You know, I’d love to tell you all it’s great to be back, but I’m not in the business of lying to you. No, it’s not great to be back. Like, at all. I left you last week, dear reader, to spend a week on the beaches of Florida with the family. I return this week and I’m welcomed home to glorious Iowa City by 5 inches of snow and a bunch of Hawkeye news to catch up on.
So what did I miss? Well, for all of us itching for the return of Iowa football, it’s here. Sort of. Spring practices kicked off on Thursday. You can catch some pics of what they’ve been doing over at hawkeyesports.com, but there are also some early reports floating around the interwebz. Specifically, the Hawkeyes hosted a coaching clinic over the weekend which included an open viewing of practice.
Take these all with a grain of salt bigger than the margaritas I was sipping this time last week, but the word is that things look solid for the 1st group on both sides of the ball, with some major dropoffs from there. That shouldn’t shock anyone. Iowa historically has the horses in the top tier to hang with just about anyone, but they can’t come in waves like some of the bluebloods. It also shouldn’t be surprising the defense may look better than the offense. It’s spring after all.
Other tidbits I’ve seen floating around:
- The TEs look very good, as does Stanley (this is my shocked face)
- The difference between the first group of WRs and the second is worrisome
- The DL looks very good, even without Daviyon Nixon
- Djimon Colbert is making a push for PT at LB
- Jake Gervase is going to be impossible to keep off the field and may be the leader of this D
- Spencer Petras looks very good and may pass Mansell by the spring game
Now, as I said above, none of these are my personal observations, just things I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere. But this here is overreaction Monday and you better believe I’m running with it.
So I’m calling my shot now: this team wins at least 9 games this season. The concerns at WR are nothing new and the weapons at TE more than make up for any depth issues on the outside in my opinion. I think Easley is everything you want in the slot and I trust Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith to develop enough to really give defense problems with trying to cover those tight ends.
The loss of three linebackers and a stud at corner like Josh Jackson will be difficult to overcome, but the defensive line is going to be solid and if the ends (which I view as the strength of the entire defense) can get pressure that should alleviate some of the concerns with a new group of backers and finding the right combination of Matt Hankins, Manny Rugamba and Michael Ojemudia at corner. If Gervase is going to be a leader at safety with Hooker continuing to develop and the return of Snyder, the backfield should be just fine.
The only major question I have is at center. James Daniels was so incredibly talented and athletic, I don’t know how you replace him. I think the staff will find someone to be serviceable, but it’s such an important position in terms of calling out protections, etc. that it could be an issue. We shall see.
It’s good to have football back.
One other tidbit I’ve seen mentioned a few different places, so I feel confident it’s true: Ahmad Wagner was seen taking in practice. Yes, Iowa football practice.
I’m sure none of you missed it, but in case you were on a beach last week as well, Wagner announced his intentions to leave basketball behind and pursue a football career (Brady Ellingson also indicated he was leaving the program as a graduate transfer).
It’s something Iowa fans have been joking about for some time. Wagner was a stellar athlete in high school, garnering a number of basketball offers, but also anchoring his high school’s 4x100 team and earning a handful of power 5 football offers after deciding to go out for the sport for the first time as a senior.
His list height of 6’7” is probably a little generous and while 6’6” seems on the tall side for a WR, he certainly isn’t a beanpole and he seems to have the speed to get vertical. Iowa can always use another vertical threat. And given the depth concerns mentioned above ta WR, perhaps this could actually work?
As Wayne grad @Ahmad_Wagner turns his attention to football now remember we're talking about a guy that's 6'7" with track speed. He caught 58 passes for 1,028 yards and 15 TDs. @DMitrikTrice0 said it back in high school: Wagner has NFL potential. pic.twitter.com/LTKeayToP3— James Rider (@JamesRRider) March 21, 2018
Look, I know the issues that come with first year players making an impact for the Hawkeyes. There’s a playbook to learn, routes to get down and the eternal question about a WR’s ability to block. The path to the playing field is probably easier elsewhere. And Iowa doesn’t exactly have a track record of putting receivers into the league.
But Iowa is the only place where Wagner has an opportunity at 2 years in an FBS program. The lack of depth at WR presents an opportunity for playing time. And playing in the Big Ten gives Wagner a chance to show off his skills on a national stage every week.
It’s not a done deal and even if it were, it’s not a lock Wagner would find his way onto the field or live up to the building hype, but it’s spring and I’m ready to give it a shot.
Speaking of giving it a shot, today is Iowa’s Pro Day. While pro days don’t tend to carry quite the same weight as the NFL Combine or individual workouts with teams, it’s the only chance for a number of guys to get themselves in front of a number of different NFL scouts.
The Hawkeyes sent five former players to the combine a few weeks ago, including Josh Jackson, Josey Jewell, James Daniels, Akrum Wadley and Sean Welsh. But they have 14 players expected to participate in the pro day today. Here’s a look at who’ll be participating:
Josh Jackson, CB
Miles Taylor, S
Josey Jewell, LB
Ben Niemann, LB
Bo Bower, LB
James Daniels, C
Sean Welsh, OG
Ike Boettger, OL
Boone Myers, OL
Akrum Wadley, RB
James Butler, RB
Drake Kulick, FB
Matt VandeBerg, WR
Tyler Kluver, LS
For guys like Ben Niemann and Bo Bower, this is a shot to show NFL teams they can provide value in the very back end of the draft or as undrafted free agents. For guys like Boone Myers and Ike Boettger, it’s a chance to prove they’re getting healthy and are worth a look. And for guys like those who went to the combine, it’s a chance to further improve on their performances and give scouts a few more data points.
For all of us here, it’s a chance to talk about football again. Even more importantly, it’s a chance for us to get our minds off the NCAA tournament, the absence of the Hawkeyes and those horrific brackets we’ve shredded, taped back together and then burnt at the stake.
It’s good to be back. It’s good to have football back. Happy Monday and Go Hawks!