The Iowa Hawkeyes held their only open practice of Fall camp on Saturday afternoon, in front of a ton of media members in attendance as well as thousands of fans as it was Kids' Day in Kinnick Stadium.
The last half of practice was full of scrimmage action, the first one the team has engaged in during the month of August. There were some high points and low points, which is customary at this early stage.
With less than three weeks until the opener against Illinois State in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes are looking to make a lot of strides. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has been pleased with some areas, and also realizes room for improvement in some.
"Looking back at our first 10 days of camp, and 12 workouts as a team, we're really exhibiting a good positive attitude," he said. "They've been working hard. We've been real pleased with that and that goes back to January. We're really pleased with the way our leadership is developing, and we're not there yet, but I think the guys are making a great effort at that. Our older guys have done a real good job of showing younger players how to move. That's going to be real critical as we move forward."
"The biggest focal points for us right now are a better execution of the basics, and that's individual and team work," Ferentz continued. "We have to make some sticky plays, and again that's an individual tough catch, tough block, or tough pass break-up. As a team, there's going to be times in the season where we'll be looking up at the scoreboard in the second half wondering how we're going to pull that off. And developing that mentality where we can handle those situations is really critical if we're going to develop into a real good football team."
The storyline of the scrimmage was the disappointment on the offensive side of the ball. They failed to generate any consistent momentum, and were not to establish any kind of rhythm throughout the entire day. There were only a few big plays during the action, and some of them came from the second team offense against the second team defense.
Offensive firepower was an area of concern entering the season, with a different quarterback at the helm, two new offensive tackles, and them having to manage around injuries to Jordan Walsh and Jake Duzey. Running backs Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels have also been limited at times. Daniels, Canzeri, and Walsh are all expected to be firing on all cylinders in the near future. The time they have missed so far appears to be more of caution than anything.
Nonetheless, without those guys on the field, and new starters in a couple of other spots, it's fair to say it hasn't been a smooth fall camp for that side of the ball.
Ferentz realizes this, but also assured that Saturday wasn't indicative of how the rest of the practices have gone.
"I kind of expect that in scrimmages typically," he shared about the struggle of the offense. "Especially with our two best backs out that would help change the equation. A good back makes the line look a little bit better."
"You saw (the offense) flash today at times," Ferentz added. "It goes back and forth (between the offense and defense) typically in preseason. That's just the nature of the deal. There's nothing like watching something over and over and the defense is getting a chance to do that, too. It goes back and forth. It's certainly more fun offensively when you get a little tempo going and we need to do that still."
One of the glaring problems of the scrimmage was the ability to block defenders rushing off the edge. Defensive ends Drew Ott and Nate Meier had huge days, using a speed rush around the offensive tackles, and disrupting many plays, especially in the beginning of the scrimmage. They recorded multiple sacks, were in on several tackles, and even batted down a few balls at the line of scrimmage.
Ferentz still sees growth from Myers and Boettger, though.
"We've been watching Boone (Myers) all camp, obviously," Ferentz explained. "Right now it's a mental thing in my mind a little bit. It comes down to technique. When he uses it correctly, he's pretty good. He's a better football player than he thinks he is right now. That's part of the practice and what you learn through practice. I think he's making good strides. He's going to get better."
"It's the same thing with Ike (Boettger). These are really critical learning periods for our guys that haven't played. He's working against a pretty good player too in Nate Meier. I see them making progress in some areas. He's a quality, both he and Boone. They're hard working guys. To me, it's just a matter of time."
Growth from the offensive tackles is key, and the coaching staff has noticed it, and realizes their transformation isn't going to happen overnight.
"There were a couple of plays today where a couple of our tackles would have liked back, but the good news is that I started to see some growth and improvement mid-week from those guys," the Iowa head coach pointed out. "It's not going to show up every play right now but its ongoing. As long as we are gaining ground, that's the big thing, and I think we are right now."
Iowa's Kirk Ferentz On Offensive Struggles
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