When I made my way into the stands at Kinnick and started watching the Hawkeyes practice, the first thing I noticed was Brad Roger's absence. Then Barkley Hill and Greg Garmon. Then B.J. Lowery. And as practice went on, I saw that more and more Hawkeyes were missing. Kids Day was Iowa's 11th practice in just 9 days, and the team looked it. They were beat up and not sharp. It was hard to get a good gauge for how the team will look when a sizable number of players on the depth chart were out with injuries.
My overall impression was that the defense was slightly ahead of the offense. Which makes sense with a brand new system on offense and just tweaks to the system on defense. The defense was definitely more aggressive than we've seen in the past and it looked capable. The offense looked pretty similar to the past with maybe a heavier emphasis on the passing game that features the tight ends.
Anyway, I laid out a few things that I was going to keep my eye on, and here's how they played out:
Well so much for that. With Garmon and Hill both out (and Brad Rogers), it was basically the Damon Bullock show. I thought he looked decent. He didn't break any long runs, but other than a time where Micah Hyde was blitzing, I think he always fell forward for a few yards. Where he provides the most value though, is his versatility. More than a couple times he split out wide as a receiver when Iowa went 5-wide. I really like this idea, especially if Iowa is going to up its offensive tempo a little bit. It allows them to stay with the same personnel, but show multiple looks. Bullock had a couple of catches, though I think those came on check downs after he released from the backfield.
It was interesting to watch Mark Weisman. He played a lot, as both the fullback and as a running back. I have to say, he looked pretty good out there and is certainly making the most of his opportunity while Brad Rogers and Jonathon Gimm are out with injuries. He carried the ball a couple of time and was fine. He blocked well enough. And he showed the ability to get separation running routes (though he dropped a ball when he was wide open on a wheel route that could have gone for 6). I still think Brad Rogers is the number 1 fullback, but Weisman could really push for some time.
I wasn't watching close enough to tell you how the individual linemen did (a by-product of Kids Day, emphasis on kid). And I was standing in the food line while the drills were going on so I didn't see the defensive line going head-to-head with the offensive line. But in the 11-on-11s, I thought the defensive line as a whole held its own. They were able to generate some pressure on the QB and didn't give up any big runs. A large part of that too, was the added pressure applied by the back 7 in support. It was much more aggressive, and yes, there was a lot more blitzing.
I was watching the play clock when Iowa was doing its situational scrimmaging and it often ran down below the 18 second mark that Greg Davis said was his target for the offense to get set on the line of scrimmage. If the refs wanted to, they could have called multiple delay of game penalties. So they are still working out the kinks on the tempo.
However, the offense looked its best during the 2-minute drill that they run to close out the day. Vandenberg hit C.J Fiedorowicz on two big pass plays that set up a 25-yard touchdown pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley. Vandenberg still looks very comfortable back there in shotgun calling the shots in the no-huddle. I just hope the Iowa's no-huddle offense has evolved into something better under Greg Davis.
We got to see quite a bit of punting. It seemed like more than usual at these sort of things. All 3 punters (John Wienke, Jonny Mullings, and Connor Kornbrath) were about even. Kornbrath had the biggest leg, but was a little inconsistent. Wienke has more consistent but he punts were barely hitting 35 yards. And Mullings still has a slow delivery. Right now I think the coach should go with Kornbrath and let him run with it and take the ups and downs.
Jake Rudock was the first to come in after Vandenberg to work with the twos. He was okay and showed off his arm a few times, but looked a little lost at times. He threw an awful interception that would have gone for six and often held on to the ball way too long. Cody Sokol also worked with the twos and looked very solid. He made a couple of good passes, including a long would-be TD when the secondary was out of position. He looked better than Rudock, at least on Saturday. I think the coaches want to red-shirt him, but if he is consistently better than Rudock, then he needs to be ready to play.
Tight ends - The bright spot of the offense, on the first team, second team and even the third team, were the tight ends. Fiedorowicz had the catch of the practice, a 30+ yarder in double coverage where he just outsized the defenders and snatched the ball high out of the air. Zach Derby also looked pretty good. I think we'll see a lot of 2-TE sets this year, and a lot of passing out of them.
Blitzing - I mentioned it above, but there was a ton of blitzing. I thought the most effective blitzer was Micah Hyde. Iowa has had problems in the past getting home on blitzes, but I think Hyde has the ability to do it. Iowa also brought a lot of pressure from the linebackers and walked down a safety into the box whenever their where less than 3 receivers on the field. While this puts more pressure on the rest of the back 7 in coverage, I thought they were pretty good. Without B.J. Lowery, Greg Castillo was the first team corner opposite of Hyde. He struggled at times and was called for a couple of pass interferences. Hopefully Lowery will be back soon.
Kicking - Place kicker looks like an area of strength this year. Mike Meyer only missed 1 FG that I noticed and showed a big leg. He hit a 40-yarder easily and it looked like has the leg to make it from 50+ yards out (he did make a 50-yarder last year). Marshall Koehn was pretty good too. He had a few more misses and the didn't get the ball as high as Meyer. But he also looked like he had a strong leg. Maybe he can be used on kick offs.
New coaches - After a stalled drive by the first team offense in which Vandenberg and Keenan Davis were clearly not on the same page, I think the entire stadium could hear new Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis screaming. He was mad about something...not sure who made the wrong read there, or if it was something else entirely, but he was certainly fiery. Vandenberg describe Davis as "ornery" and I think that fits.
Brian Ferentz was also very vocal and excitable. He was usually the most animated after a good play by the offense. On the other end of the spectrum, not a new coach, but a coach in a new position, Darrell Wilson did a lot of his coaching by pulling players aside for a little one-on-one.
It was great being back in Kinnick and now I can really taste the start of football season. The Hawkeyes have a lot of work to do in the next 3 week, but I think we could see a very different (and better) team in September than we did over the weekend.