Iowa Hawkeye Football 2012 Spring Game Report Card
This weekend, Iowa fans got their first look at the 2012 Hawks, and, as head coach Kirk Ferentz said following the practice, his team has "a lot of work to do."
That said, I hate report cards and the grades that go on them. I don't think they do anything to help the student improve.
In effect, look at this less as a report card and more of a tangible look at where things appear to be right now.
Again, there is a lot of time between now and Sept. 1 when the Hawkeyes travel to Soldier Field to kick off the 2012 football season against Northern Illinois.
While some of the issues that were present this Saturday will linger, I expect many of them will get cleaned up.
Therefore, don't take this as an indictment against the team.
The Hawkeyes have always been a developmental program, and right now, they've got time to develop.
Also, the grades in question are not a holistic grade, but they consider expectations going in. For example, I didn't expect much from the defensive line while I expected a good deal from the receivers. The "grades" reflected those expectations.
James Vandenberg is in charge of the offense, and remember, it is a new offense, or at least a different offense than what Iowa City has known for the past 13 years.
That comes with new terminology, new plays and a learning curve.
Overall, I was happy with the way JVB ran the offense, and the way he checked down to secondary receivers. That was something he failed to do in 2011. Without his Mc-security blanket this year, he will need to look at all of his options
I was also pleased with red-shirt freshman Jake Rudock. He has a long way to go, but in my mind, he cemented himself as the No. 2 and heir apparent for 2013.
Vandenberg still had trouble countering weak-side pressure, which was something that plagued him in 2011. This led to two "sacks" in a row at one point, both off a cornerback blitz.
He also continues to have difficulty throwing on the run. This was problematic in Ken O'Keefe's roll-out and waggle-heavy offense, and it was evident in multiple sprint outs in the spring scrimmage.
If the scrimmage was any indication, JUCO-transfer Cody Sokol will need a red-shirt year. He made multiple careless decisions, one of which was picked off.
That leaves Rudock as the only backup. As previously mentioned, I was happy with what he brought to the game, but he is not ready to lead this offense.
Overall Grade: C+
Damon Bullock broke an 84-yard touchdown run, which may have been the longest run in the history of the spring scrimmage/game under Kirk Ferentz. It was not all Bullock, as nobody laid a paw on him until he was 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, but it was good to see his breakaway speed. We haven't seen that in Iowa City since Brandon Wegher in 2009.
There were a lot of running back targets on passes, and overall, the running backs did a quality job of bringing the ball in.
Bullock did a good job of taking care of the football, and De'Andre Johnson did a good job of moving the chains when he held on to the football. He had a 50-plus yard carry early in the practice.
De'Andre Johnson was involved in two fumbles. One was on him, while the other came via an exchange with backup quarterback Cody Sokol. It's impossible to say who was to blame, but it is telling that Johnson was involved in it.
Ferentz specifically called out Damon Bullock in his post-"game" press conference, noting the sophomore "made some errors today." Presumably, it was during blitz pickup.
I would have liked to see if there are plans to get fullback Brad Rogers more involved in the offense, but he was wearing a red shirt and saw limited snaps.
Overall Grade: C
Keenan Davis was healthy, playing and wasn't wearing a red shirt. That was good to see, as there was a lot of talk early in the week that he would miss the end of spring practice with a knee issue.
Backup receiver Don Shumpert received a ton of targets, got open deep twice and hauled in the longest pass of the day.
The cornerbacks pressed the receivers—more on this later—and the receivers had trouble getting off the line.
There were multiple drops by multiple receivers, as well as multiple miscommunications between JVB and his receivers.
Based on playing time, Jordan Cotton and Don Shumpert seem to be the first in line for the No. 3 receiver position. However, Shumpert was up and down. The ups have already been documented, but the downs included drops, a movement penalty and a fumble. Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that the mistakes resulted in Shumpert doing a lot of push-ups.
Meanwhile, I can't recall Cotton receiving a target despite the playing time.
Backup Steven Staggs was in a red shirt, Davis, despite what appeared to be good health, didn't get much playing time and I don't recall seeing much of red-shirt freshman Jacob Hillyer.
This group was the most disappointing of the day.
Overall Grade: D
C.J. Fieodorowicz is gigantic. He has a huge catch radius. Teams will have to double-cover him if they hope to contain him, and will have to gang tackle him in order to bring him down. Vandy will look for him this season the same way he looked for McNutt last year.
Expect 2012 to be the year of the Polish Hat.
Meanwhile, the backups also represented themselves well. Red-shirt freshman Jake Duzey got multiple targets late in the scrimmage, including two catches. Fellow red-shirt freshman Henry Krieger-Coble also got involved, though both he and Duzey are still undersized.
There wasn't that much seen of senior Zach Derby or sophomore Ray Hamilton. Moreover, Hamilton was caught off guard on a blitz. He has to recognize that.
Overall Grade: B+
A great deal of depth. The second team looks as filled out, though not as polished, as some first team O-lines of the past. It seems that the coaches would be comfortable going eight or nine deep into the depth chart. On past lines, anything past the sixth man meant trouble.
Many of the linemen show a lot of versatility. Senior Matt Tobin was working out with the tackles, after spending last year as a guard. Meanwhile, Conor Boffeli moved between center and guard.
JUCO-transfer Eric Simmons looked good as the second-string center. He will step right into the role in 2013.
Overall, the offensive line did a good job on blitz pickup and dominated at the line of scrimmage. Again, Bullock was almost untouched on his 84-yard touchdown run. That doesn't ever happen in spring ball.
Brandon Scherff continues to play too high. That was something that was an issue last season.
Yes, the offensive line dominated, but consider the group they were going up against. Iowa will likely field its worst defensive line since 2000. What will the offensive line look like going against Michigan State?
There is a lot of depth, but very little is settled yet. Don't look for a solid starting five until as late as the start of Big Ten season.
I would have liked to see more of junior Nolan MacMillan, who is finally healthy after sitting out all of 2011 with a sports hernia.
Overall Grade: B-
Senior strong-side end Joe Gaglione has been talked up by Kirk Ferentz throughout the spring, and he had a good open scrimmage.
Sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat flashed, and was another player that Kirk Ferentz spoke positively of in his post-"game" press conference. He can play inside or out, but will most likely see time at tackle.
It was good to see Darian Cooper getting in there. Keep in mind, he is a red-shirt freshman.
Defensive line will be a work-in-progress this season. Any Hawkeye fan that expects more than that is expecting a miracle.
They are young, inexperienced and undersized. The average weight of the starting linemen during the open practice was 267.67 pounds. The average weight of last year's line was just over 270 pounds, and that line was small, even by Iowa standards.
I can't recall any linemen in the spring game getting penetration without help from a blitz.
In short, I was hopeful, but expected little from the defensive line, and, in truth, it did slightly better than I expected; however, that isn't saying much.
Losing returning starter Dominic Alvis and sophomore Carl Davis for the entire spring hurts tremendously. Both will be counted on to make substantial contributions this fall.
Overall Grade: C-
James Morris was playing more instinctively than he did last season. At one point in the spring game, he shot through a gap and blew up a play. Last year, one could see his wheels turning before he reacted. This season, he is hopefully past that.
All of the starting linebackers did a good job making plays in space and shadowing receivers. While I'd rather Iowa substitute more defensive backs in on passing plays, playing in space and covering receivers is a necessity for linebackers in the world of spread football. All told, the linebackers did a good job.
Anthony Hitchens was especially active and represented himself well.
Backup Quinton Alston played instinctively in blowing up a halfback screen.
The linebackers had to shed blocks for much of the game. That had to do with the defensive line's issues.
Moreover, spring practice served as a reminder that if you live by the sword, you die by the sword. The Hawks did a lot of blitzing. Consequently, they gave up a number of big plays.
Still, you should never give up two 50-plus-yard runs in spring practice.
Overall Grade: B
Strong safety Nico Law was the show stopper of the day. The above hit was one of three bone-jarring tackles he made. He also looked disciplined in coverage.
Cornerback B.J. Lowery had a great scrimmage, including one interception. He has the ability to press up against receivers, which will help Iowa's struggling defensive line.
Jordan Lomax looked solid as a backup. He is fast, and displayed perfect technique in breaking up a fade down the sideline.
Senior Greg Castillo had one pick, almost had another, and while he will never be a Big Ten cornerback, he is a dependable nickelback.
The Hawks used some nickel looks later in the scrimmage, moving Lowery against the slot receiver and bringing Castillo in on the outside. I hope they continue to go with this, as well as a 3-3-5 with a blitzing linebacker, in obvious passing downs.
Tanner Miller got burned on the one long pass play of the day. It was a cornerback blitz and he came over to fill for Micah Hyde. Shumpert went over him and had three steps on him when he slowed down to catch the pass.
The most disappointing group of the day were the receivers, while the secondary was the most pleasing. How much did the one affect the other's performance?
Overall Grade: A-
John Wienke looked decent as a punter. Moreover, distance wasn't a problem for him or Jonny Mullings.
All three field goal kickers hit all of their attempts, though all of the attempts I saw were of the chip-shot variety.
Marshall Koehn has a leg on him, and I wouldn't be surprised if he handles kickoff duties this year.
If one includes John Wienke and incoming freshman Connor Kornbrath, Iowa has five scholarship kickers. That has nothing to do with spring practice, but given that, Iowa kicking should be out of this world, yet it is not.
Unfortunately, Mullings continues to have problems getting the ball off efficiently. I don't expect him to ever suit up as a Hawkeye.
Overall Grade: B-