On Friday night the Iowa Hawkeyes returned to Kinnick Stadium for their spring game, which is essentially a competitive practice to end the spring sessions. In attendance were 16,500 loyal Iowa fans donning their black and gold to get first impressions of this year’s Hawkeye squad. The Gold Team defeated the Black Team 63-47 and there was a lot to take away from the game.
-Tight Ends were very active in the game. Iowa has produced several quality tight ends in the Kirk Ferentz era and this year’s group is full of talent and depth with 7 players listed at the position. Noah Fant looks to be the top dog after seeing limited action last season as a true freshman, his pass-catching abilities will equal quality field time. After that the depth chart might be an open battle for playing time but in the spring game tight ends were the main focus in the passing game. As mentioned earlier the Hawkeyes have been known to have top quality college tight ends and their offense reflected that. A wildcard player to watch for this season is Drew Cook who switched over to tight end from QB due to the QB battle limiting him to third string.
-In most modern offenses the running game is vital to success and the Hawkeyes look to be stacked in the backfield. Akrum Wadley has had a great career so far but his senior year might be his best year yet. He is setting some high expectations for himself by stating he wants to gain 1,400 yards this upcoming season and has packed on some muscle to make himself a better overall player. He suited up for the spring game but didn’t see any action. Really making a name for himself was Toren Young who scored the only rushing touchdown in the game. The redshirt freshman was the best offensive player on the field Friday night but will really have to impress the coaches in the fall to get the second fiddle role.
-Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King is awaiting to see where he lands in the NFL draft but the Hawkeyes have to find new playmakers on defense. Jake Gervase certainly made a strong case to be the new face of the Iowa secondary. The former walk on free safety had 3 interceptions in the game including a 59 yard pick-six. Gervase saw significant playing time due to returning starter Brandon Snyder suffering a knee injury earlier in spring practices. If he isn’t able to make a timely return then Gervase will be the next man up.
Pick No. 2 of the evening for Jake Gervase, and Jake takes this one to the crib: https://t.co/fc6DCJGHYv
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) April 22, 2017
-The last time Iowa had a QB competition was back in 2013 when Jake Rudock beat out CJ Beathard. This position battle seemed to be one sided going into spring practices in favor of Nathan Stanley but as of right now it’s not so clear cut. The sophomore Stanley spent last season as the backup to Beathard ahead of Wiegers and many thought he would be the heir to the offense. On Friday night he gave Iowa fans pause for concern about that assumption going 6-of-16 on pass attempts for 17 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The lone touchdown wasn’t much to brag about as it wasn’t the result of an impressive drive but instead the result of Jake Gervase returning a pick to the 10 yard line. Matt Wiegers didn’t exactly light the world on fire either going 11-of-19 pass attempts for 94 yards and 2 picks. This battle will continue in the fall and hopefully a viable QB will emerge.
-Wide receiver has never been a strong suit for an Iowa offense, most of the time it is tight end/running back heavy systems. Matt VandeBerg will top the depth chart without question. He missed the spring game still recovering from injury and Jerminic Smith was out due to academics but after those two it’s a toss-up for playing time. Nick Easley transferred from Iowa Western Community College and had a good spring showing but until fall ball arrives the wide receiver core is a mystery.
-Controlling the line of scrimmage is extremely important on both sides of the ball. The past few years the Hawkeyes relied on Jaleel Johnson to plug up the middle of the line for the defense and he exceled at it. Just like Desmond King he is entering the draft and Iowa is searching for someone to be a playmaker. Nathan Bazata is an experienced senior who will lead the interior defensive line but after him there’s a drop off. Cedrick Lattimore has the physical tools to be an effective defensive tackle but lacks experience to fight Big 10 linemen in the trenches. With injuries holding some DTs out there won’t be a clear picture until fall practices begin.
Heading into summer there appears to be more questions than answers for the Hawkeyes. Uninspired performances at the most important position on the team really present concerns. The departure of veteran leaders leave a void to be filled and it’s too early to see who are the new leaders. When fall practices roll around those questions have to be answered quickly by a new staff. On offense only TE coach Lavar Woods returns to the same position he held last season. Fall practices will also reveal how effective the new leadership is and if they are able to step up in their predecessors place. The Big 10 West looks to be competitive this season with Nebraska settling under Mike Riley and Wisconsin always being a conference contender. Only time will tell if the Hawkeyes are able to adapt and compete this year.