IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa isn’t hosting a spring game, but it’s holding an open spring practice Friday.
Fans can thank the Kinnick Stadium end zone renovation for the change in the structure of the event. For safety reasons, only about 70 or 80 yards of the playing surface is usable for the Hawkeyes.
The format is different, but the intrigue about the final workout of the spring isn’t changing. Here are five things to watch:
1. Quarterback Nate Stanley
Everyone will want to see growth following Stanley’s first season as a starter, but the most interesting thing to watch may be his interaction with his teammates. They selected Stanley as a team captain this spring. He is taking more command of the offense. Growth there may be more important for him than physical development.
2. What happens with linebackers
Iowa is replacing all three starting linebackers are there are three frontrunners. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker said this week that Amani Jones, Aaron Mends and Ben Niemann would start at linebacker if the spring practice were a regular-season game.
How do Jones and Mends move around? Parker likes how quickly they react. How does that translate to the practice on Friday?
Also keep an eye on Dillon Doyle. It’s the first chance for the public to watch the early enrollee perform.
3. Backup quarterback
There never is enough quarterback speculation in the spring. The big debate at Iowa this year focuses on the backup quarterback battle. How do Peyton Mansell and Spencer Petras look? One spring practice is only a snapshot, but neither has thrown a pass at Iowa and this is our first chance to see Petras, a 4-star freshman signal caller, since he enrolled early for the spring semester.
4. What’s up with Brandon Smith?
Improvement at wide receiver is a must. Brandon Smith seems like a logical option. Wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland raved about Smith’s spring, calling him “a force to be reckoned with.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz tried to slow down the Smith hype train, saying he needs to keep developing. Ferentz won’t refer to him as a playmaker until he consistently makes plays during the season.
That likely was meant as a message to Smith, not a comment on his progress as a player. It comes off as a reminder that Smith is an unfinished product.
Still, Copeland said Smith is doing a few things each practice that make him go “wow.” Will it happen in the open practice?
5. Where do things sit at running back?
Iowa must replace two-time 1,000-yard rusher Akrum Wadley. Iowa is young and inexperienced in the backfield and sophomores Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin are intriguing prospects. What kind of playmaking ability with the duo show?
Depth is a major concern at running back this spring. There is no need to get either player hurt. The Hawkeyes may limit how much each back touches the ball, but they should get an opportunity to take handoffs in running drills.