As I am writing this, it is July 5.
Iowa's first game of the 2011 season is 59 days away. On September 3, they will reopen the doors of Kinnick Stadium to play the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles of the Ohio Valley Conference (FCS).
The game should be a blowout, as Tennessee Tech is not even good by FCS standards.
Still, Hawkeye fans will be able to tell a lot by how things shake out on the depth chart.
Kirk Ferentz has alluded to this season being similar to 2008, and I agree with him. In 2008, Ricky Stanzi, Pat Angerer and Tyler Sash were not the starters at the beginning of the season.
Sash became the starter in the second week, Angerer in the third week, and Stanzi wasn't the unquestioned No. 1 man until the Big Ten season opened.
This year, I think there will be a lot of the same sort of depth chart movement, particularly on the defense.
Thus, the players that are No. 1 or 2 against Tennessee Tech will not necessarily be on top against Iowa State.
Nevertheless, the following is my best guess as to how the two, and in some cases, three-deep will look on September 3.
Starter: James Vandenberg (Jr)
No. 2: A.J. Derby (RFr) OR John Wienke (Jr)
James Vandenberg will be the starter. Common sense dictates that, as he is the only quarterback with any substantial game experience.
The eye-test also dictates that, as he was far-and-away the best quarterback in the spring game. He has been the No. 2 man, and gotten all the No. 2 practice reps, since the 2009 Northwestern game, when he spelled an injured Ricky Stanzi. Now, it is his turn to shine.
Meanwhile, Ferentz will go into the year with his fabled "OR" in the backup quarterback position. This will be a nod to John Wienke's seniority, as well as what redshirt freshman A.J. Derby has seemingly brought to the table.
Derby was the better of the two quarterbacks in the spring game—albeit against the third-team defense and with fewer snaps to showcase his skills and flaws—and during spring practices, Ferentz said they were neck-and-neck.
Until/unless Vandenberg gets injured, that "OR" will remain on the depth chart, and we won't know who will be the first to come off the bench if the situation requires it.
Starter: Marcus Coker (So)
No. 2: Jason White (Jr)
No. 3: Mika'il McCall (TrFr) OR De'Andre Johnson (RFr)
Marcus Coker is the starter, and I don't know that Hawk fans have been as singularly excited about one player since DJK signed with the Hawkeyes, and Kirk Herbstreit congratulated Kirk Ferentz on grabbing the best player in Ohio in 2006.
Of course, unlike DJK, this excitement is based on what Coker has done on collegiate playing fields.
Following his 219-yard, two touchdown performance in the 2010 Insight Bowl, Hawkeye fans are sure he is the second-coming of Shonn Greene. And unlike Greene, Coker is a true sophomore.
Behind Coker, Ferentz will go into the Tennessee Tech game with Jason White as his official No. 2 guy. This will be a nod to the junior walk-on, who has done everything asked of him, including moving from running back to safety and back to running back.
However, the third-string is the most interesting and telling of the running back position battles. The player that wins this battle will ascend to the No. 2 spot for the Iowa State game.
Johnson has been on campus for a year, and he practiced in the spring. Nonetheless, McCall is the most game-ready true freshman, and he will compete for playing time right away.
Starter: Brad Rogers (So) if healthy. Otherwise, Jonathan Gimm (Jr)
No. 2: Gimm OR Scott Covert (So) if Rogers isn't healthy.
In 2010, then-redshirt freshman Brad Rogers started one game at fullback. Over the course of the year at both fullback and tailback, he touched the ball 13 times. This was as many touches as outgoing starting fullback Brett Morse had in any one season during his career.
Over the last decade or so, Iowa has used its fullback as more of a roaming guard than an offensive weapon. Brett Morse, Tom Busch, Aaron Mickens and Edgar Cervantes have all been quality battering rams, but hardly players that other teams feared with the ball in their hands.
The last Iowa fullback that opponents have worried about as a ball-carrier was Jeremy Allen, who carried the ball 52 times in 2001. Rogers reminds a lot of Hawk fans of Allen. If that is true, he could add a great deal of versatility to the Hawkeye offense.
The problem is he has been out-of-action with a heart ailment since the bowl game. Following spring practices, Ferentz was cautiously optimistic regarding Rogers, but until he is 100 percent cleared, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Perhaps due to the Rogers situation, a number of players made the move to fullback during the offseason.
The most notable is Jonathan Gimm, who was formerly a stone-handed tight end. If Rogers doesn't make it, Gimm will start, and will follow in the aforementioned tradition of Hawkeye battering ram fullbacks.
Behind him is Scott Covert; another convert that came from defensive end, and once again, would likely serve primarily as a lead blocker.
Starters: Marvin McNutt (Sr) and Keenan Davis (Jr)
Slot Receiver: Kevonte Martin-Manley (RFr)
No. 2: Don Shumpert (So), Kevonte Martin-Manley and Jacob Hillyer (TrFr)
We know about McNutt, who has been a starter for two years. However, Davis, who is the most heavily-recruited receiver of the Kirk Ferentz era, is still a bit of a mystery. On the other hand, all reports are that he is stepping comfortably into his role as a starter, and he was a human highlight reel at the spring game.
Meanwhile, K-Mart will take over the slot receiver duties. He has been heavily hyped since that paragon of hype, DJK, tweeted about him earlier in the year. He still looked rough in the spring game, but he will have all of August to work on his skills.
Also, there has been talk that Don Shumpert has the most raw physical ability of any receiver in the Ferentz era. At 6'3", and reputedly running the 40 in 4.5 seconds, this may be the case. Still, as with K-Mart, the spring game demonstrated that Shumpert has a lot of work to do.
The fifth position will seemingly be between Jordan Cotton, a true freshman and a number of walk-ons.
As of now, it seems like Cotton might be a late bloomer that we won't see much of until his senior year.
As for the freshman, I like Hillyer because unlike the other receiver from this class, Marcus Grant, Hillyer was a receiver in high school. In his junior year he caught 77 passes. As a senior, he grabbed 87 receptions.
He is a little string-beanish (6'4, 190 lbs.), but he knows the position, and he knows how to run routes. That will help him as he fights for playing time in his first year on campus.
Starter: Brad Herman (Sr)
No. 2: C.J. Fiedorowicz (So)
No. 3: Zach Derby (Jr)
No. 4: Ray Hamilton (TrFr)
Last season, Herman was the second tight end, which, in Iowa's system is basically a starting position. This year, he will be the go-to guy at a position where the starter typically grabs at least 30 receptions a year.
The second tight end spot will be hotly contested.
Fiedorowicz was Rivals' No. 5 tight end in the 2010 class. He burned his redshirt last year, though he mainly saw action on special teams and in garbage time. Since then, I have heard mixed reviews of the Polish Hat.
He is supposedly a handful with the ball, but has trouble making catches in traffic. Even more importantly, I have heard mixed reports on his blocking.
If his blocking isn't up to snuff, it is a safe bet that the junior walk-on, Zach Derby, will be there to grab the No. 2 spot.
Finally, as Iowa plays a lot of two and three tight end sets, they ideally have at least four ready to play. My bet is that true freshman Ray Hamilton will step into that role.
I still think he will finish his Iowa career on the offensive line. Nonetheless, at 6'5", 230 lbs., he is ready to play in the Big Ten, and, if his high school video is any indication, he blocks like he has a grudge against the other team. That is a quality that will catch the notice of the Iowa coaches every single time.
LT: Riley Reiff (Jr)
LG: Nolan MacMillan (So)
C: James Ferentz (Jr)
RG: Adam Gettis (Sr)
RT: Markus Zusevics (Sr)
Sixth Lineman: Brandon Scherff (RFr)
Backup Center and Seventh Lineman: Connor Boffeli (So)
The line might not be set in stone, but aside from some minor competition at the guard positions, it is a safe bet that when Iowa opens up its season against Tennessee Tech, this will be the starting five.
As Hawk fans know, when it comes to the O-line, Iowa likes to field its five best men. In effect, outside of center, when Iowa has to replace one of its starters, it doesn't go by the depth chart. Rather, the sixth lineman goes in.
For example, even though Brandon Scherff is listed as Nolan MacMillan's backup, if a tackle were to leave the game, it is likely that MacMillan would move outside to tackle and Scherff would take the guard position.
After Scherff, the seventh lineman is Connor Boffeli, who is also the backup center.
The other linemen officially listed on the depth chart will be: Matt Tobin (Jr), Brett Van Sloten (So) and Woody Orne (Sr); but if the Hawks get that deep into the backups, God help us all.
Starter: Mike Meyer (So)
No. 2: Trent Mossbrucker (Jr)
Despite the occasional ineptitude of the Iowa special teams last year, the place kicking wasn't terrible. In fact, at 82.4 percent, it was the Iowa kickers' best showing since 2003, when Nate Kaeding made 20 of 21.
Still, Kirk Ferentz puts a high priority on place kicking in his conservative, defense-first philosophy. In effect, he will expect more of his kickers this season, particularly in tight situations.
Specifically, a missed field goal against Ohio State and missed extra points against Arizona and Wisconsin played a part in all three of those losses.
Mike Meyer missed the kicks against OSU and Wisconsin. He was a true freshman in 2010, and though he wasn't especially impressive in the spring game, it is unlikely he will lose his job unless he is awful.
On the other hand, Mossbrucker, who began the 2010 season as the starter until he missed the kick at Arizona, has never been the same since he was pulled in the 2008 Penn State game. Unless Meyer hands the job to the junior from Indiana, it is unlikely Ferentz will have enough confidence in Mossbrucker to trust him with the kicking duties.
Starters: Jordan Canzeri (TrFr) and Kevonte Martin-Manley (RFr)
Obviously, the kickoff return specialist is most likely going to be a receiver, running back or defensive back.
This season, the only returning player with kickoff return experience—WR Keenan Davis—is far too valuable to risk as a return man. Needless to say, Marvin McNutt is in that same boat.
At this point, none of the running backs will play on the special teams either.
That leaves defensive backs or non-starting receivers.
I don't see Ferentz risking Hyde or Prater.
On the other hand, as a prototypical slot receiver, Manley is good in space, and had kickoff return experience in high school.
Meanwhile, Canzeri is a burner that also has high school experience. It remains to be seen whether he will wind up on offense or defense, but he can be an immediate weapon on special teams.
If either of them can prove to be trusted with the ball, they will be your kick returners in 2011.