The Hawks worked out in helmet and shoulder pads for two days (NCAA Rule) starting on March 7th, which was the ‘beginning' of spring practice, at least officially. The ‘unofficial' beginning is this week when they return for real, hitting, tackling and the whole nine yards.
We will look at the Hawkeyes position by position as they go through this very important spring practice period.
LOSSES: Calvin Davis, Herb Grigsby
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Dominique Douglas, Trey Stross, Andy Brodell, Anthony Bowman, James Cleveland, Paul Chaney, Jr., Derrell Johnson-Koulianos
THE SKINNY: Dominique Douglas was a freshman all American for Iowa last year, and he led Iowa with 49 receptions. He proved to be the most sure-handed pass catcher on the team last year and played well beyond his true freshman years. Kirk Ferentz singled him out during a press conference, saying that he was likely a kid that didn't spend his after school time playing video games, rather, he was out on the playground working on his game.
Douglas had the best true freshman or redshirt freshman season an Iowa receiver has ever had, so you know this off season spent in Club Doyle will do him some wonders. Expectations will be high for Douglas heading into his sophomore season, but that also means that defenses will be focusing on him as well, which means he needs a good to great ‘partner in crime' on the other side of the field.
He may have that in Andy Brodell. Brodell led all receivers with 724 yards, an average of 18.6 yards per catch and five touchdowns. Nevermind that 44 percent of those yards came in the final two games against Minnesota and Texas (159 yards receiving in each game); the kid finished strong and put together consistent performances. He also showed what Iowans knew he had in him, and that was track speed. See his 60+ yard TD reception vs Texas in the Alamo Bowl. If he can bring that game to game consistency this year and minimize the drops, Iowa could have its best 1-2 punch at receiver since Mo Brown and CJ Jones in 2002.
Douglas and Brodell seemingly have the inside track for the starting positions when Iowa uses its two-back formations, although some other players would like to argue with that statement. Battling for the two outside positions will be Trey Stross, James Cleveland, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
Trey Stross saw some action last year, catching 13 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown. He hauled in a 47-yard bomb from Jake Christensen that was thrown into the wind against Northern Illinois. Stross made a nice break on the ball and laid out to make a highlight reel grab. Stross is an excellent athlete, with good speed and good leaping ability; he participated in the high jump during Iowa's indoor track season this year and he cleared 6'-11" at the high school level. Stross, like most young players, just needs to be consistent in the day to day aspects of practice and preparation. If he can do that, he will be the first player off the bench and in the Z-X rotation, if not challenging Brodell for his spot. The good thing for Stross is that Brodell hasn't done these things, either, though Brodell's audition over the final two games of last year will be hard to overcome. But Trey is likely going to be disappointed with anything less than a start position.
James Cleveland enters his second spring of practice. He joined the program in January of 2006 straight out of high school, skipping his last semester; he missed last year's season due to academic concerns, so that transition didn't work out so well. Cleveland was the MVP of the Texas Summer 7 on 7 tournament in 2005, which is a pretty big deal down in the Lonhorn State. Texas A&M was pushing hard for his services, but he signed with Iowa.
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, or affectionately known as DJK on the message boards, is an intruiging player. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said, in the summer of 2006, that DJK was the best high school player in the state of Ohio in 2005. That's high praise, considering that Herbstreit's Buckeyes had Chris Wells, regarded as the best prep player in the nation. If you haven't seen his highlight tape from the 2005 season, then you missed perhaps the most impressive stuff I have ever seen on an Iowa recruit. DJK is a big and physical player, one that does not shy away from contact and one that has also made a lot of friends in his time on campus. He is fast, strong and shifty, with natural ‘make ya miss' instincts. When I saw his tape for the first time, I thought ‘Steve Breaston', the Michigan receiver. Breaston, like DJK, played QB in high school and was also a dangerous return man. I think that DJK could be both of those for Iowa. If he can be consistent this spring and summer, there will be no way to keep him off of the field. Stross will have to resist the temptation to look over his shoulder, because DJK is coming. And as the folks on the message boards have said, DJK doesn't wear a watch, because he decides what time it is. (If you don't get it, then you were not around the football message boards this past year, as DJK grew into an Internet legend, though he has never played a snap of football for Iowa.
Inside at the slot position, Iowa has a couple of burners; Anthony Bowman and Paul Chaney, Jr.
Bowman played some last year, and showed some fearless speed returning kicks late in the season. Chaney ran indoor track for Iowa this past winter, and is one of the fastest returning players in the Big Ten conference.
In all, day to day and game to game consistency will be the thing to watch from this group of players. If Iowa gets that from three or four of them, they could be in for a breakout year at this position as far as productivity goes. For the first time in a long time, and when you throw in Iowa's talented tight ends into the equation, plus what the running backs can do catching the ball, Iowa might have big-pay options in whomever catches passes.
2007 IMPACT PREDICTIONS
1. Dominique Douglas
2. Andy Brodell
3. Trey Stross