So what do we know today that we did not know back on March 23rd when Iowa began its 2005 spring drills?
The defensive line is still a question mark. That is nominee number one for master of the obvious statement of the day HOWEVER, I feel a bit more optimistic now than I did back in mid March.
The good things that came out of the spring on the DL included Matt Kroul stepping up and grabbing the brass ring and being one of the most consistent performers. Ken Iwebema has a lot of people excited for his future, including some that feel he is going to challenge for All Big Ten honors at some point in his career. Jacob Spratt was able to get some reps due to injuries and he made the best of his chances. Nate Roos also saw more reps than he would have were it not for the injuries to so many players who will be in the mix some fall.
Bryan Mattison missed much of the spring and hopes to be back in action in June after his foot heals, something that required recent surgery. Richard Kittrell, the man who came to Iowa with the nickname of ‘Big Human' and was perhaps the fans favorite prospect, scored an INC, as in ‘INCOMPLETE'; he was battling some nagging injuries. Kittrell is listed as a junior to be, though he could earn back the fifth year if he remains on pace to graduate in the allotted time. But his clock is ticking, and this was to have been a very important spring for his future.
Alex Willcox was sidelined with an injury, as was Ettore Ewen. Ewen is recovering from ACL surgery last August and Willcox had off-season surgery. Kirk Ferentz mentioned both players numerous times during the spring as men who will be in the mix battling for jobs come August, so that is a good thing.
Another player that Iowa would have loved to see more of this spring is George Eshareturi. Big George saw limited action last year, and one would hope that a man of his size could make an impact this coming fall, as Iowa will certainly not be the biggest defensive line in the league. But he was unable to distinguish himself this spring, due to some minor injuries.
Mike Follett, Mitch King and Anton Narisnskiy all made the move to defensive line, too, so they will be in the mix come fall. Tyler Blum, Alex Kanellis and Ryan Bain will get a chance to compete for jobs in August, to be sure. If someone asked me right now which of those three players I feel stands the best chance of making the two deep in the fall, it would probably be Bain, just due to his power and low center of gravity, and that he played linebacker in high school and has that quickness that Iowa likes to see on the front.
But if all of the available linemen are healthy come August, I don't know if any of the true frosh will play next year. I hope that is the case.
We also learned that Iowa might be as deep at the wide receiver position as they have in recent memory. Heck, they might be as deep at that position as in any season I can recall back to 1981.
Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel have improved; Drew Tate singled out Herb Grigsby as being the player on offense that stood out the most to him. Eric McCollom drew raves for his switch to receiver, and some people with first hand access to the program have told me that the Iowa staff is flat out giddy about his future at the position, which is three more years. Calvin Davis is healthy again, too.
Matt Melloy suffered yet another injury and missed much of the spring. I suspect that the true frosh WR's will redshirt, and Iowa is certainly head hunting for some top flight WR's in this next recruiting class.
The clock is also starting to tick on James Townsend, a player that did not distinguish himself this spring. He is a junior to be and figures to be in a dogfight for the 3rd receiver spot in Iowa's offense. Rob Howe pointed out in his Saturday notes package that Grigsby saw plenty of reps with Solomon and Hinkel when Iowa went three wide in practice on Saturday.
It's nice to know that Iowa is deep at the center position, as Brian Ferentz seems to have emerged as the leader for that position, with last year's center Mike Elgin seeing a lot of time at right guard this spring.
Along the OL, Mike Jones drew raves from Kirk Ferentz, and David Walker was injury free for 15 practices. That might sound a bit trivial or patronizing, but given his injury record, that is actually a great thing. Ben Gates also saw plenty of time at LT this spring. Coach Ferentz also mentioned Marshal Yanda in a positive light.
Don't expect for this line to be up to the standards set by the 2002 or 2003 units, but do expect for them to be better than they were a year ago.
Iowa should also have more running backs than they know what to do with come fall. Marques Simmons is probably your #1 coming out of spring, but that is due to Iowa bringing back some of the ACL boys at a slower pace. Albert Young and Marcus Schnoor will battle for the top spot come August, and Damien Sims distinguished himself this spring and broke off a 60-yard TD run in Saturday's scrimmage/practice. He is stronger than he was last fall.
Shonn Greene is going to get every chance to contribute to the team next year. One, it's because he is talented and two, there are no guarantees with regards to academics. He will be two years removed from high school ball come August, so he is not your average true freshmen and he might not want to stick around the college game for five more years, anyway, ala Fred Russell, a fellow ‘alumnus' of Milford Prep Academy.
As for the national hype surrounding the 2005 Hawkeyes, if I were to give them a stock broker's rating, I would certainly not be in a ‘buy' mode at this time. Kirk Ferentz was playing down those lofty expectations, and Drew Tate called the team ‘average' at the conclusion of spring ball. He said they were not great at anything and not bad at anything.
Those are not the kinds of things you think of when you think of a BCS or Big Ten title challenger.
How much of those comments were true and how much they were smoke, who knows. Kirk Ferentz is not one to toot his own horn, and the same goes for the mild mannered Tate, whose pulse rate might never rise above 70 beats per minute when it comes to interview sessions.
I think it's a quiet confidence that emanates from Fort Kinnick these days, something that has been a constant during the Ferentz era. Iowa does its talking on the field and leaves the rest for sportswriters, publishers and talking heads.
Like Marques Simmons said on Saturday, it's the Big Ten that matters, not any website or magazine prediction lofty heights.
It's hard for me to believe this is a Top 10 team when there are so many questions marks, but come November 1st, it would not shock me if this team was within shouting distance of another Top 10 finish at that time, either.
This might be the hardest season for me to predict of any during the Ferentz era…well, save the 2002 season, as nobody expected Iowa to be 11-1 heading into the Orange Bowl.
Can there be yet another installment of Melrose Magic in 2005?
Be sure to pick up a copy of our 2005 Iowa Football Preview issue, due on newsstands in June. Or subscribe by May 15th to ensure that a copy will be delivered to your home. Click on the preview's cover shot below for ordering information.