What area of the team will you be focusing on?
Rob: I try to at least take some time to look over everything, but line play usually gets most of my attention this time of year and I think that will be especially true on Saturday. At this point, I would like to see a defensive line that dominates. Whether it's going against the No. 1s or 2s, the D-Line dwarfs their counterparts in experience. I'm also interested to see who falls in on the second team for the defensive front. After Adrian Clayborn, that's a concern of mine. On the offensive side, it will be interesting to see how close the coaches are to solidifying a starting unit and where everybody falls in after that. I hope the staff is close to deciding so these guys have a chance to gel. Injuries and inconstancy has hurt this unit at the start of some recent seasons.
Jon: I think we had better see a defensive line that dominates, considering they know Iowa's audibles and will have a solid understanding of what plays are being run. That being said, crisp execution on offense can counter such things. Based on what I have been able to gather thus far, Jake Christensen has been ripping it up in practice and continues to raise his game to a new level. That is something that will be a big time key for Iowa this year, though it seems rather obvious to say it. Drew Tate was picked off 13 times in 11 games last season, to 18 touchdown passes. That ratio needs to be closer to two TD passes to every INT if Iowa hopes to rebound this year. I think that Jake is quite capable of such things. I expect to see the tight ends in the passing game, which won't be a big shocker considering that it's Iowa. I think Tony Moeaki and Brandon Myers will really play into thing this year. Also, key in on the play of the safeties, and look to see if Jordan Bernstine and/or Tyler Sash gets into the mix.
Brian: On the offensive side of the ball, I'll be particularly interested in the WR rotation. I'll be interested to see where guys like James Cleveland, Derrell Johnson, Trey Stross, and Anthony Bowman fit in. What happened to Paul Chaney? Is he staying on offense? There seems to be way too many capable hands (no pun intended) for the 4 or 5 spots available. On the defensive side, I'll be looking at the linebackers. Jeremiha Hunter was one of the top members of the 2006 recruiting class, coming in as a four-star LB with offers from national powers like Michigan, Florida, Penn State, Tennessee and Georgia. Since he's been on campus though, not much has been said about him, especially compared to classmates Adrian Clayborn, A.J. Edds, Lance Tillison and others.
What part of the team or player will be overanalyzed by fans and media?
Rob: I saw a lot of papers around the state focusing on Jake Christensen in stories from the Iowa media day last week. Now, I know it's the glam position and there's a change at quarterback this season, but for some reason I'm worrying very little about Christensen right now. Probably one of the main reasons for my ease is the way Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz has thrown compliments the way of his sophomore this summer. It borders on gushing from the even-tempered Ferentz. Christensen benefited from two years as an understudy and did get his feet wet last season. If Jake struggles a bit on Saturday, I don't think it will affect my opinion of him one way or the other, but I can see other armchairs calling for Stanzi, Nelson or, gasp, McNutt.
Jon: I agree with Rob here. Kirk Ferentz throws out compliments to young players like he throws around manhole covers. He has been effusive with his praise of Jake mentally and physically. If Jake isn't crisp on Saturday, it won't bother me in the least bit. But that is a position where the eyeballs will be focused. Outside of that, I really think the backup defensive linemen will be monitored very closely, Adrian Clayborn especially.
Brian: I think Iowa's freshman class will, as expected, be completely overanalyzed. Cedric Everson stands next to Brett Greenwood on the sideline, does that mean he's moving to safety? Jordan Bernstine pops a guy coming across the middle, he should be starting, he's the next Bob Sanders. 245-pound Broderick Binns gets handled by 295-pound Julian Vandervelde, maybe he's not supposed to be on the DL? All of these conclusions are equally ludicrous, especially given the two-and-a-half hour look they'll be gleaned from.
Will we see any strange, new developments out of the offense on Saturday?
Brian: Maybe one or two. I would venture a guess that (at least in full-contact drills) we won't be seeing Sims and Young in the same backfield. We might see a 4-WR set or two, maybe some reverses or new variations on a screen pass. Kirk Ferentz usually likes to play it close to the vest early in the season, let alone in an open practice situation.
Jon: I do feel that the Iowa offense is going to release some hounds this year, as long as the offensive line does their part. However, I don't expect to see the entire playbook on Saturday. I think what we will see with regards to offensive sets is the same things we have seen in the past, the same things that Iowa's opponents will have seen on film. I am not saying that Iowa is going to save a special forces playbook page for Iowa State, because it has to win the first two games of the year. But it wouldn't be a bad idea.
Rob: I doubt it. Ferentz never has been big on the exotics as Hayden used to call them, and when we see them, they usually come out of the blue like Nate Kaeding at Ohio State in 2003. I do think we're going to see more 3- and 4-WR sets this year simply because Tony Moeaki is a much better blocker than Scott Chandler and that allows the Hawkeye offensive coaches more flexibility.
Will there be any unexpectedly absent faces?
Brian: Last year, nobody was aware that Julian Smith hadn't made it through the clearinghouse until the open practice. Khaliq Price was also absent. This year, there has been plenty of attrition throughout the summer, which makes me think that there won't be anything going on at this point. There may be one or two held out of the public scrimmage due to some injuries, but I wouldn't expect anyone to suddenly vanish from the team.
Jon: Brian makes some good points here; perhaps the attrition has happened. Kirk Ferentz said in Chicago and then again in Iowa City last week that they don't expect any surprises with regards to grades, but that all of the Clearinghouse hurdles had not yet been cleared. If there are any absences, or players on the sidelines either dressed or not dressed, I would suspect that an injury is the culprit, as opposed to any other factors.
Rob: Few things gets Ferentz has heated up as the Clearinghouse and its snails-like pace. That said, he seemed real positive about this incoming class where he's been more evasive and/or cryptic in his responses in past years. Injuries a part of football, and I would be pleasantly surprised if Iowa has been able to avoid them to this point. I expect to see a few guys held out, including Albert Young and Damian Sims for precautionary purposes.
How much should be made of what we see on Saturday; be it good, bad or otherwise?
Jon: I don't know that you would want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but when you think about it, they began practice on August 6th which was media day. Saturday will be August 18th. They have been going every day since the 6th, so that will be 11 days, and many of those days have been double-sessions. So you could say that the practice time they have had, come Saturday, will be close to that of a spring practice session, and you all know how big a deal that can be. Players that show consistent brilliance on Saturday can certainly be praised for that. A home run here or there will be fun to see. I just don't want to see one line of scrimmage totally dominate the other all day long, nor do I want to see the secondary get beat in the middle by the second team offense.
Rob: I've been to these things and the Hawks have looked real good only to get off to slow starts. I also have seen them look bad to mediocre and they end up having strong seasons. So my answer is "not too much." One thing I do not want to see is receivers dropping passes all over the place. I saw enough of that last year. But in summary, anyone can have a bad day and I won't put much stock in someone or an area of the team having one on Saturday.
Brian: I can see both sides of the coin here. If one player has a really great or really terrible day, you can't put much stock in that. If, however, everyone is just 'solid' that might be a better indicator of how things are going. Albert Young running for 7 yards per play might be more of a reason for optimism than if he busts a 60-yarder out of nowhere. It'll be a good chance to see how physically ready some of these guys are, if off-season injuries have healed, things of that nature.
All three of you made preseason predictions for this year's season; are you feeling about the same, more optimistic, or less optimistic about those predictions?
Jon (preseason prediction of 9-3, with losses at Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue): Call it the sometimes Cubs fan in me, but I am feeling more optimistic all of the time. I think it's because I look at the law of averages on the defensive line, with the hopes that they won't be as nicked up as they were last year, and I look at what I believe this offense is capable of doing. I know that plenty of folks around the country expect there to be a significant drop off between Drew Tate and Jake Christensen. I don't. I don't think many folks around the country expect Iowa to have a great receiving corps; I do, I think it will be one of the team's best assets. I don't think people around the country have any idea what kind of damage that Tony Moeaki and Brandon Myers are capable of in tandem; I see it. If the offensive line can do its part, this team will average 30 points per game this year.
Rob (preseason prediction of 8-4 with losses at Iowa State, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Purdue): The Cockroach (as I was dubbed by KXNO's Marty & Miller) is sticking with his prediction. And I love talking in the third person. I think Iowa could win at ISU, but I also could see them dropping one against Northern Illinois or Northwestern. So, 8-4 still seems the best bet for me. There are just too many uncertainties on this team. The areas that concern me the most are O-line, safety and the kicking game/special teams. Hey, I hope I'm wrong. I would love eat my words and head back to Florida on January 1. They've got some flying cockroaches down there.
Brian (preseason prediction of 10-2 with losses at Wisconsin and Penn State): Officially, I'm going to stick with my predictions, but as it looms closer, that Purdue game is starting to scare me just a little bit. If an extra loss would be added to my list, it'd be right there.