The plans were always to burn James Morris' redshirt. That was never in question. But when Iowa opened the 2010 season against Eastern Illinois University, who would have predicted that this moderately recruited linebacker from nearby Solon, Iowa—the son of the Iowa equipment manager—would start six games at the all-important middle linebacker position?
Nonetheless, that was the way it worked out.
In 2010, Iowa burned nine redshirts, though that is a lot for Kirk Ferentz.
The most redshirts Iowa ever burned under Ferentz was 2007, when they played 12 true freshmen. In Ferentz's 12 years as the head coach, the Hawks have averaged 5.1 redshirts burned per year.
On the other hand, over the last five years, he has loosened up a bit, averaging exactly seven burnt redshirts per year.
My guess is that he will go light on the true freshmen this year, and will probably stay within the five to seven average.
In effect, I'll take the mean—six—and give my best educated guess as to which true freshmen will see the field for the Hawks in 2011.
With all due respect to James Morris and the great job he did in 2010, hopefully none of them will wind up as starters.
As Iowa fans well know, safety will be an issue on this year's Hawkeyes.
I do not think the coaches would entrust the safety position to a true freshman, but I do think Nico Law could wind up on the two-deep.
First of all, he played safety in high school, so he knows the position. Secondly, as the above video attests, he is a big hitter that is good in run-support. This is an absolute must for an Iowa safety.
Finally, as the above video also attests, he has special teams experience.
Getting involved on special teams is the best way for an Iowa freshman to get his feet wet and impress the coaches.
In short, look for Law on the kickoff squad, as a gunner on the punt coverage unit and possibly as a backup strong safety.
Looking forward a bit, I wouldn't be surprised to see him compete for the starting strong safety spot in 2012.
Running back depth problems and the Iowa Hawkeyes are familiar bedfellows at this point.
In fact, every single season since and including 2008, Iowa has been down to one back at some point during the season.
This season, we know the top guy will be Marcus Coker (please, please, please benevolent football gods, protect his legs). Behind him, there will be one junior walk-on, and a mess of freshmen of both the redshirt and true variety. It is highly likely that at least one, if not two of the true freshmen running backs will play.
Iowa signed five potential running backs in the 2011 class. One of those recruits never made it on campus. That leaves four. Of the four, at 210 lbs., Mika'il McCall is physically the most ready to play at the next level. He is also familiar with Iowa's style of play, as his high school team appeared to favor pro-sets.
Needless to say, with 230 lb. Marcus Coker and 210 lbs. and rising Mika'il McCall in the backfield, Iowa is likely to get back to classic Big Ten football.
Run, run and run some more. Wear them down and then destroy them in fourth quarter.
Another one of the potential running backs is Jordan Canzeri.
Unlike both McCall and Coker, Canzeri is small (177 lbs.), which may work to his advantage. After all, nothing is a better complement to Coker's thunder than another back's lightning. And it would appear that with a listed 40 time of 4.49 seconds, Canzeri has plenty of lightning.
I originally felt Canzeri would wind up on the defensive side of the ball, and I still feel that way. However, I also think his high school kick returning experience will work in his favor.
He might start his career working as a third or fourth string tailback; or he may wind up as a second string cornerback.
Either way, I think our first look at him will be as a kick returner, where he will be Iowa's top guy in 2011.
Iowa currently has two receivers that the coaches seem comfortable with: senior and two-year starter Marvin McNutt; and junior Keenan Davis.
Behind them, it appears redshirt freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley and sophomore Don Shumpert are making strides and will be in the two-deep.
After that, it is nothing but walk-ons and sophomore Jordan Cotton.
Due to this lack of bodies, there should be opportunities for true freshman receivers.
Iowa signed two projected receivers in this class. Of the two, Marcus Grant may be more flashy, but unheralded Jacob Hillyer has more experience playing the position.
Don't read too deeply into this comment, but he is reminiscent of Dominique Douglas in 2006.
Douglas came to Iowa as an unheralded recruit that only had offers from Iowa and MAC schools. He was part of a class that had five potential receivers in it, and all of those receivers were more highly rated by most scout services.
However, what set Douglas apart was that he played receiver in high school and knew the in's and out's of the position. He went on to burn his redshirt and lead the Hawks in receptions that year.
We'll put aside the rest of the Dominique Douglas story, as it has nothing to do with Jacob Hillyer.
That said, Hillyer had 164 receptions for 2,701 yards in his final two seasons of college football. He is not a converted quarterback, and he is not a case of the coaches simply finding ways to get the ball in their best player's hands.
He is an experienced route runner that knows how to block downfield and make catches in traffic.
These attributes will earn him immediate playing time.
Advice to incoming Hawkeye freshman offensive players that are likely to play in a three point stance: If you want to earn immediate playing time, block like your hair is on fire, like you'd rather be blocking than carrying the ball over the goal line.
Apparently, Ray Hamilton got this advice.
With Rodney Coe out of the picture, Hamilton is Iowa's most highly lauded recruit. He chose the Hawks over Michigan, Notre Dame and Florida State, among others.
Most scout services list him as a tight end, but he could also wind up as an offensive or defensive lineman.
Personally, I see him putting on 50-70 lbs. and switching to guard next spring. But for now, the Iowa roster is a bit light on tight ends, and that is not a good thing for a team that likes to regularly use two and three tight end sets.
I think Hamilton will gain some time on special teams, as well as a blocking tight end in Iowa's short yardage and goal line sets.
With the departure of Willie Lowe from the Hawkeye program, Iowa finds themselves a bit shorthanded at cornerback.
There is no immediate need for worry, as the Hawks have a solid two-deep. The problem is that two of those four players are seniors, which both leaves worry for 2012 and leaves the Hawks with only four quality cornerbacks this year.
I have already mentioned Jordan Canzeri as a possible cornerback in this class. Jordan Lomax is another option.
As the above video shows, he did a bit more blitzing and attacking in high school than he will at Iowa. Nonetheless, he is a strong tackler and solid in run support, which is particularly important in Iowa's Tampa-2 scheme.
As a fast defensive back, he will also be afforded the opportunity to make waves on special teams.