's at once the most dangerous receiving target at tight end for the Hawkeyes and the most un-Ferentz TE Iowa's had in the last 15 years. That opens up plenty of versatility for Duzey, who can be split out wide and terrify smaller defensive backs, but it also means Iowa negates some line-of-scrimmages it would have otherwise enjoyed.

Duzey's out early with a knee injury, so the competition is now between Krieger-Coble (a giant rambling, rumbling knuckle in the best way possible) and Kittle (more of a downfield threat for an offense that really needs that option). The nice thing is that Kirk Ferentz embraces the tight-end-by-committee approach based on formations and personnel, so the more options here the better off Iowa's offense will be, and this is in all likelihood Iowa's strongest situation—at least when Duzey gets back.

OFFENSIVE LINE

STARTERS: Boone Myers, 6'5", 300, Sophomore; Eric Simmons, 6'2", 295, Senior; Austin Blythe, 6'3", 290, Senior; Jordan Walsh, 6'4", 290, Senior; Ike Boettger, 6'6", 300, Sophomore

BACKUPS: Cole Croston, 6'5", 295, Junior; Sean Welsh, 6'3", 288, Sophomore; James Daniels, 6'4", 285, Freshman; Mitch Keppy, 6'5", 300, Junior; Keegan Render, 6'4", 305, Redshirt Freshman

I don't know how this all ends. I really don't. I wish I could tell you I've reviewed the last 15 years and that Myers and Boettger check off every box of successful Iowa linemen and that there's nothing to worry about, but clearly things are not good in their current state. Myers and Boettger—Myers especially—have struggled massively to replace departed tackles Brandon Scherff (who should be hard to replace) and Andrew Donnal (who should not be so hard to replace). This comes on top of a guard corps that had an awfully rough 2014; if you needed to see why someone was in the backfield after Mark Weisman took his first step with the ball on roughly 75% of Iowa's zone plays, it's because a guard let a defender through. We're not sure if Welsh is coming back to the starting lineup, and it feels like there's always been a guy named "Eric Simmons" at offensive line for as long as Kirk Ferentz has been coaching, doesn't it? Blythe is solid, but he's only one guy. The coaches expect Daniels to push for playing time; that's generally an ominous sign and it might be here too, but he's the real deal physically and the sooner he can learn the position and get on the field and contribute, the better.

But yeah. There's a reason why Croston has seen some first-team snaps, according to various practice reports, and why I suspect Boettger will start at least one game at LT by the end of the year. This team doesn't really have an answer there yet. For a team without a solid backup at QB and who needs precision and cohesion to run a zone ground scheme, the dearth of starting power along this line could be disastrous.