Iowa CITY, Iowa - I've always gotten the sense that the vast majority of Iowa players listen to Kirk Ferentz's message. It might be delivered differently from time to time. The words change. The point is consistent.
The next journey starts shortly after the previous season ends. There are no short cuts. Every day is available for improvement until the pads go back to equipment manager Greg Morris.
Every player interviewed after Saturday's annual Kids Day scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium closed almost all responses the same - we've got a long way to go. That understanding was half the battle for previous teams that grew into special groups by season's end.
For the most part, Iowa teams improve through the season. Players emerge at various positions and the pieces come together more often than not.
That's why I'm not going to panic over some shortcomings I witness on Saturday - namely the defensive line. Actually, if one side of the ball has to be behind, I'd rather it be on defense. I just think you can come together and improve there easier than on offense.
And, while the defense looked shaky, that meant the offense showed some real nice potential. The line opened holes, the top three receivers made plays and James Vandenberg was impressive.
Injuries - First, Ferentz said after practice that he expected most of the players who sat out on Saturday to be back by the middle of the coming week. That said, there were a lot of guys spectating.
Here's a list: Casey McMillan (right foot in a boot, on crutches), Brad Rogers, Quinton Alston (brace on right knee), Brandon Scherff, Dakota Getz, Jordan Lomax, Nolan MacMillan, Lebron Daniel, James Morris, John Raymon, Jim Poggi, Dan Heiar. And I'm sure I probably missed a few more.
Depth Chart - With all the injuries and position battles, what we saw Saturday could be very tentative when it comes to a two- and three-deep.
Here were some things of note from Saturday:
-Matt Tobin ran at first-team left guard. Scherff was there in the spring.
-Micah Hyde was the No. 1 free safety with Greg Castillo at the corner opposite Shaun Prater. Colin Sleeper was at starting strong safety. Looks like he and Jordan Bernstine are in a dogfight there with Tanner Miller at No. 2 FS.
-Iowa ran a lot of three-receivers sets today. More than I could remember off the top of my head. Kevonte Martin-Manley fit into the slot with Keenan Davis and Marvin McNutt on the outside. Martin-Manley looked very good.
Not sure if that's a commentary on how well Martin-Manley has played or maybe a deficiency at fullback.
-It was very hard to tell if anyone held the upper hand at No. 2 QB. John Wienke and A.J. Derby received about an equal amount of reps. I didn't think that either guy distinguished himself on Saturday and starter James Vandenberg looked light years ahead of his backups.
-Speaking of Wienke, he was the No. 2 punter behind Eric Guthrie on Saturday. Ferentz said he would be the backup there if the season started tomorrow. The coach said Jonny Mullings would not be joining the team until the roster opens up at the start of classes.
-I was very encouraged by the true freshmen running backs - Mika'il McCall, Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock. Ferentz seemed very receptive to the idea of playing two of them this season when asked directly. McCall is a hammer with great feet. Canzeri is quick. Bullock is solid.
-I was impressed with true freshman kicker Marshall Koehn from Solon. I think at minimum he starters the season as No. 1 on kick offs.
-It also was tough to get a read on what was happening at No. 2 tight end. C.J. Fiedorowicz and Zach Derby both saw a lot of action. C.J. showed some soft hands for such a big guy. Derby impressed me as a blocker. True freshman Ray Hamilton looked like the No. 4.
-Andrew Donnal is working at second-team LT. Not bad for a redshirt freshman who came to town with high praise. I like the progression. If Reiff were to leave early, the Ohio native could step in at a very important position.
-I liked what I saw of Darian Cooper. He's on the short side, but he's thick with a great base and shows power.
-The defensive line is wide open right now - Nardo, Bigach, Carl Davis, Trinca-Pasat, Gaglione, Forgy…And Daniel and Alvis didn't play due to injury. Gaglione left with an injury. Easily the unit needing to make the most progress coming into camp and that hasn't changed after what I saw Saturday.
-Kirksey ran with the ones at WLB. Hitchens played quite a bit, too. Good battle there. Bruce Davis stepped in for Morris and looked solid. No worries with Nielsen. Getz being out is not good. He came in as Nielsen's backup. Not much depth at LEO, especially with Dibona going down. Terrance Pryor is a name on which to keep an eye. Depth, or lack of it, is a concern here.