Big Ten: Faith Ekakitie

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.

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.
The Big Ten recruiting classes are signed and sealed, and although a few more recruits could come aboard, we have a good idea of what the rosters will look like heading into the 2012 season.

That means it's Power Rankings time. Again.

We're taking a post-signing day look at where the league stacks up. There aren't too many changes from our previous rundown, but some teams received a bump from strong recruiting classes.

As they say on Twitter, #legooo.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans' recruiting class didn't crack ESPN's top 25, but it features several strong prospects and is loaded up at wide receiver and defensive back. Mark Dantonio tells us he can't remember recruiting 10 athletes like the ones Michigan State added in the class. Michigan State already is one of the Big Ten's most athletic teams, so this bodes well for the Spartans as they look for another big season.

2. Michigan: Brady Hoke and his staff rode a fast start to 2012 recruiting and finalized a class ranked No. 7 nationally. The Wolverines started three freshmen on defense in 2011 and added several more who can contribute early in their careers, including linebacker Joe Bolden, cornerback Terry Richardson and defensive tackle Ondre "Pee Wee" Pipkins. If Michigan can maintain its momentum on defense after losing several stud linemen, it will be very tough to beat in 2012.

3. Ohio State: Urban Meyer announced himself with a superb recruiting class featuring arguably the nation's best crop of defensive line prospects. Ohio State would have been an improved team in 2012 after its first seven-loss season since 1897, but the recruiting class boosts the Buckeyes even more. The defensive front seven should be a deeper and stronger unit, and players like Noah Spence, the Big Ten's top-rated recruit, have a chance to contribute immediately.

4. Nebraska: The Huskers missed on their top signing day target (offensive lineman Andrus Peat) but still inked a solid class that should help at positions like linebacker, where Big Red lacked size and depth. Linebacker Michael Rose could contribute early in his career. Nebraska also addressed the departure of standout cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with talented juco addition Mohammed Seisay.

5. Wisconsin: Quality not quantity was the theme for Wisconsin, which signed only 12 players, the Big Ten's smallest class by five recruits. The Badgers lost two offensive line commits to other schools but added a decorated quarterback in Bart Houston and some solid players to the defensive back seven, including linebacker Vince Biegel. This is the type of season that will test Wisconsin's ability to reload and provide a true gauge of the program's progress under Bret Bielema.

6. Penn State: New coach Bill O'Brien and his staff had to scramble to keep the class together, and the 2012 recruiting haul didn't quite match what Penn State adds in most seasons. The coaches were able to keep some good prospects and fulfilled a need at wide receiver with Eugene Lewis and others. It'll be interesting to see how quarterback Steven Bench turns out after Penn State lost verbal commit Skyler Mornhinweg to Florida.

7. Purdue: The Boilers added speed in their 2012 class, and they loaded up on quarterback prospects for the future with four signal-callers. But Purdue also beefed up along the offensive line with Jordan Roos and others. With coaching changes and personnel changes throughout the Leaders Division -- not to mention Ohio State's bowl ban -- Purdue has an excellent chance to make some noise in 2012.

8. Iowa: The big story in Iowa City isn't so much the recent recruiting class but the seismic changes going on in one of the nation's more stable programs. After having the same coordinators for the past 13 seasons, Kirk Ferentz must replace both Norm Parker and Ken O'Keefe, who left late last week for a post on the Miami Dolphins' staff. Iowa will have new leadership on both sides of the ball, creating some uncertainty but also some excitement. The Hawkeyes added some nice pieces in the 2012 class, such as running back Greg Garmon and defensive end Faith Ekakitie.

9. Northwestern: Although the Wildcats' class didn't crack the national rankings, it looks like the best haul in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure as head coach. Northwestern picked up a potential difference-maker on defense in defensive end/linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo. Malin Jones could be the team's answer at running back, a spot that has suffered during Fitzgerald's tenure. The Wildcats also added the league's top transfer in former USC receiver Kyle Prater.

10. Illinois: It might take a year for Tim Beckman and his staff to make a big splash on the recruiting scene. Illinois' 2012 haul didn't receive great reviews, but the Illini are pursuing several nationally elite 2013 prospects from within the state. Linebacker recruits Tajarvis Fuller and Tyrone Neal should help Illinois in the defensive back seven. There's enough talent on the squad to get back to a decent bowl, but Beckman and his staff have plenty of work ahead.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers inked a class that drew good reviews from ESPN's analysts. Jerry Kill and his staff retained several top in-state prospects, including offensive lineman Isaac Hayes, wide receiver Andre McDonald and quarterback Philip Nelson. McDonald and fellow wideout Jamel Harbison could be immediate contributors for an offense that needs more options. But defense must be the top offseason focal point for Minnesota, which added several juco defenders.

12. Indiana: Although the Hoosiers remain at the bottom, we liked their recruiting class, which should first and foremost provide immediate help on defense. Junior college defenders like Tregg Waters and Jacarri Alexander likely will step in right away for a struggling unit. Indiana also will increase the competition at quarterback with heralded prep prospect Nate Sudfeld and juco addition Cameron Coffman.