With exception to the bone-chilling wind, the snow piled up on both sidelines and “Save the Vendors” signs outside Kinnick Stadium, this was a typical last day of spring practice for the Iowa football team.
Outside of a few nifty catches by junior receiver Keenan Davis and the fact that hot chocolate was being sold at the concession stand, there wasn’t much that stood out on Saturday to the casual observer.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was cautiously optimistic afterward like he always is this time of year, and any time of the year for that matter.
Ferentz said the team improved during the 15 spring practices, but not nearly enough to be considered anything more than a work in progress.
“We’ve made strides, but we’ve got a long way to go yet still,” Ferentz said to reporters afterward. “So as long as the guys understand that, I think we’ll be OK.”
It seems we’ve heard that statement before from Ferentz at the end of spring practice.
But what’s he supposed to say under the circumstance?
You praise the players for busting their butts and then you serve them a big dose of reality for them to carry into the rest of the offseason.
If you went to Saturday’s open practice hoping to see a well-oiled machine, that’s your mistake.
Spring is when you change the oil and hope that the machine eventually will run at an acceptable pace.
It’s also when you protect the key parts, which explains why all the quarterbacks and starting running back Marcus Coker wore red jerseys Saturday as a reminder they are not to be tackled.
There is plenty to like about the 2011 Hawkeyes, and we saw some of it on display Saturday, most notably a veteran offensive line that has a mean streak.
We also saw Ferentz use some psychology as he talked about the offensive line, which returns five players with starting experience, including his son, junior center James Ferentz.
The performance of the offensive line on Saturday left something to be desired, but it didn’t seem as bad as coach Ferentz maybe wanted you to think.
When asked how much he was going to lean on the offensive line, Kirk Ferentz responded as if that question was premature and misguided.
He answered by pointing out that the offensive line had at least three, four or five holding penalties and at least two problems with the center-quarterback exchange.
“I think that group will be fine, but we’re not there yet,” Ferentz said.
That’s really all you need to know about the offensive line at this stage. It’s hardly a finished product, but it’s arguably the biggest strength on the team.
Junior left tackle Riley Reiff is being tabbed as Iowa’s next great offensive lineman. Unfortunately for Reiff, with that role comes attention from the media.
Perhaps the best way to describe Reiff’s interaction with the media is that he is not the second-coming of former Iowa offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde, who was a chatter box.
Reiff has made it obvious in the few times that he has spoken publicly, including Saturday, that he hates promoting himself and he isn’t crazy about promoting the team, either.
It doesn’t help as far as getting colorful quotes, but it is refreshing to have a kid who couldn’t care less about being in the spotlight.
Speaking of the spotlight, it finally shined on Keenan Davis in a Hawkeye uniform.
You can say that it was only an open practice, but Davis did what he had to do during Saturday’s practice to build more trust with the coaches and to appease the fans.
Fans have been waiting two years for Davis to live up to the hype that accompanied him from Cedar Rapids Washington High School.
His progress was slowed by having to play behind Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and fellow receiver Marvin McNutt the past two seasons.
But with Johnson-Koulianos having used up his eligibility, McNutt needs somebody to emerge this fall because McNutt already figures to be marked man after catching 53 passes for 861 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
And that brings us to junior quarterback James Vandenberg, who is by far the leading candidate to replace Ricky Stanzi as the starter.
Vandenberg has shown flashes, most notably his gritty performance as a redshirt freshman on the road against Ohio State in 2009 with the Big Ten title on the line. But he hasn’t shown enough to be considered a proven commodity.
The miserable weather conditions on Saturday didn’t allow him or the other quarterbacks to show much.
So for now, it’s hard to say how Vandenberg will respond next fall.
Iowa also has to replace three starters on the defensive line, two at linebacker, both of the starting safeties and find a new punter for the first time since 2006.
What we saw Saturday besides a few thousand devoted fans freezing in the stands was just a small part of that ongoing process.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football