IOWA CITY — On the first day of spring football practice, it’s the first day of pretty much everything for the upcoming season.
So, what you saw on Iowa’s depth chart Wednesday was for entertainment purposes only. Mostly entertainment purposes. It’s always good to have a head start on the competition, and so spring practice is off to a fine start for a few new faces, a few old faces in new places and for a head coach who has his staff intact, a potential all-American at left offensive tackle, nine scholarship running backs and a returning starter at quarterback.
“We’ve kind of reinvented ourselves in a way,” Ferentz said, referring to his coaching staff, which has seen six of the nine positions turnover in the last three offseasons. And then, Ferentz joked, “I feel like we’re loaded up for the next decade. I don’t know how the assistants feel . . .”
Iowa returns eight starters on offense, with offensive tackle Brandon Scherff leading the way. He was Iowa’s co-MVP last season, as a junior O-lineman. That’s saying something. He’ll be joined by center Austin Blythe and guard Jordan Walsh.
Quarterback Jake Rudock is back. The junior threw for 2,383 yards, 18 TDs and 13 interceptoins last season. Sophomore C.J. Beathard finished three games after Rudock suffered knee sprains. Yes, there is competition between Rudock and Beathard, but Rudock has a season as a starter in the books.
“I’m not going to say it’s just like last year, but it is in that they’ll both compete,” Ferentz said. “C.J. did a lot of good things last year and I’d expect him to be a better player this spring than he was a year ago. We’ll let those guys compete and it should be a great competition. They’re both competitive guys, they’re both good football players.”
On the depth chart, the almighty “or” has adjusted to what junior Jordan Canzeri showed in the final third of last season, when he gained 366 yards on 50 carries in Iowa’s final five games (7.32 yards a carry). He’s listed alongside senior Mark Weisman at running back. Senior Damon Bullock and sophomore LeShun Daniels are the No. 2s.
Conversely, Weisman racked up 53 percent of his carries (119 of 226) in Iowa’s first five games.
“He runs so hard, so physical as a player, the caution with him is just over doing it,” Ferentz said. “We’ve done that in the past. Last year we kind of had to pull back to get him back to where he was going at an effective rate. If you don’t pull him back, he won’t. He’s one of those guys.”
Ferentz mentioned Weisman has flexibility because he can play running back and fullback. Weisman as fullback hasn’t been discussed much since he moved from fullback in 2012. Ferentz also announced the departure of running back Michael Malloy, so the Hawkeyes is on track to have nine scholarship running backs on the roster this fall.
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Sean Welsh is the newest face. He’s listed as the starter at left guard, ahead of sophomore Ryan Ward. Probably don’t write the 6-3, 285-pounder’s name in Magic Marker. Ferentz even joked, “Do we list him as a starter?”
Iowa took a bit of a personnel gamble with offensive line scholarships the last two years. The staff basically borrowed full rides that might’ve gone to O-linemen and went looking for an upgrade in speed. That has a chance to pay off this fall, with four redshirt freshman wide receivers (one of which — Derrick Willies — ended up on Wednesday’s depth chart) coming on line and five incoming freshman defensive backs.
In the meantime, Iowa has walk-ons (Boone Myers and Cole Croston) listed as the backup offensive tackles.
“Especially going back two years ago, we felt like we had to bring in a group of wide receivers,” Ferentz said. “That was an area that needed to be addressed. We feel like we’ve created some really good competition there.”
As far as the five defensive backs in the 2014 recruiting class, Iowa was able to land the players it had on the top of its board.
“If you have some guys up there that you like, sometimes you go that direction and try to catch up [with other areas of need] the next year,” Ferentz said. “We’ll try to get that in balance at some point [offensive line scholarships]. We’re going to have to.”
Asked if he’d rather have a veteran defensive line or a veteran linebacker corps, Ferentz got greedy and said both. In ’14, it’ll be a veteran D-line with tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat anchoring the middle and Drew Ott and Mike Hardy returning at end. Iowa will try to replace the fantastically productive trio of Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris with middle linebacker Quinton Alston, weakside linebacker Reggie Spearman and outside linebacker Travis Perry.
“The biggest thing in the initial stages is to encourage the guys to be aggressive,” Ferentz said. “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, because we’re not going to lose a game this spring.”
One of the bigger surprises on the depth chart was junior Jordan Lomax listed as starter at free safety. He started the 2013 season as a starting corner, suffered a couple of injuries and ended the season on special teams, yielding to sophomore Desmond King, who made the Big Ten Network’s all-freshman team.
Sophomore free safety Anthony Gair has been slowed with a wrist injury. Lomax has experience and smarts (the economics major was academic all-Big Ten last year).
Left cornerback is another almighty “or” race. Sophomore Maurice Fleming and junior Sean Draper will wrestle for the spot.
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