Iowa Football: Position Battles

The 2009 football season began just minutes after the Hawkeyes trounced South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The Hawks have been pumping iron for the past three-plus months, and on March 25th they get to put the pads on and get back on the field for spring ball. Here is our first look at some position battles to keep an eye on, and some that are stone-cold locks.

Iowa begins the 2009 Spring Football practice season on March 25th.  This is one of several football related items we will be rolling out between now and mid April.

We will start with position battles, and will go from Ice Cold to Red Hot over the course of the next three days.

ICE COLD

These are positions where I would be shocked to see a position change from the end of last year to the start of 2009:

STARTING QUARTERBACK:  I would have written the same thing last year at this time, and in fact I probably did.  But Rick Stanzi has a solid grip on the starting position after helping lead Iowa to a nine-win season and a New Year's Day bowl victory over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

Stanzi completed 59.1 % of his passes on 254 attempts for 1,956 yards in 13 games as a starter.  He didn't play the entire way in two of those starts, either.  He had a touchdown to interception ratio of 14 to 9; Stanzi needs to improve in that area this year, which comes down to decision making and comfort in the system.  The kid took some big shots last year and got right back up and kept going, which is a good thing.  It's not a given that players are going to stand in the pocket and deal well with the heat, but he has now been there and done that.  I should also see his completion percentage improve this year, too. 

Some might say that Stanzi will face more heat this year in the absence of Shonn Greene, and I respect those opinions.  It's not a bad thing to break into the starting lineup with the best running back in school history behind you, and playing behind one of the best lines of the last two decades.  But Stanzi showed enough moxie on his own to make me feel this is an open and shut position this spring. 

THE BOOKENDS

The left and right tackle positions will be held down by Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, respectfully.  They started there last year and they will start there this year, barring injury.  Calloway enters his senior year with still more room to improve, and I think he is capable of doing just that.  Bulaga will be entering his true junior campaign and might make some preseason All American lists.  The only way one of these two isn't starting is if they get hurt, so let's hope that's not the case.  As solid as these two positions are, the rest of the offensive line is open for debate, which we will get to late this week.

LINEBACKER

Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Jeremiha Hunter will start the 2009 season the way they ended the 2008 season; starting alongside one another behind Iowa's defensive line.  Edds and Hunter started all 13 games for Iowa, and the only reason Angerer missed two starts was due to injury.  Let's hope those issues are behind him now; if that's the case, he is poised for an All Big Ten season, as is Edds.  I think Edds has ‘pro' written all over him, and this will be his true senior season, as he played as a true freshman.  Angerer is one of the more athletic linebackers to come through Iowa in the Kirk Ferentz era, which is saying something considering that Chad Greenway and Mike Humpal have gone before him.

This crew might not have the name recognition and explosiveness of the Abdul Hodge/Greenway era, but they are fundamentally sound and will be poised to execute their tasks on the same level.  Again, if someone other than these three is manning one of the linebacker positions next fall, it will be due to injury.

ONE CORNER IS ICE, ICE, BABY; TOO COLD!

Amari Spievey had an outstanding season for Iowa last year, and teams pretty much limited the number of passes in his direction before all was said and done.  Some folks forgot that he was just a sophomore, so he has two years of eligibility left at Iowa.  If he makes exponential strides this year, if he can possibly do that, he might be a candidate for the NFL draft in April of 2010.  But let's not worry about that now.  I feel comfortable in saying this, however; he will leave Iowa as the most NFL-ready cornerback prospect of the Ferentz era, and perhaps since Tom Knight was taken early in the first round back in the 1990's.

THREE OF FOUR ON THE D-L

Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Broderick Binns will be starters next year.  Or at least, that's how I see it.  That's not a tough call to make, as Ballard started 13 games and Clayborn started 11, missing two starts due to injury.  Binns played in all 13 games and was splitting time with Ballard at defensive end over the final four games of the season.  In my opinion, he was more disruptive from that position than was Ballard, but I can't sit here and tell you that teams weren't keeping an eye on him as much when he was in the game; perhaps they devoted all of their attention to Mitch King at that point. 

On the offensive line, Iowa has typically put its best five players out there, regardless of position.  I think we will see that this year on the defensive line, with one of Ballard or Clayborn moving inside.  Both of them have the size to do it, at least in Iowa's system.  If I had to place a bet on that right now, I think Ballard moves inside, where he can hold his own physically but also utilize his athleticism against interior linemen; he was a highly sought after tight end prospect coming out of Lawrence, Kansas. 

PUNTER

Ryan Donahue will be entering his third year and is well on his way to an excellent career as a four year starting punter for the Hawkeyes.  He should really come into his own this year and become a great weapon for the defense.  I am still blown away when I see that Iowa allowed just 12 punts to be returned all season long in 2008.  That's not all on the punter, but a lot of it is.  Donahue gets great hangtime and he has his leg dialed in no matter what the situation calls for.  This year, it comes down to consistency and getting rid of the occasional shank, though there were not too many of those last year.

There are two or three other positions that are close to locks, but not close enough for me to move them into the Ice Cold category.  They are more lukewarm, and we'll talk about those tomorrow.


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