Iowa Football: 5 Underclassmen the Hawkeyes Can Build Around in 2013

David Fidler Correspondent IFebruary 13, 2013

Iowa Football: 5 Underclassmen the Hawkeyes Can Build Around in 2013

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    Anybody who has followed Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes for the past 14 years knows that Ferentz is not going to build his football program around any one player.

    However, that doesn't mean he can't tweak his program to use the talents he has. Moreover, certain players can be looked at as harbingers of change.

    The following slides will look at just such underclassmen—individuals who hopefully have what it takes to become playmakers, and who hopefully represent the change that the program desperately needs.

    The assessment of the players is based more on hopes of what they will be able to do—or be allowed to do—than anything they have done in the past.

Sophomore Defensive Ends Drew Ott, Melvin Spears and Riley McMinn

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    Have you heard? Iowa needs defensive ends.

    A great many things were missing from last year's defense, but one of the biggest voids was a pass-rushing defensive end.

    The Iowa pass rush tied for 115th in the country for want of a disruptive end.

    Unfortunately, the current roster doesn't inspire much confidence that the Hawks will find that disruptive end among its rag-tag bunch of untested sophomores and redshirt freshmen.

    Nevertheless, the top three of those untested underclassmen are third-year sophomores Riley McMinn and Melvin Spears and true sophomore Drew Ott.

    All played sparingly last year, but none did anything to distinguish himself.

    Hopefully, a year in the weight room and another full round of spring and summer practices will be what at least one of them needs to become a game changer.

Sophomore Defensive Lineman Darian Cooper

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    Darian Cooper is an experienced sophomore who has more potential to take over as a game changer off the edge than any other current defensive lineman.

    Cooper came to the Hawks as a 4-star recruit out of Maryland. With official measurables of 6'2", 280 pounds, Cooper is more of a tackle than a defensive end in Iowa's system.

    However, the nature of Iowa's scheme allows for big defensive ends, especially on the strong side. Former Hawks Christian Ballard and Bryan Mattison serve as prime examples.

    Cooper spent most of 2012 cycling into the game as a defensive tackle, but his only start, via Phil Steele, was as the strong-side end in the final game of the season.

    He didn't record any sacks last year, but he was one of the few defensive players who didn't come apart down the stretch. Moreover, according to Hawkeye Game Film on, he has a "Bright future ahead."

    The best Iowa defenses have always had elite ends—Matt Roth in 2003 and 2004, Adrian Clayborn in 2008 and 2009.

    The 2013 Hawkeyes defense will need at least one similar end if it is to be successful.

    At this point, Cooper seems the most likely.

True Freshman Wide Receiver Andre Harris

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    As recently detailed by Ryan Suchomel of Hawk Central, Patrick Vint of Black Heart Gold Pants as well as me, Iowa is looking for a different kind of receiver.

    It formerly preferred big, physical and slow receivers who made plays downfield and battled for the ball at its highest point. Former Hawkeye Marvin McNutt is a prime example.

    It is moving toward fast, small, agile receivers who catch the ball near the line of scrimmage and make plays in space.

    In short, it is moving from the preferred receiver of former offensive coordinator (OC) Ken O'Keefe's offense to the preferred receiver of current OC Greg Davis.

    Whether he plays or not this year, Andre Harris is the prototype for the Hawks' new pass catcher.

    247Sports lists Harris as 6'2", 180 pounds, while Scout has him as 5'11", 160 pounds. There is substantial disparity between the two. Regardless of which one is accurate—according to the accompanying Iowa-produced video, the Hawks side with the Scout numbers—Harris looks distinctly different than the types of receivers Iowa formerly courted.

    Those receivers were generally between 6'1"-6'4" and tipped the scales at over 200 pounds. Just-graduated Keenan Davis, for example, was listed as 6'3", 215 pounds.

    Last season, Iowa began to implement the Greg Davis passing game, and it was a horror show.

    This season, with players like Harris on board, Hawkeyes fans will get a taste of Davis' offense with the appropriate pieces in place.

Sophomore Tight End Jake Duzey

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    As detailed by Mike Hlas of Cedar Rapids' Gazette, Iowa tight ends have found success in college ball, on draft day and ultimately in the NFL.

    On the other hand, last year, as Susan Denk of The Hawk Eye noted, "the position [was] glaringly absent in an offense that...fizzled more often than it [had] shone."

    This wasn't due to lack of talent. Starter C.J. Fiedorowicz was a former 4-star recruit with measurables—6'7", 260 pounds—that are reminiscent of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and that make him almost impossible to cover.

    Backup Ray Hamilton was also a former 4-star recruit. Fellow backup Zach Derby was a former walk-on, but he was a senior with starting experience.

    Finally, redshirt freshmen Jake Duzey and Henry Krieger-Coble were young, undersized and inexperienced, but could have been useful if brought into the game in specific situations.

    Hopefully, in 2013, Davis and Ferentz won't wait until November to start using their tight ends.

    If they do involve them earlier, Duzey in particular presents some options.

    He came to Iowa from Michigan. He played receiver in high school and, among other offers, boasted a scholarship from Oregon.

    The Ducks don't use their tight ends in the traditional style, opting to employ them as H-backs. The "H" stands for "hybrid," and Iowa might consider using Duzey in a similar fashion.

    His current official weight is 235 pounds, which means he is still small for a traditional tight end. The Hawks could revitalize their tight ends by making them more versatile, and that can start with Duzey.

    He could line up in the backfield, on the line, on the outside or in the slot. This would add a new element to the Hawkeyes offense, and it fits in perfectly with the more spread look that OC Davis favored when he was in Texas.

Redshirt Freshman Quarterback C.J. Beathard

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    According to Mike Hlas, Iowa was the only FBS program to use only one quarterback in 2012.

    That will leave Iowa with four quarterbacks—none with even one snap of FBS experience—vying for the starting spot in 2013.

    Those quarterbacks will be junior Cody Sokol, third-year sophomore Jake Rudock, redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard and true freshman Nic Shimonek.

    It's anybody's guess who will wind up with the job, but there is a lot of smoke surrounding Beathard.

    It began with Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register (article links via Black Heart Gold Pants) dissecting Beathard's winning a team leader award as a freshman.

    BHGP disputed Peterson's reasoning, as did I, but shortly thereafter, Jon Miller of Hawkeye Nation published his opinion that Beathard would win the starting job in 2013.

    He based this opinion on various things he had heard from different (unnamed) sources.

    Hawkeye fans won't know anything until late August, but it is difficult to have any confidence in Rudock, given Ferentz's reluctance to give him a snap even in games where the outcomes had been decided.

    Meanwhile, Rudock looked better than Sokol in last year's spring game.

    Shimonek may be what Greg Davis wants out of a quarterback—he did recruit him—but it is near impossible to see ultra-conservative Ferentz go with a true freshman.

    That leaves Beathard.

    If Beathard does take over, then this will be his offense for the next four years, and that is a huge investment.