Dienhart: What I'll be watching at Iowa fall practice

Dienhart: What I'll be watching at Iowa fall practice

Could Iowa be a surprise team in 2017? Perhaps. The Hawkeyes have a way of sneaking up on the competition when outside expectations aren’t high. But there are some big holes to fill for Iowa if it wants to return to the summit of the West Division, which it won in 2015.

There will be a new play-caller, with offensive line coach Brian Ferentz taking over for the retired Greg Davis in what will be Kirk Ferentz’s 19th season on the sideline of Kinnick Stadium. Depth is needed at cornerback with the losses of Desmond King and Greg Mabin. And keep an eye on special teams play, with the loss of punter Ron Coluzzi and return specialist King.

Here is what I’ll be watching at Iowa practice on Monday.

1. Receivers. It seems like this is annual bellyache from Hawkeye watchers. Who will be the big-play receivers? Who will stretch defenses? Matt VandeBerg is the No. 1 option, but the wideout spot could not doubt use more pizzazz. New Mexico grad transfer Matt Quarells may provide a boost along with JC transfer Nick Easley. Vets Adrian Falconer and Devonte Young need to step up.

2. Quarterback. The departure of C.J. Beathard has left a yawning chasm. Nathan Stanley will try to fill it, though Kirk Ferentz says the quarterback competition is open and Tyler Wiegers still has a shot to win the post. The Hawkeye signal-caller needs to provide leadership, make some plays down field and perhaps most importantly—limit mistakes.

3. Offensive line. This is the bread-and-butter of the program, the backbone and face of Iowa football under Kirk Ferentz. And with five starters back, this front looks to enhance and carry on that tradition with guard Sean Welsh and center James Daniels leading the way. If this unit dominates like many think it can, Iowa’s offense should be OK.

4. Cornerback. Big attrition here with Desmond King and Greg Mabin gone. But the staff has the makings of a nice trio in Manny Rugamba, Joshua Jackson and Michael Ojemudia. How are things coming along?

5. Defensive tackle. Nathan Bazata and Cedrick Lattimore are the first men up on the interior, looking to replace the massive shoes of Jaleel Johnson. Brady Reiff also should be a factor. This tackle group needs to be sturdy vs. the run and complement what should be a nice collection of ends.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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