2002 Spring Game Still Leaves Questions

Like most of the pretty good teams in America, the Iowa Football team does not have consistent depth at every position. Like every other team, the overall success of the squad this fall will have a lot to do with how healthy they can remain. There were many things in the 38-3 spring game that point to Iowa having an 8-5 or 9-4 season this fall, but the scrimmage also showed how important it is that the top players stay somewhat healthy.

Most of the talk in the newspapers since the game has been about the backup quarterback problems or the punting problems, but the concern about the QB position is somewhat overblown. Almost every good team in America has about 10-12 players that are much better than the other players on the roster. Whether it be a Michigan, a South Carolina, or someone else, the amount of wins that team will record will drop proportionally with major injuries to the core group. Ohio State may still have been a good team if they had lost WR Terry Glenn, LT Orlando Pace, and RB Eddie George to injury in 1995, but they would have lost more games. No matter how storied the program, injuries are always a concern because some players are hard to replace.

Did the Hawkeye backup quarterbacks look anywhere close to being able to play in a real game? No. Junior college transfer Nathan Chandler and junior walk-on David Raih were more than inconsistent, and redshirt freshman Matt Bohnet hardly played. Banks looked very good, but the backup QB situation will probably be the topic that dominates Media Day this fall. Still, we should all believe Coach Ferentz when he tells us he has confidence that Chandler will improve over the summer as he learns the offense and gets used to his surroundings. Chandler getting some time in early season games if the Hawks can muster some blowouts will also help the situation. It would be a shock if Chandler did not improve drastically by then; it would also be somewhat surprising if the two freshmen quarterbacks do not redshirt this fall. Ideally, senior Brad Banks makes the backup less important by staying healthy and playing consistently well. The spring game does not always mean that much when evaluating players, but Banks looked much better than he did last fall. If he continues to make good reads and throws like he did on Saturday, he is going to be a good passing/running threat for opposing defenses to prepare for.

By the way, has anyone noticed that no one in the newspaper business seems concerned that QB Seneca Wallace does not have a proven backup at Iowa State? The Cyclones would have had a much different season last year without Wallace, and if any coach in the state stays up at night worrying about an injury to the starting QB, it is Dan McCarney. Both Iowa and Iowa State will be better teams if their QBs stay healthy, and both teams have something to prove behind the starters, as do many teams in America. Some teams just have to depend on their quarterback more than others.

The starting offensive line pass blocked very well Saturday, but did not run block with consistency. Senior Bruce Nelson did not play, and not having his three years of starting experience was given by some as the main reason for the lack of execution. Nelson is a significant player that has the capability of being all Big Ten at center, but the OL should have performed better with all the returning starters and proven backups. Still, it is just one day, so a lineup of junior Robert Gallery, Nelson, senior Eric Steinbach, senior David Porter, and possibly senior Ben Sobieski should be as good as anyone in the league. In addition, senior Andy Lightfoot, junior Kory Borchers, and other quality backups on the roster might be better than a couple of the starting lines around the conference.

Some of the credit of the inability of the OL to consistently run block has to go to the second team defensive line. The first and second team DLs looked very strong inside against the run. Junior Howard Hodges and sophomore Jonathan Babineaux did their job at defensive end, but sophomore Derrick Robinson seemed to be the player that really impressed with his size and athletic potential. He had nine tackles total while playing with both the white team and black team. Although the DL is still the biggest question on the defense, they seem to have depth and the ability to stop the run. The pass rush is also still a question mark.

The backup linebackers were another big reason that the first team offensive line was inconsistent running the ball. Redshirt freshman Abdul Hodge made some nice plays early on and showed good range and quickness from the MLB position, but redshirt freshman Chad Greenway had a great showing with six tackles. More than the statistics, Greenway was the most impressive of the redshirt freshmen as he showed great range and put some great hits on opposing ball carriers. Although junior Kevin Worthy is the starter at WLB, Greenway should see significant time in the fall. Sophomore MLB Matt Roth also put a couple of nice hits on the opposition. Redshirt freshman Mike Follett made some noticeable mistakes, but looked very athletic.

The first team secondary played very well, while the second team showed potential. The second string made mental mistakes that resulted in blown coverages, but redshirt freshman CB Antwan Allen and junior S Jermire Roberts both made strong impressions. Of the two, Allen seemed to make fewer mistakes and could push for serious playing time. Sophomore Chris Smith played at cornerback, while starting junior cornerback Bennie Sapp played well. Sapp and Allen both had an interception. If the cornerbacks can stay healthy, there is no reason the secondary should not have a very good season. What a difference from 1998 and 1999!

Senior C.J. Jones and redshirt freshman Ed Hinkel should both have nice seasons as starters this fall at WR, while junior Maurice Brown, redshirt freshman Darius Butler, and junior Ramon Ochoa look to be fighting for backup positions. Brown could also start, but he has to stay out of trouble and stay healthy to put himself in a starting position. Neither Hinkel nor Jones look like elite all-league players this year, but both should be at least serviceable. That should be enough if the OL, QB, and RBs all perform to their potential.

Senior TE Dallas Clark also should help the wide receivers, as he is the best tight end in the Big Ten. Although junior Erik Jensen did not play on Saturday, sophomore Tony Jackson made his mark with his blocking and catching. TE and OL are the deepest positions on the offense.

Special teams do not mean much in the spring game, but the punting situation does not look any better than it did during the fall. The best punt of the day was by redshirt freshman John Gallery, but he only averaged 37.1 yards on three punts. Sophomore David Bradley averaged 36.0 yards on five punts. The kicking game is sound, but someone needs to step up in the punting game. Too bad there isn't another Reggie Roby or Jason Baker hanging around campus!

Overall, the team looks to be in good shape. If they can get the Iowa State series back to the way it is supposed to be, 9-4 or 10-3 is not an unrealistic hope for the 2002 season. However, Iowa State will be a formidable challenge, and the Big Ten is never easy. Staying healthy is the key to success, while an additional punter, pass rusher, and standout wide receiver wouldn't hurt either.

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