Hawk Blog: Spring Practice Nuggets

In this edition of the 'Hawk Blog', we shed some light on some Iowa Spring practice nuggets that we received over the weekend, plus we talk about the Iowa Men's Basketball team's 2004-2005 schedule and how it looks right about now. Did you know that Iowa played a total of eight games against the Elite Eight field, and six games against the Final Four field?

Monday, March 28th 2005

Jon Miller's regular offering of Hawk items that he calls ‘Hawk Blog', just because it seems fashionable to have a blog these days. His email newsletter back in 1999 was one of the early blogs and the year that the term was coined by combining the words ‘web' and ‘log'. He also calls this collection ‘Hawk Blog' because a certain adult beverage company won't let him call his columns by his last name combined with what you get when you look at a watch, which he used to do.

Iowa's spring practice sessions are in full swing, and with that comes the coaches clinics where high school coaches from across the state and country attend a practice or two and interact with the Iowa coaching staff. That is also a time when a few morsels of information seep out of Camp Kinnick.

You may have read some of these on our message boards, and some came to me by way of email or phone call as is usually the case with this event.

First up, Norm Parker conducted a clinic and he was t he ‘life of the party', per usual. He talked about Iowa's style of defense, how they don't try to get cute, and how they ‘hit teams with the chair'. It means that Iowa's opponents are always going to leave a game knowing that the Hawkeyes were in town, because Iowa's defense takes pride in smacking teams in the mouth early and often, something we have come to know and love.

Lester Erb also entertained the gathering of coaches and he broke down Iowa's attentiveness to special teams, particularly the punt return team that is also the time where Iowa attempts to block punts.

He shared a recent conversation that he had with visiting coaches from UCLA, when Bruins representatives asked Iowa how it had so much success in that area; ‘We work on it,' was the simple reply. Iowa spends as much or more time on special teams than any program in the country.

Coach Erb talked about how Iowa spends a lot of film time scouting the opposition's punt teams for weaknesses, and how they found one against LSU's All American Defensive End who was involved in their unit, and how they noticed that he sometimes took a breather on that unit and was not the best blocker. Sure, he is a good tackler, but that is just the kind of thing that Iowa looks for. As we know, there are not many teams that have blocked as many punts as Iowa has over the past several years.

Other items that I received (and some that were validated on the message boards) from the weekend that are not necessarily state secrets are that Mike Elgin has been putting in some work at guard and Brian Ferentz at center. Ken Iwebema and Bryan Mattison have been getting most of the reps at DE which is to be expected, and Matt Kroul and George Eshareturi have been the prominent DT's, or at least they were over the weekend. Alex Willcox had some off-season medical work done, otherwise he would be in the mix.

As has been the consensus since he arrived on campus, Ted Bentler never stops. He has that Matt Roth motor, and he is going to be heard from. Bentler added nearly 30 pounds from the weight he was listed at last August to now.

There has been a bit more barking at the DL by the coaches than in year's past, but that is obvious given their inexperience. The offense is in a much better position than it was one year ago, but again, that is obvious given the experience they return.

One year ago, Drew Tate was feeling things out and his team was feeling him out. Tate has never lacked confidence, and a year ago, it was not always received in the best light. This year, it's Tate's huddle, it's Tate's offense, and no one has any other ideas about it. It will be very interesting to see what Tate can do for an encore, and though I do not expect him to top his near 2800 passing yards from a year ago for the rest of his Iowa career (for a single season) due to more balance and a better OL, I do expect his efficiency numbers to increase. His TD to INT ratio should be excellent this year.

As has been the case for a few years now, the running backs are mostly hands off on contact drills. There is still some popping going on, but Iowa is taking the careful route.

Kirk Ferentz said that he was hoping to gain some continuity along the offensive line this spring. It's still early, but the good news is that there has not been word of any major injuries along that front to date.

Be sure to check the HawkeyeNation.com message boards this week as more tidbits will likely be creeping out.

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So, how is your bracket? That is a popular question this time of year. I have three of the final four still in action. Two are obvious; Illinois and North Carolina. My third correct pick is Michigan State, with the other being Wake Forest.

Props to the Big Ten for sending three teams to the Elite Eight.

Iowa played and beat two of this year's final four participants in Louisville and Michigan State. I am sure that it has happened before, but I wonder how many times Iowa has been able to say that? One was with Pierre Pierce, the other without him.

Another trivia question: Has Iowa ever played all of the eventual Final Four teams in the same season? Iowa lost to UNC in Maui and lost twice to the Illini this year. Iowa played eight games against the Elite Eight field (twice against Illinois, MSU and Wisconsin and once against Louisville and UNC), perhaps another first.

When all is said and done and when you factor in NCAA tournament runs, Iowa had to have played one of the toughest schedules in the country this year…but then again, wasn't this a down year for the Big Ten?

Props to the Iowa women for their run in the WNIT.

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Now that we have given the Big Ten its proper kudos, how about recognizing just how great an event the NCAA tournament is? The selection committee, chaired for the last two years by Bob Bowlsby, did a fantastic job this year.

The regional finals from this weekend were simply the most entertaining that I can remember in my lifetime, and I have never missed watching Regional Finals weekend since the age of about 12.

It was fun pulling for 'Pittsnoogle' and the Mountaineers from West Virginia, and it was amazing to think that Louisville could still come back and win that game in spite of all of those three-pointers and the fact that Francisco 'Don't Call Me Sergio' Garcia fouled out in regulation.

Or how about the Michigan State-Kentucky game, and the Wildcat three-pointer to send it to overtime? Or Illinois' improbable and once in a lifetime comeback against Arizona? Given the stakes and the fact they were playing a great team, Illinois' comeback ranks up there with Christian Laettner's shot against Kentucky in my book as the most amazing thing I have ever seen in the NCAA tournament.

The fact that Wisconsin scored 44 points in one half against North Carolina might be the biggest miracle of all, and that they scored 82 points and lost right behind it.

Three of the four regional finals went to overtime, an NCAA tourney first.

If next Saturday's semifinal games are half as exciting, we are in for a treat.

It's the last big college sports hurrah for the year, before a lot of people go into hibernation and set their sports clocks for football. But then again, there is recruiting to dive into.

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Like many of you reading this, I am a parent. My wife and I experienced a rite of parental passage this week as we dumped our gas guzzlin Mountaineer and purchased our first minivan; a used Dodge Caravan with just under 50,000 miles on it. Ryan at Stew Hansen's Dodge City in Des Moines took great care of us.

It was a decision of economy for us, as we lowered our monthly cash out with regards to that car payment, we lowered our insurance premium and we will save money on gas.

I guess I made it to the age of 34 before getting my first van.

And after driving back to Kansas City, I have to admit something; I think we will always own one. It drives like a car, but you have all of the other benefits. Those of you with a minivan in your possession, current or in the past, know what I am saying.

By the way, if you are thinking of getting out of your SUV, I would do it sooner than later. Or if you are one of those people looking for great deals, now would be a real good time to go shopping for a used SUV.

So endeth the public service announcement for this week.

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