Leistikow: With coaching staff in place, time for Iowa's offense to take shape

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The 23-player Iowa football recruiting class for 2018 is official, with Wednesday’s signing day solidifying the framework of this fall’s roster.

The hiring of an NCAA-approved 10th assistant coach is done, with Derrick Foster having been on the job for a few weeks. The Alabama native bought his first ice scraper last week, just in time for the snow.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz speaks to reporters on national signing day on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.

To Kirk Ferentz, the state of the Hawkeye program entering his 20th season here is …?

“I feel really good,” he said. “It’s positive. The plan’s been in the works for a long time.”

He’s talking about the coaching plan, which he revealed Wednesday.

Foster will coach the running backs, bumping offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz into a comfortable and familiar role — coaching tight ends. That’s the position group he led with the New England Patriots before coming to Iowa in 2012.

“Kind of puts him in a position where he’s a little more involved,” Kirk Ferentz said.

Ferentz wasn’t talking about 2018 Xs and Os on Wednesday. There still hasn’t been a depth chart released since before the Pinstripe Bowl, a departure from the past few years. Look for an update near the start of the start of spring practice, March 21.

It feels like this offense, in particular, remains a work in progress.

But Ferentz did say this: “The transition offensively is really good. It’s logical.”

At quarterback, Iowa is down to three scholarship players after the transfers of Tyler Wiegers and Ryan Boyle.

Concerned? Ferentz said he’s not. And I mostly would agree.

Iowa's Nate Stanley (4) makes a handoff during the first half of their football game against Purdue at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes take a 9-7 lead into halftime

Nate Stanley’s going to be hard to beat out, the head coach accurately said. The junior-to-be threw 26 touchdown passes last fall. His only two backups are freshmen, Peyton Mansell (redshirt) and Spencer Petras (true).

If Iowa has to default to a back-up QB, though, that’s where the loss of Wiegers and Boyle could sting. This spring serves as a big opportunity for Mansell, who has been in the program since June.

The Texan would help the program a bunch by becoming a capable backup, which would allow big-armed Petras to take a redshirt. Mansell ran the scout team last fall.

The Hawkeyes did a great job, in my opinion, of addressing a thin defensive backfield with this recruiting class. There’s a lot of promise coming in with Dallas Craddieth, Julius Brents and D.J. Johnson as the headliners.

They loaded up with numbers at linebacker. And the defensive line got a lot better with the additions of Daviyon Nixon, Tyler Linderbaum, Noah Shannon and John Waggoner.

But back to the offense: If I was concerned about one position, it might be running back. At least in terms of depth. And we've all seen plenty of Hawkeye injuries at running back over the years.

Henry Geil is Iowa's lone listed running back recruit for the 2018 class.

As of Wednesday, Iowa has three healthy running backs on scholarship for the spring: Ivory Kelly-Martin, Toren Young and Kyshaun Bryan. Sophomore, sophomore, freshman. Toks Akinribade has not yet worked his way back into football mode after a health scare that Iowa isn't talking about.

Only one listed running back is part of this incoming scholarship class, Green Bay product Henry Geil.

If Iowa plans to replace Akrum Wadley and James Butler by committee, the pool of possibilities isn’t very deep.

That’s probably why Ferentz said Wednesday he will look at two listed wide receivers in this 2018 class as possible running backs — Samson Evans, a triple-option quarterback in high school and Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year; and Tyrone Tracy Jr., a prolific yard-gainer who was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

And we all know Iowa’s still looking for playmakers at receiver.

But having watched how Tom Brady threw for more than 500 yards in the Super Bowl last weekend was a reminder — you don't necessarily need a bevy of 6-foot-3, 220-pound receivers to move the football.

And given Brian Ferentz’s background with the Patriots' tight ends ... and Kirk Ferentz’s history with Bill Belichick ... and the style of player Iowa attracted in this recruiting class ... that seems to be the direction this Iowa offense is going.

Find good athletes, and find ways to get them the football.

It’ll be fun to see it unfold. Iowa’s offense was hit or miss last season. It ranked 116th in FBS in total offense. Seeing a jump in yardage and offensive explosiveness, even more than replacing three senior linebackers, will be perhaps the biggest need for this team.

The staff is in place. Coaches are in their chairs. Now it's time to get to work.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.