The Iowa Hawkeyes and head coach Kirk Ferentz have kicked off the 2013 football season with spring practices.
The first depth chart is out. Though it only means so much, it does give fans some clues about what positions will see the fiercest fights for playing time and what the newer and hopefully better offensive schemes will look like.
This article will look at which players and positions are bearish and which are bullish.
The ratings, though subjective, are based on the depth chart, what the coaches have said in interviews and how much any given player has moved up the depth chart over the past few months.
It also takes into consideration where the team seems to be going in respect to the players' roles based on the aforementioned criteria.
Finally, all Ferentz quotes, unless otherwise noted, are via his most recent press conference as transcribed by HawkeyeSports.com.
A starting fullback is the most glaring omission on the new depth chart.
Last year's starting fullback, Brad Rogers, announced his retirement following a career that had been riddled with injuries.
However, that couldn't have come as a huge shock to the coaches, as Rogers missed most of 2011 and the final few games of 2012 with injuries.
In his recent presser, Ferentz noted the team being "thin at fullback," but given the direction the team seems to be going with second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis' offense—more on that shortly—perhaps the fullback is getting minimized.
The coaches will have to find somebody, as the fullback will still see playing time in short yardage and goal-line situations, but that could be the limit of how often a pure fullback sees the field.
Speaking of fullbacks, Mark Weisman began 2012 as the starting fullback. However, due to injuries and Weisman's abilities, he became the starting tailback by the third game of the season, and he was successful when he was healthy.
Moving into 2013, perhaps Iowa has caught up with the rest of the college and pro football world and moved into the era of hybridization.
That could begin with Weisman seeing time at both tailback and fullback. This would give the Hawks two genuine rushing threats in the backfield, as the fullback under Kirk Ferentz has traditionally served as less of an offensive weapon and more of a battering ram.
The other rushing threat would be either Damon Bullock or Jordan Canzeri, either of whom could line up in the slot or in the backfield. In fact, when asked about the receivers, Ferentz began his answer by mentioning Bullock, noting their goal is to "find a role for Damon at any position right now." Perhaps this is a sign of the hybrid role Bullock might play.
Finally, the position that officially takes the place of the fullback on the depth chart is called a "Y" back. Greg Davis, via Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, described the position as "the ‘move’ guy,' He has to be able to be a back, tight end and wide receiver."
Davis further called out third-year sophomore Jake Duzey as being able to do all of those things. Duzey and fellow third-year sophomore Henry Krieger-Coble are listed as the co-starting Y-backs.
Iowa's prospects at receiver don't look immediately promising, but it is evident that Ferentz is fully committed to Greg Davis' offense, which means a lot of receivers.
As Ryan Suchomel of HawkCentral.com reported following the signing of the 2013 class, the Hawks are "adding [a] pile of wide receivers" to their roster.
Iowa also added a new wide receivers coach in Bobby Kennedy, who replaced former receivers coach Erik "Soup" Campbell.
Unfortunately, most of the receivers currently on the roster—and thus, the receivers who will participate in spring practices—are more of the "Soup-approved" variety, as Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants.com referred to them.
In effect, while some of the individual receivers' stocks might be down, the entire position group is up, though that might not manifest itself until the freshmen come on board at the end of July.
Cooper has arguably been Iowa's hottest player during the offseason. In other words, a lot of people have been talking about him.
Most notably, ESPN's Adam Rittenberg named him Iowa's "spring breakout player." Unlike the rest of the Hawkeyes, as Rittenberg further noted, Cooper turned in "several of his better performances during November" of last year.
Ferentz described the sophomore defensive lineman as having "a real knack" for pressuring the quarterback. This was a quality that was in short supply last season, as the Hawks tied for 115th in the country with only 13 sacks.
Cooper has begun spring as a starting defensive tackle and will likely stay there due to incumbent starter Louis Trinca-Pasat missing spring practices with an injury.
However, Cooper could stay inside or move to strong-side end when Trinca-Pasat returns in the summer.
Either way, Cooper will start somewhere when Iowa begins the 2013 season.
No. 37 is backup safety John Lowdermilk, one of the few available pictures of any of Iowa's second-string defense.
Iowa's defensive depth is reminiscent of the movie Major League, in which confused Cleveland Indians' fans, upon reading the team's roster, are left to ask "Who are these $!#% guys?"
Of course, most diehard Hawkeyes fans know who the "guys" in question are, but those guys inspire little confidence that the defense is ready to sustain injuries.
The backup defensive linemen include three redshirt freshmen, along with an undersized sophomore and a junior with minimal experience.
Quinton Alston is the backup middle linebacker, and he provides solid, experienced, dependable depth.
However, Travis Perry is a converted safety who began his career as a walk-on. And at 6'2", 218-pounds, Cole Fisher makes starter Anthony Hitchens—himself a small linebacker—look oversized.
One of the backup cornerbacks was a wide receiver last year, and the backup safeties give new meaning to the word "inexperienced."
The future may be bright, but hope for the health of the starters in 2013.
The redshirt freshman is listed as as the co-No. 2 quarterback, which may or may not mean much, but consider the bigger picture.
Firstly, Ferentz said the current No. 1 quarterback, third-year sophomore Jake Rudock, is No. 1 "because that's how we finished up." In other words, Rudock is the official "starter," because he ended 2012 as the No. 2 signal-caller, even though he didn't take one snap during the season. Basically, Rudock was No. 2, and is the current No. 1, because Ferentz didn't want to burn any other quarterbacks' redshirts.
Secondly, Ferentz also said, "I don't think anybody has a clear advantage or edge" and "We're probably going to alternate every couple of plays with all three guys."
Finally, Beathard has pulled into an even spot with JUCO-transfer Cody Sokol, who participated in spring practices last year and is physically the most mature of the bunch.
Add in the predictions of Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register (link via BHGP) and Jon Miller of Hawkeyenation.com that Beathard will be the starter in 2013. Also, in his On Iowa podcast, Marc Morehouse tentatively predicted Beathard or Rudock will win the job.
It's anybody's guess who will sit atop the depth chart on Aug. 31, but right now, all intangible evidence points to Beathard having the hot hand.