Brown: 5 areas to monitor at Iowa's open practice

Rick Brown
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz checks notes as members of his team run drills during last year’s practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines.

It's now C.J. Beathard's team. With that quarterback drama put to rest, we move on to several other questions that need to be answered between now and Iowa's Sept. 5 season opener against Illinois State.

Spring practice will be part of that evaluation process. And when the Hawkeyes hold an open practice at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines, head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff will be looking for clues. Here are five important areas that will monitored in preparation for the 2015 season.

Hitting the hole: Iowa's running game never found its stride last season. One reason was the lack of a back who could take advantage of the running lanes that were there. Mark Weisman was a fullback playing tailback. More times than not, Iowa's home-run threat was a singles hitter. But running backs coach Chris White thinks that will be an area that's much improved in 2015.

"I think some of the guys we've got almost hit the hole too quick," White said.

Saturday will give us a glimpse of a lighter LeShun Daniels and a healthy Jordan Canzeri. We'll also see if Akrum Wadley has improved his ball-security skills. And we'll get to check out freshman C.J. Hilliard and converted wide receiver Derrick Mitchell Jr.

"They're going to keep getting better, and you're going to see some more excitement and longer runs, I believe," White said.

Tackle football: Iowa must replace its starting tackles on both sides of the ball. Right now, lightly-experienced Boone Myers and Ike Boettger man those spots on offense and Nathan Bazata and Jaleel Johnson are in place on defense. Myers and Boettger are both former tight ends who now tip the scale at 300 pounds. Johnson and Bazata got some experience last season.

"The cupboard is not bare," Ferentz said. "We just have to bring those guys along."

Beathard and…With Jake Rudock gone, redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers is now the No. 2 quarterback. We'll see him under center for the first time Saturday.

"Obviously in recruiting we saw a lot of things we really liked and now we've had him here for a year and really like the way he does things," Ferentz said. "How fast can we move him forward and get him caught up?"

Safety net: Jordan Lomax returns at free safety, but strong safety is open for business. Right now, Miles Taylor and Brandon Snyder are the leading candidates. Anthony Gair, behind Lomax on the depth chart, is also in the mix.

"Everybody has got an opportunity," Ferentz said.

Shuffling the deck: Linebacker play must improve for Iowa to go bowling in 2015. On Saturday, we'll see Josey Jewell at middle linebacker and Bo Bower at weakside linebacker, new positions for both players. Ben Niemann will line up at outside linebacker. Travis Perry and Cole Fisher can play several spots. And keep tabs on freshman Aaron Mends at weakside linebacker.

"He's got tremendous focus and he's a tough guy," linebackers coach Jim Reid said.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.