IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It has been a great day at Iowa, where I had the chance to visit with head coach Kirk Ferentz, three assistants and several players, including star defensive end Adrian Clayborn and quarterback Ricky Stanzi. I'll have much more on the Hawkeyes next week, particularly on Tuesday, but I have a few quick items before heading back to Chicago.
Clayborn will get a ton of preseason pub, and deservedly so, but Ferentz singled out defensive tackle Karl Klug for his performance this spring. Iowa loses leaders like linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds on defense, and Klug appears ready to take on a bigger role in that department. "Karl played well in the fall," Ferentz said, "but if you surveyed any 10 of our players now, at least nine of them would tell you, maybe 10, that Karl Klug is one of our best leaders and one of our best players." Iowa returns all four starters on the defensive line, and Ferentz considers junior defensive tackle Mike Daniels a fifth starter up front.
Incoming freshman A.J. Derby is staying at quarterback, at least for the immediate future.Derby played quarterback in high school but was classified as an "athlete" by most recruiting services, including ESPN, leading many to believe he could see time at other positions. "We think he's going to be just fine at quarterback," Ferentz said. "We really have been impressed. And he fits right in with the other three because he's got a real good football mentality." I asked wide receivers coach Erik Campbell if he'd like Derby as a wide receiver, à la Marvin McNutt, and Campbell replied, "No. He's not an athletic type like Marvin. Rick Stanzi would be a pretty good wide receiver: He's nice and tall and long. But I don't think they'd make that trade." I don't think so, either.
Ferentz thinks the quarterback group is the strongest that he has had since becoming Hawkeyes head coach. Stanzi has had a solid spring, focusing heavily on reducing his interceptions total. Backup James Vandenberg proved himself a bit against Ohio State last year, and Ferentz recognized third-stringer John Wienke for his play this spring.
Iowa has shuffled the linebackers at different spots this spring, but if the Hawkeyes opened the season Saturday, they would have Jeff Tarpinian at middle linebacker, and Jeremiha Hunter and Tyler Nielsen at the two outside spots, Ferentz said. "They've all improved, including Jeremiah, a two-year starter," Ferentz said. "He's had his best spring, so that's good to see."
Allen Reisner has stepped in well as the No. 1 tight end, and Ferentz has seen very promising signs from junior Brad Herman as a No. 2 option. "He's clearly had his best period of practice," Ferentz said of Herman. "That's something we really needed to see." Ferentz also thinks its possible incoming freshman C.J. Fiedorowicz could be a factor at tight end with a strong preseason.
About the only downside to Iowa's spring has been injuries to the running backs. Adam Robinson has been out all spring following shoulder surgery. Brandon Wegher was practicing full-go until sustaining a shoulder sprain. Jewel Hampton is "absolutely fine" but hasn't participated in contact drills. "My name's Tucker, not sucker, so we're not going to have him get hit this spring," Ferentz said. "We're trying to be real careful with him." Brad Rogers will get most of the work in Saturday's spring game, but all three primary backs will be fine for fall camp. Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe both said it's possible Iowa could split the carries evenly among the three backs.
It's too soon to make season predictions, but I'll say this: Iowa won't be overconfident, and besides Ohio State, no team is better prepared to handle expectations than the Hawkeyes. There aren't a lot of egos walking around Iowa's football complex, and players know just how close they were to a Rose Bowl last year, and just how close they were to a mediocre season. That's a good sign heading into the 2010 season.