Media day was Monday, Aug. 6, and it’s time to break down the offense, defense and special teams and then we can play some football.
I usually start with the offense when talking about Iowa football and I always start with the offensive line.
As I’ve said many times, if you have a good O-line, you can control the line of scrimmage, have more possession time, you can keep your defense fresh and usually come out with a win.
That doesn’t always work though, as last year, Northwestern ran 92 plays to Iowa’s 50. They also had over 38 minutes of possession time to Iowa’s 21... bend don’t break worked out well, plus a 98-yard interception return.
I believe the Hawkeye offensive line will be one of its strong points.
It starts with preseason all-Big Ten center James Ferentz (6-2, 284). James has started all 26 games the last two seasons and was honorable mention all-Big Ten last year. His backup will be Tommy Gaul (6-3, 254), a redshirt sophomore.
Brandon Scherff (6-5, 310) takes over at left tackle. The redshirt sophomore started three games at guard last fall. Andrew Donnal (6-7, 302), also a sophomore, is the backup and could play either tackle or guard.
Left guard starts with Matt Tobin (6-6, 290) and Drew Clark (6-4, 288). Matt started 10 games last year.
Right tackle has Brett Van Sloten (6-7, 292) listed number one and Nolan MacMillan (6-6, 290) as the backup.
“Brett came in and did a good job in the second half of our bowl game and continued to show progress this spring,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.
Right guard has Austin Blythe (6-3, 275) in the top spot with Conor Boffeli (6-5, 290) and Jordan Walsh (6-4, 270) in the mix.
“They system is generally the same concepts and stuff,” said Conor about the new offense. “It’s just different names. There are some general concepts that coach Davis put in that makes it a lot easier to play fast and move fast.”
Conor has been playing guard but can also play center.
“I’ve been taking reps at center in camp,” said Conor. “Once you know center you can pretty much play any position on the offensive line.”
Austin and Jordan are redshirt freshmen.
“We felt good about Austin in the fall and he had a good spring along with Jordan,” said coach Ferentz.
If things stay set at O-line, Brandon is from Denison, Austin from Williamsburg, James from Iowa City, Matt from Worthington and Brett from Decorah, which makes it an all-Iowa line… kind of cool.
“We all take pride in it, because none of us were really a big name in high school,” said Matt.
Iowa could have the best talent and depth at tight end that they’ve had since Dallas Clark was an All-American.
You start with C. J. Fiedorowicz (6-7, 265) and you know you have a good one when offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has been coaching football for 38 years, said the C.J. is the best tight end he’s ever coached.
C. J. started the last five games and caught 16 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. C.J. told me this summer that he picked up the new offense better this spring than he did the old offense in his first two years.
Zach Derby (6-3, 240) also started five games last year and had 12 catches for 117 yards.
Iowa likes to have two tight ends on running and passing situations.
Sophomore Ray Hamilton (6-5, 248), a top recruit out of high school, played in 10 games as a true freshman.
“Last year was good,” said Ray, who was a high school All-American. “It was a learning experience. I really enjoyed learning the system and it’s a different system with coach Davis then it was from coach O’Keefe. We had a good senior leader in Brad Herman and now we have good guys leading they way with Zach and C.J.”
Look for Jake Duzey (6-4, 235) and Henry Krieger-Coble (6-4, 235), who both redshirted last year, to see some time on special teams.
At fullback, junior Brad Rogers (5-10, 230) returns. Brad was held out the first four games last fall, but started the last nine. Brad also might gets some carries at running back. For his career he has 14 rushes for 83 yards which is 5.9 yards per carry.
Jonathan Gimm (6-3, 240) is number two. He started three games last year and is a good blocker.
Wide receiver has Keenan Davis (6-3, 210) and Kevonte Martin-Manley (6-0, 205) leading the way.
Keenan caught 50 passes for 713 yards and four scores last year, while Kevonte picked up 30 catches for 323 yards and three touchdown receptions, two against Pittsburgh.
Then you have Don Shumpert (6-3, 190), Steven Staggs (6-3, 195), Jordan Cotton (6-1, 185), Jacob Hillyer (6-4, 205) and possibly two freshmen Tevaun Smith (6-2, 190) and Maurice Fleming (6-0, 185).
Shumpert, Staggs and Cotton all played last year, with Steven catching five passes.
Jacob redshirted, has good size and speed.
“I’m glad I got redshirted because it gave me time to sit back and watch the other guys,” said Jacob. “I’ve been working hard all summer.’
Jacob also likes the Hawkeye quarterback.
“James Vandenberg is a great quarterback and a great guy to lead the team,” said Jacob, who was first team all-state in Texas.
I don’t think Keenan will need to have a monster year like Marvin McNutt did last season. Marvin had 82 catches for 1,315 yards and 12 touchdown catches.
It would be nice to have Keenan with 55-60 catches, Kevonte with 35-40 and then someone like Shumpert, Staggs and Cotton pick up 20-25.
Of course I’d like to see C.J. Fiedorowicz, Zach Derby and Ray Hamilton combine for around 40-45 catches.
Last year Iowa completed 240 passes.
Marvin had 82, Keenan 50 and Kevonte 30. That’s 162 catches between three players. Marcus Coker and Jordan Canzeri had 21 and six receptions out of the backfield while C.J. and Zach combined for 28 catches at tight end. That’s 211 receptions between seven players.
The up-tempo offense means more plays will be run and more touches for different players.
This is the first of a three part series of Iowa Hawkeye football preview.
Next week, I’ll talk about James Vandenberg at quarterback, the running back situation and the defensive line.