Five storylines heading into Iowa's spring game
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Officially it's called an open practice, an indication that 1 p.m. Saturday marks another day at the office for the businesslike Iowa football program.
But there will be a scrimmage in this 15th and final spring practice (with non-traditional scoring rules) at Kinnick Stadium, our last good look at these Hawkeyes until media day in August. Admission is free.
Here are five things you should know going in and what questions could be answered:
Is the downfield passing game for real?
We've seen the monster arm possessed by junior C.J. Beathard. Coaches have said the smooth, athletic Tennessean can stretch the field more than Jake Rudock did in his two years as starter. But ability is only one of three parts to a successful downfield passing game.
The other two are to be determined: Will offensive coordinator Greg Davis let it fly with Beathard? And, more importantly, can anyone other than Tevaun Smith become a deep threat? Sophomores Andre Harris and Jonathan Parker have speed and appeal. A sleeper could be senior Andrew Stone.
Beware of the spring-game sensation
What two things do Cam Wilson and Derrick Willies have in common? Both wide receivers starred in the past two spring games, and both left the program.
Wilson dazzled in spring 2013 with 10 catches for 131 yards, but he bolted Iowa City the summer before his redshirt freshman season. Willies delivered the buzz in 2014, with five spring-game catches for 142 yards (including a long TD from Beathard), but he left the program after seeing limited action as a freshman.
So, remember: Stardom in the spring doesn't necessarily translate to fortune in the fall.
Are the running backs as good as advertised?
Davis knocked on a table before saying this Wednesday: "We have more running backs since I've been here, in terms of guys that can go in and play."
LeShun Daniels Jr. has the highest upside, despite averaging 3.7 yards on 51 career carries in two seasons. The junior has attracted offseason intrigue after shedding weight (he's now 6-foot, 225) and setting a school record in the shuttle-run drill. He's got good running mates — injury-dogged senior Jordan Canzeri is healthy; sophomore Akrum Wadley has gotten glowing reviews as a shifty, explosive option; and sophomore Derrick Mitchell Jr. is catching on quickly after converting from wide receiver.
So, options are there. But it's been a notoriously fickle position at Iowa. Leaving Saturday with health and optimism would be a plus.
Fans that pined for Beathard to be first-string quarterback got their wish. The move, announced by head coach Kirk Ferentz on Jan. 8, had the side effects of Jake Rudock transferring to Michigan and freshman Tyler Wiegers becoming the default No. 2.
Wiegers showed his inexperience at the April 11 open practice at Valley Stadium, and that's to be expected. But after 14 practices of second-team reps, how much has he absorbed? With true freshmen Ryan Boyle and Drew Cook not arriving until summer (and Ferentz saying he hopes to redshirt both), Iowa needs Wiegers to be serviceable should anything happen to Beathard.
Body-language check: Can fire lead to buzz?
The consistent message from coaches is that this team has shown hunger since the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl thrashing. There were signs of that at Valley Stadium, too — the defense was hooting and hollering after big plays, a welcome sign of emotion from a program that sometimes has a hard time cracking a genuine smile.
Fun football breeds happy players, and it can spill into the folks occupying the seats. Friday marked the deadline for season ticket renewals, and it's been well documented that Hawkeye football has become a tougher sell this offseason. An energized group of players and any positive spring-game buzz could leave an important impression on potential ticket-buyers in the program's final performance in pads for four months.
HAWKEYE FOOTBALL SPRING GAME
When, where: 1 p.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium
Admission, parking: Free entry. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for donation. Parking will be available in university lots surrounding the stadium.
Offense — Touchdown (6 points), Explosive play; run of 12-plus yards or pass of 16-plus (1 point), 3 consecutive first downs (1 point), PAT (1 point), Field goal (3 points).
Defense — Touchdown (7 points), Turnover (3 points, unless on TD), 3-and-out (1 point), Sack (2 points), Sudden change; when offense starts inside the 35 and is held to FG or less (4 points).
Activities: Because of a cold, windy and rainy forecast, most pre-practice activities were cancelled Friday by the U of I. A 20-minute autograph session with players, scheduled for 12:35 p.m., may be cancelled due to weather.
On the radio: The Hawkeye Sports Network, including WHO-AM (1040) in Des Moines and WMT-AM (600) in Cedar Rapids, will air spring-game talk from 1-2 p.m. It can also be found on satellite radio (Sirius Ch. 108; XM Ch. 95).