Best of the Hawkeyes; Who Is It?

Who are the best players on the Iowa football team? Is that like asking a parent which child they love more? It might be, but we thought it would be fun to rank the five best players on the team as the Hawks hit their stride in spring practice and then let the debate begin.

So who are the best players on Iowa's football team?

It's a complex question, mostly because you can devise so many sets of criteria on which to judge them.

Are you going to base it on pro potential? Importance to the team? Clutch playmaking ability? Years in the program?

Well, it's always been a topic that I have stayed away from due to the muddy aspects of a basis for the argument.

However, it's always been a topic that I have thought about privately.

So here are my Top Hawks, and since they play the college game at Iowa, pro potential is not something that I took into account.

#1: Chad Greenway was the player that kept coming to mind. He plays so many roles for Iowa and is one of the best overall athletes on the team. He is an All American at linebacker and he is one of the key special teams performers on Iowa's coverage units.

Seldom has Iowa had such an athlete at linebacker as they have had in Greenway, and I will certainly be sorry to see him go. He plays the game with the type of intensity that we have grown accustomed to seeing wear the black and gold throughout the decades, and it's always fun to watch his giddy up after he knocks someone's head off. He feeds off the crowd and the crowd feeds off of number 18.

#2: Drew Tate. This was a tough call for me, as Tate is not the second best athlete on the team, nor is he among the strongest or fastest Hawkeyes. However, what he is is a winner, a gamer and a fierce competitor.

Tate plays with a fire that pushes the envelope of being too brash with his teammates in my book, but after winning eight straight football games last year without a running game, leading Iowa to a Big Ten title and pulling the you know what in Orlando, that fire is now 100 percent pure leadership. Tate's teammates trust him without question, and if he gets in their faces, they can hardly hold a grudge.

Tate also showed another side of a leader last year when Clinton Solomon dropped a sure fire touchdown pass against Purdue, a score that would have put the game out of reach. Tate had escaped a few would be tacklers and lofted a pass to Solomon that most of us could have caught. Solomon dropped it and fell face first to the turf in disgust.

Tate, who is not scared to get into you if you don't carry your weight, ran over to Solomon and told him that he still had confidence in him.

That is how leaders are born.

#3: Abdul Hodge. He has been Robin to Greenway's Batman, or vice versa. A cerebral player who is relentless in pursuit of ball carriers and cornerbacks, he is the perfect middle linebacker in Norm Parker's 4-3 system.

He is not the fastest MLB in the country, but his sight lines and the angles of pursuit he takes to the ball make him play faster than he is. He is a quiet leader, letting his play speak for him.

#4: Clinton Solomon. Some of you may be raising your eyebrows at this pick, but I believe Solomon has as much ability AND potential as any Iowa receiver I can recall. I said that on numerous occasions last year with my radio partner Jim Zabel on WHO's ‘Soundoff', and some people didn't agree with me.

That is fine, of course, as such things are a matter of opinion.

In my opinion, Solomon just needs to add consistency and a bit of upper body strength to his arsenal and he has a chance to shoot into the second round or potentially the first round of next year's NFL draft. He has the speed, he is not afraid to make the tough catch across the middle, he has game breaking big play ability, he is durable and he has a short memory.

He will get a lot of attention this year, but Ed Hinkel, Scott Chandler, Calvin Davis, James Townsend et al can make teams pay for paying too much attention to Solomon.

I think that Solomon could go for more than 1,000 yards and 10 or more touchdowns in 2005, and most of Tate's long pass plays will be caught by Solomon.

There were a few signature plays from Clinton last year that have me excited about 2005; the WR screen and run at Minnesota and the first touchdown of the Cap One bowl where he just pulled away from the best secondary in the nation.

I think there is a chance that he could be the second Hawkeye drafted next April, and potentially the first.

TIE #5: Ed Hinkel, Kyle Schlicher and Brian Ferentz.

Hinkel is the most consistent receiver since Kevin Kasper. It seems that when he touches the ball, something was on the line; be it a third down conversion, a catch and hit across the middle or a touchdown. He does not have Solomon's speed or grace, but he has the flair for the dramatic and he is as reliable as death and taxes.

Schlicher is nowhere near the best athlete on the team, but his effort in 2004 was one of the best sophomore kicking efforts in school history. He is a dangerous weapon for Iowa in the place kicking game and on kickoffs.

I am 34 and I probably feel better in the morning when I get up than does Brian Ferentz, due to several knee surgeries. But is it really a coincidence that with Ferentz in the starting lineup, Iowa went 8-0 last year? In games that Ferentz has started for Iowa, the Hawkeyes are now 13-1.

WORTHY OF MENTION: Jovon Johnson & Antwan Allen

WORTHY OF MENTION, PART II: Everyone else...because afterall, they are Hawks. What's not to love?

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