The Hawkeyes 2008 spring practices are officially in the books and the next time they break out the pads and helmets in early August, there will be several positions battles yet to be resolved. As we put a wrap on the fifteen spring practices sessions, we take a look at some of the positions that will head into fall camp still unsettled.
When asked about which jobs in the starting lineup are still open, he isn't kidding when he says that the only two players who can go into the fall feeling secure about their position, Mitch King and Matt Kroul.
That isn't a huge surprise given that King and Kroul will be heading into their fourth season as starters. But, there are several Hawkeyes who can feel pretty good about the idea that when Maine comes to town, they will be out on the field and in the starting lineup.
On the defensive side, A.J. Edds started every game last season at linebacker and it will take something out of left field for him to lose his spot in the line. The same can probably be said for Brett Greenwood and Bradley Fletcher in the defensive backfield. Both players started at times last year and also drew plenty of praise at the conclusion of spring drills from Head Coach Kirk Ferentz.
The number of players feeling secure on the offensive side is probably pretty limited. Seth Olsen is going to start somewhere on the offensive line, but the question is will it be at tackle or guard? Even though he missed most of last season and all of the spring sessions, Tony Moeaki will start at tight end and while they may not start, Andy Brodell and Trey Stross will be in the rotation at wide receiver.
The position that most Iowa fans are curious about is quarterback, which Coach Ferentz said after practice on Saturday that basically it is still an open competition. Just based on Saturday, which is probably a dangerous way to judge the race given the sample size, it appears that Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi are 1 and 1A under center. Again, based on Saturday, it appears that redshirt freshman Marvin McNutt is lagging back a bit headed into fall camp.
Christensen has to be considered the favorite at this point, simply based on experience, but it is clear that Stanzi has made up ground this spring and will be an option for the Hawkeyes. While Ferentz has played down the idea of a true freshman coming in and contending for a starting spot, one does have to wonder if someone like John Wienke or James Vandenberg can make a bit of a run at the two deep.
Two races that appear to be completely wide open are at running back and on the offensive line. In fact, there is really no race more wide open than running back, where venturing a guess as to the starter would be just that, a guess.
This spring, Paki O'Meara, Jamie Murphy, and Nate Guillory saw most of the work, but Coach Ferentz has basically said that the two true freshmen, Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson, along with returning transfer Shonn Greene will be very much in the mix.
The questions headed into the fall are: How quickly can Shonn Greene chip off the rust of one year away from football training? Can Brinson and/or Hampton get up to speed quickly this fall? Will Guillory start to pick things up more quickly? Can a couple of hard-nosed Iowa walk-on's find their way onto the field?
On the offensive line, we know the characters, but we are not sure what role they will play in the fall. We know Seth Olsen will be starting somewhere, but will it be at guard, which may be his strongest position, or will he be moved back out to tackle because of weak play at that position?
We might have had a better idea if injuries had not taken a significant toll this spring with Olsen, Bryan Bulaga, Rob Bruggeman, Rafael Eubanks, and Dace Richardson all missing some, if not all of the spring drills.
Bruggeman and Eubanks are waging a pretty strong battle at center and that will continue into the fall. The odd man out may end up being in the mix at guard when it is all said and done. Simply because he practiced more this spring, Bruggeman may have a leg up at this time.
At tackle, Bulaga is still somewhat of an unknown since he did not play the position in live competition this past year. He looks the part, but he will have to show it as well. Kyle Calloway had a tough day on Saturday and from what we have heard, it was that way most of the spring. Could Olsen get bounced back to tackle because of it? Andy Kuempel had a pretty good spring and his name will certainly be in the mix for playing time. We also don't know the fate of Dace Richardson who is coming off significant knee surgery. The best guess right now is that he has a long road ahead before he is even cleared to start practicing.
At guard, you have a mixed bag with one of the center prospects, Olsen, Julian Vandervelde, and Dan Doering all vying for time. This one could go any number of ways before it is all settled.
On the defensive side, King and Kroul are locks and Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard as closing in on being starters, if they aren't there already. It will take quite a bit to unseat any of these guys from a starting spot, but one player who really stood out on Saturday was Brodrick Binns, who should explosive quickness off the edge.
At linebacker the biggest pleasant surprise of the spring might have been the return of Pat Angerer. Most observers figured that Jacoby Coleman would be the starter, but Angerer is now finally healthy and he is really pushing hard at middle linebacker. After watching on Saturday, quite a few Iowa fans would probably like the Hawkeyes coaches to get both guys on the field this fall, but a position switch for either would be unlikely. No matter who wins out, Iowa is going to have a very solid in the middle and that is a very good bit of news.
At the other linebacker position, it was assumed that Jeff Tarpinan had the other backer position in his hands, but on Saturday, Jeremiha Hunter ran with the #1's initially. That tells us that the race is far from over and Hunter is making a strong move. While Tarpinian has the best shot, it is be a competitive race for sure.
At the corner position opposite Fletcher, the race is very wide open. Jordan Bernstine is the odds on favorite, but he missed spring ball due to shoulder surgery. Last season, Bernstine saw some action in nickel and dime coverage, so his feet are certainly wet when it comes to playing time. But, incoming JUCO transfer Amari Speivey may have a say, along with a couple of the incoming freshmen.
At the safety position opposite Greenwood, three players were listed as co-starters. Only one of the three will get the starting call and it could be any of them at this point in time. Tyler Sash and Lance Tillison shared the bulk of the reps on Saturday and according to Coach Ferentz, it has been that way all spring. The gut feeling is that Sash or Tillison will get the nod when they suit up for real in the fall ahead of incumbent Harold Dalton.
One other battle that continues on might have a new player in the mix this fall is at placekicker. On Saturday, Iowa fans saw basically what they saw last season, Austin Signor has the strongest leg, but struggles with accuracy and Daniel Murray is more consistent putting it through the goal posts, he encounters problems beyond 40 yards. Incoming freshman Trent Mossbrucker may have something to say after showing the coaches a great deal of promise in camp last summer.
With four long months ahead before we know who will be starting, but right now there are questions than answers when it comes to the topic of Iowa Football 2008.
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