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Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell already is one of the program's greatest players.

Iowa mailbag: Josey Jewell the greatest LB under Kirk Ferentz? What about James Butler’s timetable?

Have Iowa football questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Iowa mailbag to discuss Hawkeyes football. This week, we’ll discuss Iowa’s onside kick against Illinois, James Butler’s timetable for return and whether Josey Jewell is Iowa’s greatest linebacker under Kirk Ferentz.


Question 1

ANSWER: Thanks for the question, Nick. Iowa had worked on that particular onside kick in practice for a while, and it was a perfect opportunity to try and execute it on Saturday. Once Illinois was penalized 15 yards on the kickoff, it made sense to give it a try.

The way the Illini lined up made it about as perfect of a situation as Iowa could see. Miguel Recinos kicked it correctly, and Matt Hankins was on the outside for the recovery. It was a bit strange to see Illinois’ first kickoff line in a tight formation before the kick, which made the application and execution cleaner than anticipated for Iowa.

Question 2

ANSWER: That’s an interesting observation, Jeff. Immediately you think of some of Iowa’s more recent good-but-not-great teams, but all of them had some element that was upper level. As in 2013, the run defense was strong, led by a great trio of linebackers in James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. In 2011, quarterback James Vandenberg threw 25 touchdown passes and Marvin McNutt was the Big Ten’s best receiver. In 2008 there was running back Shonn Greene, who won the Doak Walker Award. This current team is better than a few of the letdown versions like 2014, 2012, 2007 and 2006 teams, so that doesn’t compare.

This team most closely resembles the 2008 version. Akrum Wadley is perhaps Iowa’s best running back talent since Greene and certainly the most explosive. This defense isn’t as good as it was 2008 version, but it has some of the same elements. Both teams had a sophomore quarterback, although Nate Stanley has 15 touchdowns and 2 interceptions through six games, while Ricky Stanzi had 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions for the season. This might be a treading water type of year, but next year could be something special.

Question 3

ANSWER: For over expectations, I’d have to start with quarterback Nate Stanley. I figured he’d be a caretaker on offense and instead he’s been durable and consistent. With 15 TDs and only 2 INTs, coupled with his performance against Iowa State, Stanley shows potential to become one of the best quarterbacks in Iowa history. I’m not prone to hyperbole, but I believe it’s possible. For under expectations, I go with the offensive line. With so many veterans returning, it almost was expected that unit would push teams around. Now, there have been a ton of injuries so you have to take that into consideration, but it’s still an issue.

I really expected wide receiver Matt Quarells to have a role this year after transferring from New Mexico. He was stranded a bit by the NCAA, but he hasn’t caught up to Iowa’s other players. In fact, freshmen Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith and Max Cooper all have leapt past Quarells. It’s a good situation for Iowa, but you feel for Quarells, who graduated this summer and wanted to play closer to his St. Louis home.

Question 4

ANSWER: The offensive line will improve more the rest of this season simply because there’s more room for growth. The defensive line has improved steadily and is performing better than the offensive line through six games. But the offensive line has talent and potential. If it can stay healthy, the offensive line should soar from a C-minus to a B-plus by the end of the month and possibly higher in November. The defensive line already has performed to a B level but probably won’t get to an A level this year. Maybe next fall, however.

Question 5

ANSWER: Thanks for the question. Quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe exerts significant influence over Iowa’s offense. You can tell the plan is akin to those he crafted when he was the offensive coordinator from 1999-2011. The tendencies are different because Brian Ferentz is calling the plays, but the routes the receivers run, the involvement with the tight ends and the quarterback’s looks and dropbacks are real similar to the past. O’Keefe knows what this program can accomplish, as does Brian Ferentz, who has a different vision for calling plays. Once the offensive line becomes healthy, you could see the offense produce some solid results and statistics.

Question 6

ANSWER: The rushing numbers should drop over the final six weeks of the season, although Ohio State and Wisconsin could have something to say about that. The Hawkeyes should improve because their safety tandem of Brandon Snyder and Amani Hooker are sure tacklers. That wasn’t the case at safety earlier in the season. Iowa at times has gotten adequate pressure on the quarterback but it needs to be more consistent, especially up the middle. I’d say the greater concern is pressure right now.

Question 7

Mr Dochterman: if he earns AA, is josey the best linebacker in KF era 

— Joe Favia (@JFAVMAN) October 11, 2017

ANSWERIf Josey Jewell is a first-team All-American — and it would be a disgrace if he’s not a consensus All-America selection at this point — I think he can make that claim. Iowa has had several terrific linebackers over the Kirk Ferentz era. No one has become a consensus All-American, although Pat Angerer was a first-team selection by two different publications in 2009. Chad Greenway was a two-time second-team All-American in 2004 and 2005. Even if the All-American honor doesn’t come his way, Jewell is in that discussion. And no offense to Angerer, Greenway or any of the other many standouts (including Fred Barr, Abdul Hodge, A.J. Edds, James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens), but I think Jewell is No. 1. His intensity, intangibles and accountability are legendary, and his on-field accomplishments aren’t too bad, either.

Question 8

ANSWER: There’s hope James Butler can return but I still think it might be a tad longer before he sees significant action. If he played any other position, it probably would. But if you’ve got a running back with a major elbow injury, it wouldn’t take much for an opponent to put a helmet on that elbow and force fumbles. You have to be sure he’s completely healed before you put him out there. A fumble could be devastating for the team and for Butler’s psyche if he’s not ready for that type of pounding.

Question 9

ANSWER: It is an interesting question and one that Matt Campbell at Iowa State and P.J. Fleck at Minnesota will have to answer in December and January. According to 24/7 Sports, Iowa State has 400 offers, Minnesota has 250 while Iowa has 115. Hopefully there’s no ambiguity for some of the young athletes about whether they have a legitimate scholarship awaiting them or just a token offer from Iowa State and Minnesota.