Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 18, 2016

Iowa is coming off a season of glory in which it raced to a school-record 12-0 start before losing its final two games of the season in falling in the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl. Still, Kirk Ferentz has a lot to build on moving into his 18th year on the job. Excitement teems from Iowa City.

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 as the Hawkeyes prep for spring drills. The defense could be a cut-above, especially if star end Drew Ott is given a medical redshirt. The NCAA still has not ruled. If Ott gets a fifth season, it would be huge for a position that has some depth issues. End Parker Hesse is good but needs help off the edge. The offense could feature another physical rushing attack, but the line needs to develop - along with some pass catchers to open running room for a fleet of good backs.

Here are three key areas to watch this spring for the Big Ten West champion Hawkeyes.

1. Receivers/tight ends. 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. But Henry Krieger-Coble and Jake Duzey are gone, leaving George Kittle as the only proven vet.

2. Kicking. The Hawkeyes must replace K Marshall Koehn and P 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. Mick Ellis and Miguel Recinos are the kickers in competition. Freshman Colten Rastetter is the lone punter for the spring but graduate transfer Ron Coluzzi from Central Michigan is joining in the fall.

3. Offensive line. This typically always is a strength in Iowa City. Line coach Brian Ferentz is about ?playing the five best guys.? Knowing that, look for Cole Croston at left tackle and Ike Boettger at right tackle. James Daniels looks to have a bright future after being the rare true freshman to play on the line for the Hawkeyes. LeShun?s little brother will be the center but will miss the spring after knee surgery. Steve Ferentz, the third of Kirk Ferentz?s boys, will get the reps at the pivot in the spring with Daniels out. Boone Myers and Sean Welsh are the guards. Overall depth needs to be developed.

Record: 12-2, 8-0/1ST West (lost to Stanford in Rose Bowl)
Spring ball starts: March 22
Spring game: April 23

Key players gone: C Austin Blythe; RB Jordan Canzeri; LB Cole Fisher; WR Jacob Hillyer; TE Henry Krieger-Coble; FS Jordan Lomax; P Dillon Kidd; K Marshall Koehn; DE Nate Meier; DE Drew Ott (petitioning for a fifth season); FB Macon Plewa; WR Tevaun Smith; G Jordan Walsh

Key players back: DT Nathan Bazata; QB C.J. Beathard; OT Cole Croston; G/C James Daniels; RB LeShun Daniels; DE Parker Hesse; LB Josey Jewell; DT Jaleel Johnson; CB Desmond King; CB Greg Mabin; OT/G Boone Myers; LB Ben Niemann; WR Matt VandeBerg; RB Akrum Wadley; G Sean Welsh


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