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Hawkeyes open Kinnick for spring practice

[ 1 ] April 13, 2012 |

Iowa football hasn’t had a spring like this in a while.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is entering his 14th season, but the first without offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe, gone to the Miami Dolphins, and defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who retired in December.

Ferentz has added LeVar Woods and Brian Ferentz to his coaching staff.

The Hawkeyes return the fewest starters back of any team in the Legends Division.

“The one thing we talked about our team is the need to grow,” Ferentz said at the start of spring practice. “We need to grow as a staff. Every player needs to grow.”

Most of the growing happens away from the public and press, but Saturday Iowa opens up Kinnick Stadium for spring practice.

It is a long road yet to Chicago on Sept. 1 when Iowa takes on Northern Illinois to start the 2012 season.

There is very little live contact, but there are chances to observe the Hawkeyes.

Here’s five things to look for at the spring practice Saturday.

1. Big changes on offense? Having new coordinators may lend itself to new systems on offense and defense.

Greg Davis, particularly, coming from Texas, has been installing a new terminology all spring.

But are just the play calls just different, or are the plays different too? A bubble screen, by any other name, makes Hawkeye fans groan just the same.

“You try to play to your strengths,” Davis said. “We’re not at that point to give you a great answer.”

Phil Parker can be as exciting as wet paint, but the new defensive coordinator has hinted at new wrinkles in the defense he guided under Norm Parker.

“It might be a little bit different,” Parker said. “But our goal is to make sure we keep them from scoring.”

2. Don’t touch the running backs! Another year, another crisis at running back with the Hawkeyes.

Since the Insight Bowl the Hawkeyes lost Marcus Coker and Mika’il McCall, both transferring while suspended.

Then Jordan Canzeri, who started the Insight Bowl and was atop the first spring depth chart, tore his ACL and is likely done for 2012.

That’s 1,563 rushing yards from 2011 gone.

Iowa may get help from true freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill in the fall, but for now, Damon Bullock is the man.

Bullock shifted between running back and receiver as a true freshman, but that was when the depth chart was full.

Now he’s a running back. De’Andre Johnson is the backup.

“They’ve got good vision,” Davis said. “They catch the ball well out of the backfield. I think both of them have had really eight good days. I’ve been extremely pleased. I think both are good players.”

3. The future at quarterback. James Vandenberg threw 3,022 yards as a junior with 25 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. He is the leader of the offense.

But what if he gets hurt? And what of the future?

The 2011 back-up quarterback, A.J. Derby, left the team in January and senior John Wienke is now the number one punter.

That leaves the backup job to redshirt freshman Jake Rudock. JUCO transfer Cody Sokol and Ames native Kyle Anderson are also available.

Rudock redshirted last season, but traveled with the team on road trips. He is the heir apparent.

“After four practices, I would have said his head is spinning,” Davis said. “But like most bright guys, as we’ve continued … he’s really settled in now. He’s functioning very well.”

Rudock will be one to watch Saturday.

4. In the trenches. Despite losing three starters on the offensive line, it is seen as a strength. A deep strong unit.

“I’m comfortable that we’ll have seven, eight guys that are considered starters in the offensive line,” Davis said.

But the defensive line hardly has one sure thing, much less depth. Steve Bigach is the only guy that saw significant snaps last season and is healthy enough to play.

The group will be better in the fall with the return of Dominic Alivs and Carl Davis, but they should be able to win a few battles Saturday.

“There’s definitely enough talent there,” Alvis said. “Mitch King and Matt Kroul started as young guys. We have the talent and ability to have young guys fill that role.”

Iowa has four freshmen, who all redshirted last fall, on the 2-deep. Are any truely ready?

5. Kicking is important. Iowa will start a new punter in 2012. Either a converted quarterback, or a former rugby player.

John Wienke is listed first but Johnny Mullings can launch the ball.

Mike Meyer was 14-of-20 on field goals last season and 44-of-44 on extra points but struggled sometimes to force touchbacks on kickoffs. Can freshman Marshall Koehn handle those chores.

“Not giving them a chance to return is … you don’t have to cover,” coach Lester Erb said. “YOu are taking an offensive play away from those guys.”

With a coach that loves field positions, the kickers are worth watching.

Reach Ryan Suchomel at 339-7368 or rsuchomel@press-citizen.com.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Ryan Suchomel: Reach Ryan Suchomel at 339-7368 or rsuchomel@press-citizen.com. View author profile.

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