Here are some of my general observations based upon the viewing of Iowa’s Kids Day open practice from Saturday in Kinnick Stadium…
First, it’s just one of 25 practices…and it’s the end of the first week of practice. It seems like Kids Day is a little earlier on the calendar this year..so practice was not going to be sharp no matter what given the time of year it is in the camp process and this being about their 8th or 9th straight practice without a day off…
Give McCall the Ball: Mika’il McCall was the ‘star’ of practice for me. His footwork impressed me run after run, and he is a strong and powerful player with a good burst. He keeps his feet moving in the hole, and he also looked good making his cuts. Physically, he looks like a third or fourth year player; he’s a brick house of solid muscle, and Kirk Ferentz said that the reports from McCall this summer were of a player who was always on time, who stayed late and put in the extra effort. Based on today’s look, he’s going to ascend to the #2 RB position. DeAndre Johnston played in the first part of practice, but he missed the second half. He was on the sidelines with his shoulder pads off. I was blown away by how big his legs were, though.
Frosh RB: Ferentz said after practice that Iowa may play two freshmen running backs this year. McCall is a certainty, while Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri split reps with the third team today. Bullock looked a tad tentative at first, but he picked up his tempo. Canzeri only knows one speed, and that full blast. I love the kid, have since I saw his youtube highlight clip and hope he gets to see the field soon. IMO, he is quicker and faster than Brandon Wegher was in pads..but then again, this wasn’t a Big Ten football game today and we didn’t get to see him in pass protections, an area where Wegher was ahead of his years.
Vandenberg By a Mile: James Vandenberg looked solid on Saturday. He didn’t look flawless, but no one should have expected that. He has the biggest arm of any of the four scholarship quarterbacks and the velocity on his 10 yard out tosses was impressive. He also handled the blitz pick up drills well. He is in total control back there…he’s a classic example of a player who did not sulk in the backup role, rather, he soaked up everything he could from the player ahead of him who was a 26 game winner as a starting quarterback at Iowa. This is his team, and the gap between him and whomever merges as the #2 is wide…scary wide actually.
Rudock Promises: Jake Rudock showed a live arm, too. He has the best base fundamentals at the position outside of Vandenberg. That being said, he needs more seasoning, more time in the film and weight rooms. But if something did happen to Vandenberg, I wouldn’t rule him out. Ferentz said as much again today without saying much. We’ll have his entire transcript up later. By the time August of 2013 rolls around, with Vandenberg’s career at Iowa in the books, this kid is going to be ready to battle for that job…might even be an upset if he didn’t win it…but that’s a long way off.
Back it Up: None of this is to say I am down on AJ Derby…he is a great athlete, and clearly he wants to play quarterback. Let’s also remember that he is young; he is entering his redshirt freshman season. As for John Wienke, there is just something about his delivery…sort of like how Ernie Els is called ‘The Big Easy’ in golf..he used to be able to pound the ball 330-yards and look like he was barely swinging. That’s sort of how Wienke’s delivery is for me…but this is football, not golf and he doesn’t have the zip on the ball that JVB and Rudock do.
Barking Ferentz: Kirk Ferentz must have said ‘Let’s Go!’ 50-plus times today…tempo, temp, tempo. That’s what a coach wants to see early in camp, and he’ll harp on it often. There was one instance where the #1 offense was sort of sauntering off the field, and Ferentz barked ‘Jog it off! Jog it off CJ, you’re not in the NFL!’. The CJ was CJ Fiedorowicz, and I don’t think that’s the first time Ferentz has barked that at him, either.
Offense over Defense: For the most part today, I’d say the offense won more battles than the defense. The defensive line really was musical chairs, very hard to keep up with who was in so trying to evaluate them fairly is next to impossible. The offense did real well in the goal line drill, but Ferentz said after practice that the last two times they had done it, it was the other way around…that’s another reminder not to make too much of what we see from one of 25 practices.
Big Plays: Vandenberg and McNutt hooked up on a 45 yard post-corner route against blitz pick up drill..that shows the OL did a good job holding off the blitz, because you need time for your receiver to get 45 yards down the field; he caught it right at the boundary. JVB and CJ Fed also hooked up on a nice sideline completion, with CJ Fed laying out to catch it right in front of the 15,000 or so fans that were in attendance…McCall had one run where he made it to the second level, met a linebacker, flattened a linebacker and kept running.
Tobin In: Nolan MacMillan was in a boot today as he recovers from a lower leg injury…Matt Tobin has made the most of this opportunity, and Ferentz said if they had to play today or tomorrow, Tobin would be a starter at one guard.
Salty Secondary: I think this group is going to be just fine. There is a lot of talent back there, a lot of players capable at starting in the Big Ten. It looked like the ones today were Greg Castillo and Shaun Prater at corner, with Colin Sleeper and Micah Hyde at the safety positions. I thought Jordan Bernstine looked good out there (he was playing safety), along with BJ Lowery. Prater was talking smack from the first play of the practice.
KMM Gets Open: Kevonte Martin-Martin Manley seemed to have little trouble getting open, and the quarterbacks found him. That would be the biggest thing that stood out in my mind when thinking back to his day…nothing flashy, nothing earth shattering, just consistently getting open…and with all young players, consistency, or lack there of, is what keeps them off the field.
Strong Leg: Marshal Koehn of Solon really showed a booming leg today…it’s quite a thing to have another walk on kicker of his quality on the team, a year after a walk on won the job, and a scholarship. Trent Mossbrucker, who was awarded a scholarship to Iowa out of high school, is entering his fourth year.
Missing Leg: Jonny Mullings, the second year punter from Australia who became an internet sensation with his punting and kicking video he put together, was not one of the 105 players invited to camp. Ferentz said that John Wienke is their number two punter right now, and that Mullings would rejoin the program when school starts…schools are limited to just 105 players in camp..then the program expands after school starts. So with Mullings and Mossbrucker, you could be looking at two of your 85 scholarships being occupied by kicking specialists who are not going to play…and Iowa has a verbal commitment from a scholarship punter who will be in next year. Mullings delivery has just been too deliberate, and he’d get half of his punts blocked….he hasn’t been able to speed it up, or shorten it rather, and I am not sure he will.
Loaded Tight End Pool: My goodness Iowa has a lot of able bodied tight ends. CJ Fed and Brad Herman looked good on Saturday, and so did freshmen Ray Hamilton. I think Hamilton is going to play this year.
Three WR Sets vs Fullbacks: Maybe it was just me, but it sure looked like Iowa ran a LOT of three wide receiver sets on Saturday and far fewer sets that called for a fullback…WEe’ll see how that translates when the season begins, but it might not be surprising to see more two tight end sets with one of the tights being more of an H-back, which also means additional threats for the passing game. Were Brad Rogers healthy and green lighted to practice, my guess is we would have seen more fullback sets. Without Rogers, this position is not one of strength for this year’s team.
Nothing Serious: Outside of Shane DiBona and his Achilles injury, Ferentz didn’t dwell on any other injuries. MacMillan was in a boot, but most of the players who did not participate went through stretching exercises with their teammates to start the day…save James Morris, but he didn’t seem too nicked up. Darrian Cooper was in helmet and shoulder pads, but he had on shorts…which didn’t stop him from getting into the LIVE action later in the practice..he took at least 25 live tackle reps..sans football pants and pads.