THE WIND WAS ANGRY MY FRIENDS. There's a Facebook meme floating around about spring weather in Iowa. One day you need shorts. The next, a parka. Friday night at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines was definitely a parka kind of night. Still, the Hawkeyes took the field to sign autographs for kids and held a coaches clinic for little ones following a two hour practice in shorts and helmets. There wasn't a scrimmage and very few attempts at running the ball but still plenty to observe.
Football Practices at WDM Valley-Thousands of fans braved cool temps and windy conditions to scout the Hawkeyes. https://t.co/XpfYusnJ6a— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) April 9, 2016
As with any spring session, Iowa is light at a few positions. The second and third team defensive line had nothing for the second offensive line unit that included two years of 7-8 recruits. The defensive secondary was thin too with Greg Mabin on the sideline nursing a shoulder injury. A few others didn't practice, with Jameer Outsey perhaps the biggest name as he's listed in the two-deeps. Also absent were a Paulsen twin, Ben Niemann, Mitch Keppy, and James Daniels. Andre Harris was missing from the wide receiver group and it's unclear why or if he's part of the team going forward.
The thing that stood out, compared to previous years' open sessions, was balance. Before we watched young wide receivers torch a new and inexperienced secondary with linebackers that couldn't cover (2014). Then last year we saw two defensive ends dominate new tackles to the point the offense could barely get off the snap. This year, both sides won their share of plays. The offense (almost exclusively passing) was able to get Kittle open in the middle and even score a touchdown (2nd unit, Tyler Wiegers to Jonathan Parker). The defense, without Matt Nelson at DE, didn't collapse the pocket like last year but coverage forced a lot of check downs to running backs that went nowhere.
C.J. Beathard showed no signs of the lingering injury that limited his mobility the last half of 2015. While the QBs didn't run much, he moved side to side and pulled it down and looked fine on one occasion. CJ had the wind as the offense went north to south and to close out 7 on 7 drills dropped a 50 yard bomb to Jay Scheel that would have been an 80 yard touchdown.
Scheel made one fine play and worked enough with the starters to consider him a contributor this season. Jerminic Smith got most of the work and several targets on back shoulder throws but Josh Jackson shined in coverage and shut it down. Emmanuel Ogwo got in some reps and despite his tiny frame, he has some serious speed. Iowa's young wide receivers have some speed and talent but youth often leads to inconsistency. I think that's a reasonable expectation this year.
Speaking of Jackson, he's your early leader for spring hero. He wore a red jersey for no contact but showed why he's moved ahead of senior Maurice Fleming (who was working at safety with the second and third teamers). Greg Mabin is still likely the starter when he returns but Iowa has something with Jackson and he'll figure into the plans this season whether at nickel or if called upon as a substitution.
Without scrimmage there's not a ton to glean from this open session. I thought Iowa looked a lot bigger as the new faces on OL and DL added some beef over the winter. The linebackers have filled out and the wide receivers flashed some wheels. At running back, both Eric Graham and Marcel Joly looked improved and Joly has added some size. It still appears they are in an even battle for Iowa's 4th running back spot.
The quarterbacks beyond Beathard all look better. Of course, the last time we saw Drew Cook and Ryan Boyle they were two weeks into their college careers. I thought Cook was much improved and with 20 more pounds might be something. He moves well out of the pocket for a big kid and had much better command of the game on the field. Boyle has changed his throwing motion and has some wheels.
Overall, the vibe was a good one as Iowa seemed loose and ran a couple slot reverse and reverse pass trick plays during the practice. The autograph session to open was new as was the clinic held afterwards. Had the weather been better I suspect there would have been a higher turnout. The Hawkeyes made it much more fan-friendly that the business trips of the past. It felt fun, much like Iowa's 2015 football season. Wind be damned.