Last weekend, Kirk Ferentz took his Hawkeyes to Des Moines, where he gave Iowa fans their first look at the football squad.
Consequently, after weeks of picking at scraps and rumors, people can base their opinions on something tangible.
Of course, fans also have to consider that this is only one practice out of 15. Moreover, in the spring, the focus is less on installing new wrinkles into the offense and more working on technique and figuring out personnel.
After all, the offense must be severely limited if the quarterback is rotated every two plays, as Ferentz said (via Scout.com) has been the case throughout spring.
Therefore, the following will focus primarily on players who shined—or failed to shine—in the open practice, primarily by doing the little things such as getting into the backfield or catching the ball.
Iowa finds itself with something it has rarely seen over the past five years: multiple talented and experienced tailbacks fighting for carries.
Fullback-turned-tailback Mark Weisman and tailback-turned-receiver-turned-tailback Damon Bullock began spring at the top of the depth chart.
However, according to Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, third-year sophomore Canzeri was, "the most exciting and consistent runner Iowa had Sunday."
It is not a huge surprise, as Canzeri would have been the starter last year if not for a late-spring ACL tear that prematurely ended his 2012 season.
Regardless what the depth chart says, before or after spring practices end, Canzeri is very much in the competition for carries.
According to Morehouse, Iowa pass catchers dropped seven would-be receptions during the open practice. Four of the drops were by receivers.
Via PSD on Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants.com, multiple receivers "still dropped balls [they] shouldn't."
This followed a season in which Hawkeyes receivers were "probably a little embarrassed," according to their own position coach (per the Des Moines Register).
Though criticisms have been laid on Iowa's offensive schemes, offensive coordinator, quarterback and especially the head coach, the offense will not and can not succeed unless the receivers bring in catchable passes.
Which brings up Riley McCarron, who was the one bright spot of the receivers group.
McCarron is a 5'9" walk-on redshirt freshman receiver from Dubuque.
Following the 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
It seems Iowa always has a walk-on receiver who impresses in spring camp. As BHGP brought up following the 2012 spring game,
Who can forget the hype train foror in recent years? (And if you're saying "Who's Tyler Gerstandt?"... well, that's kind of the point.)
However, what makes the McCarron situation potentially different is that the Hawkeyes are desperate for playmakers at receiver. For that matter, as previously noted, they're desperate for receivers who catch the ball.
As Harty noted, it will be impossible to keep McCarron off the field if he is the only receiver who can consistently do that.
Junior defensive tackle Carl Davis has been both vocal and vocalized about this spring.
In a HawkCentral.com article by Andrew Logue, senior linebacker James Morris specifically pointed out Davis as having made considerable strides this spring.
Moreover, Davis himself is taking on a leadership role amongst the young line, noting (via Hawkeyesports.com), "I'm trying to help the team the best I can."
Davis was active during the open practice, though still inconsistent according to BHGP.
Nonetheless, there is plenty of time for Davis to work on that inconsistency.
Either way, his improvement is necessary to bolster a rush defense that allowed 4.11 yards per carry in 2012, the worst Kirk Ferentz rush defense since 2000.
On the other hand, the overall defensive line left something to be desired.
There is an old rule concerning spring practice that says the defense is always ahead of the offense.
The reason for this rule is because the defense sees every play the offense runs. Consequently, by the spring game—or by midway through spring practices—the defense has a good idea what's coming as soon as it sees the offensive formation.
Therefore, if the offense pushes the defense around then it is usually safer to assume the defense is problematic than the offense is that good.
It wouldn't be fair to say the offense pushed around the defense, but it did get more big plays than one would like to see.
Specifically, Jordan Canzeri had two rushes over 20 yards. As previously mentioned, Canzeri had a good day, but offensive linemen had to get to the second level to allow that to happen.
That is on the defensive line.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, sophomore Jordan Walsh got the majority of the No. 1 snaps at right guard.
Walsh got some playing time last year, but he wasn't impressive. During the open practice, as the attached video testifies, he got off the line and regularly reached the second level. Of course, the play of the defensive line might have had a part in that.
Either way, junior Andrew Donnal was listed as the starting right guard on the opening depth chart, but at 6'7", Donnal is more reminiscent of a tackle. Walsh is 6'4", and though he could gain a few more pounds—he is listed as 270—size isn't as important in a zone blocking scheme like Iowa runs.
As previously mentioned, during the open practice, the quarterbacks—sophomore Jake Rudock, JUCO-transfer Cody Sokol and redshirt-freshman C.J. Beathard—rotated every two plays. Moreover, Ferentz said that has been the case throughout spring practices.
Over the course of the spring, multiple writers and analysts—such as Hawkeyegamefilm on Hawkeyenation.com—have said the same things about the three quarterbacks: Rudock has the best grasp of the offense and is the most consistent. Beathard has the most physical talent but is raw. Sokol is the best athlete and most physically mature of the bunch.
At times, Beathard has had the hot hand. At times, it has been Rudock. Meanwhile, Sokol has quietly remained in the race.
With each practice and bit of news that escapes from camp, it becomes increasingly unlikely that this will be settled before late in summer camp if it is even settled before the season starts.
There is a re-dedication (it's about time) to improved special teams with the hiring of new special teams coach Chris White.
According to Jon Miller of Hawkeyenation.com, "White has already made an impact."
There were new, competitive special teams drills, as well as more time spent on special teams than any open practice of the recent past.
This is good news for a program that prided itself on special teams early in the Ferentz era, but has fielded mediocre-poor special teams over the last few years.
Those special teams had a great deal to do with Iowa's average 58-43 record since 2005 and 19-19 record since 2010.
Specifically, think of losses to Arizona in 2010, Wisconsin in 2010, Minnesota in 2010 and 2011 and Central Michigan in 2012.
As I recently argued, well-coached, quality special teams would have made a substantial impact in turning the tide of all of those contests.
If White does turn the special teams around, look for them to make a substantial impact on future contests as well, but hopefully for the positive.