IOWA CITY Iowa — The biggest news from Iowa’s introductory spring practice news conference centered on Matt VandeBerg reinjuring his foot.
But the story shouldn’t be an issue beyond Monday.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz did announce VandeBerg will miss the spring. But he also said he expects VandeBerg to be healthy by June, well before the season opener against Wyoming on Sept. 2. For VandeBerg, suiting up for the 12 regular-season contests and a potential bowl game is all that really matters.
Iowa needs VandeBerg on game day to be the playmaker the Hawkeyes couldn’t duplicate after he initially broke his foot in September. He was soon ruled out for the remainder of the season. Then the passing game sputtered. One led to the other.
Right now, no returning receiver has shown the ability to consistently get separation from defensive backs and make plays. Sure, that could all change. There is plenty of time for growth between now and September. But VandeBerg is the only sure thing at the position right now.
When healthy, VandeBerg is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver, the kind of playmaker the Hawkeyes didn’t always produce with former offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The passing attack centered on VandeBerg last season. He caught 19 passes for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns in 4 games before getting hurt. He can make life easier for the rest of the receivers and new starting quarterback the Hawkeyes will break in.
Yes, he’s missing 15 spring practices, but that isn’t a major concern for a fifth-year senior. VandeBerg knows what he is doing and should be fine picking up the new playbook under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz without putting a helmet on in March or April.
The concern with VandeBerg should focus on whether two injuries to his foot within a span of 5 or 6 months will cause durability issues. Could the injury linger and be a problem all season?
The answer appears to be no.
“You’re always concerned any time a guy reinjures himself in any particular case,” Kirk Ferentz said. “There’s nothing they’re going to do out of the ordinary or anything like that.”
If there is no long-term issue there is no reason to fret over VandeBerg’s injury. If there is another setback, however, the entire equation changes and the focus would need to be on recovery and potentially limiting practice time to ensure he plays every Saturday.
Kirk Ferentz made it sound like Iowa isn’t in that spot on Wednesday. Remember, VandeBerg’s initial rehab went well. He looked good running routes in bowl preparation. He could have potentially played in the Outback Bowl if doing so wouldn’t have ruined his chances at a medical redshirt.
“That thing was well healed when he got back in January,” Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s just one of those things that happens occasionally. Not much what we can do about it.”
Rehab is really the only option. VandeBerg will be out until June. The Hawkeyes will take it slow.
During practice he’ll stand next to FB Drake Kulich, who broke his leg in the regular season finale, and TB Akrum Wadley, who will be held out of live contact drills as a way to keep the star running back healthy.
“Those three are seniors, we’ve seen them play, we have a pretty good indication of where they’re at,” Kirk Ferentz said.
But the head coach can’t say the same about the rest of the wide receivers. The group struggled last season. It’s easy to argue that there is no position Iowa needs to see more progress from this spring than the wideouts.
With VandeBerg out, Devonte Young, Adrian Falconer and Jerminic Smith will get every opportunity to show they are different players from the fall. Junior college transfer Nick Easley, a winter-workout standout, will get more chances to build some early on-field credibility with the coaches.
VandeBerg doesn’t need to. He already banked up enough credit over the last few years. His health is his biggest priority.
It’s why, right now, VandeBerg missing the spring isn’t worth a second thought.