- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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I'm slowly getting through the final Big Ten Network preview shows, and I've reviewed the tour stop at Iowa. Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith checked in on the Hawkeyes for a recent practice held in shoulder pads and shorts.
Here are some notes and observations:
Running back depth remains a concern, but if Jewel Hampton plays like he practiced on this day, Iowa should be just fine. Hampton showed great burst and cutback ability, and no signs of the knee problems that cost him the 2009 season. He made several nice runs and had a great cutback on a screen pass in team drills. "I think he’s going to take this run game to another level," Griffith said. "He is so quick, and he’s so patient as a runner." The BTN crew all said Iowa will lose something without Brandon Wegher, who has left the team.
Although Derrell Johnson-Koulianos didn't practice, the wide receivers had a very good practice overall. Marvin McNutt made the play of the day with a one-handed grab for a touchdown on a deep pass from Ricky Stanzi. McNutt, who stretched the field throughout last season, beat sophomore corner Micah Hyde on the play. Keenan Davis also looked good and made several good catches. "He's poised for a big year," DiNardo said of Davis. "He's probably going to be the third receiver."
Stanzi had a decent day overall, showing good touch on fade routes and threading the needle on some passes in individual drills. His performance in team drills was a bit concerning, as he made a risky throw over the middle and was intercepted by Shane DiBona on a likely pick-six on the final play. Stanzi still makes a few throws that leave you scratching your head. He told the BTN about the importance of squaring his hips and shoulders to his target, and moving his feet correctly. Backup quarterback James Vandenberg showed good mobility in the pocket.
DiNardo is a big fan of Ferentz's, saying, "Nobody can run a better practice." He also talked extensively about Iowa being able to handle the hype and expectations this year. "If Iowa wants to prove they’re a champion, they listen to their coach and they don't listen or believe what they read," DiNardo said. My take: if Iowa doesn't win this fall, it won't be because of getting carried away in the hype. This team has great leadership and a no-frills approach to the game. If the Hawkeyes stumble, it'll be because they're not good enough. "Grinding every day, that beats complacency," defensive end Adrian Clayborn told the BTN crew.
It was a lot of fun watching the two lines compete, especially the matchup between Clayborn and left tackle Riley Reiff, who left a very good impression with DiNardo and Griffith. Guard Julian Vandervelde did a nice job of sealing off defensive tackle Karl Klug on one play, while end Broderick Binns beat his man on another play. DiNardo pointed out that Iowa's defensive linemen consistently keep their pads under those of the O-linemen. The Big Ten Network singled out Reiff, defensive lineman Mike Daniels and offensive linemen James Ferentz and Adam Gettis for their play. "I think this offensive line, at the end of the day, is going to be fine," DiNardo said. Added Griffith: "It’s not a concern for me any more."
We didn't see much from the back seven on defense, although Jeremiha Hunter had a nice pass breakup in team drills. Cornerback Micah Hyde was DiNardo's pick for under-the-radar player, and the crew also likes linebacker James Morris, one of the true freshmen who will see the field this fall.
Freshman tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is absolutely enormous, and should see some action this fall. "There's no way he's [just] 250," Griffith joked.
Kirk Ferentz still seemed a bit concerned about the kicking game and finding more depth along the offensive line, but he seemed pleased with the team's attitude amid the expectations.