Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Big shoes to fill: Iowa
By Brian Bennett
Today we wrap up our big shoes to fill series, where we look how each Big Ten team plans to replace two key departed stars.
Last but not least in the rundown is Iowa. The obvious pick here is running back Marcus Coker, whose offseason transfer leaves the Hawkeyes with little to no experience in the backfield. That will be a major storyline all spring and summer, but since we've already written a lot about that, I decided to focus this piece on two other guys who leave large voids in the lineup:
Much is expected from Iowa receiver Keenan Davis after his strong 2011 season.
Why: McNutt was named the Big Ten's top receiver last season, and with good reason, as he had 82 catches for 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns. When defenses were able to slow McNutt, as they did in the final two games, Iowa's passing game struggled.
The skinny: Iowa really needs Davis to take his game up a notch and become the go-to receiver. Davis has plenty of talent, and he made 50 catches for 713 yards and four touchdowns last season. But he has struggled with drops and injuries throughout his career, and must become more consistent. Martin-Manley showed lots of promise as a redshirt freshmen with 30 catches and 323 yards, though most of his production came early in the season. Hopefully another year of development will help him blossom. After that, the Hawkeyes don't have much experience and might need to rely on a guy like Hillyer breaking out, or even a true freshman contributing, so quarterback James Vandenberg has enough targets.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Reilly Reiff, LT
Why: We've paid a lot of attention to the holes Iowa has to fill at running back, receiver and defensive line, but the offensive line is a concern as well. The Hawkeyes lose three starters and both tackles. One of the best linemen in the Big Ten, Reiff skipped his senior year and is expected to be selected in the first half of the first round of the NFL draft.
The skinny: Donnal was a highly regarded recruit who backed up Reiff last season as a redshirt freshman. He is clearly being groomed to take over at left tackle. Scherff has seen some time at guard and tackle, but needs to improve. Van Sloten is more likely to push for the starting job at right tackle. McMillan started at guard as a freshman in 2010, but missed all of last season with an injury. Ward has potential, but it would be surprising to see a true freshman play a significant role at left tackle. While Reiff leaves some literal and figurative big shoes to fill, Iowa has been very good at developing offensive linemen under Kirk Ferentz, and has some big bodies to work with this offseason.