On one day each August, the Big Ten Network sweeps into Iowa City and gets full access to one normally-closed Iowa football practice. And this year, that day was Wednesday.
The BTN crew observed the morning session of the Hawkeyes’ final two-a-day session of fall camp.
There’s usually some nuggets to be mined from their coverage, which surfaces on social media and in a one-hour TV special. Last year, clues surfaced about Sean Welsh’s first-team return, defensive coordinator Phil Parker tipped off how good Ben Niemann could be and C.J. Beathard took a not-so-subtle swipe at the 2014 team culture.
All three of those things were spot on, but still, there’s only so much that you can take from a few snippets out of one practice out of 29 that take place before the season opener.
Here were some of Wednesday's emerging speculation and news:
Positive health news
Beathard, the quarterback who is the most important piece of the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten West title defense, was interviewed on the BTN set and proclaimed, “I’m feeling the best I’ve felt since probably the third game of the season. So that’s always good. I’m out here doing everything full speed. It’s not really limiting me very much at all.”
That’s welcome news every day, even if he said mostly the same thing after Saturday’s Kids Day practice. Beathard wore a left knee brace after rolling it last week in practice, adding to his shoulder scare in the spring and offseason sports-hernia surgery. (Oh, and he said at Big Ten Media Days that he was playing with a full groin tear during last year’s 12-2 season.)
Another day closer to the season, and Beathard’s healthy. Good news.
Position decisions coming
Late in camp last year, backup linebacker Cole Fisher came off the second team to win a starting job and become Iowa’s second-leading tackler of 2015. Is Bo Bower this year’s camp story?
Bower was shown running with the No. 1 unit at weak-side linebacker, and currently-listed No. 1 Aaron Mends was with the reserves. One clip doesn’t tell the whole story, but BTN’s Dave Revsine tweeted, “If I had to guess at LB right now, I'd say Bower over Mends, though Mends has had a couple of nice moments today.”
Bower, a junior from West Branch, started 13 games as a freshman but was beaten out by Fisher last year.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff will make firm evaluations after Friday night’s closed scrimmage, after which the focus will partially shift to Sept. 3 opponent Miami of Ohio. Of note: Another No. 2 linebacker, Jack Hockaday, was in a red no-contact jersey.
“We’re already starting to formulate some ideas,” Ferentz said. “We’ll probably have more decisions made over the course of the weekend.”
Questions (or answers) at center
BTN reporter Tom Dienhart tweeted that offensive line coach Brian Ferentz told him James Daniels would play center for the Hawkeyes. Now, that doesn’t mean Daniels will exclusively play center. But that's where he played on Kids Day, even though he is currently listed at No. 1 right guard.
Sean Welsh, the listed center, was shown participating in drills on BTN, too, so his health doesn’t seem like anything to worry about. He probably ends up at right guard, though Keegan Render was there Wednesday.
But to muddy matters at center: In one video clip, backup Lucas LeGrand was playing center with what appeared to be the first-team offense.
Wide receivers get love
Some more good (expected) news: Wide receiver Jay Scheel — who sat out on Kids Day after hurting his hamstring — was in uniform and shown running with the No. 1 offense. He’s listed at co-No. 1 split end with Jerminic Smith.
TV analyst Gerry DiNardo mentioned that the receiver group impressed him more than they have in past stops in Iowa City, despite the departures of senior starters Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer.
“I think this is one of the big surprises,” DiNardo said. “The wide receiver group at Iowa is better than it’s been in recent years.”
Beathard was asked about receivers, too.
“They’ve shown some very positive things, some big plays, all through camp,” Beathard said. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’re nowhere near where we want to be with the receivers in chemistry with those guys. But they’re definitely improving and doing well.”
True freshmen that’ll play …
Ferentz spent several minutes on the show praising this year’s freshman class, which prompted DiNardo to ask who might play right away.
Defensive Manny Rugamba seems like a lock. He was the first name Ferentz mentioned, and starting cornerback Desmond King in a follow-up interview said, “We look forward to (Rugamba) getting on the field this year.”
Ferentz said maybe on Amani Hooker at safety and Devonte Young at wide receiver. (So probably yes on both of them.) Probably yes on Cedrick Lattimore, too, the defensive tackle from Detroit.
Also, “we’ve got three or four linebackers that are pretty close,” Ferentz said, “and I could see us playing one or two of them to help our special teams and get our depth developed there. If we could split that class, that’s probably a good thing.”
Amani Jones was the first linebacker to rotate into the regular defense on Kids Day, with he, Barrington Wade, Kyle Taylor and Kristian Welch also working with the starters on special teams. Logic would say it'll be Jones and one more.