Who knows what will happen this fall when the Hawkeyes take the field again? They might top last year's 9-4 finish with an Outback Bowl Championship. They might come up short of that.
However, when you watched the Iowa players and coaches pace through the final spring practice of 2009 on Saturday, one thing seemed pretty apparent – the Bullies of the Big Ten mentality returned. The Murphy-Lowe collision represented one of many physically fierce plays at the Kenyon facility.
Luckily, quarterbacks were untouchable. Had they been fair game, Marvin McNutt probably would have switched back to signal caller from wide receiver.
Saturday's scrimmage played in intermittent showers provided glimpses of hope for another fine fall in Iowa City. Watching left tackle Bryan Bulaga lock horns with end Adrian Clayborn made you yearn for summer to fly by even after just enduring another unforgiving Iowa winter.
One man who feels fine with the season being four months off is Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz. While optimistic about his chances for next season, the spring and summer months are when he and his staff really earn their money by developing prospects into producers.
Ferentz and company get paid to worry. They're not inherently optimistic. The fans and the media have no such constraints. We predict the next season before the current one concludes.
So, in that vane, let's take a position-by-position look at what Iowa offered on Saturday. It's OK. Get your hopes up. It's April.
QB: Now that Rick Stanzi has established himself as the clear No. 1, the rule in Hawkeye Nation states we must be most interested in whom will back him up. A couple of redshirt freshmen – James Vandenberg and John Wienke - have dueled all spring to be the understudy.
Ferentz said after the practice that we shouldn't read much into the fact that Vandenberg played first and more often in the scrimmage. Not to dismiss the coach, but you should.
Both backups showed their strengths and weaknesses on Saturday, but Vandenberg looked to me to be the clear No.2. I thought that he looked like the more comfortable of the two and threw the better ball. Wienke was the only QB to get picked on Saturday, and it was a really bad decision.
That said, Stanzi was head and shoulders above the two freshmen. He at least recognized the blitz, while the youngsters struggled mightily with it. Ferentz did mention ball security when speaking about Stanzi, so he must have struggled with that a bit during the spring, but the coach also lauded his No. 1's step forward in leadership.
Most of passes were thrown underneath on Saturday. The QBs took shots deep only a handful of times, at most.
RB: This position gets an incomplete from Saturday. Projected starter Jewel Hampton sat out after taking a pretty good pop in practice this week. He did participate in warm-ups and some pre-scrimmage drills.
Jeff Brinson looked very strong during Iowa's lone touchdown drive. He ran hard, showed good vision and excellent power. He left the scrimmage with a dinged ankle, which Ferentz said likely would only hamper him for a week or two.
Brinson scored on a 12-yard touchdown run where he drove Pat Angerer into the end zone. The Iowa linebacker jumped up calling for a holding penalty, but from my vantage point, he just got busted.
Paki O'Meara also ran with the ones. He really struggled to get anything going, as the defensive line usually met him at or before the line of scrimmage.
Adam Robinson showed up when the threes went against each other and looked solid. The Des Moines product ran hard and showed a nice burst.
WR: If he can stay healthy, which has been a big if, Trey Stross showed on Saturday why he could be a major part of the offense. The senior has filled out nicely and runs crisp routes. He looked every bit the No. 1 receiver the coaches would like to see this fall.
McNutt provided clues as to what type of receiver he will be. The former QB looked big and tough and was assigned to underneath routes. He almost looked like another TE out there.
Darrell Johnson-Koulianos saw limited reps and it wasn't due to injury. Ferentz towed the company line, saying all positions are open and McNutt has emerged, which is true, but clearly something has gone on with Iowa's leading receiver the last two seasons. He didn't get the ball thrown his way all day and he looked pretty annoyed when he left the field.
Colin Sandeman caught a few passes and showed some speed after the receptions. Paul Chaney didn't see the ball much on Saturday, but Ferentz said he has made strides this spring. The coach also complimented walk-on Don Nordmann, who had the ball tossed his way a few times on Saturday.
TE: I'm never too worried about this position. It might be the most productive area in the Ferentz Era.
Allen Reisner delivered a one-handed catch while sprinting towards the sideline and has looked like a star in the making. Brad Herman, who arrived on campus less than a year ago, also made a grab or two and could break out in '09.
Tony Moeaki moved around on crutches with his foot in a boot on Saturday, but he assured us that he would be ready for the fall.
Iowa has compiled serious depth at this position with Ross Peterson, J.D. Griggs and Jonathan Gimm, all of whom received reps on Saturday. Zach Furlong appeared on the roster, but he either sat out Saturday or I missed him.
OL: The aforementioned battle between Bulaga and Clayborn was fun. I would say that each guy enjoyed his share of victories. The D also gained advantages with blitzes and really nice stunting.
Dace Richardson was the story of the spring and he looked real solid on Saturday. For a guy with knee issues, he showed good movement and real strong drive.
Josh Koeppel started at center with Rafael Eubanks spelling him. Both guys received quite a few reps and starting right guard, Julian Vandervelde, also got some time at center. Ferentz said that Vandervelde is in the mix at that spot.
I thought the Iowa centers were the easiest marks for the defensive line on Saturday. Pressure came from up the middle all day and it reached the QBs way too often.
DL: We've already talked about Clayborn and Ballard. They were beasts on Saturday. Clayborn put an NFL move on Bulaga that drew congratulations from people all over the field, including one of the refs.
Broderick Binns continued to impress as the third end. He came in for Daniels early in the scrimmage and pushed Ballard inside. LeBron Daniel also played very well as Clayborn's backup.
LB: Other than being bulled over by Brinson on the TD, Angerer enjoyed an afternoon of knocking heads. His backup, Jacody Coleman, also roamed the field with purpose. Coleman showed he could start for a lot of teams, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in there a lot in the 3-4.
Jeremiha Hunter started at the WILL with Jeff Tarpinian opening at the LEO in place of the injured A.J. Edds. Parker said on Tuesday that Hunter and Tarp were locked in a heated competition for the starting WILL spot and Ferentz said after Saturday's scrimmage that nothing had changed. Both guys played LEO and WILL.
Bruce Davis also looked strong with the twos as did walk-on Cameron Olson from Radcliffe, IA. Troy Johnson was injured during spring drills and will have surgery, Ferentz said. The coach did not mention health concerns with Tyler Nielsen, but he did not see action on Saturday.
DB: It was apparent early and often on Saturday that opponents might want to forget about throwing Amari Spievey's way. He locked down on McNutt, Stross and anybody else that dare test him.
The other corner spot remained a question. Jordan Bernstine ran with the ones out of the gate, but Shaun Prater and Lowe also saw reps there. While there weren't any glaring errors, they all missed some tackles and looked to have some holes in their games.
Greg Castillo backed up Spievey and looked very solid. He came up with the only pick of the day and could have taken it for a score if whistles didn't stop him.
With starting safeties Brent Greenwood and Tyler Sash out after surgeries, David Cato and Jack Swanson roamed the back of the secondary with the first team on Saturday. Cato showed an ability to hit last year on special teams and he brought it again in the scrimmage. Swanson handed out some physical play.
The guys in the back looked strong against the run, but they weren't tested much deep. That made it tough to completely evaluate their abilities.
P: I'll make this short. Ryan Donahue looked like the all-Big Ten punter in his brief work on Saturday. He looked more consistent than he had in his first two seasons and also appeared to improve his placement.
K: It wasn't a great day for Daniel Murray or Trent Mossbrucker, but the former certainly looked more sure and consistent than the latter. Both guys performed well on shorter FG attempts, but it was no contest beyond 40 yards. Yes, they each only hit 1 of 3 from 50, but Mossbrucker missed really badly on some of his attempts in the 40s.
Returns: We didn't get a look at the kick returners. Sandeman, Chaney, Spievey and Shane Prater all took turns fielding punts. They didn't return any of them.
INJURY UPDATE: Chad Geary, who looked to be in the mix for major playing time on the D-line, tore his ACL in the spring and he likely won't be back until real games roll around, Ferentz said.
Johnson (leg) and Joe Gaglione were hurt during the spring and missed time. Johnson is expected to be back for summer camp, but Gaglione may need more time to heal from shoulder surgery.
Steve Bigach was running with the No. 2 D-Line on Saturday, but left practice with what appeared like a shoulder injury. He did perform well before leaving.
Edds, Sash, Greenwood, Moeaki and Andy Kuempel all missed spring workouts after having surgery. All are expected back for summer camp with the exception of Kuempel, whose status for August still is uncertain.
NO. 1 OFFENSE: Stanzi, O'Meara, Morse, Stross, McNutt, Reisner, Bulaga, Richardson, Koeppel, Vandervelde, Calloway.
NO. 1 DEFENSE: Clayborn, Klug, Daniels, Ballard, Hunter, Angerer, Tarpinian, Spievey, Bernstine, Cato, Swanson.
NO. 2 OFFENSE: Vandenberg, Brinson, Leppert, DJK, Sandeman, Herman, Reiff, Doering, Eubanks, Gettis, Zusevics.
No. 2 DEFENSE: Daniel, Meade, Bigach, Semmes, Davis, Coleman, Olson, Castillo, Prater, N. Nielsen, Herbst.
OTHER GUYS GETTING REPS WITH TWOS AND THREES: Nordmann, Chaney, Wienke, Murphy, Gimm, Peterson, Griggs, Lowe, Nardo, Donatell, Kuchel and Conklin.
QUICK-HITTERS: A lot of ex-Hawkeyes took in the action, including King, Kroul, Brandon Myers, Quinn Early, Kyle McCann, Charles Godfrey, Mike Elgin, Mike Humpal and Calvin Davis…Ferentz talked briefly about the suspensions of his son, James Ferentz, Zach Derby and Tyler Christensen, who were cited by police earlier this month. The coach said they were held out of the remainder of spring drills and he would start thinking tomorrow about what happens next for them…Ferentz didn't seem overly happy with Iowa's three announced night games for the upcoming season. He did say he liked them when they were at home. Two of the three are on the road.