Dienhart: Here's what I'll be watching at Iowa football practice
These are halcyon days in Iowa City, as the Hawkeyes take aim at repeating as Big Ten West champs. Iowa welcomes back a strong corps of players on both sides of the ball led by QB C.J. Beathard on offense and CB Desmond King on defense. But there are some concerns for the Hawkeyes.
Here are five areas I will watch at practice.
1. How does the kicking look? The Hawkeyes must replace K Marshall Koehn and punter Dillon Kidd. Koehn hit 16-of-20 field-goal attempts last season and was 7-of-9 from 40-49 yards with a long of 57. Kidd averaged 40.2 yards on 59 punts with 22 downed inside the 20-yard line. Sophomores Mick Ellis and Miguel Recinos are the kickers in competition long with true freshmen Caleb Shudak and Keith Duncan. Freshman Colten Rastetter and graduate transfer Ron Coluzzi from Central Michigan are battling at punter.
2. Are there any playmakers at wideout and tight end? This long has been an area that needs to improve. And, that issue persists. Matt VandeBerg is back after leading the team with 65 catches for 703 yards with four TDs in 2015, but more big-play ability is needed. Riley McCarron is a vet. Keep an eye on youngsters Adrian Falconer, Jerminic Smith and Jay Scheel. They need to make moves. The tight end spot always is a staple of this offense, and George Kittle, the lone vet of the group, is as good as it gets.
3. How does C.J. Beathard look? He played hurt most of last year and still gutted out a strong season in leading the Hawkeyes to a 12-0 start. He is healthy now. It will be interesting to see how he’s moving as he looks to take his game to the next level and possibly leave campus as an all-time great.
4. How is the pass rush? The Hawkeyes lost two good ends in Nate Meier and Drew Ott. Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson need to bring the heat off the edge. Hesse flashed a lot of potential last season as a redshirt freshman. Nelson is a 6-8 monster. Anthony Nelson is an interesting redshirt freshman. The tackle spot is in good hands led by future pro Jaleel Johnson.
5. Is the o-line coming together? This typically always is a strength in Iowa City. Line coach Brian Ferentz is about “playing the five best guys.” There is talent with the likes of Cole Croston, Boone Meyers, Sean Welsh, James Daniels and Ike Boettger, which is the projected line from left to right. Now, the unit has to come together and develop chemistry and cohesion. Overall depth needs to be developed.
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