On a warm, sun-filled day at Kinnick Stadium, we got our last glimpse of Iowa football until August and things looked... OK. Unlike last year, when the starting defense (and especially the starting defensive line) absolutely bullied the offense (and offensive line) and had them unable to do much of anything, things were a bit more evenly matched this year. The defense still had the edge (which is usually the case in situations like this: they know what the offense likes to do and the offense also isn't exactly trying to be too tricky), but the offense was able to move the ball at times and the offensive line didn't look completely overwhelmed.
While the defense was missing a couple surefire starters next fall (Greg Mabin at cornerback and Ben Niemann at linebacker), the offense might have in worse shape, with C.J. Beathard and Keegan Render missing the scrimmage entirely and Sean Welsh playing limited minutes after tweaking his ankle. Beathard had a shoulder injury, but it's not believed to be serious:
Check that - Hearing shoulder bruise for C.J. Beathard. All tests negative. Should be back in a couple weeks. https://t.co/zDgW7Mjz2R— Blair Sanderson (@BlairRIVALS) April 23, 2016
Sounds like Jaleel bumped into CJB. I asked if they shot him into space for hitting the franchise.— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) April 23, 2016
Hands off, Jaleel! With Beathard out and Ryan Boyle moved to wide receiver (more on that below), only three quarterbacks saw action today: Tyler Wiegers, Drew Cook, and walk-on Ryan Schmidt.
1) The quarterback pecking order is very clear. There's CJ, then Wiegers, then Cook. Even though we didn't see Beathard at all today, his position at the top of the depth chart is very much unchanged. Iowa's offense is going to rise or fall with him this fall. Wiegers looked somewhat improved from the glimpses of him we got at open practices last year, but he's still struggling with holding onto the ball too long and getting passes knocked down by defenders.
Anytime 8 holds the ball past his initial reads he looks lost, longer he holds the ball the more off things look; has a ways to go— Hawkeye Gamefilm (@hawkeyegamefilm) April 23, 2016
Too many batted passes today for QB8, eyes are leading defenders into passing lanes & not clearing himself w/feet— Hawkeye Gamefilm (@hawkeyegamefilm) April 23, 2016
Per Marc Morehouse, Wiegers went 14/28 for 100 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. In fairness to Wiegers, he was also victimized by a bad drop by Riley McCarron on a nicely-thrown deep ball that would have been a sure touchdown if McCarron had pulled it in. Per Morehouse, Cook went 8/13 for 116 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. For the most part, Wiegers was going against the first-team defense while Cook was going against the second- and third-string defenders. Most of his production (including the touchdown) came late in the scrimmage. Cook is big, has a strong arm, and showed some pretty good mobility in taking off and running when he was under pressure, but he still has a lot of work to do.
2) Akrum Wadley needs the ball as much as possible. LeShun Daniels remains Iowa's starter at running back, but he saw fairly limited action in the scrimmage today -- likely because Iowa knows exactly what he can do and there's no need to expose him to additional contact. Wadley got several touches today, though, and had some of the most impressive plays of the day. He had back-to-back "explosive" plays (plays over 10-15 yards), one on a catch and run and another on a handoff. Wadley's speed and explosiveness are well-known at this point, but he showed improved strength today, too -- he was running through tackles and bouncing off initial contact. Whether he starts or not, Wadley needs to get as many touches as he can handle in games this fall. Marcel Joly and Eric Graham got most of the carries with the back-ups and both flashed some nice skills (Graham had a good run down the sideline that showed some solid burst and agility), but there aren't going to be many carries for them this fall with Daniels, Wadley, and Derrick Mitchell (out injured this spring) in line ahead of them.
3) Wide receiver is still a concern. We came into spring wondering how Iowa would replace Tevaun Smith at wideout. We leave spring... still wondering how Iowa is going to replace Tevaun Smith at wideout. Matt VandeBerg and George Kittle are Iowa's most experienced and reliable options in the passing game; both made a few plays today, but were overall fairly quiet. Still, we know what they can do -- we were hoping see some other faces emerge as options in the passing game this spring. McCarron had a few catches, but also had that aforementioned bad drop on a sure touchdown. Jerminic Smith once again has speed and quickness, but is still struggling to catch the ball consistently. Jay Scheel was the Vegas favorite to be the official Spring Game Standout, but he had a pretty quiet day. In fairness to the receivers, the offensive gameplan didn't seem to do them a lot of favors -- Iowa didn't seem to take many looks downfield (although it was hard to tell what many of the passing routes were from the BTN2Go broadcast). Still, it looks like Iowa still has work to do at receiver (and tight end, behind Kittle). The incoming freshmen this summer could have a very real chance to see the field.
The two most impressive receivers on the day might have been two guys who may not play much this fall. Walk-on
Ben Brandon Bishop had a pair of catches, including a big play where he took a short pass, made a defender miss, and scooted down field for 30-40 yards after the grab. They were nice plays, but they also came against second- and third-string defenders and Bishop's status way down the depth chart probably remains unchanged. The other receiver who turned a few heads was Ryan Boyle. Boyle started the spring at quarterback and at one point seemed to be ahead of Cook in the QB3 derby. But he took no snaps today and played exclusively at wide receiver. He made some impressive plays in the passing game, including a good catch-and-run and a touchdown reception on a fade route on the final play of the scrimmage. After the scrimmage Ferentz said that Boyle's move wasn't necessarily permanent, but if he's not impressing at quarterback, it might make sense to keep him there and let him develop
Watching WR11: he's the guy who dominated playground football as a kid; be surprised if he doesn't end up being worked into rotation— Hawkeye Gamefilm (@hawkeyegamefilm) April 23, 2016
Boyle has good athleticism and you don't have to squint too hard to see some Ed Hinkel or Kevonte Martin-Manley in him. He may or may not get into the rotation this fall, but he does look like he could develop into a nice weapon at receiver in time.
4) The defensive line looked better, but wasn't a total blowout. A year ago, the defensive line took the offense's lunch money, especially at end, where Drew Ott and Nate Meier were unblockable and unstoppable. The offense didn't get used and abused quite so badly today, but they still had issues. That said, they also get a bit of an incomplete for operating without Welsh, Daniels, and Render -- they were operating without 2-3 likely starters. They were certainly going to struggle some in that situation and they did. They had some real trouble in the middle, which was probably the biggest mismatch of the day. Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata look poised for big years and the offensive line was without some of their top interior guys (Welsh, Daniels). They did better on the edges. Anthony and Matt Nelson are two very imposing threats at defensive end, though, and they seem like they're going to develop into good pass-rushers -- hopefully they can do so as soon as this fall.
5) Attack of the blitzbackers. Until Iowa is able to generate a consistent pass rush from their ends, though, it looks like they may not be too shy about blitzing, especially from the linebacker position.
Blitzing continues here, really flashing a lot of color in front of a back up QB, but he does have a red jersey on; LB31 can absolutely FLY— Hawkeye Gamefilm (@hawkeyegamefilm) April 23, 2016
Whether Aaron Mends (LB31) wins a starting job or not, I'd be bet that at the very least he'll be seeing the field as a blitzer in the Raider package. In other news, Josey Jewell remains very, very good. In case you were wondering.
6) The secondary is not second-best. Even down a starter (Mabin) and a likely significant contributor (nickel CB Josh Jackson), the starting defensive backfield looked solid today. They bullied and blanketed Iowa's receivers and made the two biggest defensive plays of the game with a pair of interceptions (one returned for a touchdown). The first came from Michael Ojemudia, pressed into service as the cornerback opposite King with Mabin and Jackson both out. On a broken play Wiegers tried to throw the ball out of bounds, but didn't put enough on the throw -- Ojemudia made a nice play along the sideline to snare it, then ran it back for a touchdown. Desmond King made the second interception of the day, looking like he's barely skipped a beat from last season. He also remains very, very good, in case you were wondering. Miles Taylor was bringing the lumber on some hits from the safety position and looked more comfortable out there and Brandon Snyder looked fine at the other safety spot, too. He didn't make any flashy plays, but he didn't seem to make any notable errors, either.
7) The kicker-punter wars are not settled. Iowa rotated options at both kicker and punter today and it didn't look like anything was too settled at either position. Miguel Recinos and Mick Ellis split time at placekicker, with Recinos having the better day -- he made a 40-yard field goal, while Ellis (I think) struggled on an extra point (it banked off the upright and went in, but still). Colten Rastetter seemed like the clear leader over Ben Canby at punter -- his punts were consistently longer than Canby's and he also had nice placement on one punt, dropping it inside the five-yard line. That said, neither position battle looked like it was over and with more contenders arriving this summer, these battles could go all the way up to the season opener -- or even into the season itself.
So yeah: that's some of what we learned from today's open practice/scrimmage. If you were there or watched on BTN2Go, what did you notice? Feel free to hit up the comments.