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Monday, April 15, 2013
Iowa QB could have solid supporting cast

By Adam Rittenberg

Kirk Ferentz's decision to have senior quarterback James Vandenberg take all 793 snaps of Iowa's 2012 season received heavy scrutiny, but there's no going back.

The bottom line is the Hawkeyes' starting quarterback for the 2013 opener against Northern Illinois will be making his FBS debut. It's a scary prospect that went 4-8 last season -- its worst mark since 2000 -- and finished 114th nationally in total offense and 111th in scoring.

But there appears to be some good news, in addition to the fact that Jake Rudock, Vandenberg's primary backup in 2012, performed well in Sunday's open scrimmage in Des Moines. Whoever wins the starting job -- Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard are competing and splitting snaps so far this spring -- should have a decent to better-than-decent supporting cast this fall.

Before going any further, I realize the following words could tempt AIRBHG to strike again. But hasn't Iowa suffered enough? There's a merciful side to AIRBHG, I know there is, and perhaps this is the season we see it because ...

Iowa's running back depth should be the offense's strength in 2013.

We saw what Mark Weisman could do when healthy last season, and Damon Bullock also showed some promising signs when he wasn't nursing an ailment. There's talk of using both players on the field together this fall, and Bullock lined up at slot receiver during Sunday's scrimmage. Jordan Canzeri, who missed last season after tearing his ACL last spring, stood out in the scrimmage with runs of 39 and 21 yards.

"We like Mark and Damon," Ferentz said after Sunday's workout. "They're different kinds of backs, but we consider both of them starters. Jordan looked really good today, too, and that was encouraging."

Iowa's offensive line could be improved as Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal return from major injuries. If the Hawkeyes can consistently run the ball with a variety of backs who have proven themselves to different degrees, it will take a bunch of pressure off of the new quarterback.

Tight end also could be a strength as C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ray Hamilton combined for seven receptions and 143 yards in the scrimmage. Iowa fans are waiting for the supremely talented Fiedorowicz to become a superstar. Perhaps he turns the corner this season in his second year in coordinator Greg Davis' system.

Wide receiver remains the big question mark and dropped passes continued to surface in Sunday's scrimmage. But redshirt freshman receiver Riley McCarron, a walk-on, had a breakout performance of sorts before the crowd at Valley Stadium. Iowa's new quarterback needs much more from the wideouts, but McCarron's play is a good sign. The Hawkeyes need some playmakers to come out of nowhere to make the offense go this fall.

Will Iowa be an offensive juggernaut in 2013? Doubtful. Could the lack of experience at quarterback doom the Hawkeyes to another lousy season? It's possible. But the pieces are in place around the new signal caller to foster improvement and produce a respectable offense that will put Iowa in position to win more games.