IOWA CITY, Iowa — Kirk Ferentz is glad to be back on the practice fields with his Iowa Hawkeye football team.
It was a long offseason for the man heading into his 15th season as the Hawkeyes’ head coach. Coming off a miserable 4-8 season that saw Iowa lose its final six games, Ferentz wants nothing more than to be able to wash 2012 from his memory and move forward.
“I think any time ... it’s like losing a game on Saturday, the next Saturday usually doesn’t come soon enough,” Ferentz answered when asked about anticipating the start of the 2013 season Thursday during Iowa’s annual media day. “I can’t imagine anybody was happy about last year, fans, anybody that follows the team, certainly people involved with the team that put a lot of hours into it.
“It’s a simple adage — it’s a lot more fun when things are going the way you want them to go. That’s what happened, and the only thing you do is try to do something about it, so certainly that’s where our focus has been.”
Iowa returns 14 starters, plus three specialists, as Ferentz will try to avoid having back-to-back losing seasons since his first two in Iowa City (1999 and 2000).
To a man, the Hawkeyes say the vibe around camp after four practices has been good.
“We just want to win,” senior linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “That is the goal of every college football team is to win games. Right now we need to keep up the energy, we’ve had three good days of camp with a lot of guys flying around and we’re just working our butts off.”
To begin the climb back into the upper echelon of the Big Ten Conference standings, the Hawkeyes have a few question marks to answer before they host Northern Illinois Aug. 31 at Kinnick Stadium.
Question number one is who will be the starting quarterback. That is a question Ferentz, second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis and/or any of the three candidates — sophomore Jake Rudock, junior college transfer Cody Sokol or redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard can answer.
“It’s early, and really, there’s not ... we have a three-horse race, and we’re going to let them compete,” Ferentz said.
“We have no time table on when to name one (a starter),” Davis added. “They’re all bright guys, all guys who can make plays with their feet and who have the skills it takes to lead our team. There is just not a lot of difference there.”
Based on serving as James Vandenberg’s back-up last season some would say Rudock is the front-runner, but the Weston, Fla. native says the coaches only know that answer.
“We have a good collective unity between us,” Rudock said. “It is a competition, we’re all just trying to make plays and we all want to be the guy. It is what it is.”
The only fact known is none of the candidates has thrown a pass in FBS game.
When a quarterback is decided upon, the next question for the Hawkeyes is finding a go-to receiver or two. Last year, Iowa averaged just 5.8 yards per pass attempt ranking 116th out of 124 FBS teams and the Hawkeyes had just 121 receptions of 30 yards or more.
Senior Kevonte Martin-Manley is back after hauling in a team-high 52 catches for 571 yards. Senior Jordan Cotton, Tevaun Smith, Don Shumpert and Jacob Hillyer all saw action last year as well.
Ferentz says tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz will also play a big role in the passing game and there are high hopes for junior college transfer Damond Powell. The 5-foot-11 Powell averaged a whopping 30 yards per grab for Snow Community College in Utah last fall, catching 41 passes for 1,231 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“We wouldn’t typically recruit a junior college player unless we felt he had that opportunity, so that motivated us there,” Ferentz said on whether Powell would see the field quickly.
Up front, Decorah native Brett Van Sloten at right tackle is one of three returning starters on the offensive line along with Austin Blythe, who will move from right guard to center, and Brandon Scherff at left tackle.
On defense, the Hawkeyes will be built around three senior linebackers – James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey.
“I thought all three of them had the best spring they’ve had, which you would hope,” Ferentz said. “They’re in their fourth years now ... they’re tremendous team guys, great leaders and, most importantly, they were really playing well in the spring.”
A defensive line that allowed more than 4.3 yards per carry last year is expected to be better and as many as eight players could rotate in and out. In the backfield, starters B.J Lowery at left corner, Nico Law at strong safety and Tanner Miller at free safety are back. Only sophomore Jordan Lomax, who will be replacing Micah Hyde at right corner will be new to the lineup.
“The expectations of the fan base, the coaches and the senior leaders is to win games,” said Morris a preseason all-Big Ten pick at middle linebacker. “That is what we want to do and that is what we are preparing for.”
Aug. 31 – Northern Illinois, 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 – Missouri State, 11 a.m.
Sept. 14 – At Iowa State, 5 p.m.
Sept. 21 – Western Michigan, TBA
Sept. 28 – At Minnesota, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 – Michigan State, 11 a.m.
Oct. 19 – At Ohio State, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 – Northwestern, TBA
Nov. 2 – Wisconsin, TBA
Nov. 9 – At Purdue, TBA
Nov. 23 – Michigan, TBA
Nov. 29 – At Nebraska, 11 a.m.
©2013 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)
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