When Kirk Ferentz was asked if his receivers were doing better hanging onto the football this spring, the coach's face looked like he ate something bitter as he rubbed his eyes.
"Yeah, better, I'm happy to report better," Ferentz said of the securing of thrown passes. "It couldn't get much worse, could it?"
Dropped balls ranked among the worse memories of the 2006 season. Herb Grigsby, one of the main culprits, has moved on and a young group of receivers looks to erase that shortcoming.
"I'm afraid to throw out too many bouquets, but Andy Brodell, we saw him come on at the end of the season, is starting to enjoy the game the way you hope to," Ferentz said. "Success helps that. He's done a nice job. He's not 100 percent there yet, but he's done a nice job."
Brodell caught 13 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns in Iowa's final two games of '06, including an Alamo Bowl record 159 yards and two scores against Texas.
True freshman Dominique Douglas also stepped into the starting lineup last season to help the Hawkeyes. He led the nation's true freshmen with 49 receptions and his 654 yards ranked second in the country.
"Dominique has done well," Ferentz said of Douglas' spring.
Ferentz also said that Trey Stross was improving, but singled out a redshirt freshman as up and coming.
"I don't know if I want to say it's the biggest surprise but one of the most pleasing developments or the way a guy is practicing is James Cleveland," the coach said. "He's fighting for the ball. He's showing good toughness. He's got good hands. He was a hit or miss guy in the fall, but he's had a good spring."
As far as the cause of the dropped balls from last season, Ferentz said: "It's experience, concentration. Hopefully we're leaving that behind us and moving forward."
The most serious setback hit redshirt freshman Jeff Tarpinian. The linebacker underwent shoulder surgery and isn't expected back until the summer.
Starting tight end Tony Moeaki sprained his shoulder, but avoided the knife. He should be back in late spring or early summer.
"It was one of those deals where they had to do an MRI to make sure everything was OK," Ferentz said. "You leave the field, and you're never quite sure. There was a chance that he could be back this week. It doesn't look like it's going to happen, and we're not going to take any chances at this juncture."
FOOTBALL SCHOOL?: As expected, Ferentz was asked twice about recent comments regarding Iowa being considered a football school.
The coach said he thinks things were a little different when Hayden Fry came to Iowa and really didn't see Iowa being defined by one program. He seemed uncomfortable with the question.
"There's not really much to say there. This is a school where all programs have been supported. The fans have been supportive and our programs have done well. There's not much more to say."
RB DEPTH: The plan still is to redshirt Shonn Greene if possible, Ferentz said. It depends on the health of Albert Young and Damian Sims and also the progress of Dana Brown more than the readiness of true freshman Jevon Pugh.
"The key player is Dana Brown in this whole equation," Ferentz said. "He's getting a lot of work (this spring). We don't need to see an awful lot from Damian or Albert and we haven't. We've tried to limit their live work and Shonn as well. We wanted to get a look at Dana just to see how he's progressing in all the things you need to see in a back – blitz pickup; is he going to secure the ball? He's moving along. He's doing OK. We'll just keep gauging that into the summer time. "And Jevon could factor in there. I don't want to minimize the importance of that."
KACZENSKI GETS SUNSHINE STATE: New Defensive Line Coach Rick Kaczenski was assigned Florida as his recruiting area. Phil Parker had been working there, but he will share the Dallas area with Darrell Wilson.
TATE'S FUTURE: Ferentz said he hasn't talked to a lot of NFL personnel people about his current crop of draft eligible players. That included three-year quarterback starter Drew Tate.
"I told Drew this, two-thirds of the teams just whack him off the list because of his height," said Ferentz, a long time NFL assistant coach. "They have that bar where they won't take a guy under such-and-such. He's probably working with a third of the league that would take a shot. You look at a guy like (Jeff) Garcia. It's worked out well for him. I don't know how tall Drew Brees is."
"The first two round guys get a hall pass for a year," Ferentz said. "But it doesn't matter if you're a guy from the third round or a free agent from Mankato State, you have to produce when you get there. You have an equal opportunity."
"I've thought about that and I have an answer," the coach said. "All I know is that we were 2-4 against those others six teams. That's not including Penn State who played in a January bowl. That kind of thinking is fan-thinking with all due respect. Purdue went through that two years ago and ended up sitting home for the holidays. That kind of thinking can lead to bad results."
GOOD CATCH:Ferentz believes ex-Hawkeye tight end Marv Cook did a smart thing hiring former Iowa receiver Ed Hinkel as his assistant coach at Iowa City Regina High.
"Ed's a great story," Ferentz said. "Obviously the guys that go on to the NFL, that's really neat. But you look at Ed Hinkel, we haven't had a lot of better football players come through here in the last eight years. He made so many big plays and so many that were under the radar. Marv is putting a nice staff together. I always thought that Marv was smarter than to get into coaching."
EXTRA POINTS: Ferentz said he did not get a chance to say good-bye to outgoing men's basketball coach Steve Alford, but he said he hit it off with the replacement, Todd Lickliter…Ferentz also has been pleased that his football team has received very little attention with the basketball proceedings of recent weeks…Daniel Murray, who is competing with Austin Signor for the place kicking duties, also is working out at punter. Look for Iowa to bring in a preferred walk-on punter this summer…Ferentz said if asked today, he would not be able to name five starters on his offensive line and said that his two starting safeties spots are wide open between four guys – Brett Greenwood, Lance Tillison, Harold Dalton and Marcus Wilson…backup center Rob Bruggeman has been working out at guard…Ferentz took time to congratulate Iowan and Masters' Champion Zach Johnson, who spoke with the team before the Michigan game in '05…Chandler got married a few weeks ago, Ferentz said…Sophomore Tyler Gerstandt, who dressed out at receiver for much of the season's second half, has moved to tight end.