IOWA CITY, Iowa — Rejoice. Iowa spring football practice is here. The Hawkeyes begin their series of 15 practices Wednesday, all leading up to the spring game on April 21.
There are plenty of topics and storylines to focus on over the next month. The most obvious is the quarterback competition. With C.J. Beathard presumably off to the NFL, who will replace him? Sophomore Nathan Stanley is the frontrunner and odds-on favorite.
Land of 10 is here to help get Iowa fans ready for spring. With the quarterback position mostly out of the way, here are five other key questions the offense will face this spring.
1. What’s up with the new offense?
New offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is tasked with getting more production from the offense, especially a passing game that finished 118th nationally with 153.2 yards per game.
Iowa seeks balance. Racking up 200 yards rushing and another 200 yards passing is pretty close to an ideal day. How will that happen? Brian Ferentz didn’t give many details at his introductory news conference in January because he was still putting together his scheme.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t divulge much at his news conference on Monday. He wants a return to the 2015 offense (read more balance) and used terms such as “simplistic” and “similar concepts as before” to describe his son’s offense.
No one expects a radical overhaul. It should make things easier for the players as they learn a new playbook.
2. Who steps up in the passing game?
The Hawkeyes struggled to move the football through the air because the receivers had trouble with separation. Iowa needs to see growth from its wide receivers and tight ends this spring.
As the Hawkeyes break in a new quarterback, they will rely on the pass catchers more than last year. The receivers need to play a bigger role.
The spring will give an early indication as to whether wide receivers Devonte Young, Adrian Falconer and Jerminic Smith can do just that come the regular season.
3. How will injuries impact the spring?
Starting wide receiver Matt VandeBerg (left foot injury) is out for the spring. So is starting fullback Drake Kulick (broken left leg). Starting running back Akrum Wadley will be kept out of contact drills.
What does it mean? Well, it shouldn’t worry fans too much.
VandeBerg, a fifth-year senior, needs to be ready for the season opener, not for the spring. His injury will give receivers such as Young, Falconer and Smith more reps. That’s not a bad thing.
The fullback position will be fine as Kulick recovers from his November injury. Brady Ross split time with Kulick last season and will do so again this year.
Wadley doesn’t need to take any additional punishment in the spring. The team’s star running back is too valuable a commodity.
4. Who becomes Iowa’s offensive leader in 2017?
Beathard was the leader last season. Who steps up to replace him? VandeBerg could be the man, but he’s not going to be in the huddle this spring. A first-year starting quarterback could fill the void. It could be someone else. Coaches will keep an eye out to see who emerges as the leader.
5. Who could be a breakout offensive player this spring?
Here are five candidates:
- WR Nick Easley
The former junior college All-American transferred into the program this winter and already has impressed coaches during workouts. Can he do the same on the field?
- QB Nathan Stanley
He separated himself from the other quarterbacks on the roster in preseason camp. The best-case scenario for Iowa is for Stanley to show he’s capable of being the next starting quarterback. That would solve one of the team’s most pressing questions.
- TE Noah Fant
He showed flashes of being a potential playmaker as a true freshman. He has packed on 10 pounds since. Will he make an impact this spring?
- WR Devonte Young
The coaching staff liked the progress Young made as a true freshman last season. He opens spring as a starter. Can he become the big-play option the Hawkeyes need in the aerial attack?
- OT Alaric Jackson
He put on 35 pounds during the winter. The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Jackson certainly looks like an Iowa left tackle; this spring will show if he can play like one. The offensive line is deep. Jackson is unlikely to start, even with a breakout spring, but it would be a good sign for the future.