WEST DES MOINES, Iowa - Open spring practices sometimes produce new heroes. Coaches provide opportunities for guys deep into the depth chart. It can highlight their careers.
Unknown Riley McCarron turned heads here at Valley Stadium Sunday. Unlike some April standouts of the past, it could have represented the walk-on's first step in establishing himself as a viable option on offense.
McCarron lined up with the starters as the slot receiver. He got open and caught about everything thrown his way - two things that were scarce at the position in the fall.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz was guarded when discussing the Dubuque Wahlert product. That had more to do with his reluctance to praise young, unproven players than what McCarron showed on the field Sunday. He was clutch and a favorite target of the three guys competing for the starting quarterback spot.
"Riley did some good things on the scout team last year," Ferentz said. "That's encouraging but it's a little like playing pick-up basketball. Sometimes guys lose something in translation. But he's done a good job. This has been a big spring for him, a big spring for a lot of guys. But he's competing well. He's eager and he just works hard and is a tough guy."
Other than quarterback, there might not be a position on the team more wide open than receiver. Coordinator Greg Davis and new position coach Bobby Kennedy are searching for pass catchers who can get underneath the second level of the defense and gain yards after hauling in the ball.
Iowa this summer will welcome five receivers signed in its most recent recruiting class. A few of them, particularly JUCO Damon Powell, could push for playing time. McCarron appears to be a returnee they'll need to have in their sights.
LOOKING GOOD: Sophomore running back Jordan Canzeri showed the burst he displayed before tearing his ACL last spring. Granted, some of the runs came against the second- and third-team defenses, but his production on Sunday backed up strong efforts from co-starters Damon Bullock and Mark Weisman.
JURY IS OUT: All eyes were focused on the three-man quarterback competition between Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard. None of them distinguished himself on Sunday as they rotated evenly every two snaps. Ferentz said he wanted to see each of them with the first, second and third teams.
"Jake still has the best handle on things, for obvious reasons," Ferentz said. "But we'll just probably, I'm guessing, let it go throughout he whole spring. We'll see how this next week goes.
"There's no sense trying to make a conclusion right now. We don't need to. In fairness to all three of them, we just want to watch them all."
Rudock, the slight leader heading into the spring based on reps last fall, looked like the most complete signal caller in this one workout. He seemed to best grasp the offense of the trio and threw the ball the most consistently accurate.
Beathard possessed the strongest arm and showed well in drills that didn't include the defense. Defenders confused him at times and made him uncomfortable.
Sokol moves well but his throws often were off target. All three quarterbacks struggled with fade passes to the sideline.
JURY IS OUT, PART II: Two positions that needed to be upgraded based off of last season's struggles - receiver and defensive end - did not shine on Sunday. Wideouts dropped passes and couldn't get consistent separation. The offensive line consistently denied the outside pass rushers.
QUICK-HITTERS: The Valley officials estimated the crowd at 8,000. Iowa previously announced that approximately 15,000 tickets were issued to the event…If Jonny Mullings overtakes Connor Kornbrath at punter it would be a significant upset…Kevonte Martin-Manley, Reese Fleming and Canzeri returned punts…Davis was giving plays to Kennedy to signal into the quarterbacks from the sideline. It said a lot about their comfort level with each other with Kennedy just arriving in Iowa City…several times, Weisman lined up at fullback with Bullock at tailback…Louis Trinca-Pasat, Michael Malloy, Barkley Hill and Nico Law were among the players that sat out Sunday's workout. The first three guys were expected to be sidelined for the event. Law has a mild injury, Ferentz said. The coach expected him back at the next practice. Overall, there were no serious injuries to report, Ferentz said…Iowa spent more time that it had in past open practices working on special teams drills. New coordinator Chris White put players through competitive drills that seemed to rally the team.