Something Wild: Iowa's New-Look Offense

HTO's resident "fan behind the keyboard" doles out preseason grades to Iowa's "O."

Iowa will begin the 2003 season with Nathan Chandler underneath center. We know that. We're also aware that Chandler more or less won the battle by default because the Hawks lack badly experience at the quarterback position.

Many fans were also uncertain about the quarterback position last year at this time when Brad Banks was beginning the 2002 season with very little Big Ten experience. Banks, of course, squashed all talk with a Heisman-caliber season.

I think it's safe to say that Chandler does not have Heisman-caliber ability, but we can hope that he won't need it in order for Iowa to be successful.

With Chandler we won't get terrific scrambling ability and he doesn't have great arm strength. His touch on deep routes can only be judged by the spring "game," but with the quagmire conditions that existed, that's not a fair critique.

What Iowa fans can hope for is consistency from Chandler: a completion percentage of 55 percent, keep the turnovers to a minimum, sound clock management, and a toughness that rubs off on his teammates. A "boring" quarterback would suit me fine if Iowa wins ball games.

The most troubling thing about the QB position is the lack of an experienced backup. If Chandler was to be shelved with any injury, Iowa fans might want to call up Ryan Driscoll (God forbid.) Head man Kirk Ferentz seems to want Jason Manson to step to the forefront. In listening to Ferentz speak and sifting through the coach speak, Manson was expected to challenge Chandler in the spring for the starting job -- but that just didn't happen. Manson seems to have the mobility that fans and Ferentz wants, but he just hasn't grasped the offense or shown the skills that are necessary to win games.

Sophomore Matt Bohnet is also persuing the backup position -- but again, he has never played. Redshirt freshman Cy Phillips hasn't moved past fourth string at this point. I think we will see incoming freshmen Drew Tate and Eric McCollom get some serious looks during fall drills. If either of them shows better than average ability, we could see them entering the two or three spot behind Chandler.

The fact that true freshmen are being looked to for support tells more about the lack of talent in-house than it does for their ability.

I would grade the overall quarterback position as a D. Not much for support if the starter goes down, and to get a quarterback to play all 12 games is very rare these days. Chandler himself I would grade as a C -- not spectacular but not terrible.

The running back position really was dealt a blow when Jermelle Lewis went down with a knee during spring practice. Lewis is a combination of speed and power and is also capable of catching a pass out of the backfield. The one mark on him is he has a case of fumble fingers, but showed flashes of brilliance last year (ask Michigan).

Let's hope that Lewis returns with that same burst of speed that he had prior to the injury, because he is a serious offensive weapon. Word on Lewis is that he could conceivably return this year. That sounds all nice and good, but I would prefer a return to the field next year for Lewis. Coming back this just scares the crap out of me.

Iowa is fortunate to have leading rusher Fred Russell returning to the lineup. Russell is listed as a senior but technically has another year of eligibility should he choose to use it. Russell is a very quality Big Ten back.

What concerns me is his stamina. Russell was one of three starters to miss games last year due to injury, and he missed multiple games. Russell takes a lot of pounding during the course of a game. He will likely receive more snaps than he did last year due to Lewis being out. Over a long season, it will wear you down. It wouldn't concern me if Lewis was healthy, but without Lewis, Iowa is looking for a viable backup which is likely to come in the form of true freshman A.J. Johnson from %%MATCH_21%% or Albert Young from New Jersey.

Young, who originally committed to Wisconsin but came to his senses in time to de-commit and sign with Iowa, was the more highly thought of guy out of high school. That and a quarter will buy you a cup of coffee, by the way. Iowa had expected transfer Ray Perkins to be in the mix but personal trouble forced him out. I look for Johnson to put on weight and wind up a fullback before his Iowa career is done. He's listed at 220 pounds now, which is a good-sized tailback.

I don't see Marcus Schnoor -- who played mop-up last year -- to crack the two- or three-deep. I have to believe Johnson and Young both have more ability than Schnoor. Despite the inexperience in the backup position to Russell, I see the running back position to be just fine. Ohio State did just fine with a true freshman running back -- granted Maurice "insurance fraud" Clarett is a special player. I would grade the running backs at a B-.

Iowa will not be able to replace Dallas Clark. Let me repeat -- In no way shape or form will Iowa find a weapon like Clark.

Clark was fast enough to beat some linebackers, but big enough to knock down defensive backs. He demanded a lot of attention, which opened the field for the other receivers.

Iowa should be a more controlled passing attack this year with fewer homerun balls vertically down the field.

Maurice "Mo" Brown is the leading returning receiver for Iowa. Brown ranked second in the nation in yards per reception and first, I believe, in yards per touchdown pass. It will be interesting to see if Brown can become a complete receiver, one who is able to catch the ball in traffic, go across the middle and not just a post route receiver.

Ed Hinkel starts opposite Brown and was a productive receiver as a freshman last year. I don't think he has the speed of a Kevin Kasper, but Hinkel could be a very good possession type receiver, and every team needs one of those. He could be a move-the-chains on third-down type of guy, getting the tough three or four yards needed to keep a drive going. He has a flair for the dramatic, as his diving end zone touchdown against Penn State last year showed.

Iowa is solid with the starters. After that, it gets a little goofy. Clinton Soloman was to be the third receiver but he has found his way to Ford Dodge this year after failing academically, it appears. The third and fourth receiver spots likely will fall to Ramon Ochoa and Calvin Davis.

Ochoa was part of Ferentz' first recruiting class and has played very sparingly. Not sure what to say about him other than he looks like Rudy on the field.

Davis is a very athletic 6-foot-2 from City High. He won numerous track titles in high school and was an outstanding basketball player as well. Excellent jumping ability and someone who has a world of potential.

A guy to watch for is Matt Melloy, a 6-3 sophomore walk-on from Mount Pleasant. He got a lot of reps during spring drills, and could be next in the long line of talented walk-ons to star at Iowa.

Incoming freshman James Townsend from New Jersey will get some looks during two-a-days. He is said to be speed personified.

The tight end spot will be a two-headed monster as Eric Jensen and Tony Jackson bring a much different approach to the game than the departed all-American Clark. Jensen and Jackson are more the blocking type of tight end but will be part of Iowa's passing attack. Don't expect either of them to go 95 yards for a touchdown, but they are capable receivers who may be more valuable as blockers as the offensive line gets on the same page early in the season.

Jackson is actually the guy that Ferentz seems to prefer, but he is very inconsistent. Follett played quarterback in high school, played some good minutes last year at linebacker before making the switch to tight end. He would seem to have the mobility to be an athletic tight end and at 6-5 has the frame to bulk up. Perhaps he is still learning the position to be a big factor this year, but next year could be big for Follett.

With good experience at this position I don't forsee anyone else seeing playing time at tight end. Overall, tight end should be solid, not flashy, but solid. Like a B.

One could argue that in 2002 Iowa had its best offensive line ever. Three members signed professional contracts, one of those was a backup last season Ben Sobieski.

There is no doubt that the O-line needs some retooling, but a good block on which to build is pre-season all-American Robert Gallery.

Gallery is as big and as strong as a brick poop house. He also has terrific foot speed for a man that big. Aside from current professionals, no one else would I want protecting the blind side of my quarterback than Gallery.

The only other starter that Ferentz has announced so far is center Eric Rothwell. Rothwell was stuck behind Bruce Nelson -- who never missed a game in four years -- so his playing was in mop-up only. But you would have to think that playing with Nelson was a terrific learning experience for Rothwell.

Others likely to hunker down the line include David Walker at left guard. Walker chose Auburn over Iowa out of high school but left after just one season, one in which he did see playing time. Auburn isn't chopped liver, so if he can play there he must have some talent.

At right guard, Peter McMahon seems to have a leg up on the competition. McMahon is big (6-7, 305) and saw action last year during blowouts. He has been in the system for three years and should provide good leadership along with Gallery.

Right tackle will likely be Kory Borchers. Borchers came to Iowa from Lemars as a defensive lineman. He has played guard, center and tackle at Iowa. A guy that versatile can be very very key during a grueling season.

Several players are vying for the backup roles: C.J. Barkema, Brian Ferentz, Sam Aiello, Chris Felder, Ben Cronin and Blake Larson. Another name to watch is true freshman Mike Jones, a top five recruit at his position and chose Iowa over Notre Dame and many others. Expect Jones to get a lot of looks during camp to crack that two-deep.

Barkema and Larson were slowed by off-season surgeries, so they may be a little behind the others.

Iowa has more beef on the line than in past seasons. Recruiting and luck has paid off. The Hawks get two weeks to iron out all the wrinkles before they face a good defense. Expect Ferentz to play 10 linemen during those two games, looking for some solidarity and a combination of five who work together.

Gallery makes any line better, although one guy can't do it all. I keep waivering back and forth about the line: they will be poor, they will be OK, they will stink, they will be good. All I know is Ferentz is a hell of a good coach. Reese Morgan is a hell of a good coach. If Gallery thinks strongly enough about Ferentz and the coaching staff to stay at Iowa for his senior season, that's enough for me. I give the line a B-.

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