Spring Thoughts

Hawkeye Insider Publisher Rob Howe checks in with his observations from Saturday's open practice in Kinnick Stadium.

While most of the his assistants were feverishly teaching players Saturday, Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz stood by himself on the opposite side of the field. He took notes, mentally and on paper.

"I just wanted to watch from afar," said Ferentz, entering his 14th season at the helm of the Hawkeyes. "When we do the play the game part, and that is the first time we have done that, it's good for the players not have the coaches telling them how to line up. It's a chance to see better."

There are a lot of new things at which Ferentz can look. New coaches, old coaches in new spots, system changes, new ideas, and a roster where inexperience prevails. This all for a man who welcomes change like Kim Kardashian embraces marriage.

The Iowa staff is trying to evaluate players individually and as a group to see how they can best take advantage of their skills. In many ways, it's almost like starting over after 13 years of essentially doing things the same way.

The change showed on Saturday; not such much in the altering of the system, but there were several times where players lined up the wrong way and plenty of very visible mistakes on both sides of the ball.

It's hard to say where this Iowa team will be come the end of August, but it was clear on Saturday that plenty of room remained for improvement. That couldn't all be chalked up to usual spring ball hiccups.

The good news is that Ferentz and the coaches he hires do a standout job of teaching and developing players. The Hawkeyes will be better by the end of summer.

While the new system, coaches and young players should temper the amount of stock we put into Saturday's public workout, we can look at what Iowa showed. Perhaps we can keep note of it and see where those improvements are made by the open practice in August.

Here's a look at what these two eyes saw in their first look at Ferentz Phase II:

-Despite being inexperienced in a few spots, the Iowa offensive line did a nice job on Saturday. It looked especially good in the running game, where it showed a consistent push.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that the defensive line looked overwhelmed at times. There were quite a few plays where running backs got two or three yards passed the line of scrimmage before feeling much contact.

I realize that it's only April, but the defensive front will need some help in the form of blitzes and linebacker support off of press coverage.

-Jake Rudock looked much improved from the last time we saw him (August). He throws a very nice ball with zip. He forced some things, but that's to be expected.

Cody Sokol struggled. He seemed nervous in his first Kinnick action in front of fans. He looked uncomfortable and like a player that would benefit from a redshirt year.

-The tight ends are talented. Fiedorowicz is a freak and Zach Derby is solid.

Henry Krieger-Coble caught everything thrown his way as did Jake Duzey, who saw fewer chances. Not sure what was up with Ray Hamilton, but his reps were limited.

-Wide receiver is a work in progress. Kevonte Martin-Manley asserted himself, caught everything and looked ready to take the next step. Outside of him and Keenan Davis, there are a lot of question marks.

Don Shumpert shows nice speed and caught a deep ball. He dropped too many passes on Saturday, however.

Jordan Cotton was working as the third receiver. He looked solid when he got his chances, but he needs to sharpen his route running.

-The running backs looked capable if unspectacular. Damon Bullock ripped off an 84-yard touchdown that was the talk of the scrimmage, but he also committed quite a few mistakes. DeAndre Johnson continues to improve, but consistency and durability are key areas that need to be watched.

-Several positions appear to be up for grabs heading into fall camp.

Conor Boffeli and Austin Blythe split time at right guard. Blythe also slid over as the second-team center.

The defensive line appears to have quite a few moving parts. Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione started on the outside with Darian Cooper and Louis Trinca-Pasat inside, but Riley McMinn and Dean Tsopanides received a lot of reps.

Nico Law and Colin Sleeper looked locked in a battle at strong safety. Both guys played a lot with the first unit on Saturday.

-Jonny Mullings is improving his distance and hang-time on punts, but he's still way too deliberate in getting the ball off of his foot. John Wienke looks a lot better at punter than he did last season. He'll likely push incoming freshman Conner Kornbrath.

-Mike Meyer looked strong on field goals. If he slips up at all, Marshall Koehn shows the ability to take his job. I can't see Trent Mossbrucker pushing those guys aside for the starting job.

-James Vandenberg appeared to be grasping the new terminology and his arm looked as strong as ever. I think he's going to be able to speed his wings a little more in this offense as opposed to being robotic at times in his first season as a starter.


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