Big Ten: Darian Cooper

Big Ten morning links

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
When you're watching Big Ten football on opening weekend, be sure to read between the lines.

Don't ignore new quarterbacks like Wes Lunt and Tanner McEvoy, or newcomer defenders like Jabrill Peppers and Jihad Ward, but the real gauge for some teams will take place in the trenches. There are several revamped lines in the Big Ten that will be under the microscope in Week 1.

Let's take a look:

Wisconsin defensive line versus LSU (in Houston): The Badgers will start three new players up front -- ends Chikwe Obasih and Konrad Zagzebski, and tackle Warren Herring -- against talented Tigers running backs Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and Leonard Fournette, the decorated incoming freshman. Herring and Zabzekbski have five combined career starts, while Obasih, a redshirt freshman, makes his debut on a huge stage.

"I really feel that in the pass rush aspect and in the containing the quarterback aspect, we are a little bit more athletic and we have a little bit more speed," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda told me last week.

Penn State offensive line versus UCF (in Dublin, Ireland): Only one healthy starter (tackle Donovan Smith) returns for PSU's line, which has heard all about its depth issues throughout the offseason. The group will be tested right away by a UCF defense that returns nine starters, including the entire line. You can bet Knights coach George O'Leary will put Penn State's line under duress from the onset.

Ohio State offensive line versus Navy (in Baltimore): Like Penn State, Ohio State brings back just one line starter (tackle Taylor Decker) from last year, and the unit's task became a lot tougher after the season-ending loss of quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes' new-look front must protect freshman signal caller J.T. Barrett and create some running room against a smaller Navy defensive line.

Northwestern defensive line versus Cal: Both Wildcat lines have question marks entering the season, but the defensive front enters the spotlight after dealing with injuries throughout the offseason. Veteran defensive tackle Sean McEvilly (foot) is out for the season, and tackles Greg Kuhar and C.J. Robbins will get an opportunity to assert themselves against a Cal offense that racked up 549 yards against Northwestern in last year's game.

Purdue offensive line versus Western Michigan: The Boilers simply weren't strong enough up front in 2013 and couldn't move the ball for much of the season. They should be better on the interior with center Robert Kugler leading the way. This is a great chance for Purdue to start strong against a Western Michigan defense that ranked 118th nationally against the run in 2013.

Michigan offensive line versus Appalachian State: This isn't the Appalachian State team that shocked Michigan in 2007, but the Wolverines need to gain cohesion and confidence up front and with their run game. After a lot of line shuffling in camp, Michigan tries to get backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith going in the opener before a Week 2 trip to Notre Dame.

To the links ...

West Division
East Division
And, finally ...
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive lines.

Illinois: This is a significant concern for the Illini, especially after the recent departure of Houston Bates, who started last season at the Leo (defensive end/outside linebacker) spot. Illinois also loses its other starting defensive end, Tim Kynard. The team will rely heavily on junior-college players such as Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu, but it also needs holdovers like Dawuane Smoot and Paul James III to step up on the perimeter. Illinois returns more experience inside with Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell, but there should be plenty of competition, especially with the juco arrivals, after finishing 116th nationally against the run.

Indiana: The anticipated move to a 3-4 alignment under new coordinator Brian Knorr creates a different dynamic for the line this spring. Indiana must identify options at the all-important nose tackle spot, and possibilities include sophomores Ralphael Green and Darius Latham, both of whom are big bodies. Nick Mangieri had a nice sophomore season and should be in the mix for a starting job on the perimeter (end or outside linebacker), while David Kenney could be a good fit as a 3-4 end. Defensive end Ryan Phillis is the team's most experienced lineman, and Zack Shaw also has some starting experience.

Iowa: This group should be the strength of the defense as Iowa returns three full-time starters -- tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, and end Drew Ott -- as well as Mike Hardy, who started the second half of the season opposite Ott. End Dominic Alvis departs, but Iowa brings back almost everyone else from a line that allowed only eight rushing touchdowns in 2013. Junior Darian Cooper could have a bigger role and push for more playing time inside, and Nate Meier provides some depth on the perimeter after recording two sacks in 2013. Iowa is in good shape here.

Maryland: The Terrapins employ a 3-4 scheme and appear to be in good shape up front, as reserve Zeke Riser is the only rotation player to depart. Andre Monroe leads the way at defensive end after an excellent junior season in which he led Maryland in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (17). Quinton Jefferson started at defensive end last season and recorded three sacks. There should be some good competition this spring at nose tackle between Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo, both of whom had more than 30 tackles last season. The challenge is building greater depth with players such as end Roman Braglio.

Michigan: If the Wolverines intend to make a big step in 2014, they'll need more from the front four, which didn't impact games nearly enough last fall. Michigan's strength appears to be on the edges as veteran Frank Clark returns after starting every game in 2013 and recording a team-high 12 tackles for loss. Brennen Beyer, who started the second half of last season, is back at the other end spot, and Michigan has depth with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. There are more questions inside as Willie Henry, Chris Wormley and others compete for the starting job. Young tackles such as Henry Poggi and Maurice Hurst Jr. also are in the mix, and Ondre Pipkins should be a factor when he recovers from ACL surgery.

Michigan State: The Spartans return the best defensive end tandem in the league as Shilique Calhoun, a second-team All-American in 2013, returns alongside Marcus Rush, one of the Big Ten's most experienced defenders. Joel Heath, Brandon Clemons and others provide some depth on the perimeter. It's a different story inside as MSU loses both starters (Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover), as well as reserve Mark Scarpinato. Damon Knox, James Kittredge and Lawrence Thomas, who has played on both sides of the ball, are among those who will compete for the starting tackle spots. If Malik McDowell signs with MSU, he could work his way into the rotation.

Minnesota: Defensive tackles like Ra'Shede Hageman don't come around every year, and he leaves a big void in the middle of Minnesota's line. The Gophers will look to several players to replace Hageman's production, including senior Cameron Botticelli, who started opposite Hageman last season. Other options at tackle include Scott Ekpe and Harold Legania, a big body at 308 pounds. Minnesota is in much better shape at end with Theiren Cockran, arguably the Big Ten's most underrated defensive lineman. Cockran and Michael Amaefula both started every game last season, and Alex Keith provides another solid option after recording five tackles for loss in 2013.

Nebraska: Other than MSU's Calhoun, Nebraska returns the most dynamic defensive lineman in the league in Randy Gregory, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in his first FBS season. If the Huskers can build around Gregory, they should be very stout up front this fall. Nebraska won't have Avery Moss, suspended for the 2014 season, and players such as Greg McMullen and junior-college transfer Joe Keels will compete to start opposite Gregory. The competition inside should be fascinating as junior Aaron Curry and sophomore Vincent Valentine both have starting experience, but Maliek Collins came on strong at the end of his first season and will push for a top job.

Northwestern: It will be tough to get a clear picture of this group in the spring because of several postseason surgeries, but Northwestern should be fine at defensive end despite the loss of Tyler Scott. Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson all have significant experience and the ability to pressure quarterbacks. Odenigbo, who had 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman, could become a star. The bigger questions are inside as Northwestern must build depth. Sean McEvilly is a solid option but must stay healthy. Chance Carter and Max Chapman are among those competing for starting jobs at tackle.

Ohio State: A total mystery last spring, the defensive line should be one of Ohio State's strengths in 2014. Noah Spence and Joey Bosa could become the Big Ten's top pass-rushing tandem, and the Buckeyes have depth there with Jamal Marcus, Adolphus Washington and others. Returning starter Michael Bennett is back at defensive tackle, and while Joel Hale might move to offense, there should be enough depth inside with Tommy Schutt, Chris Carter and Washington, who could slide inside. Nose tackle is the only question mark, but new line coach Larry Johnson inherits a lot of talent.

Penn State: Like the rest of the Lions defense, the line struggled at times last season and now much replace its top player in tackle DaQuan Jones. The new coaching staff has some potentially good pieces, namely defensive end Deion Barnes, who won 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors but slumped as a sophomore. Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan could form a dangerous pass-rushing tandem, but they'll need support on the inside, where there should be plenty of competition. Austin Johnson will be in the mix for a starting tackle spot, and early enrollees Tarow Barney and Antoine White also should push for time. Anthony Zettel provides some depth on the perimeter.

Purdue: The line endured a tough 2013 campaign and loses two full-time starters (tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. and end Greg Latta), and a part-time starter (end Ryan Isaac). Competition should be ramped up at all four spots this spring. Senior end Ryan Russell is the most experienced member of the group must take a step this offseason. Evan Panfil and Jalani Phillips will push for time at the end spots, along with Kentucky transfer Langston Newton. The group at tackle includes Ryan Watson and Michael Rouse III, both of whom started games in 2013.

Rutgers: Keep a close eye on this group in the spring as Rutgers begins the transition to the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lose two starters in end Marcus Thompson and tackle Isaac Holmes, as well as contributor Jamil Merrell at tackle. Darius Hamilton provides a building block on the inside after recording 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and end Djwany Mera is back after starting throughout last season. David Milewski played tackle last year, but both he and Hamilton likely need to add weight for their new league. Rutgers has some talent in the younger classes and needs players such as Sebastian Joseph, Kemoko Turay and Julian Pinnix-Odrick to emerge.

Wisconsin: Linebacker Chris Borland is the biggest single departure for the Badgers' defense, but the no position group loses more than the line. Wisconsin must replace several mainstays, most notably nose tackle Beau Allen, who performed well in the first year of the 3-4 set under coordinator Dave Aranda. Senior Warren Herring will step in for Allen after three years as a reserve. Konrad Zagzebski is a good bet to fill one of the end spots, but there will be plenty of competition with players such as Jake Keefer, James Adeyanju, Arthur Goldberg and Chikwe Obasih.

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, C.J. Olaniyan, Ryan Phillis, Louis Trinca-Pasat, DaQuan Jones, Konrad Zagzebski, Tyler Hoover, Larry Johnson, Micajah Reynolds, Warren Herring, Aaron Curry, Ra\'Shede Hageman, Harold Legania, Beau Allen, Austin Teitsma, Ryan Russell, Marcus Rush, Sean McEvilly, Lawrence Thomas, Dominic Alvis, Deion Barnes, Chance Carter, Max Chapman, Bruce Gaston Jr., Shilique Calhoun, Deonte Gibson, Michael Amaefula, Damon Knox, Darian Cooper, Jalani Phillips, Jake Keefer, Anthony Zettel, Houston Bates, Tyler Scott, Carl Davis, Noah Spence, Nick Mangieri, Greg McMullen, Arthur Goldberg, Randy Gregory, Ryan Isaac, Tommy Schutt, Adolphus Washington, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Vincent Valentine, Jamal Marcus, Teko Powell, Greg Latta, Ryan Watson, James Kittredge, Tim Kynard, Mark Scarpinato, Chris Carter, Ralphael Green, Chikwe Obasih, Malik McDowell, David Kenney, Dawuane Smoot, Darius Latham, Nate Meier, Dean Lowry, Dave Aranda, Evan Panfil, Cameron Botticelli, Theiren Cockran, Avery Moss, Michael Rouse III, Scott Ekpe, Antoine White, Alex Keith, Paul James, Tarow Barney, Jihad Ward, Maliek Collins, Langston Newton, Andre Monroe, B1G spring positions 14, Quinton Jefferson, Keith Bowers, Darius Kilgo, Roman Braglio, Marcus Thompson, Isaac Holmes, Jamil Merrell, Djwany Mera, David Milewski, Sebastian Joseph, Kemoko Turay, Julian Pinnix-Odrick, James Adeyanju

Spring game preview: Iowa

April, 26, 2013
Big Ten spring football wraps up Saturday as both Iowa and Minnesota hold their annual spring games/scrimmages. We're taking a quick look at each one.

First up, Iowa's spring scrimmage presented by Coke Zero.

When: Saturday, 3:05 p.m. ET

Where: Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa

Admission: Free. The west and south grandstands are open, and Gates A and G open at 2 p.m. ET. Parking is available in all university lots around Kinnick Stadium. Fans are invited to bring nonperishable food items for the ANF Food Bank Drive.

TV: Live on BTN2Go. Big Ten Network will broadcast scrimmage on tape-delay at 8 p.m. ET Sunday.

Weather: Partly cloudy, 60-64 degrees, winds at 7-9 mph.

What to watch for: Iowa has been more fan friendly this spring, and the theme continues with the spring scrimmage, which will be more like a real game with four 15-minute quarters and a scoring system for both the offense and the defense. Most of the attention will be on the quarterbacks, as Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard continue to compete for the starting position.

Rudock looked like the man to beat in the April 14 scrimmage in West Des Moines, although offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Wednesday that he has "no idea" who the starter will be. The race will spill into fall camp, but Saturday marks the final chance for the candidates to impress the coaching staff before the summer. Davis said each quarterback likely will get to lead his own drive in the scrimmage.

"They've all done some really good things," Davis said, "but they have not separated themselves yet."

Fans also want to see who emerges at wide receiver, where returning starter Kevonte Martin-Manley, Don Shumpert and Tevaun Smith are getting the most work. The running back rotation also will be a focal point as Iowa's coaches have talked a lot about using multiple backs on the field together. Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock are getting the most work, and Jordan Canzeri also is in the mix.

The defensive line also figures to be in the spotlight Saturday as Iowa works toward filling out its rotation. Tackle Carl Davis has impressed the coaches this spring, and true sophomore Drew Ott is working as a starting defensive end. Young players like Darian Cooper and Faith Ekakitie also will be in the spotlight Saturday, as Iowa looks to boost its pass rush.

"Faith, he's probably the most intriguing guy," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "He can play inside and I think he can play outside as an end. Very impressed with the way he can run and move. We moved him out here late a little bit at the end. He probably had four or five days of practice. So we're intrigued by putting him out on the edge."

Iowa is solid at linebacker but has a few question marks in the secondary. Cornerback Jordan Lomax, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, is in the mix to start opposite B.J. Lowery.
Big Ten spring football is finally in full swing as Iowa on Wednesday became the 12th and final league team to hit the practice field. The return to the gridiron can't come a moment too soon for the Hawkeyes, who went 4-8 in 2012, their worst record since coach Kirk Ferentz's second season at the helm (2000). It has been another offseason of transition for Iowa as Ferentz welcomes three new full-time assistants (Chris White, Bobby Kennedy and Jim Reid) for a second consecutive year. Finding a quarterback tops Iowa's spring agenda, and the team also needs to identify a center and more playmakers on both sides of the ball. caught up with Ferentz on Wednesday to discuss the spring.

What are the main objectives for you guys this spring?

Kirk Ferentz: Like any spring, you've got a lot of players on a lot of different levels. You've got experienced players, and we're certainly counting on them improving and developing into leaders. You've got younger guys who have played, and you're hoping they're ready to play more proficiently. And then you've got other guys who, in some cases, are special-teams guys who have a chance to become offensive and defensive role players, or guys who haven't been on the field yet. So you have a lot of layers of players at different levels. The biggest thing is trying to gauge where they're at, and at the same time, you're trying to find out what they can do and pull a team together. It's always a fun period and a really interesting period.

How has the transition on the staff this year gone so far, especially in relation to last year? You had quite a long period without any changes on your staff.

KF: Last year was probably a little more dramatic with two new coordinators. Norm [Parker] and Ken [O'Keefe] were here 13 years, so they were big departures. We've got Phil [Parker] and Greg [Davis] both in their second years, and they're both tremendous coaches. What's unusual is how long we were all together at one time. Usually staffs don't stay in one place for 13, 14 years. Normally they move to the next channel and you have a new group of folks coming in. So it's a natural series of transitions. The way I look at it, we've had six new members join the staff in the last two years, and it's a matter of pulling everything together. But I'm really excited about all the guys who have joined. They're outstanding coaches, and it looks like they're all going to be great fits here at Iowa. At the same time, I'm very appreciative of the guys who had been here and helped us move things.

Is the transition harder for the players or the new coaches?

KF: There's learning on both sides. The players to have learn their coaches, certainly, and the coaches have a lot to learn about the players. That can be a healthy thing, too. It's a clean slate and a fresh beginning for everybody. For players, it's a whole new opportunity.

Offensively, it wasn't what you were hoping for last year. Is it a total reset this year with some new faces, or are there some things you can continue from last year?

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Byron Hetzler/USA TODAY SportsThough Kirk Ferentz lost his starting quarterback and center, he said he's more optimistic about Iowa's offense than he was a year ago.
KF: It may be ironic. We feel more comfortable and more optimistic right now than we did a year ago about the offense. The part that's ironic is we lost a two-year starter at quarterback [James Vandenberg]. We had James play a lot at quarterback and James Ferentz played like 38 games at center, so you have two guys right in the middle of things who aren't going to be there. But I look around at other positions and we've got a lot of guys coming back who have played in the system and who I think are more capable now of playing at a higher level than they were a year ago. That's got us excited. That being said, we've got to find replacements for both Jameses. We've got to find a replacement for Keenan Davis and Matt Tobin, to start with. But I look at the group coming back and as recent as late last August, we didn't know if Damon Bullock could play in this conference successfully, and we had no idea Mark Weisman could run the ball. So I think we're a lot further down the road than we were even eight months ago, 10 months ago.

When you and Greg looked at things, did you identify areas to target for the spring?

KF: Greg came in, this was all new to him, the players were all new to him. His knowledge of our personnel is a lot more extensive than it was a year ago at this time. And that was one of the reasons I was so attracted to Greg in the hiring process, his ability historically to work with a lot of different types of players and different types of offenses. He wasn't married to one system. There's nothing like experience, and he's got a real good grip on who our players are, what they can do and what we can do to help them be more productive.

(Read full post)

Spring breakout player: Iowa

March, 5, 2013
Spring practice is kicking off around the Big Ten, and we're taking a look at one potential breakout player for each team. We're spotlighting players who could take a major step during spring ball, so those who have started multiple seasons or earned All-Big Ten recognition in 2012 aren't eligible.

The Iowa Hawkeyes are up next, and they'll be looking for big things from ...

Darian Cooper, DT, sophomore, 6-foot-2, 280 pounds

Iowa's defensive line didn't have a banner season in 2012, but those searching for bright spots saw some from Cooper. Although he didn't start until the season finale against Nebraska, Cooper improved as the fall went along and made solid contributions in a reserve role. He finished the season with 34 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss, to go along with a fumble recovery, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. Cooper recorded 25 tackles and three tackles for loss in Big Ten play, turning in several of his better performances during November.

Consistency will be the key for Cooper this spring after he couldn't crack the starting lineup for most of his redshirt freshman season. Iowa loses two starters along the defensive line -- Joe Gaglione and Steve Bigach -- so there are opportunities for Cooper, both at tackle and potentially at end. He's a bit of a tweener and needs to show more pass-rushing skills, but he has a good speed-size combination and could help on the edges. Expect the talented Cooper to take another step this spring as Iowa looks for difference-makers up front to complement a productive crew of linebackers this coming season.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 21, 2012
Got football fever yet?
"Improvement-driven" has been a buzzword for Iowa football under Kirk Ferentz. And no position on this year's Hawkeyes is taking that phrase more to heart than the defensive line.

The players there have heard all the criticisms: They're too young. Too inexperienced. Didn't play well enough last year. Aren't good enough for Iowa to win big this season.

So there's plenty of fuel for that drive to improve.

"We have a lot of people questioning us," junior defensive end Dominic Alvis said. "That's OK. The way we can shut them up is with our play. It starts right now, in practice each day. We're being improvement-driven, like coach says."

Alvis and Steve Bigach are the only defensive linemen with any starting experience, and that amounts to 13 games total. Alvis began last season playing at defensive tackle, even though he was only about 255 pounds. He said he felt "uncomfortable" playing inside but did so because the team needed him there.

He moved to his more natural position of defensive end by the third game and came up with a sack and a forced fumble against Pitt. He had a pair of tackles for loss against Northwestern and was playing well against Michigan until a torn ACL ended his season.

"I really thought I was kind of getting into my groove" before the injury, he said.

Now, Alvis -- who missed spring practice -- finds himself healthy and about 10 pounds heavier. But he's trying to regain the mental edge he had in the middle of last fall.

"It's amazing how those tools and skills diminish as you're sitting on the couch for six months after an injury," he said. "I'm getting back to that each day and can feel it coming along, but it's a process."

Alvis also has a new position coach in Reese Morgan, who moved over from coaching the offensive line to tackle the young defensive front. Morgan recruited Alvis out of high school, so the relationship there was good from the start. Alvis sees Morgan making a difference with the line.

"The thing he does best is, he is a teacher," Alvis said. "He can make anybody understand the most complex things in very simple terms. We're learning the defense conceptually and honing in on the smallest details needed to beat offensive linemen. Obviously, he's worked with offensive lines, so he knows their weaknesses and plays. He gives us some tips here and there, and it's great to have."

Asked which young players were standing out in camp, Alvis pointed to freshman Darian Cooper, sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat and sophomore Carl Davis, the latter of whom is a talented player who has turned some heads at Iowa's open practices. The ability is there; it's a matter of putting it all together.

"Consistency is the hardest thing to master," Alvis saud. "Play after play, focusing on technique and being perfect at it is the hardest thing you'll ever do. You have to be able to play four quarters in Big Ten games."

The Hawkeyes are flying under the radar in the Big Ten, largely because of questions about that defensive line. All they can do is focus on improvement and hope to prove doubters wrong.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 8, 2012
Links from Mars:

Iowa spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
2011 record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 4-4 (fourth, Legends Division)
Returning starters: offense: 6; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB James Vandenberg, C James Ferentz, WR Keenan Davis, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, CB Micah Hyde, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, S Tanner Miller

Key losses

RB Marcus Coker, WR Marvin McNutt, OT Riley Reff, G Adam Gettis, DT Mike Daniels, DE Broderick Binns, LB Tyler Nielsen, CB Shaun Prater

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marcus Coker (1,384 yards)
Passing: James Vandenberg* (3,022 yards)
Receiving: Marvin McNutt (1,315 yards)
Tackles: James Morris* and Christian Kirksey* (110)
Sacks: Mike Daniels (9)
Interceptions: Micah Hyde* and Tanner Miller (3)

Spring answers

1. Embracing change: Iowa is going through a historic number of changes, including the first new coordinators (Greg Davis and Phil Parker) in Kirk Ferentz's tenure as head coach. But for the most part, players and coaches seem to be embracing the new elements of the program, including an offense that will diverge a bit from what Iowa ran under Ken O'Keefe. The Hawkeyes will be a more up-tempo offense and mix in some no-huddle elements. "They've been extremely open to everything," Davis told "Sometimes the same play said differently and explained differently creates excitement. And I sense an excitement."

2. Back seven emerging: There's no doubt Iowa will lean on its defensive back seven this season. Cornerback Micah Hyde has established himself as a premier playmaker and a team leader, and Ferentz likened the career paths of linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey to those of former stars Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge. Linebacker play could be a major strength for Iowa this fall, while players like Hyde and Tanner Miller bring experience to the secondary.

3. C.J.'s time: Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz arrived at Iowa with a lot of hype and attention. He appears poised for a breakout junior season in Davis' offense. "This is only 39 springs I've been in, and I've never had a tight end like C.J.," Davis told reporters. At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, Fiedorowicz can create a lot of problems for opposing defenses and should be an integral part of the Hawkeyes' passing attack this fall.

Fall questions

1. Defensive line: Iowa hasn't been this young up front in recent memory, and despite a strong track record at defensive line, there are major question marks entering the summer. The coaches are relying on Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione, the only veteran linemen on the field this spring, as well as Dominic Alvis, who will return from a torn ACL this fall. But Iowa undoubtedly needs young players like Darian Cooper, Riley McMinn and Carl Davis to take steps and contribute.

2. Running back: Stop me if you've heard this before, but Iowa enters the summer with big questions at the running back position following Marcus Coker's transfer and Jordan Canzeri's ACL injury during spring ball. The good news is that despite an unfortunate stretch of bad luck and bad circumstances, Iowa has consistently developed good to great Big Ten backs. The Hawkeyes must do so again as unproven returnees Damon Bullock and De'Andre Johnson compete with decorated incoming freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill.

3. The search for No. 1 receiver: All-Big Ten selection Marvin McNutt leaves a significant void, and given Iowa's question marks at running back, the team really needs a No. 1 receiver to emerge. Keenan Davis seems like the obvious choice, but he had an "up and down" spring, according to Ferentz, with some injuries. Kevonte Martin-Manley played a lot last year and could be ready to make some strides, as could Don Shumpert. "We have some room there for guys to step up," Ferentz said.
Iowa's version of a spring game was April 14, but that wasn't the end of the Hawkeyes' spring practice. The team held three more practices after the open workout, and head coach Kirk Ferentz put a bow on his team's spring drills with a news conference Tuesday.

Here are a few highlights from what Ferentz had to say:

-- Ferentz said several players had emerged over the course of the spring. He singled out the defensive line, which went into the spring as a real question mark because of its youth and inexperience. Ferentz said sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat might have made the most progress.

"He was kind of on the ropes back in December, quite frankly," Ferentz said. "A young guy who really was starting to question where his heart was and how important it was to him, and it showed up in his performance. He was out there, he looked OK, but nothing to write home about.

"In the spring, he's really just quietly emerged, and by the second half of spring ball, he's playing as well as anybody on the field either side of the ball. So he's clearly taken some steps."

Ferentz also said Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione played well in spring, while Darian Cooper and Riley McMinn showed the typical inconsistency of inexperience. But "the group as a whole, kind of took some steps forward," which is vitally important to the Hawkeyes' chances this season.

The other position group Ferentz praised for its improvement was the tight ends. He said Jake Duzey and Henry Krieger-Coble had good springs.

-- Offensive lineman Casey McMillan and receiver John Chelf suffered knee injuries that required surgery. But Ferentz thinks both will be back this summer. Defensive linemen Carl Davis and Dominic Alvis missed the spring with injuries but should be back by the first week of June. Linebacker Shane DiBona, coming off an Achilles injury, had a setback and will not play again in his career.

-- Running back Jordan Canzeri, who had an offseason ACL injury, wants to try to get back for this season. Ferentz said, "Everything is going fine, but that's touch and go, to say the least."

The two healthy tailbacks, De'Andre Johnson and Damon Bullock "improved pretty much each and every day," Ferentz said. But he's still understandably concerned about the depth there. In a lighter moment, someone asked Ferentz if he'd be open to accepting a graduate transfer, a la Danny O'Brien and Russell Wilson.

"I think I'd consider anything if we thought it would work," he said. "In fact, if you know of any running backs right now ..."

-- Iowa's leadership group for 2012 will be seniors Bigach, Greg Castillo, James Ferentz, Micah Hyde and James Vandenberg, juniors Casey Kreiter, James Morris, Brad Rogers and Brett Van Sloten, sophomores Kevonte Martin-Manley and Brandon Scherff and freshmen Quinton Alston, Austin Blythe and Jake Rudock.

-- Ferentz said "anywhere on defense," receiver and punter remain unsettled positions. The best news is that it's still early.

"We still have a lot of room for improvement, typical of any football team," Ferentz said. "But I think this team, especially with our youth and experience, we're going to see a lot of transition and a lot of things happening here between now and September. That's going to be fun to track, fun to watch. It's really in the players' hands how they want to approach it and how much they want to improve."

Spring game preview: Iowa

April, 12, 2012
It’s a big weekend in the Big Ten, as seven teams will hold their spring games on Saturday. We're here to guide you through them all with previews of each team’s fan-friendly event.

Let's take a closer look at Iowa's end-of-spring scrimmage/practice:

When: 1 p.m. ET (noon local), Saturday

Where: Kinnick Stadium

Admission: Free. The west and south grandstands are open, and gates open at 11 a.m. local time. Parking is free in some lots, but limited at Kinnick because of construction.

TV: The practice session will be streamed live online at Highlights can be seen Saturday night on BTN's Big Ten Football Report.

Weather forecast: Cloudy with showers possible, temperatures between 66-72 degrees, 50 percent chance of rain, wind at 12-14 mph.

What to watch for: Iowa doesn't hold a true spring game, and instead will complete spring drills with a practice session that includes a controlled scrimmage near its conclusion. The session is expected to last about two hours.

The Hawkeyes are going through dramatic changes this spring as Kirk Ferentz made coordinator changes for the first time in his Iowa tenure. Fans will get their first glimpse at Greg Davis' offense, which will incorporate some hurry-up and no-huddle elements, and different formations than the team has used in the past.

Senior quarterback James Vandenberg has impressed Davis with his ability to pick up the system, and it will be interesting to see how Vandenberg looks on Saturday. Top receiver Keenan Davis is out with a minor injury, so the practice/scrimmage provides an opportunity for others to emerge, particularly at the tight end position. Junior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz will be one to watch Saturday. There's also the seemingly never-ending saga at running back, as Iowa looks for another unproven player to blossom. Damon Bullock and De'Andre Johnson will get most the reps.

Phil Parker is a familiar face for Iowa fans and players, but he has stepped into a new role as defensive coordinator. The scheme changes will be minor and subtle, but Saturday provides an opportunity to evaluate players and position groups, particularly an extremely young defensive line that features two redshirt freshmen in starting roles right now, (tackle Darian Cooper and end Riley McMinn.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz met with reporters today in advance of spring practice kicking off Wednesday. Ferentz discussed an eventful offseason that included the first two coordinator changes of his tenure. The Hawkeyes have released their spring prospectus, which includes a depth chart filled with young players at key positions like defensive end.

Here are some notes from the new dean of Big Ten coaches:
  • Ferentz seemed excited about the additions to his staff and talked about streamlining the game plan on offense with new coordinator Greg Davis. Asked whether Iowa would run more of a spread offense with Davis, Ferentz joked that the team had the most pass attempts in his tenure last season but "didn't get any credit for it." He then took a playful shot at the common fan criticism of Iowa's offense, saying, "Maybe they were conservative throws we were throwing." It does sound like after two ho-hum seasons, Iowa needed to shake things up a bit. "The downside of continuity, stability I think is sometimes you just kind of stay on that same path," Ferentz said. "It's time to look at a lot of things. That's what we're trying to do right now. It's fun. It's invigorating. We're going to do it regardless of what happened with our staff personnel-wise."
  • He also had this to say about Iowa's defensive plan under Phil Parker: "If all you do is throw fastballs, you better be throwing it up near 100 [mph] coming in. But if you can't throw it up that high, you better have a couple other things in your repertoire, at least one other good pitch. You get a guy off guard a little bit. I think that's what we'll have to do."
  • Iowa will be without defensive linemen Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis this spring, as both men are sidelined with knee injuries. Their absences leave Iowa with what has to be one of the youngest defensive line groups in the country. The Hawkeyes list redshirt freshmen Dean Tsopanides and Riley McMinn as the starting defensive ends on their pre-spring depth chart. Redshirt freshman Darian Cooper is listed as a starting defensive tackle, although Alvis likely will fill that role when he returns. Other than senior tackle Steve Bigach, a projected starter, and backup tackle Joe Gaglione, it's all freshmen and sophomores up front. "We are a very young group," Ferentz said.
  • Iowa isn't quite as young on the offensive line, although there are some question marks after center James Ferentz and left guard Matt Tobin, who has the ability to play several spots. Sophomores Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal are listed as co-starters at left tackle, and Brett Van Sloten, who played in the Insight Bowl against Oklahoma, is listed as the starting right tackle ahead of Nolan MacMillan, who comes off an injury-plagued 2011. "We have six, seven, eight, maybe nine guys, maybe 10 for the offensive line positions," Ferentz said. "We're going into it with an open mind. There's no incumbents certainly."
  • The Hawkeyes could end the spring with a clear No. 1 running back, although Ferentz doesn't think they will. Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock are listed as Iowa's top two backs on the pre-spring two-deep, although Ferentz also says De'Andre Johnson can help. "We're going to let those three guys compete and see how that materializes," he said. Heralded freshman Greg Garmon enters the mix this summer.
  • Ferentz is definitely relying on Keenan Davis to emerge as the team's top receiver, especially since there's so much youth behind him. Iowa also is looking for more from the tight end spot, where athletic junior C.J. Fiedorowicz is listed as the starter.

Tidbits: Iowa likely won't make any position changes. Ferentz said one player was discussed but hasn't made a move. ... It's unclear whether Davis will coach from the field or the press box. ... Ferentz said B.J. Lowery has the inside track to start at cornerback opposite Micah Hyde. ... Jake Rudock is listed as the backup quarterback, while reserve signal caller John Wienke is listed as the starting punter. Iowa signed a specialist in February in Connor Kornbrath.

Big Ten preseason camp roundup

August, 8, 2011
By the end of the day, all 12 Big Ten preseason camps will be under way. The weekend featured practices, players reporting and several media days around the league, so we wanted to get caught up.

We already hit on some of the bigger items, such as Nebraska quarterback Bubba Starling being held out of practice as his baseball-football decision looms and Michigan redshirting wide receiver Darryl Stonum and suspending two others.

Here are other notable nuggets from around the league:

  • Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle met with reporters Friday during media day and for the first time addressed the outbreak of rhabdomyolosis in January that put 13 players in the hospital. You can check out video of Doyle's comments here. He didn't go into too many details, calling the situation a "problem" and saying the program has moved forward. Doyle said the well-being of players remains his top priority and that while the intense workout that led to the rhabdo has been eliminated, Iowa will continue to "train with volume."
  • Iowa expects freshman defensive tackle Darian Cooper to report in the middle of the week after a "complication" prevented him from reporting with his classmates.
  • Offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan isn't practicing because of a sports hernia suffered during spring ball.
  • Freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson are making things interesting in the running back competition. Jason Ford remains the front-runner, but offensive coordinator Paul Petrino continues to challenge the senior, as he did in the spring after Ford was limited by injuries. "I need to see Jason run downhill, violent, and get up and do it again," Petrino told the Chicago Sun-Times. Both Young and Ferguson have looked impressive early in practice and could push for carries. Competition is good at every position, but specifically at running back, so I definitely see this as a positive development for the Illini.
  • Offensive tackle Corey Lewis won't be ready for the start of the season as he continues to work his way back from knee surgery. Illinois will look to unproven players Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic to emerge during camp.
  • The Boilers got some bad news at a thin position as defensive end Rashad Frazier didn't show up for the team's first practice Saturday. Frazier was expected to compete with Robert Maci and Ryan Russell for playing time. "We'll move on without him," coach Danny Hope said. Purdue has moved defensive tackle Ryan Isaac to the end spot to help with the low numbers there. The good news is veteran end Gerald Gooden has impressed the coaches so far.
  • Keep an eye on the competition at right tackle as Josh Oglesby and Rob Havenstein will vie for the starting job. Oglesby, a heralded recruit, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, undergoing six knee surgeries, according to coach Bret Bielema. Oglesby will be limited in camp, so Havenstein, who practiced with the first-team offense this spring, has a good opportunity.
  • Bielema listed seven starting spots that are up for grabs in camp: quarterback, running back, right tackle, strong safety, one defensive end spot, one defensive tackle spot and strongside linebacker.
  • Heralded incoming freshman Lawrence Thomas could play linebacker or defensive end, coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday after the team's first practice. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound Thomas will begin practicing at linebacker but could make a move, much like another top recruit, William Gholston, did last year.
  • Wide receiver Keshawn Martin and running back Nick Hill entered camp as Michigan State's top two kick returners. Martin, the league's top punt return man in 2010, will be a busy man on special teams, which is a good thing given how dangerous he can be in that area.
  • Buckeyes players reported during the weekend and will practice for the first time today. All 105 players expected to be part of the preseason camp roster reported, but the group didn't include linebackers Dorian Bell and Jonathan Newsome, and receiver James Louis. Newsome has announced he'll transfer to Ball State and both Bell and Louis could be heading elsewhere as well.
  • Two Huskers offensive linemen, senior Marcel Jones and freshman Givens Price, are sitting out with injuries. Jones should be back this month, while Price will miss all of camp. Incoming freshman cornerback Charles Jackson also isn't practicing because he hasn't been cleared academically.

Iowa recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011

The class

Recruits: 23 (22 high school seniors, one junior college player)

Top prospects: Iowa landed two of the nation's top 20 guards in four-star prospect Jordan Walsh and three-star lineman Austin Blythe. The Hawkeyes had a key signing-day addition in Darian Cooper, rated as the nation's No. 21 defensive tackle by ESPN Recruiting. Ken O'Keefe's offense values the tight end position and Iowa got a good one in Ray Hamilton. Jake Rudock could end up being Iowa's quarterback of the future.

Needs met: The Hawkeyes lose quite a bit at receiver and tight end both now and after the 2011 season, and they addressed both positions in this class. Hamilton is one of three tight ends to go along with two wide receivers. Running back depth has been a major issue in each of the last two seasons, and Iowa added four of them, led by the mammoth Rodney Coe.

Analysis: There's a lot to like in this class, especially two or three years down the road. Iowa took care of its needs -- running back and receiver -- but also landed a potential huge steal at the most important position on the field in Rudock. Walsh and Blythe provide depth along the offensive line, and it'll be interesting to see how quickly defensive recruits like Cooper and linebacker Quinton Alston see the field.

ESPN Recruiting grade: B-

Signed and sealed: Iowa Hawkeyes

February, 2, 2011
Iowa has made it official and announced its 22-man recruiting class for 2011.

The Hawkeyes' class features players from 12 different states, including four from Illinois, three from Maryland and three from within the state. Iowa is bringing in 12 offensive players and 10 on the defensive side.

Here's the position breakdown:

DB: 4
DL: 3
LB: 3
OL: 3
QB: 1
RB: 3
TE: 3
WR: 2
  • Iowa didn't sign any ESPNU 150 prospects this year, but the Hawkeyes' class boasts several players just outside the 150 and good depth overall. Iowa signed three four-star players and 12 players who received grades of 78 or 79 from ESPN Recruiting.
  • The Hawkeyes' pipeline to the Washington D.C. area was a big story line this year and it paid off with three players, including two DeMatha Catholic High School teammates (DT Darian Cooper and CB Jordan Lomax). They join former DeMatha star Marcus Coker at Iowa.