This Sunday, Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes made the drive east to hold an open practice in front of approximately 8,000 fans in West Des Moines.
This was a first for the Hawkeyes, and in all likelihood, had a lot to do with building up goodwill following a 4-8 season that saw the Iowa offense fall flat on its face.
There is still a lot of work to do, as Iowa is just over the midway point of spring practices. On the other hand, some new and old names have popped up as players to watch for in the upcoming Iowa spring game.
The following will look at the top five things that Hawkeyes fans learned following the open practice.
Unless otherwise noted, whenever Marc Morehouse is referenced, it is via this article on thegazette.com.
Riley McCarron is a walk-on redshirt freshman receiver from Dubuque who has caused something of a stir.
First of all, special teams coordinator Chris White commented (via Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette), "Little Riley McCarron, I tell you what, he catches punts great."
Then, following the open practice, Pat Harty of the Iowa City Press Citizen tweeted,
I don't know how they can keep Riley McCarron off the field if he keeps catching everything thrown his way like he has today. #valleyhawks— Pat Harty (@PatHarty) April 14, 2013
At a position that is desperate for a playmaker, perhaps the playmaker won't come from the scholarship athletes, but from a 5'9" 189-pound afterthought.
As for the other pass-catchers, Morehouse counted at least seven drops. Ugh.
Weak-side end and returning starter Dominic Alvis
True sophomore Drew Ott began spring as the starting strong-side defensive end, an area where Iowa needs a ton of improvement.
Last season, the Hawkeyes not only had a conference-worst 13 sacks, but also had their worst rush defense since 2000, allowing 4.11 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, while the defensive tackles seem to be making strides, the ends are still behind the curve.
According to Morehouse, in O-line vs. D-line drills, "right tackle Brett Van Sloten pancaked sophomore defensive end Drew Ott in on back-to-back plays." That is something you don't like to see, especially when the defense knows what's coming.
To be fair, Van Sloten is a fifth-year senior while Ott was playing eight-man football less than two years ago.
Meanwhile, Ott's top backups appear to be sophomore Riley McMinn and redshirt freshman Faith Ekakitie, the latter of whom came to Iowa with expectations of playing on the inside of the line.
As has been mentioned multiple times this offseason, tight end is arguably the Hawkeyes' deepest, most talented and most ready position.
However, the question remains whether Ferentz will use them to the offenses' best advantage.
It seems an obvious decision, but as Susan Denk of thehawkeye.com noted in 2012, it took until the final two games of the season for Iowa to show "it still [had] tight ends on its roster."
This year will be different if the open practice is any indication.
According to Morehouse, starter C.J. Fiedorowicz and backup Ray Hamilton teamed up for seven catches and 143 yards.
Perhaps this is the breakout year for C.J. that Hawk fans have been waiting for, but all the talent in the world won't matter if the offense doesn't target him once the season begins.
Redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard came into the practice with the hot hand.
There were offseason musings such as Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register (link via blackheartgoldpants.com) and Jon Miller of Hawkeyenation.com predicting that Beathard would win the starting job.
Then, only a couple of days ago, the Big Ten Network's Gerry DiNardo took in an Iowa practice, and when asked who the best quarterback was, he responded,
However, most seem to agree that sophomore Jake Rudock was the best—if only by a slim margin—in the open practice.
According to Morehouse,
Rudock looked the most comfortable. He seemed to see the field a little better than the other two and was a touch more accurate.
Meanwhile, don't count out JUCO-transfer Cody Sokol, who also got plenty of playing time.
Based only on the open practice, that is more cut and dried.
One of the MVPs, according to Hawkeyenation.com, was sophomore Jordan Canzeri.
Canzeri was slotted to be the starting tailback in 2012, but missed the season with a late spring ACL tear.
However, he was cleared to play only six months after his injury (though he never did play)—an injury that usually takes nine months to a year to heal.
It would be easy to call Canzeri the hungriest player on the roster as the team headed into spring practices. In fact, new running backs coach Chris White said (via Hawkeyesports.com) that based on the way Canzeri was practicing, "I wouldn't even know if Jordan was injured."
The other, more experienced running backs—juniors Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock—will push hard for carries, but it is good to see the competition out there.