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Iowa Hawkeyes Spring Football: Observations From Iowa's Open Practice In Des Moines

The Hawkeyes invaded West Des Moines and I was there. Let's talk about it.

Valley Stadium an hour prior to practice starting.
Valley Stadium an hour prior to practice starting.

TODAY'S INP WILL HAVE A LITTLE DIFFERENT FORMAT. I'd like to share my overall observations for Iowa's open practice from yesterday at Valley High School in West Des Moines. I'll take about general observations and then share an opinion about position and individuals. Finally, I'll include links from around the web at the bottom. I believe fightforiowa will also share his opinions later today. It's good to be talking football, even if it's April and only a glimpse into the future.

It's practice number nine on the spring. Overall, I feel more optimistic about the offense than I did two days ago. The reverse is true for the defense. Iowa's practice went about how I described it in the practice primer post the other day. One major change was Iowa's focus on the punt team. They opened with work on punting and concluded with work defending the punt returner. There's an obvious new focus on special teams, at least for this one practice. That will hopefully pay dividends this season.

There was some new wrinkles but it's April and that's a time to experiment. Iowa's power set is the I-formation and they worked on the run game from there. There will be a fullback on the field this fall, despite the lack thereof on the depth chart. Mark Weisman lined up in front of Damon Bullock for a play and then went to running back while Adam Cox took over the fullback position. There was some zone read option from the shotgun too. This won't be Iowa's bread and butter and there's certainly not a Braxton Miller on the roster but the quarterback reading a crashing defensive end and getting positive yards on the option keeper will force defenses to scheme for it. Ultimately, it should benefit the running game which will be Iowa's strength this season. This practice was heavy with the I-formation and the shotgun with various combinations of three and four wide receivers. There was a little bit of the one-back set but not a lot. The I-formation focused on the run, the shotgun the passing game.

THE QUARTERBACKS. Iowa rotated Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard every two offensive plays (during scrimmage). I like this approach. In years past, there's been a QB that's obviously the guy while the others had deficiencies they were still working out. I recall watching A.J. Derby struggle or a very robotic and skinny Jake Rudock in his first fall open practice. Iowa's three quarterbacks all look like they could play this fall. That's a plus. Jake Rudock had, in my opinion, the best day of the three. I felt he had the best grasp of the offense and he throws a good ball and showed nice arm strength on the out route. Cody Sokol isn't far behind. Sokol did force a pass or two into double coverage and those eventually lead to turnovers. C.J. Beathard is solid for a red-shirt freshman but he needs to still add a couple pounds. He was over throwing his receivers during scrimmage and seemed to float the ball during drills. There was a 25-30 mph wind that certainly disrupted the passing game but I felt Rudock adjusted the best. With Iowa's run game, there will be opportunity for bootlegs and roll outs and we didn't see a ton of that yesterday. It was difficult to get a gauge on which QB could throw best on the run. Sokol did roll out and make a small gain with his feet. Rudock kept the ball on a zone read and showed he can move a little. Johnny Manziel these guys are not, but I feel any of them could step in and play and that's something Iowa hasn't had in awhile.

RUNNING BACKS LOOK STRONG. Damon Bullock has added a few pounds and filled out. Perhaps that will make him more of a durable running back. He didn't get a lot of work in the scrimmage nor did he get much work in the slot. Iowa's practice was pretty vanilla in that regard. Mark Weisman looks good. He's healthy and is the hardest runner of the group. He did break a long run of close to 30 yards. Jordan Canzeri looked the best of the three but you have to take in account the a lot of the reps were against Iowa's second unit. Still, Canzeri has that burst that can break the long run and he's perhaps the most explosive of the three. Maurice Fleming came from the corner on a blitz and Canzeri made a quick cut and it was instantly 25 yards down field later and eventually tackled by Anthony Gair. Iowa will have to figure out a way to get all three on the field and use them effectively. This is their offense this season. Run to set up the pass.

THE WIDE RECEIVERS. This group is thin as five new faces arrive this fall. We didn't see a lot of Kevonte Martin-Manly in scrimmage but his replacement Riley McCarron can play. McCarron is red-shirt freshman walk-on from Dubuque. He ran solid routes and caught the ball, even making a tough diving catch or two. McCarron used hand signals to check to a hot route when he had man coverage and Rudock completed the pass on a five yard out. That tells me he has a grasp of the passing game and that, perhaps, is why he's getting so many reps this spring. Tevaun Smith looks the part. I felt he was the best wide receiver on the field yesterday. Don Shumpert has speed but still drops balls he shouldn't. Jordan Cotton also dropped more than one pass and I felt he had a bad day overall. Cameron Wilson probably won't contribute much this year. He didn't show me much explosiveness or the ability to get free.

THE TIGHTENDS. What Iowa lacks in wide receivers they make up for with tight ends. There was a formation: shotgun, 4-wide, with tight ends split wide with the wide receivers stacked. It's a formation you can run a screen with. Tight ends make excellent blockers. They'll also see a lot of time in the slot and even split out wide. Jake Duzey and Henry Krieger-Coble have added a few pounds and can create match-up problems for defenses. Still, tight ends don't typically burn the defense for 80 yard touchdowns. They need speed on the edges. Ray Hamilton caught a couple passes up the middle on the seam route, as did C.J. Fiedorowicz. CJF is by far Iowa's best option and he looked the part all of practice. George Kittle showed some nice hands but he needs to add a few pounds. He's still on the light side.

THE OLINE. Brandon Scherrf is good and can potentially be great. There was only one botched snap on the day so don't worry about Blythe there. Jordan Walsh was working with the first team at right guard and he could be the starter there. Last season, Walsh got some PT but looked a little lost. He didn't yesterday. Of the second unit, Ryan Ward may have stood out the most. He could be in the 5-8 linemen Ferentz mentions when he talks playing time. Reid Sealby and Mitch Keppy are growing into Big Ten tackle bodies. They are probably still a year away.

LINEBACKERS. I focused mostly on the second unit. Marcus Collins and Quinton Alston look the part. They will be big contributors on special teams and if called upon, could step in and play. Cole Fisher still looks a little light to me but he might play in spot duty on passing downs. Laron Taylor and John Kenny look like freshmen. Kenny enrolled early and physically has the size but he'll have a lot to learn. Taylor will play special teams and get his feet wet.

THE SECONDARY. Nico Law was absent as was Kevin Buford. Johnny Lowdermilk took over first team strong safety in Law's absence. Ferentz said Law had a minor injury and should be back to practice this week. Lowdermilk looked okay out there. B.J. Lowery was the best defensive back on the day. Lomax was beat a time or two but bailed out by an under throw. The second team went: Sean Draper, Ruben Lile, Anthony Gair and Maurice Fleming. I liked what I saw from this group of one sophomore and three red-shirt freshmen. Lile is listed at 6'3" and he looks all of it. He did get turned around in one-on-one drills versus Jordan Cotton and burned pretty bad. Lile looked a little stiff at times but he is still nine months removed from an ACL tear. Gair is solid but perhaps a year away. Draper and Fleming will battle it out for the nickle corner. I was impressed with Fleming at times but he's still learning. Things got a little chippy when Jordan Cotton gave Fleming a shove but he gave it right back. Both Fleming and Lile worked on fielding punts. I think it's Jordan Cotton's job to lose but that tells you a little about how the staff trusts their ability.

THE DLINE. Carl Davis, again, is thinner and looks improved. I still think he lacks consistency though as he'd had a solid play on the line and then get turned on a double team. Defensive end is a serious issue. I focused mainly on the second team. Faith Ekakitie was getting a lot of reps a the left defensive end position. He and Jaleel Johnson saw a lot of time and are likely being groomed for playing time this fall. Last year, Iowa went with a heavy rotation along the DLine and I don't expect that to change this year. Bud Spears made a solid play, Riley McMinn batted a pass down. Still, in years past there was a guy that just jumped out. Mitch King was so good he disrupted every play to the point where Ferentz sat him out. Adrian Clayborn was so scary he didn't even scrimmage. Iowa doesn't have anyone close to being that disruptive. There was an occasional break through followed by the offense gaining 25 yards on a rush. Maybe Canzeri was just having that good of a day or maybe the DLine needs some serious work. It's likely a combination of both.

ALL THAT BEING SAID. That's a lot of words for one practice. And it's really just that. It's April 15th and Iowa's 2013 roster is only 75% complete. There's still a lot to feel good about. The running game, quarterbacks are okay, the OLine. The reality is Iowa is maybe still a year away. Iowa will hold one more open practice on April 27th. The Big Ten Network will be there covering this one. It'll be interesting to compare these notes to those impressions in two weeks.