10 Questions Iowa Football Must Answer This Offseason
10 Questions for Iowa to Answer this Offseason
Kirk Ferentz and the University of Iowa football team had a bit of a resurgence in 2013. After a disappointing 4-8 season in 2012, the Hawkeyes were able to turn things around last year with a 8-4 regular season record, including going 5-3 through their Big Ten schedule. The Hawkeyes ended their season with a 21-14 loss in the Outback Bowl to an LSU team littered with NFL talent all over the field.
All of a sudden, the Hawkeyes look like legitimate contenders in the Big Ten for next season. First year quarterback Jake Rudock had a solid season, Mark Weisman led a great running game and the defense was ranked sixth in the nation in total defense (allowing only 303.1 yards per game) and ninth in the nation in scoring defense (18.9 points per game).
As per usual with Ferentz led Iowa teams, the Hawkeyes were fantastic up front on both sides of the ball. Offensive tackle Brandon Scherff was projected by many to be a first round pick if he were to enter the draft, but he has already announced his intention to stay at Iowa for his senior season. That is huge when it comes to Iowa's chances to compete in 2014.
Iowa will be a solid squad in 2014, but the thing that has me most excited about this team is its schedule. The Hawkeyes should have one of the easiest schedules in all of major college football. Right now, the game that looks to be the biggest challenge is the last week of the season when they take on Nebraska. Obviously, they play the games for a reason, and anybody can win on a given day, but there is a strong chance that Iowa is favored in every game next season.
Iowa will have to replace some key players from their 2013 team, and regardless of the schedule, they have plenty of work to do this offseason if they expect to be legitimate contenders for a Big Ten title. Here are 10 questions for Ferentz and the Hawkeyes to answer this offseason.
10. Who are the Specialists?
While it is always a bit of an after thought from a fans point of view, special teams are an important part of the game. Iowa must replace 2nd team all Big Ten kicker Mike Meyer, who had a great career in Iowa City. Junior Marshall Koehn is the leading candidate to replace Meyer, but strong legged soon to be freshman Mick Ellis might have something to say about that.
Connor Kornbrath has handled the punting duties for Iowa the past two seasons, with mixed results. His punting is not going to kill you, but he is fairly average. The Hawkeyes brought in one of the top JUCO punters in the nation in Dillon Kidd, who will surely push Kornbrath for his job.
Kevonte Martin-Manley returns as one of the top punt returners in the Big Ten, but Jordan Cotton handled most of the kick off return duties for the Hawkeyes last season, and he has graduated. Martin-Manley, Jordan Canzeri and Damond Powell would all be solid choices to try out in the return game.
9. Who Replaces RT Brett Van Sloten?
The Iowa offensive line got a huge boost when Scherff decided to return for 2014, but that does not mean there are not holes to fill. Brett Van Sloten was a key contributor along the offensive line during his four seasons at Iowa, including holding down the right tackle job the past two seasons.
Listed at 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, whoever replaces Van Sloten has some huge shoes to fill. He is a great run blocker and is solid in pass protection. Van Sloten was a 2nd team all Big Ten player in 2013. Because of his size, ability and great work ethic, Van Sloten will surely be picked in the upcoming draft.
Ryan Ward will be the favorite to take over at RT, but guys like Mitch Keppy and Andrew Donnal will be in the mix as well. Iowa is known for churning out successful offensive lineman, but replacing a guy like Van Sloten is never easy.
8. Can They Establish a Pass Rush?
Iowa struggled at times in 2013 at putting pressure on the quarterback. All four defensive lineman that were starting at the end of the season return next year, so hopefully they can rush the passer better with an extra season of experience under their belts. Iowa will be replacing a lot of talent in the back 7 of the defense, so if they expect to be a dominant unit again, the D-Line is going to have to step up.
7. Can the Coaching Staff Use WR Damond Powell's Speed Effectively?
Powell is the most explosive athlete that the Hawkeyes have. He is incredibly fast, and does a good job in space. Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes were not able to use Powell effectively last season. On a team that lacks legitimate playmakers, Ferentz and his coaching staff must find a way to get Powell involved in the offense.
6. Who is the Answer at Running Back?
While the Hawkeyes had a solid running game last season, there is plenty of room for improvement. Converted fullback Mark Weisman is fairly productive, but his running style slows up the offense sometimes. Jordan Canzeri gave the team a spark at times last season, but he is very small and cannot handle a full load of carries. Damon Bullock is a good pass catcher out of the backfield, but his skills are limited. He makes for a nice third down option. LeShun Daniels showed a nice combination of power and speed early in the season, before giving way to the older players.
There is some nice talent at the position for the Hawkeyes, they just have to figure out the right mix of players and how to use them.
5. Who Replaces the Production of C.J. Fiedorowicz
Tight End has always been a productive position for Iowa during the Ferentz era. From Dallas Clark to Scott Chandler and Brandon Myers, the NFL is littered with TEs who played college ball for Ferentz. After the NFL Draft in may, you will be able to add C.J. Fiedorowicz to that list as well.
At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, Fiedorowicz is the biggest and most physically gifted TE that Ferentz has coached. He was a huge part of the offense in 2013, especially in the red zone (six receiving TDs). Next in line to replace Fiedorowicz is Jake Duzey who has already made his mark in his time at Iowa.
Ray Hamilton and Henry Krieger Coble will also battle for playing time at TE in 2014. Regardless of who gets the snaps, somebody must be able to step up and replace the production left by Fiedorowicz.
4. Are There Any Playmakers at Wide Receiver?
The WR position has always seemed to be a struggle for Ferentz at Iowa, and the current group of guys are no different. Martin-Manley is a nice player, but he is little more than a slot guy. Powell, Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer have shown flashes, but they have not been consistent at all.
There is some talent at WR on this Iowa roster, but are there any playmakers? Somebody has to step up at the position if the Hawkeyes are going to make some noise in 2014.
3. Will the Coaching Staff be Willing to Open Up the Offense?
Fair or not, Ferentz is known as a conservative coach. Early in the 2013 season, Iowa did a nice job of pushing the tempo with a hurry up offense. Rudock seemed to handle it well, making changes at the line of scrimmage, and the offense moved the ball nicely.
The hurry up offense went away the later the team got into the season. They went back to "3 yards and a cloud of dust" football. There is nothing wrong with running the ball, but I thought Iowa's offense looked great with some tempo, and I believe they have the personnel to run it successfully in 2014.
2. Who Replaces Incredible Group of Linebackers?
James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens made up one of the best linebacker cores in the history of Iowa football. Unfortunately, their college careers are now over.
Two guys who Iowa is almost surely going to go to when filling those spots are Quinton Alston and Reggie Spearman. Alston will be a senior in 2014 and has seen his fair share of time on the field. Spearman is a very talented player who saw some time as a freshman in 2013, he must grow quickly.
The other linebacker spot will be wide open. Travis Perry is probably the early favorite, but guys like Palmer Foster, Cole Fisher and Laron Taylor will also be involved. These guys simply will not be able to fill the shoes left by these seniors, but they must be adequate if the Hawkeyes are to be legitimate contenders.
1. Is Jake Rudock the Answer at QB?
Rudock had a nice season for the Hawkeyes in 2013. The sophomore threw for 2,383 yards, had a 59 percent completion rate with 18 passing TDs and 11 interceptions. He was also able to make plays with his legs when needed, rushing for 218 yards and five touchdowns.
Rudock was solid, yet unspectacular. He went down with a knee injury late in the season. His back-up, C.J. Bethard, may have been sporadic, but he obviously had a stronger arm and looked much more athletic than Rudock.
Rudock is definitely the safer bet, but I think that Ferentz and his staff needs to open up a QB competition in camp. Bethard looks like a very talented player with huge upside. If he ends up reaching that upside while under center for the Hawkeyes, the sky is the limit for this team. Both guys deserve a chance to prove themselves this offseason, and may the better QB win.