Today is Kids' Day at Kinnick Stadium, which means it's also an open practice -- and the first glimpse we've had of Iowa football since last April. While it's always important to remember that this is just one practice out of many and it's unwise to read too much into what happens here... it's also the only glimpse we'll really get until the team kicks off against UNI in two (!) weeks. So speculation is natural. Here are a few of the things we're interested in checking out:
1) The Jake and CJ Show
Kirk Ferentz can call Jake Rudock his starter as much as he wants and try to douse the flames of any potential quarterback controversy, but so long as Rudock continues to produce a few question marks and Beathard shows a few flashes of potential, there's always going to be an undercurrent of intrigue here. So, naturally, people will be watching their performances today to see who looks sharper. There's also the possibility that Beathard is being prepped for use not as a Rudock replacement (barring injury, of course), but as a Rudock complement, with a special package of plays for him to run. Two QB systems haven't really been part of Ferentz's bailiwick since he's been at Iowa, but maybe it's a brave new world, eh? Probably not, but we'll still be watching the QB spot for anything interesting.
2) Will Williesmania Continue?
One of the standout performers for Iowa at both of their open practices last spring was redshirt freshman wide receiver Derrick Willies, who displayed great speed, body control, and catching ability in both performances. Will he shine again in the "preseason"? Another big performance today and the buzz for Willies could become deafening.
3) Shine, Young Running Back, Shine
Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock are very much known quantities and Jordan Canzeri is getting there, so we probably shouldn't expect to see them doing a lot in the practice today. Instead, this could be a day for talent like LeShun Daniels, Jonathan Parker, and Akrum Wadley to strut their stuff a little bit. Wadley has been prominent in several of the practice photo galleries, so it will be interesting to see if he does anything notable here. It's hard to imagine either Parker or Wadley getting much PT at running back so long as AIRBHG stays away, but perhaps they could be a factor in the kick return game.
He's Iowa's best player and pretty much a goddamn folk hero at this point, so of course we'll be paying attention to him. Will he pancake some unsuspecting defender deep into the Kinnick turf? Will he field any punts for shits and giggles? Who knows! But it's Scherff, so we'll be watching.
5) The Linebacker Show
It's sometimes hard to judge the defensive front seven in these open practices, but we'll still be very curious to see how Iowa's linebackers fare. Will they be in the right positions to make tackles? Will they make solid tackles? How much pass-rushing will they do today? And we'll be interested in seeing not just the trio of starters (Alston, Spearman, Perry), but the guys behind them, too, because depth is a very big question mark for this unit.
6) The Other Cornerback
Desmond King has one spot in the secondary locked down, but there's a pretty pitched battle for the other starting cornerback gig. Sean Draper, Maurice Fleming, and Greg Mabin all appear to be in the mix for that spot, so we'll be watching all three to see who excels in coverage today.
7) The Great Kicking Derby of 2014
Iowa has some uncertainty at both kicker positions for the first time since... uh, quite a while. Marshall Koehn is the favorite to win the placekicking duties, but two freshmen (Dillon Kidd and Miguel Recinos) will have a chance to show off their legs, too. At punter, Connor Kornbrath is the incumbent and probably a slight favorite to keep the job, but Ferentz didn't bring Dillon Kidd in just for the hell of it. And could there be anything more Ferentz-ian than one of the most competitive position battles in camp being at punter?
The practice festivities get going at 11:45 AM Central. If you're going Kids Day, feel free to post your observations in the comments here. We'll keep the comments updated with Tweets and article links from folks there, too.
Football's almost back, folks.