We continue our series on position battles. Yesterday, I outlined the positions that I believe are very solid heading into spring practice. If you missed that item, you can read it at this link. Today, we will focus on ‘lukewarm' battles; positions where I believe someone has a decent lean at the job, but that will be pushed.
Tony Moeaki has had some pretty tough luck on the injury front since the Wisconsin game in 2007. He suffered two injuries in that contest, the fourth game of the season, which caused him to miss the final eight games. Last year, he took several vicious shots to the head and had some concussion issues, in addition to some other problems. I don't think that Moeaki is fragile; I just think it was a matter of some tough luck. He is a high contact player and can deliver some punishing blows, but he just got caught up in some fluke plays in 2008. Thankfully, Iowa had Brandon Myers backing him up, and Myers went on to a first team All Big Ten season last year. Allen Reisner showed some deft hands and some decent blocking abilities as well, and he returns this year, alongside Moeaki.
I am still of the opinion that Moeaki has as much skill at tight end as anyone since Dallas Clark, and one of the two or three most physically gifted tight ends in all facets of the game that I have seen in all of my years watching Iowa football. That might be a bit of a mouthful for some to swallow, based on Moeaki's unavailability due to injury. But this kid played as a true freshman, and he was the best blocking tight end at the team from the minute he signed his letter of intent. I am very high on his ball skills, and if he can stay healthy this year, I believe he is poised for a breakout season. He has caught 33 passes for 442 yards and six touchdowns over three seasons, but has never had more than 14 receptions in a year. His 52 yard play against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl was fun to see; Moeaki running in space cannot be a comforting sight for any defensive back. Brandon Myers had 34 receptions for 441 yards last year, with four scores. I expect Moeaki to exceed those totals.
Reisner had three fewer catches (11) than Moeaki, but had 200 receiving yards, 56 more than Moeaki. As I said earlier, he has great hands and he will have undoubtedly added to his 6-3/235 frame this off season. If he can make strides in the blocking aspects of his game, Iowa will once again have two tight ends that they can use on the field at the same time, getting multiple formations out of the same personnel package. This is a close battle, and being the ‘starter' isn't that big of a deal if you are an Iowa tight end, with their penchant to use so many of them. But I believe Moeaki will get this nod.
Jewell Hampton had a nice freshman year behind Shonn Greene; 463 yards on 91 carries (5.1/ypc) and seven touchdowns. Had Hampton been the featured back behind that offensive line, he probably would have gone for somewhere around 1,300 yards. That is based off 5.1 yards per carry on 250 carries. Greene had just over 300 carries, and 5.1 yards per carry multiplied by 300 carries is over 1,500 yards. Now, that is not scientific as this game isn't played in a vacuum, but Hampton showed a lot of potential and ability in 2008. I believe he will be the starting running back for Iowa next year, but I don't think Jeff Brinson is going to just hand him the job.
Prior to August camp, there were several people that felt Brinson would emerge as the freshman running back that would see the most reps. Brinson wasn't bad in camp, it's just that Hampton showed he was more ready for Big Ten football. Brinson is 5-11/212 pounds where Hampton is 5-9/205 at of February. Brinson made some steps back in December during Iowa's preparation for the Outback Bowl; you couldn't talk to anyone associated with the program down there that didn't bring up Brinson's name in the first two or three minutes of talking. As a senior in St. Petersburg, Brinson had 260 totes of the pigskin for nearly 2000 yards.
Hampton has proven himself to some degree to the coaches, so I give him the leg up. But I can see these two splitting reps the way that Fred Russell and Jermelle Lewis did in 2002; that will keep them fresh and dangerous.
These two were close to the ‘ICE COLD" lock category from yesterday, and with Diauntae Morrow's transfer out of Iowa, Greenwood should probably be in the lock category. David Cato continues to improve, but Tyler Sash has a penchant for making plays. While he found himself out position a few times last year, he made up for it on some occasions with his athleticism.
Besides, some guys just have knack for being the right place at the right time; Sash was one of those guys against Penn State and against South Carolina. He was like a magnet for errant throws a year ago.
It will be interesting to see how far Cato has come, and also see what other young players are ready to push to see the field, but it's a safe bet that Greenwood and Sash will be your starting safeties for the 2009 season.
Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker wound up splitting placekicking duties last year. Mossbrucker won the field goal job early on, but hit a slump two-thirds of the way through the season. It wasn't Rick Ankiel as a pitcher bad, but surprisingly out of nowhere, and had to be mental. That happens with kickers, as Mossbrucker has the abilities. Murray showed a pretty sound mettle, hitting the game winner against Penn State. He made five of six from the Penn State game on, including one from 45 yards. Mossbrucker was 13 of 15 on the year, so not bad by any stretch, but he didn't have an attempt outside of 39 yards.
I think Murray will win the job based on last year and the confidence Coach Ferentz placed in him, but with kickers, you just never know. For that very reason, I did not put this one in the RED HOT column.
That column will come out tomorrow, and here are the positions we will be discussing:
Defensive tackle (one spot), fullback, center, both guard spots, cornerback (one spot) and receiver, plus a look at return specialists.