Big Ten: Jaleel Johnson

Position battles: Iowa Hawkeyes

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
Spring practice is just around the corner in the Big Ten. Michigan and Northwestern will be on the field before the end of this month, and the rest of the league will follow shortly after.

With that in mind, we're taking a look at some spring position battles to watch for each Big Ten team. We'll key on two to three spots for each squad and give you the outlook.

Up next: Iowa

Quarterback: Both C.J. Beathard and Jake Rudock had turns leading the offense last fall, and neither was able to really solidify himself as the full-time answer for Kirk Ferentz. The Iowa coaching staff made some minor waves by listing Beathard at the top of the postseason depth chart, but in reality that doesn’t mean much since they’ll have all of spring and then training camp in the fall to sort out the competition. The Hawkeyes also have Tyler Wiegers waiting in reserve after he redshirted last season and he could potentially add some intrigue to a quarterback derby that will receive no shortage of attention.

Left tackle: One of the most physically gifted blockers in the country is gone, and regardless of who winds up winning the quarterback job, Iowa is going to need to find somebody to anchor the protection on the edge in place of Brandon Scherff. Boone Myers and Cole Croston both have size and have spent time in the program learning the system and gaining strength, and considering the big shoes they’re trying to fill, this camp could serve as a crucial audition. The Hawkeyes have room to improve across the line, but tackle figures to be the focus.

Defensive tackle: A talented tandem that gave Iowa little reason to worry about the interior of its defensive line is now gone, and Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat won’t be easy to replace. Iowa does have some upperclassmen on hand to potentially help ease the transition, and there actually isn’t all that much experience to draw on among Jaleel Johnson, Faith Ekakitie, Nathan Bazata and Kyle Terlouw. The Hawkeyes will need to find at least two reliable contributors out of that group with so much production now out the door and heading to the next level.

Iowa Hawkeyes spring wrap

May, 3, 2013
2012 record: 4-8
2012 conference record: 2-6 (tied for fifth in Legends Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Mark Weisman, RB Damon Bullock, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB B.J. Lowery, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, OT Brandon Scherff

Key losses

QB James Vandenberg, WR Keenan Davis, CB Micah Hyde, DL Steve Bigach, DL Joe Gaglione, C James Ferentz

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Mark Weisman* (815 yards)
Passing: James Vandenberg (2,249 yards)
Receiving: Kevonte Martin-Manley* and Keenan Davis (571 yards)
Tackles: Anthony Hitchens* (124)
Sacks: Joe Gaglione (5)
Interceptions: Christian Kirksey*, Tom Donatell and Greg Castillo (2)

Spring answers

1. Ground and pound: Iowa is at its best when its offensive line is paving the way for a powerful running game. The Hawkeyes look ready to get back to that this year. The return of Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal from leg injuries means the offensive line is deep and experienced, and for once the Iowa running back curse did not rear its head during the offseason (though we've still got a few months to go). Bulldozer Mark Weisman leads a group that includes Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri and that gives offensive coordinator Greg Davis some versatility to use in the backfield. If injuries and other off-the-field problems can be avoided, this should be the strength of the Hawkeyes offense.

2. Linebackers set: Few teams return as much production at linebacker as Iowa, where all three starters are back after each recorded at least 95 tackles in 2012. That doesn't mean that they always played great, as none of the three have earned any All-Big Ten honors. But the linebackers -- Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens -- are without a doubt among the leaders on this defense, and all three played well this spring. Kirk Ferentz said that Hitchens -- who needed to improve despite his gaudy tackle numbers last year -- showed growth this offseason. All three must raise their games, but they're capable of doing so.

3. Carl's coming on strong: The Hawkeyes really need someone to emerge as a disruptive force on the defensive line, and junior Carl Davis showed he might be ready for that in the spring game. He had three sacks and batted down two passes, and though it was just a scrimmage, the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder has all the physical tools to be a star if he can stay healthy.

Fall questions

1. QB derby: Hey, Iowa's production at quarterback can't get much worse than last year. Still, the Hawkeyes have to settle on a starter, and the coaches say that it's an even three-man battle between Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard following spring drills. Rudock and Sokol look to have pulled away a bit, but Iowa doesn't plan on naming a starter until mid-August.

2. Playmakers at receiver: Davis wants the offense to go more vertical this season after too many wasted horizontal passes in 2012. The question remains whether Iowa has the players to implement that. Martin-Manley is a reliable slot guy, and Jordan Cotton has good speed. But the Hawkeyes' receivers still have trouble gaining separation and creating yardage after the catch. Davis hopes the running game can open up things via the play-action pass, but the receivers need to spend this summer maximizing every ounce of their ability.

3. This is the end? Iowa generated only 13 sacks in 12 games last year, ranking last in the Big Ten by a large margin. Only 8.5 of those came from the defensive line. While there's promise with Davis and at the other defensive tackle spots, there are large questions about who can come off the edge and cause opposing quarterbacks trouble. Can Dominic Alvis take the next step? Will young players like freshmen Faith Ekakitie and Jaleel Johnson make an impact? This is an area that has to get better, both in rushing the passer and containing plays on the perimeter.

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 30, 2012
I wasn't going to do these links, but then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce sent Joan over to convince me.