Iowa CITY, Ia. _ It might be hard to believe, but spring football practice starts at Iowa on Wednesday. It seems like the Insight Bowl just concluded.
There's nothing like late August when a new campaign is about to kick off. Thankfully, there's this month in March and April where we can at least have a taste of college football to help get us through the off-season.
The coaches love spring practice. They get a chance to teach more now than at any other time of the year. They begin putting together the puzzle and seeing who likely will help in the fall.
Like most seasons, the Hawkeyes have key holes to fill in the starting lineup. Let's take a look at some of those and other questions surrounding the 2011 Iowa edition:
1. Is James Vandenberg ready to step in as a starting Big Ten quarterback?
He better be. The options after the redshirt junior from Keokuk are a bit unsettling.
I think Vandenberg is ready. Some of that is based on his growth in relief of Ricky Stanzi in 2009. He also will be in Year 4 at the program, the same point at which his predecessor took off.
Vandenberg might have the best arm of any signal caller brought in by Kirk Ferentz. If he can show accuracy, look out.
2. Are the Hawkeyes in trouble at safety?
Boy, let's hope not. But there is reason for concern.
I think Tanner Miller will emerge as the starting free safety. He'll suffer through some growing pains, but he fits the mold of the position at Iowa and be has more size than past standouts like Greenwood, Sean Considine and Derek Pagel. He looks more like Marcus Paschal, physically.
The wildcard at strong safety might very well be Jordan Bernstine. He's coming off a good performance in the Insight Bowl and is an intriguing combination of power and speed. He'll likely battle with Tom Donatell in the spring and incoming freshman Nico Law also could have a say in how this position plays out.
Anthony Hitchens might be a factor here, but it looked like he might be a hybrid linebacker if you go off the Insight Game. I kind of like him there as a playmaker in the 3-4, nickel and dime packages.
3. Will Keenan Davis reach his potential in 2011?
The Hawkeyes really could use the former Cedar Rapids Washington receiver to emerge. The talent is there, no question.
Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe have said Davis needs to pick up the tempo, play faster. That's one of the hardest parts of the player's transition from high school to college.
Davis showed progress in blocking last season. He possesses the size to be physical in opening things up for the running game, which is a must in this system.
Keenan really just needs to make up his mind that it's his time. He may have the most ability of any wideout in the Ferentz era.
4. What to do with Ryan Donahue?
This area will fly under the radar of many Hawkeye preseason breakdowns. Iowa will miss their all-league punter. How much is the question.
Novices will point to Australian born redshirt freshman Jonny Mullings as the heir apparent to the job. He's the sexy pick. That'd be a mistake.
Walk-on Eric Guthrie likely will be the favorite to replace Donahue unless Mullings shows great improvement this off-season. He has a great leg, but his release is long and technique needs work.
Guthrie has improved throughout his apprenticeship behind Donahue. He also looks like he could lay out a return man as the last line of defense. He's one of the biggest specialists I've ever seen.
Editor's Note - This is the first part in a series of based on questions heading into 2011 for spring practice.