IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa football team’s culture and leadership, such a big story in the success of the 2015 season, remains a work in progress in 2016.
“Last year’s team, it was a great leadership team,” Iowa senior cornerback Desmond King said Tuesday in the wake of news that receiver Matt VandeBerg will miss the rest of the regular season. “There were older guys, guys that were accountable and being mature enough to take on a task and kind of evolve to a new level. I feel like this team has the ability to do it as well, but it’s going to take some time to get everybody on the same page.”
Should King’s comments be of concern to the 3-1 Hawkeyes?
To be fair, last year’s team had a core of 21 nose-to-the-grindstone seniors (20 of whom weren’t chosen in the NFL Draft) that is borderline irreplaceable.
But now that adversity is piling up for the Hawkeyes, the culture will be tested and leaders will need to emerge as they did a year ago.
“I think we’ve got a lot of glimpses of leadership on this team,” senior quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “It still is a work in progress. You’re never going to get there.”
Kickers are ‘weird’
It’s unusual to see a punter surrounded by a dozen laughing reporters, but Ron Coluzzi isn’t your usual punter.
The Hawkeye senior was named Big Ten Conference special teams player of the week after a Saturday performance at Rutgers that included seven punts for a 42-yard average, with no return yards.
Iowa hasn’t allowed any punt returns yards all season, but Coluzzi knows the credit isn’t all his. He’s going to thank his teammates the best way he knows how: with free food.
“I’m taking the shield out to dinner on Thursday for not having any blocked punts in the first four games, and then the gunners are going to be there as well,” Coluzzi said. “And then I’m going to get the rest of the guys next week when my checking account kind of comes back in store.”
A transfer from Central Michigan, Coluzzi showed up for his media interviews carrying a weathered football. The explanation was simple and bizarre.
“The football’s name is Naomi. I sleep with Naomi. I bring her everywhere. I do drops everywhere I go. It doesn’t leave my sight,” Coluzzi told the amused assembly. “It’s something that I like to carry around just because in a game, ball security is very important, and you’ve got to be very comfortable.”
“It’s the name of my car, actually,” Coluzzi continued. “I have a 2000 Nissan Altima. It’s falling apart; the bumper actually fell off. And so we’ve been through good days, we’ve been through bad days.
“Just like punting. You have good practices and bad practices. I don’t know. I’m a kicker. I’m weird. It’s what we do.”
Speaking of strange interviews ...
Offensive lineman James Daniels channeled his inner Mark McGwire on Tuesday when he repeatedly told gathered reporters in different ways, “I’m not here to talk about the past.”
The Hawkeye sophomore center declined to answer several questions about previous games, instead wanting to focus on Iowa's game Saturday vs. Northwestern (11 a.m., ESPNU).
He did, however, offer perspective about the knee injury that forced him to miss the Iowa State and North Dakota State games.
“The trainers and doctors and they’ve been taking care of me,” Daniels said. “I can’t really even complain about it. Because the day before I hurt my knee, one of my friends back home … he got shot in his head.”
Daniels said it was a high school teammate in Warren, Ohio, named Elijah Cofield. Thankfully, Daniels said his friend was fine.
“I’d rather have surgery to get my knee fixed,” Daniels said, “than have surgery to get a bullet out of my head.”
Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell was hobbling during the final series of Iowa's 14-7 win against Rutgers. Reason to worry?
It didn’t seem so Tuesday, when Jewell approached interviews with sockless feet.
“I’ve been having this small ankle problem,” the Hawkeyes’ most aggressive defender said. “I just got rolled up on again. Every week, there’s always something small.”
Except for VandeBerg, the Hawkeyes are relatively healthy.
Ferentz said running back Derrick Mitchell Jr. will be back this week after missing the last two games. Wide receiver Jonathan Parker is back to full speed after a foot injury he suffered in the summer. Defensive lineman Michael Slater and tight end Jon Wisnieski are also practicing after preseason injuries.
Ferentz did divulge that reserve receiver Adrian Falconer remains out with an injury. Falconer played as a true freshman last season, so he could redshirt.
Linebackers Jewell, Bo Bower and Kevin Ward were sporting mustaches at Rutgers. They’ve decided to keep them.
“We were eating, and we said, ‘You know what, instead of shaving, let’s get mustaches,’” Bower said. “Our beards were kind of all over the place.”
Jewell, who threatened to shave his after a mediocre defensive game Saturday, said “it was all Bo’s idea, because he probably doesn’t like his look.”
Bo Bower also has one. He talks about it here and also about football things.
Not all the linebackers are participating, though.
Bower needled fellow starter Ben Niemann, who wasn’t there Tuesday to defend himself.
“He can’t (grow one),” Bower said. “And probably won’t be able to.”
The latest on cut-blocking
No fines (yet) for Ferentz after comments he made Saturday critiquing the inconsistency in how officials are interpreting new NCAA low-blocking rules.
“I haven't heard a word, so I'll keep my fingers crossed,” Ferentz quipped. “I don't want my wife (Mary) mad at me. Not that that would ever happen.”
But the good news is, there’s been positive feedback.
“I haven’t surveyed anybody, but I did get an email (Monday) from a guy that works Division III football in our state, and he appreciated the comments,” Ferentz said. “He confided in the email that he was a little bit less than clear what’s going on right now, too.
“I’m confident, at least in our conference, that there’ll at least be an initiative. An effort made to at least get everybody on the same page.”
Sometimes, you have to know how to read between the lines to decode Ferentz. The best guess here is that the Big Ten received his message — and agrees.
Look for more consistency and clarity on cut-block calls going forward. That’s all Ferentz wanted.
Hawk Central's Mark Emmert contributed to this report.