Leistikow: Concerned about Iowa Hawkeyes' QB and CB situations? Yes. Panicked? Not yet.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — An air of uncertainty surrounds the Iowa football team a week-and-a-half out from its season opener.
Yet on Sept. 2, when passes are thrown, some certainty will be found in the air.
The Hawkeyes still don't have a starting quarterback.
We have no idea what to expect from their only returning wide receiver with a college catch.
And now comes word that their best cornerback will miss the Sept. 2 opener against heavily-hyped Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen.
Panic? Not yet.
There certainly wasn’t any coming from head coach Kirk Ferentz or his coordinators Tuesday during interviews outside Kinnick Stadium.
Let’s work backward, starting with the news of the day — that Manny Rugamba’s 2017 debut won’t come until Sept. 9 at Iowa State. The sophomore is suspended for the opener after an unspecified offseason violation of team policy.
That means when the Hawkeyes’ secondary faces Allen — a projected top five (or so) pick in the 2018 NFL Draft — they’ll do so with their three primary cornerbacks having combined for one career start; a brand new free safety (former walk-on Jake Gervase replaces injured incumbent Brandon Snyder); and a strong safety (Miles Taylor) who lost his starting role late last season.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s calm response?
Nothing changes. And, hey, at least these young guys are getting some experience.
Still, going from Desmond King, Greg Mabin and Rugamba in 2016 to Joshua Jackson, Michael Ojemudia and true freshman Matt Hankins in the 2017 opener against an NFL-ready arm is cause for concern.
Especially if one of them gets hurt in-game against Wyoming.
“We’ve known about this,” Ferentz said. “We’ve been working with that in mind. We’ll be ready.”
At receiver, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz says fifth-year senior Matt VandeBerg is doing well after breaking the same bone in his foot twice — but took care to note: “I don’t feel comfortable telling you, ‘Hey, he’s Matt VandeBerg’ until he goes out there and plays a little bit.”
We barely saw VandeBerg take a scrimmage snap at the Aug. 12 Kids Day open practice.
It’s probably OK. He’s been practicing, albeit with a managed workload.
But the receiver position, as you know, is a huge question mark in 2017. Iowa needs VandeBerg to resemble the 65-catch guy he was in 2015 and build out depth from there.
If he can do that — and we'll see — whose passes will he be catching?
We still don’t know. The coaches say they don’t either.
But we’re pretty sure a quarterback will be announced Monday. That was what Kirk Ferentz projected in his opening remarks Tuesday before being peppered with different versions of the same questions he’d already fielded this month.
“It’s certainly a little bit more prominent position,” Ferentz said, understanding the swirling drama of the Tyler Wiegers vs. Nathan Stanley competition. “If one guy had pulled away by now, we would’ve gone ahead and named him. But right now, it’s still pretty close.”
Both Ferentzes have said they’d have preferred that one guy separate himself by now.
One didn't, even though it seemed like Stanley had the clear edge at the Kids Day open practice on Aug. 12.
And that, too, is a little concerning.
“If they don’t (separate themselves), then we will pick one,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Sometimes, it’s not always scientific. … You judge the body of work, and then we go with it.”
Hopefully for the Hawkeyes, the close call means both are vastly improved from the spring game, in which they struggled mightily to move the first- and second-team offenses through the air.
Hopefully that means if one goes down at some point, the other seamlessly steps in.
And hopefully it's not a case of the old adage: If you have two quarterbacks, you have none.
More from Leistikow:Revisiting Iowa's 1987 'soap-opera' QB derby
It’s probably natural for fans to be fidgety at quarterback, receiver and now cornerback, with serious unknowns there and the season countdown approaching single digits in days.
But, again, I was struck by the calmness of the coaches that spoke Tuesday.
They're the ones that have evaluated 19 or 20 practices in fall camp.
Said Brian Ferentz on the QB battle: “As far as what we’re looking for — to manage the offense and do the things that we’re asking them to do — both guys are extremely capable. It’s just going to come down to what we feel is best for the team.”
Said Kirk: “I’m comfortable we’ll be ready to play next Saturday — whoever it is that’s leading us."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.