Iowa CITY, Iowa - One of the three times annually fans are permitted to watch the Iowa football team practice arrives Saturday. The Hawkeyes hold Kids Day at Kinnick Stadium.
The rarity of these public appearances feeds into over-blown observations. It's everyone's chance to become coach for a day.
Perhaps no other walk of life generates as much opinionated debate than do sports. It's fun. It's what being a fan is about. It's one of the reasons we care so much about our favorite teams.
Fortunately, the Iowa staff needs not listen to us. It sees the players perform daily and generates decisions on a lot of data.
Even though Kids Day represents only part of the formula factored into playing time, it means something. And if we're going to watch, we should focus on areas where choices are being made in camp.
Here are five things I'll be watching:
1. Signs of Two-QB System: One of the hot-button topics this offseason has been the possibility of seeing two signal callers getting meaningful game reps throughout the season. For much of the time, Head Coach Kirk Ferentz has said it's something they'll look at. He's a master at keeping his options open and not painting himself in a corner with words. Finally, on media day, he answered the question more directly when it was asked if starter Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard, the backup, each might have better match-ups against different opponents .
"I'm not sure I envision it week to week that way," Ferentz said. "But, yeah, C.J. is a little bit different and offers a couple different things to his repertoire than maybe Jake does, so that's something we'll evaluate over the next three weeks. If we can get a competitive edge, we're going to try to utilize that. If not, we won't.
"But that's something we've kicked around during the out of season. But if we can find a way to maybe get a competitive edge, make it tougher for opponents to prepare, that would be a good thing."
What I take that to mean is they might be able to compromise a defense by making it scout two different quarterbacks that attack it in multiple ways. I don't see it as Rudock and Beathard alternating series and running the same plays.
So, with that in mind, what I'll look for on Saturday (not that we'll see it in a public setting) is Rudock engineering the offense like we saw him much of last season. While Beathard also will work on that approach, maybe he's also directing, for instance, some read option.
If the coaches play two quarterbacks this season, those guys will be running different forms of the offense. It's really the only reason to play multiple quarterbacks.
2. Who Stands with the King?: Desmond King popped up out of nowhere last year to lock down a starting cornerback position in his first season in campus. With the exit of B.J. Lowery after the Outback Bowl, he became the veteran.
Critics remember Draper's struggles in spot duty last season but at 6-foot, 190-pounds, he's a big, athletic corner who can excel at bump and run. Fleming has been slowed by injuries throughout his career but at 6-0, 200, he resembles Draper as a physical player. Mabin (6-2, 195) converted from wide receiver in the spring of '13.
Defensive Coordinator Phil Parker, who also coaches the secondary, has complimented all three candidates since last season ended. They've competed throughout the spring and for the first two weeks of camp.
Saturday, we might get an idea of how the competition has gone based on how reps are divided. We also can witness one of the practices factoring into the decision for Parker.
3. Receiver Rotation: The offseason has been filled with discussion about the wide receivers' progression. It seemed to be the missing piece in the transition to Greg Davis' offense the last two seasons.
Iowa sustained an early hit when speedster Damond Powell underwent sports hernia surgery in his groin this summer. He was expected to miss camp and perhaps some of the early season.
That shine the spotlight on a group of pass catchers brought in during the 2013 recruiting cycle. Derrick Willies captured the hearts of Hawkeye fans with a spectacular spring game, one of the other public practices we're privy to see. He was mobbed on media day.
What happens Saturday, good or bad, won't determine the season's success or failure for this receiving corps. But the time is now for this group. And I'll be looking for progress at Kids Day.
4. The Replacements: What's Iowa's situation at linebacker? Anybody know?
Yes. Unless you don't follow the Hawkeyes, you're probably real familiar with what they face on the second level of the defense. They're replacing three multi-year starters - Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens - all of whom are currently in NFL camps.
It's an obvious area for ojida. Maybe it shouldn't be. Iowa has a history of producing good linebackers.
Alston is a fifth-year senior and Perry in his fourth year with the program. At a developmental school, the hope is that's what they've done. Spearman is a true sophomore with serious upside.
Josey Jewell, Chad Gilson, Cole Fisher, John Kenny, Bo Bower and others aren't conceding anything to the guys who entered camp on top of the depth chart. They smell opportunity. Keep an eye on the reps on Saturday and how these players perform. I know I will be.
5. Isn't that Special?: No, Dana Carvey as Church Lady will not be in Kinnick but the special teams should be a focus of all on-lookers. When you're a team that plays close games, which Iowa usually is, consistently good punters and kickers make life a lot easier.
Junior Marshall Koehn entered camp with a slight edge on true freshmen Mick Ellis, who's on scholarship, and walk-on Miguel Recinos from Mason City for the starting kicker spot. Ferentz said on media day that he had no idea who his starter would be.
Again, this will only be one day of the auditions, but we could get an idea how things are progressing based on reps. And how these guys perform in front of fans on Saturday could carry a lot of weight in the decision making process for the coaches.