Dienhart: 5 things I learned at Iowa fall practice
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa isn’t getting much love this season. So, you know what that means: The Hawkeyes will do great! Just two years ago, Iowa flew under the radar all the way to the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl. That probably won’t happen for this club, but Iowa may be better than prognosticators think after a 2016 season when expectations fell short after a lot of preseason hype.
Here is what I learned at Hawkeye practice.
1. The offensive line is gonna be good! And, that’s always an outstanding sign for any squad. Guard Sean Welsh is the bellwether. But the strength extends well beyond him with Boone Myers (left) and Ike Boettger (right) at tackle. And James Daniels may be the top center in the Big Ten. In fact, he may be the top center in the Ferentz era. Keegan Render is the left guard and the only new starter. Per usual, this is a tough and physical front. Don’t expect any drop in play even with a new coach in Tim Polasek, the former OC at North Dakota State who coaches with the same fire and intensity as ex-OL coach Brian Ferentz. It would have been fun to have seen true freshman OL Tristan Wirfs, a 6-5, 315-pounder who looks to have a big, big future. He sat out today after getting dinged.
2. The receiving corps is still a worry. Doesn’t that seem to be the case each season? The unit has a new coach in Kelton Copeland. Matt VandeBerg is coming off injury, and the staff is taking it easy with him in camp. JC Nick Easley needs to step up but didn’t play today. It’s time for vets Adrian Falconer and Devonte Young to take the proverbial next step. They look the part; can they play it? Young has looked good of late. And without a doubt freshmen will impact: Speedy Ihmir Smith-Marsette, big Brandon Smith and Max Cooper. New Mexico grad transfer Matt Quarells was just in shells today, but he looks good. The tight end spot is solid. Noah Fant could be a star. And I like T.J. Hockenson, a redshirt freshman who will have a role. The tight end slot is a position that always is used a lot in Iowa City. Lots of options this season. Expect the TEs to be used more as downfield targets under OC Brian Ferentz. Also, look for Akrum Wadley to be thrown passes in space where he can use his shiftiness.
3. This linebacking unit will be a strength. It all begins with Josey Jewell in the middle. He is sneaky fast, and very tough. Plus, he knows Phil Parker’s defense. Jewel is my B1G Defensive Player of the Year. So tough and heady. He is flanked by Ben Niemann and Bo Bower. Add it up, and that is three seniors. Not bad. Kristian Welch is next up in the middle, and Amani Jones is next up on the outside. This is the best part of the defense.
4. The defensive line is still formidable. While the d-line lost some good players, including T Jaleel Johnson, I love the ends, Matt and Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse. The Nelsons are pterodactyls off the edge. Hesse is undersized (6-3, 257) but plays at 110 mph. And true freshman A.J. Epenesa is a stud who is destined for stardom. He already looks like a full-grown man. The inside guys have something to prove. Cedrick Lattimore is coming on and moves well. Nathan Bazata is a vet who must set the tone. He looked strong today. Gotta stop the run. Brady Reiff is another guy inside to watch. Hesse and Matt Nelson also are getting looks inside.
5. The QB spot is interesting with C.J. Beathard gone. Sophomore Nate Stanley stands tall in the pocket at 6-5. He throws a good ball and looks poised. He has impressed of late and could be gaining an edge in this derby. Tyler Wiegers is a junior who knows the offense and has some experience. He is a bit niftier. Whoever wins this post can’t turn over the ball. Just make the safe play. But at some point, the signal-caller will need to strike down field to stretch defenses which will be focusing on stopping stud RB Akrum Wadley. If it was up to me, I’d go with Stanley. He is a bit more decisive. Having former OC Ken O’Keefe back to coach QBs is a boon. There is a big scrimmage on Friday which will play a big role in determining this spot.