3 Position Battles to Watch: Offense

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Spring practice is just over a month away now and it'll be an important time for many players on the offense contending for a spot in the starting lineup. While the coaches will say all the spots are up for grabs there are probably 6 or 7 that are locked down (McNutt and DJK at receiver, Stanzi as the QB, Reiff and Vandervelde on the line, Reisner at tight end and Morse at fullback). That leaves a couple of positions that we'll want to keep our eyes on throughout the spring and summer.

RIGHT TACKLE

Kyle Calloway had a lock on the right tackle position the past couple of years (besides the Orange Bowl when Reiff took over the spot and against UNI when Calloway was serving a suspension). Calloway is gone now and Reiff will most likely move over to left tackle leaving the right tackle position wide open.

The Candidates:
  • Markus Zusevics | Jr - Zusevics was listed as second on the depth chart for most of the season in 2009 and go a few mentions from the coaches for playing well in practice. He also played in all 13 games last year (special teams maybe?) and some in 2008.
  • Nolan MacMillan | Fr - MacMillan red-shirted last year but made a good impression. He has the size to be a good tackle and probably has the best shot of any of the under underclassmen.
  • Woody Orne | Jr - Orne transferred to Iowa after dominating his red-shirt freshman year at South Dakota State. After his mandatory 1 year sitting out after his transfer, Orne should be ready to play.
Prediction:
Right now I am leaning towards Zusevics. He is the only one of the three that has seen the field as a Hawkeye and I'll give experience the nod.

CENTER

Rafael Eubanks was the only offensive linemen that started every game last year and as a senior he had a pretty good lock down on the center position. Last spring it seemed like there may be a battle for the spot but the other contenders faded away due to injuries, suspensions, or just lack of skill. This spring though, the position will be open again and the battle will be more intense.

The Candidates:
  • Josh Koeppel | Sr - Koeppel has paid his dues moving his way up from a walk-on to earning a scholarship as the 3rd, then 2nd string center last year. He played in 4 games in 2009 and as a senior could get the starting spot.
  • James Ferentz | So - The coaches son has been highly touted since high school, but has gotten caught a couple of times too many making bad alcohol-related decisions. As a result he's been suspended and that kept him from really having a chance last year. He only saw time in against ISU late in the game when the 3rd teamers game in.
  • Julian Vandervelde | Sr - Vandervelde has seem time at both guard positions the last two year and has his share of starts. He briefly spent some time at center last spring though before sustaining an injury. If neither Ferentz or Koeppel pans out, then Vandervelde could make the move.
Prediction:
I think this is the year the coach's son breaks through. Hopefully he's gotten his act together off the field and he can live up to his potential on the field. Norm Parker also mentioned recently that Ferentz stood out on the practice field.

RUNNING BACK

Unlike the other 2 position battles, the starter (or starters in this case) from last season are both returning at running back. But this battle has been going on since last year when Jewel Hampton went down with a season-ending injury. Now Hampton is back muddying up the waters even more. Things have cleared up a little more with the recent announcement that Jeff Brinson is transferring, but this will still be the most intriguing position battle of the off-season.

The Candidates:
  • Adam Robinson | So - Robinson was the 1(a) running back last year starting in 10 games. He had 834 yards and 5 TDs on 181 carries.
  • Brandon Wegher | So - Wegher had arguably the best season of any true freshman running back at Iowa. He was the 1(b) back and had 2 stars, but played in 12 of the games. His best game was the Orange Bowl and he finished the season with 641 yards and 8 TDs.
  • Jewel Hampton | So - Hampton red-shirted last year after an ACL injury, but prior to that was the expected starter. He was an outstanding backup to Shonn Greene in 2008 as a true freshman.
Prediction:
Though he's a year removed from any game action, I think Hampton has what it takes to be the starting running back. He seemed to have a little something extra that neither Robinson or Wegher showed last year. However, much like the rotation put in place in 2009, I think the coaches will use all three guys. It may be more of a situational rotation rather than something set (like Wegher near the goal line to leap over the pile).
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