10 Most Indispensable Hawks for '11

Hawkeye Insider Publisher Rob Howe compiles his annual list of Hawkeyes the team can least afford to lose.

Iowa CITY, Ia. - Plenty of readers gave me the business when I published this annual opinion piece a year ago. I placed Quarterback Ricky Stanzi sixth among my 10 Most Indispensable Hawkeyes.

Before I embark on putting my 2011 list together, I feel I should again bring up a major component to compiling it . If a player were to be forced out of the lineup, where would it rank on the "Oh, crap!" meter?

Last year, I felt pretty good about James Vandenberg backing up Stanzi, thus the No. 6 position. I was very uneasy about the back-ups at left tackle and therefore put Riley Reiff atop my list. Here's a look at that Top 10.

So, with the groundwork in place, here's this year's compilation. As always, feel free to tell me I'm crazy:

10. Marcus Coker, RB - Yeah, maybe this is too low on the list for the starting back in a system that prefers to pound the ball on the ground. But, as mentioned above, depth at the position also is factored in to these rankings.

I liked what I saw from Jason White, Mika'il McCall, Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock at last week's open practice. De'Andre Johnson was banged up for the workout, but Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz feels like the Miami native has made progress in his second summer on campus.

9. Shaun Prater, CB - Perhaps I have the two-time, all-Big Ten pick too low on this list. It speaks more to the depth at the position, which I think is as good as it's been in the Kirk Ferentz Era.

Don't get me wrong, Prater would be a big loss if he had to leave the field for any time. But I like B.J. Lowery, Micah Hyde, Greg Castillo and Jordan Bernstine.

8. Brad Herman, TE - Last year, I placed Allen Reisner second on my list, not knowing what to expect from Herman. The Illinois native showed he was more than capable as the No. 2 in '10 and should make a seamless transition to the top spot this fall.

I do feel better about Herman's back-ups than I did about Reisner's heading into last year. Zach Derby and C.J. Fiedorowicz come into the campaign with experience, albeit limited. True freshman Ray Hamilton has a high ceiling.

7. James Ferentz, C - I like Conor Boffeli and have heard real good things about his play. That said, the coach's son has a chance to be the best at his position during his father's era as head coach.

James Ferentz provides his father, Kirk, and line coach Reese Morgan with a cerebral football giant with an attitude. He's physical and fearless.

6. Mike Daniels, DT - When you're a developmental program that loses three players from a unit to the NFL Draft, there will be questions. Daniels broke out last season and he better not break during this one.

I'm a Broderick Binns fan, but he struggled with consistency last season. Daniels has shown he can disrupt things for the opposition that might allow the Hawkeyes to cover up some deficiencies here, at least early in the season.

5. Marvin McNutt, WR - Iowa lost a lot from this position after last season, not the least of which was all-time leading receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. McNutt looked into the NFL last winter before deciding to return for his senior campaign.

We've heard that junior Keenan Davis is ready for primetime. Youngsters like Kevonte Martin-Manley and Don Shumpert are prepared to be reliable targets. McNutt is the only known commodity, however.

4. Eric Guthrie, P - Jonny Mullings not receiving a training camp invite should give you a sense of Guthrie's importance. Mullings was brought to campus last summer on scholarship but has not progressed as much as the coaches would have liked to this point.

Reserve quarterback John Wienke was backing up Guthrie. He last punted as a prep senior in Illinois. He struggled at the open practice.

Iowa gave a scholarship to Connor Kornbrath in the '12 recruiting class, another sign that Mullings is not yet trusted by the staff.

3. Tyler Nielsen, OLB - When the Humboldt native suffered a season-ending injury in '10, it greatly impacted the Hawkeye defense. Nielsen was enjoying a strong first-year as a starter stepping in for departed NFL draft pick, A.J. Edds.

The LEO spot is probably the least appreciated and one of the most important to success in the Iowa defensive scheme. Dakota Getz is behind Nielsen, but he could use another year as an apprentice. A preseason injury to Shane Dibona also increased the need for Nielsen, a future NFL linebacker, to stay healthy.

2. James Vandenberg, QB - While I was at inner piece last season with Vandy behind Stanzi, seeing A.J. Derby and John Wienke at Kids Day open practice last week left me uneasy. Couple that with the spring workout open to the public and I'm convinced that the drop off from one to two is significant.

Vandenberg has been groomed for this opportunity and much of the Hawkeyes' fate for this season rests on his right arm. He still must prove he is "the man" but he'l lhave a veteran line ahead of him led by No. 1 on my list.

1. Riley Reiff, LT - No need for change at the top. The junior from South Dakota has proven his worth, and while there's been progress behind him, I'd rather not see it on the field just yet.

Reiff will be greatly tempted to leave for the NFL in 2012 if he continues his strong play. At that point, I'll be more comfortable seeing guys like Andrew Donnal and Brandon Scherff competing to protect the blind side.

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