Iowa's BTN appearance shapes 2015 narratives, lets Beathard vent

Chad Leistikow
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has spoken a lot about a positive vibe around the Hawkeye football program since January.

"Chemistry" isn't a sexy buzz word around which to sell a football program.

But when has Iowa under Kirk Ferentz ever been accused of sexiness? After all, this is a program that not only uses a fullback but had so many of them that one (John Kenny) transferred in the spring.

Narratives are now being framed around the 2015 Hawkeyes, and a consistent theme — accentuated Tuesday during the Big Ten Network's annual bus stop in Iowa City — is camp cohesiveness.

Roll your eyes, if you will. Give me wins, not chemistry, you say. But togetherness has consistently emerged from Ferentz's lips for months, and the 17th-year Hawkeye coach seemed invigorated and determined on the portable BTN set, just 10 days after turning 60.

New quarterback C.J. Beathard has been delivering that same message of improved camaraderie and leadership to local reporters, and he did so again when offered a national-TV platform.

He even said this of last year's team that lost its final three games and finished 7-6: "We didn't have the leadership we needed."

August is a time for optimism, to be sure. But between what was reiterated on the BTN airwaves and what was said leading up to and during Saturday's media day, there's a different feel about 2015 Iowa football. Whether that means anything toward an improved win total, we'll begin to learn Sept. 5 against Illinois State.

But until games are played, it's a time to search for indicators surrounding the 2015 Hawkeyes. Here are some other takeaways out of BTN's second of 14 pit stops, a rare peak inside usually-closed Iowa practices:

Comparisons: Ferentz compared this year's feel to that of 2008 and 2013 — both seasons that saw revivals after Ferentz's only two bowl-free campaigns at Iowa since 2001.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker also made a few 2013 references. One, when asked to compare this defense to another during his Hawkeye tenure, he chose that 8-5 team. Two, he noted the 2014 defense gave up 65 "big plays" compared with 35 in 2013. "That's our biggest problem right there," Parker said. That'll be a stat worth revisiting in the fall.

Daniels is OK: BTN writer Tom Dienhart reported that No. 1 running back LeShun Daniels took part in Tuesday's drills, although he wore a red no-contact jersey. Daniels was withheld from media day after being "nicked up" in Ferentz's words. Dienhart said Daniels got his bell rung by strong safety Miles Taylor. It seems there's nothing major to worry about here.

Welsh sighting: After missing spring ball for non-football reasons, 2014 starting offensive guard Sean Welsh returned to the team this summer. In video clips on BTN, Welsh was at right guard with the first-team offensive line. On the depth chart, he's listed as the No. 2 left guard. The fact that Welsh was with the 1s indicates he's making up ground quickly.

At media day, Welsh said he felt like he was starting over again. "It's been a little bit of a reset button, and it's given me a fresh perspective," Welsh said, later adding: "Being away, it was tough. It really gave me an appreciation for the opportunity that we have."

Defensive snippets: Parker singled out new starting outside linebacker Ben Niemann as "really looking good." He called the play of new starting defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson "violent." But while identifying the secondary anchored by Desmond King and Jordan Lomax as a strength, depth there is worrisome. "We've got two-deep, and that's about it," Parker said. No wonder the recruiting Class of 2016 has placed a premium on defensive backs.

Parting (deep) shot: Beathard is a refreshing face for the program. BTN analysts raved about the arm strength and accuracy they saw. One clip showed him zinging a deep ball to Joshua Jackson. The junior from Franklin, Tenn., watched mostly from the sidelines last season as Jake Rudock (now at Michigan) started at quarterback for the second straight year. Rudock had an inconsistent regular-season finale vs. Nebraska, which re-opened the QB competition with Beathard during bowl preparation. Rudock committed two turnovers inside Nebraska's 10-yard line and overthrew Damond Powell on a deep pass that would've been an easy 78-yard touchdown. Iowa lost in overtime, 37-34.

"There were plays to be had last season that sometimes we missed," said Beathard, identifying deep post and go routes that misfired. "I think we're making an emphasis to make sure we see those explosive plays and, you know, execute the right plays, these explosive plays, the way they're supposed to be executed."