On Friday, August 26, Kirk Ferentz released the depth chart for the Tennessee Tech game.
Most of the time, and for the remainder of the season, I'll preview each contest by looking at the upcoming game's key matchups. However, that would be fruitless in this case.
There are only three or four players on the Golden Eagles (how many of you knew Tennessee Tech was named the Golden Eagles?) that will be anywhere near a physical match for their Hawkeye counterparts.
As I am in Madison, I have been unable to get to Iowa City and have been stuck watching Badger practices (Iowa fans, feel fortunate UW is not on the Hawks' schedule this season).
In effect, most of my "inside info" comes from the following trustworthy sources: Mike Hlas, Marc Morehouse, Scott Dochterman, the greatest football blog in the world, Blackheartgoldpants, as well as odds and ends picked up around the web.
That said, the first two-deeps are our initial peek into what the starting lineup might finally shape up, as well as which younger players are pushing for playing time.
The depth chart may change by the time the Hawks open up the Big Ten season against Penn State. It might even change by September 10, when Iowa plays Iowa State.
But for now, this gives the fans a good idea of who stepped up in fall camp, and what that means down the road.
No. 1: James Vandenberg.
No. 2: A.J. Derby/John Wienke.
Breakdown: No surprises here. Vandenberg is the man. He, along with left tackle Riley Reiff, defensive tackle Mike Daniels and cornerback Shaun Prater are Iowa's least expendable players.
We won't know who the true No. 2 quarterback is until the second team comes onto the field, but one thing is for sure: Iowa isn't splitting No. 2 practice reps between two different players no matter what the depth chart says.
No. 1: Marcus Coker.
No. 2: Jason White.
Breakdown: Again, no major surprises.
Coker will be Iowa's feature back. White is probably not the true No. 2, but his placement on the depth chart is a nod to a guy that has worked hard and done everything that has been asked of him.
He'll get a few carries, but look for true freshman Mika'il McCall to get the bulk of the work with the second team. Everything coming out of camp about the first-year player has been positive. He is physically and mentally ready to get in there.
Also, true freshman Jordan Canzeri and redshirt freshman De'Andre Johnson will probably get some work in as well.
No. 1: Matt Meyers.
No. 2: Jonathan Gimm.
Breakdown: The first surprise of the depth chart.
Meyers is a redshirt freshman and a walk-on. Due to Brad Rogers' heart issues, fourth-year junior Gimm was moved from tight end, and most felt he would get the starting spot at fullback. Apparently not.
At 6'2", 220 lbs, Meyers is a bit small for the position and will gain 20 lbs over the next year or two.
That said, reports coming out of Kinnick are that Iowa will use fewer fullback looks than they have in the past, primarily due to inexperience at the position.
However, in this game, where the Hawks will run their most vanilla offense, there will probably be a decent amount of work for the young freshman.
No. 1's: Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis.
No. 2's: Steven Staggs and Kevonte-Martin Manley.
Breakdown: The starters are no surprise, and K-Mart is also predictable and will be the slot receiver. Everything coming out of Kinnick suggests that KMM had one of the best camps on the team.
However, Staggs is a bit of a shocker. Most felt that true sophomore Don Shumpert would be the No. 4 receiver and McNutt's backup.
Staggs is a junior walk-on from Oskaloosa that had a good spring, and looked like he might have a shot at getting some playing time this season. However, I didn't expect him to be ahead of Shumpert at this point.
At 6'3", 195 lbs, he's the kind of big outside receiver that Iowa likes. As a walk-on, it is doubtful he has much breakaway speed, but getting separation is all about route running.
Either way, I'm interested to see how things shake out at receiver with Staggs, Shumpert and a true freshman or two.
No. 1: Brad Herman.
No. 2: C.J. Fiedorowicz/Zach Derby.
Breakdown: Herman is the starter, as expected.
However, 2010's uber-recruit C.J. Fiedorowicz has some competition. Or, more appropriately, a fire has been intentionally lit under his behind.
Since spring, I've heard a lot of negative things about Fiedorowicz. Most notably, he does not take his blocking assignments as seriously as he needs to, and he does not hustle during practice.
On the other hand, I have heard he is tremendous with the ball in his hands and has been running clean routes.
Nevertheless, an Iowa tight end that doesn't block is an Iowa tight end that is riding the bench. If C.J. Fed doesn't bring it as a blocker, look for Derby to take over as the No. 2.
This will be especially important this year. As previously mentioned, Iowa will use less fullback looks. That means more two-tight and three-wide formations.
Also, look for true freshman Ray Hamilton to burn his redshirt. He has been mentioned repeatedly as bringing it on the practice field. That will always attract Kirk Ferentz's eyes.
LT: Riley Reiff, backed up by Andrew Donnal.
LG: Matt Tobin, backed up by Brandon Scherff.
C: James Ferentz, backed up by Conor Boffeli.
RG: Adam Gettis, backed up by Woody Orne.
RT: Markus Zusevics, backed up by Brett Van Sloten.
Breakdown: The starting tackles and center are as expected. Gettis is as expected. Tobin is not a surprise, given that we knew Nolan MacMillan is out with a sports hernia, and Scherff missed much of camp with undisclosed injuries.
Starting with MacMillan, a sports hernia is a tough injury, especially when your job is to push against 300-pound defensive tackles all game long. It is unlikely that MacMillan will be back for the out-of-conference. It is possible he could miss the entire regular season. This is a big blow, because after Reiff, he was Iowa's second-most inherently talented offensive lineman.
As for Tobin, word is he had a huge camp, and he should be a solid replacement.
If not, both Scherff and Donnal will push him hard. Scherff probably would start if he hadn't missed so much time.
Zusevics and Ferentz are solid. Meanwhile, Gettis has had an up-and-down career, partially due to injuries and partially due to performance. If he doesn't play consistently, look for him to get the hook.
In short, the starting guards now might not be the starting guards by the time Iowa plays Pitt, let alone Penn State. If MacMillan isn't back by then, any of Donnal, Tobin, Scherff or Gettis could be starting.
Weak-side End: Lebron Daniel/Dominic Alvis, backed up by Joe Forgy.
Weak-side Tackle: Thomas Nardo, backed up by Dominic Alvis/Carl Davis.
Strong-side Tackle: Mike Daniels, backed up by Joe Gaglione.
Strong-side End: Broderick Binns, backed up by Steve Bigach.
Breakdown: This unit worries me a lot. I have heard a ton of bad feedback coming out of Fort Kinnick this summer. In fact, about the only universally positive thing I've heard about the defensive line is that Mike Daniels is playing like a senior, which is hardly surprising, but nice to hear.
I haven't heard a thing about Binns, who is also loading up for his final year. In his case, no news could be good or bad.
Lebron Daniel waited behind Adrian Clayborn for three years, and the question was, was Clayborn that good, or Daniel that mediocre? The job was Daniel's to lose as the Hawks headed into camp this season. From what I have heard, Daniel has held on to it, less because of anything he has done and more because nobody pushed him.
Meanwhile, I have heard nothing but good things about Alvis for two seasons, and that continued through spring practices. He has been a strong-side end through much of his career, but he entered fall camp as the starting weak-side tackle.
Unfortunately, he missed a large portion of camp with undisclosed injuries, and now he seems to be splitting his time between weak-side end and backup weak-side tackle.
Personally, I prefer him at end. Given his history of injuries, his 250-pound body would be finished by the Big Ten season if he lined up inside. In short, I wouldn't be surprised if Alvis wrestles the starting weak-side end spot away from Daniel by the time Iowa suits up to play Pitt.
Then there is Carl Davis. Iowa needs the 315-pound redshirt freshman this season, and he has reputedly not stepped up. Reports floating out of multiple open practices were that the 275-pound James Ferentz consistently pushed Davis all over the field.
Bigach has been working both inside and out, and though I hear he is better inside, the coaches apparently like him as an end.
Finally, I think Thomas Nardo is something like Tyler Luebke on the 2004 team. Luebke knew his role, and as he was surrounded by multiple All-Conference linemen, his weaknesses were never exposed. If Daniels, Binns, etc. step up, Nardo could have a productive season. If not, teams will run right at him.
One other player of note is true freshman Darian Cooper. Usually, Iowa likes to redshirt its linemen, but I have heard that regardless what the depth chart says, Cooper has been one of the Hawks' three best inside men. This says a great deal about both Cooper's talents and the veterans not showing up.
Look for Cooper to burn his redshirt.
Weak-side Linebacker: Christian Kirksey, backed up by Anthony Hitchens.
Middle Linebacker: James Morris, backed up by Bruce Davis.
Strong-side Linebacker: Tyler Nielsen, backed up by Tom Donatell.
Breakdown: Middle linebacker is a go. Nielsen at strong side is a go.
Donatell began fall practices at safety. Apparently, he is now a linebacker. Given his background as a safety, I wouldn't be surprised if Donatell plays the role Jeff Tarpinian—also a converted safety—played in 2009, where he came in as a hybrid safety/linebacker on passing downs.
Meanwhile, Kirksey appears to have won the weak-side linebacker, or WILL, position battle. I originally felt he would win it, but then I second-guessed myself and felt Hitchens would win out due to his size. I guess I was wrong, although one never knows.
Either way, word is they pushed each other hard during fall camp, and if either the weak side or strong side goes down, Hitchens is probably the next man in.
No. 1's: Shaun Prater and Greg Castillo.
No. 2's: Jordan Bernstine and Micah Hyde.
Breakdown: We now know that the rumors about B.J. Lowery's broken wrist are true. If he had been healthy, he would have been on the depth chart, and potentially in a starting role.
That's a bad break for him and for Iowa, and it leaves the Hawkeyes minimal depth at cornerback.
In fact, it leaves them no depth at cornerback. When taken in tandem with the starting safeties, it is apparent that the next defensive back in is Tanner Miller.
If one of the cornerbacks goes down, Micah Hyde will move to corner and Tanner Miller will move to free safety.
The only good news in this is that a broken wrist isn't a nagging injury like a sports hernia or a high ankle sprain. Lowery will wear a cast for 4-6 weeks, he will heal and will be back in the lineup probably in the beginning or middle of October.
Free Safety: Micah Hyde, backed up by Tanner Miller.
Strong Safety: Collin Sleeper, backed up by Jordan Bernstine.
Breakdown: Even though Sleeper seems to have solidified his spot at strong safety, I wouldn't be surprised if Bernstine gets some looks.
Apparently, he had a good camp and while he probably won't get many looks as a starting cornerback, Bernstine has done well at safety, which is where he belongs anyway.
I'm not saying he'll wind up beating out Sleeper. I'm saying I don't know that this position battle is over.
Meanwhile, free safety is solid, and as previously mentioned, if a cornerback goes down, Miller will move into the starting lineup.
Punter: Eric Guthrie.
Kicker: Mike Meyer, backed up by Trent Mossbrucker.
Kick Returner: Not yet available.
Punt Returner: Not yet available.
Breakdown: No surprise at punter. Given that Jonny Mullings wasn't invited to camp, the only punter left is Eric Guthrie. According to Kirk Ferentz, the current backup is not Mullings, but current backup quarterback John Wienke.
Meanwhile, there has been talk of a three-way battle for place kicking duties. Meyer, Mossbrucker and walk-on freshman Marshall Koehn have all been getting equal opportunities in practice.
For the time being, it appears Meyer has won out, but one might handle the kickoffs while another handles the field goals. We won't know definitively who is doing what until September 3.
As for the return men, Ferentz has not yet named his starters. There has been talk that true freshman Jordan Canzeri has been getting a lot of work on the kick return, which doesn't surprise me.
Meanwhile, Micah Hyde is the prohibitive punt returner, which does surprise me a bit. Punt returning is a dangerous job, and I would have figured Ferentz wouldn't risk Hyde. If Hyde does wind up with the job, expect him to fair catch a lot of punts this season.