Iowa practice takeaways: Josh Jackson is unofficial MVP
There were enough positive signs at Friday night’s open Iowa football practice at Valley Stadium to overlook some of the rust you’d expect nine workouts into a very long journey.
Remember a year ago at Valley — in much better conditions, 70 degrees and sunny — the offense could barely get a first down against the defense in more than an hour of scrimmaging. Those Hawkeyes would go on to post a 12-0 regular season.
“Spring is never a pretty time of year when you watch the team,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Just overall, there’s always some stuff that has to be addressed. But the guys are working hard.”
Here’s some of what the few thousand fans that braved the blustery conditions might have observed:
The unofficial MVP
The unexpected star of the night was wearing a red no-contact jersey, but it wasn’t a quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore Joshua Jackson was possibly going to miss the spring entirely after an unspecified surgery. But the defensive back was all over the FieldTurf on Friday night. He made a fabulous play to intercept No. 1 quarterback C.J. Beathard, outplaying Matt VandeBerg to the ball along the sideline.
Jackson also had two pass breakups against Jerminic Smith that would be worthy of an instant replay. Since there was no tackling Friday night and players weren’t in full pads, Jackson was able to participate.
“It’s not quite the same as seeing him full-scale. But it’s been good for him,” Ferentz said. “I think he’s made growth. That’s one positive thing I’ve seen — a lot of the younger guys that haven’t played yet, we’re seeing growth.”
With starting cornerback Greg Mabin out for the spring, Jackson got an extended run with the first-teamers. He was part of Iowa’s nickel and Raider packages a year ago as an untested freshman.
The offense had moments. Beathard zinged a deep ball to Jay Scheel for an 80-yard touchdown in 7-on-7 action, where there’s no pass rush. Scheel, who has zero career catches but has been dazzling in practices, got some run with the 1s at wide receiver.
One offensive touchdown was scored in the 11-on-11 scrimmage action (which was one more than last year) when backup quarterback Tyler Wiegers whipped a crisp pass over the middle to Jonathan Parker. Wiegers also hummed in some other nice passes, a marked improvement over his rough outing a year ago at Valley.
Coaches are growing more comfortable with Wiegers playing in a game, and they should be. He’ll be a capable backup if Beathard gets hurt.
In the race for No. 3 quarterback, Ryan Boyle seemed to have a better night than Drew Cook, although neither got a huge amount of reps.
Offensive line growth
The quarterbacks had time to throw Friday; that wasn’t the case last year when Drew Ott and Nate Meier were overmatching then-tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger.
This spring, the offensive line has the edge — even with projected starter James Daniels injured.
“Two weeks ago, it didn’t look very good at all, quite frankly,” Ferentz said of the line. “They’re making progress. I think we’ll have a chance to be decent up there once we get started.”
Baby steps at center
Sean Welsh is getting more comfortable at center. He had some sketchy snaps to Beathard on Friday, but — reading between the lines — Ferentz seems to want Welsh (23 career starts) to emerge as the guy to replace four-year starter Austin Blythe, though Daniels (two starts) was listed as the starting center in January.
“I think we’d all feel better going into August knowing that we’ve got a guy that’s had some good experience at that position,” Ferentz said Friday.
Quick hits at spotlight positions
Defensive end: Matt Nelson has had a strong spring at defensive end, but he didn’t practice Friday due to a sprained ankle suffered Wednesday. That gave Anthony Nelson more snaps in his first spring at Iowa, and he looked impressive — even overpowering the starting left tackle on one bull rush.
Tight end: George Kittle just looks like he’s going to be a go-to target for Beathard. He caught everything thrown his way. Peter Pekar made one of the nicest catches of the night.
Kicker: You can’t tell much in high winds, or can you? Miguel Recinos was a little better than Mick Ellis on this night. Both hit 43-yarders during the scrimmage; Recinos made his wind-aided 52-yarder, and Ellis missed his.
Ferentz on satellite camps
The NCAA’s ruling Friday to ban satellite camps was approved by Ferentz. The ruling means that clinics must be held at a football program’s own campus or facilities, rather than some of the out-of-state ventures — Iowa has done them, too — that have been taken to a new level by Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh.
The ruling shouldn’t affect the future of the open practice at Valley, because it’s a practice — not a clinic that effectively targets participating recruits.
“In my opinion, I think camps should be done on your campus,” Ferentz said. “I also think the next step is to just have them run by personnel from your university, people that actually work in your football department, period. Just so there are no third parties.”