1. #1

    First Look: 2012 Iowa Offense & Defense

    Kirk Ferentz held his first press conference of the spring on Tuesday, the same time Iowa released it's spring depth chart.

    Spring depth charts are written in crayon, not even pencil. Yet they are a starting point and spring is the start of the next football season, so let's take a look at what Iowa shared with us.

    OFFENSE

    SE - Martin-Manley, Hillyer/Staggs
    LT - Scherff (6-5/310)/Donnal (6-7/302)
    LG - Tobin (66/290), Clark (6-4/288)
    C - Ferentz (6-2/284), Boffeli (6-5/290), Simmons (6-3/300)
    RG - Boffeli/Blythe (6-3/275), Walsh (6-4/270)
    RT - Van Sloten (6-7/292), MacMillan (6-7/290)
    TE - Fiedorowicz (6/7/265), Derby
    WR - Davis, Shumpert
    QB - Vandenberg, Rudock
    FB - Rogers, Gimm
    RB - Canzeri, Bullock, Johnson

    DEFENSE

    DE - Tsopanides (6-2/240), Spears (6-2/255)
    DT - Bigach (6-3/282), Trinca-Pasat (6-3/270)
    DT - Cooper (6-2/280), Gaglione (6-4/264)
    DE - McMinn (6-7/245), Hardy (6-5/270)
    OLB - Kirksey, DiBona
    MLB - Morris, Alston
    WLB - Hitchens, Collins/Fisher
    LC - Lowery, Lomax
    RC - Hyde, Castillo
    FS - Miller, Lowdermilk/Swanson
    SS - Law, Donatell/Sleeper

    NOTE: 33 of the 49 position players listed on the two-deep are redshirt freshmen, sophomores or juniors. Of the 16 seniors listed, five are former walk ons and just six have been full time starters in their career.

    OFFENSE: Greg Davis usher's in a new era of fan optimism. Everyone is an offensive coordinator, or thinks they are. I have been there, too. In today's age where we are all offensive coordinators in our EA Sports Dynasty mode video games, it just seems like there are more catcalls than ever before.

    Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, I don't think it's unfair to say that things had grown stale related to Iowa's offense under the direction of Ken O'Keefe. I don't blame him for Iowa's mundane offensive output over the past decade (on the average), as Kirk Ferentz is the head coach. The fact that Ferentz never made a change at that position when the national offensive statistical averages supported a change was a de facto endorsement of the job O'Keefe did at Iowa. But that's water under the bridge now, as the Hawks have a new offensive coordinator.

    They are inexperienced at receiver, offensive line and running back. They are coming off a season where their tight end production hit off-the-chart lows for this program. They return a quarterback who had one of the best statistical seasons in school history. It's definitely a mixed back on offense, although I am optimistic about what they can put together on the line.

    Nolan MacMillan's return to health would be a huge boost for this group. He has had 'real world' success for Iowa before getting hurt late in the 2010 season. I think it will be hard to keep Conor Boffeli off the field and I have heard great things about Austin Blythe. Simmons at center this year is interesting, as he has four years to play three at Iowa, having come from the Juco ranks as a freshman. Redshirt this year, learn the position and you have a guy who can possibly start for three years. This would allow Boffeli and Blythe to be your guards in 2013. There is a lot of talent on the OL, just quite a bit of it unproven. This fact gives me some optimism for this group heading into the season.

    While some are worried about what Iowa will do at running back, I have decided not to invest much energy into that position as it relates to worry. Who in the world knows who will be carrying the ball in October? Will AIRBHG (nod to BHGP) strike again this year or has he been appeased? Will Greg Garmon get into the mix? Will De'Andre Johnson hit his stride? This is an important spring for all of the backs on campus in Johnson, Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock. I believe each will see some growth, with the latter two seeing the most. Bullock has a position now and can focus on being a running back. Canzeri showed toughness and ability against Oklahoma, but also showed he's not a 20-carry per game back at his size. He can be a 20 touches per game player, but mix in some jet sweeps or slot passing plays, swing screens, etc.

    The receiver position is another concern. Keenan Davis is now the featured player and he has that ability, but making plays consistently is the next level he must achieve. Kevonte Martin-Manly has a lot of ability and this is a huge spring for him. Behind them? Nothing but question marks.

    At tight end, we saw the beginnings of what CJ Fiedorowicz is capable of. He can be a devastating mismatch with how he can move at 6-7/265. This spring is so important for him with regards to furthering his blocking skills. Ray Hamilton is not listed on on this depth chart but will factor into the mix on the field this fall. He is listed at 6-5/248, or about what Tony Moeaki was listed at in his final seasons as a Hawkeye.

    DEFENSE: I'll write it down now; the 2012 defensive line will be the most challenged DL since the 2000 season. Here is what Iowa's defense allowed in 2000:

    -440 yards per game: I don't believe things will be that bad this year, Iowa allowed 378/game in 2011.
    -27.50 points per game: I could see a number like this. It was 23.85 in 2011, the most since 2000.
    -194 rushing yards/game: I could see 175+/game in 2012. It was 156/game in 2011

    We can't compare the 2000 numbers to those of last year in a vaccum as the college game is different. Allowing 27.5 points per game in 2012 would be better than allowing that many points per game in 2000 because of the changes to offenses. Still, I think Iowa may be in for a long year up front.

    When I look at the names on the two deep above, it doesn't create a great deal of optimism. That's not meant as any sort of character assassination, rather I feel this group is going to be too green and undersized to put up numbers similar to last year. Not listed are Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis, who are recovering from injuries. Ferentz said at his Tuesday press conference that he expects both players to be ready to go in June.

    Iowa is going to need both of those players to start for them in 2012. I believe Alvis showed enough promise to call him the best defensive lineman of the bunch; he tore an ACL against Michigan in early November on a special teams play. Davis has the size (6-5/310) you'd like on the inside, but he didn't show an understanding of leverage last year. He also got nicked up in August and was never 100% healthy. If I knew for a fact both of those players would be 100% and improved by September 1st, I still don't think I would expect for this year's defensive statistics to be even or better than last year.

    Iowa has had a great deal of attrition on the defensive line the past three years and the bill is coming due in 2012. One of the primary reasons for that attrition, in my opinion, was the coaching style of Rick Kaczenski. We've heard Kirk Ferentz say numerous times since moving Reese Morgan to the DL position that Morgan is a teacher and a builder, someone who can build up young players. He's said that very thing more than once. I am not a doctorate in Ferentz-speak, but I do have my bachelor's and my sense is Morgan is the anti-Kaczenski, which is what this young group may need.

    John Rayman transfered out of the program this fall. While he didn't totally blame Kaczenski for his decision to leave, he did say these words to Rob Howe of HawkeyeInsider.com: "When I found out that (Kaczenski) was moving on to Nebraska, I second-guessed whether or not I should have left Iowa...Now that he's gone, I'm kind of mad that I left. I see myself as someone who could have been successful at Iowa."

    There's no going back there, but if Kaczenski was a big reason for Iowa's attrition at the position, he's no longer in the program.

    The reality is simple and stark; Iowa just doesn't have the horses in the stable this year, at least in my opinion. I hope I am wrong and Iowa has a history of pulling players out of thin air to succeed on the defensive line. Yet most of those players struggled the first year in which they saw significant playing time.

    Riley McMinn is young and 'smallish' at 245, but Boston College, Illinois, Wisconsin and others offered him a scholarship coming out of high school. Dean Tsopanides has that motor, chip on your shoulder feel to him. But if Iowa has to start two redshirt freshmen at defensive end, with each of them under 245 pounds?

    Iowa has some talent coming in with this year's recruiting class in four star prospects Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie. My theory on playing true freshmen linemen, be they offensive or defensive is simple; it means they are so good that they will be sure fire NFL first round picks or you are playing them because you don't have many other options. The best thing for the future of this program may be for those two to redshirt.

    This is why I think this year's defensive 'production' will approach 2000-like numbers as that crew was physically overmatched through much of the year.

    All that said, this is a group who probably has the best chance to improve exponentially between now and September 1st. Whether or not that improvement will be enough to stave off devastating rushing performances against Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa State, Penn State and others remains to be seen.

    At linebacker, Iowa has a mix of experience, depth and versatility. Many of these players can play multiple positions and it's a nice mix. I don't know if this is the kind of group that is going to provide the kind of rush defense support for the front line and they will also have to deal with more offensive linemen getting out to their level. They will likely take a pounding this year, so the depth will be much needed.

    I think Iowa is solid in the secondary. Tanner Miller has a year of starting under his belt and has two more seasons to grow back there. Iowa is solid at corner, with Micah Hyde and BJ Lowery more than capable of holding their own. Nico Law at strong safety is a player to watch. Iowa is never going to have another Bob Sanders and Jordan Bernstine had a fantastic season in 2011. Law certainly has a swagger to his makeup and Iowa will need a hard-nosed and aggressive strong safety in run support this season.
    Last edited by JonDMiller; 03-21-2012 at 10:18 AM.

  2. #2
    BSpringsteen's Avatar
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    Re: First Look: 2012 Iowa Offense & Defense

    Iowa's back 7 on D is strong enough to help support the D-Line.

    I am not expecting a good defense, but an average issue.

    It is the offense I am more concerned about.
    Someday, I don't know when
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  3. #3

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    Re: First Look: 2012 Iowa Offense & Defense

    Quote Originally Posted by BSpringsteen View Post
    Iowa's back 7 on D is strong enough to help support the D-Line.I am not expecting a good defense, but an average issue.It is the offense I am more concerned about.
    what worries you about offense?

    wr - kmm should do nicely he had one of the best #3 wr yrs in kf era. i think he may have a better yr than davis.

    rb - young and inexperienced but after the way we have done it the last few yrs im not worried about being able to find 2 or 3 guys to handle the load (canzeri, garmon & hill are my guesses).

    ol - lots of talent and after they find the best mix i think this could surprise people and be the makings of a strong line.

    te - cjf showed a lot last yr at the end and i think hamilton will end up passing derby.

    i think this offense will surprise people with how well they do. my worry is who will be the #3 wr...im betting on hillyer since grant left. i think the skill positions became a lot more big play capable with kmm and canzeri now being expected to do more.

  4. #4

    Re: First Look: 2012 Iowa Offense & Defense

    Quote Originally Posted by BSpringsteen View Post
    Iowa's back 7 on D is strong enough to help support the D-Line.

    I am not expecting a good defense, but an average issue.

    It is the offense I am more concerned about.
    How can you say this about the O-fence when our #1 DE both weight less then 250 LBS. Our D-line is the most vulnerable component of this team. Your back 7 can be strong but they cant fight of O-line man that dispose of the D-line and get to the second level quickly. We could potently have two true freshman starting at DE going into the first B1G game. That is not a concern that is a scary reality.
    Last edited by hawkihayes; 03-21-2012 at 09:07 PM.

  5. #5

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    Re: First Look: 2012 Iowa Offense & Defense

    my guess on dl:

    if alvis comes back and is good enough to start him and spears end up at de.

    if davis comes back and can play at a level that warrants starting but alvis cant get back then bigach moves to de and spears ends up getting the start.

    if davis and alvis come back i could see davis at dt and bigach move to de with alvis.

    all of those scenarios i see cooper winning a dt spot. i also think that spears ends up either starting at a de or being the 3rd de. i just feel his athleticism being an ex-lb will bring that roth explosiveness.

  6. #6

    Re: First Look: 2012 Iowa Offense & Defense

    In 2005, Hodge and Greenway were All American caliber LB's...and their production went down quite a bit as they had more OL's getting second level on them than they did in 2004 when they played behind one of the best DL's in the last quarter century at Iowa.

    The back seven can be great, but if the front four are at the point where if there will be 14 Ferentz years after 2012 is over, and they rank 12th out of 14, it's not going to matter a lot unless you are blitzing like crazy to support the run...and get away with it.

  7. #7

    Re: First Look: 2012 Iowa Offense & Defense

    Quote Originally Posted by Foval21 View Post
    my guess on dl:if alvis comes back and is good enough to start him and spears end up at de.if davis comes back and can play at a level that warrants starting but alvis cant get back then bigach moves to de and spears ends up getting the start.if davis and alvis come back i could see davis at dt and bigach move to de with alvis.all of those scenarios i see cooper winning a dt spot. i also think that spears ends up either starting at a de or being the 3rd de. i just feel his athleticism being an ex-lb will bring that roth explosiveness.
    From what I've seen of Bigach he doesn't have the lateral quicknes to play at DE he will do fine at closing down off the OT's rear but the changing direction to contain the end will be difficult with his lack of lat. speed.

  8. #8

    Re: First Look: 2012 Iowa Offense & Defense

    Quote Originally Posted by BSpringsteen View Post
    Iowa's back 7 on D is strong enough to help support the D-Line.

    I am not expecting a good defense, but an average issue.

    It is the offense I am more concerned about.
    as JD has stated - ask the 2005 D how that worked out. Everything starts up front - both on O and D. If you don't have a good DL, teams will move the ball and wear the D out, eventually.

  9. #9

    Re: First Look: 2012 Iowa Offense & Defense

    I never hope for a player injury, but Morris could really use a RS year. He will play behind two VERY green lines for his final two years. This year's placeholder crew and next year's group of first year starters. Would be nice to have him a available in 2014 when the Hawks are ready to hit their stride.

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