Team preview: Iowa
The Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook previews the 2006 Iowa Hawkeyes.
Another year, another run at the Big Ten title, another January bowl game, another offseason fending off NFL coaching offers -- just another year for Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.
Long considered a hot prospect for an NFL job, Ferentz had his contract restructured over the summer that makes him one of the nation's highest paid college football coaches. According to Associated Press, Ferentz will receive a salary boost to $2.84 million per season and a one-time payment of $1.4 million. The restructuring does not add any years to his contract that paid him $1.44 million annually through 2012.
Ferentz padded his résumé in '05 with a third place finish in the Big Ten, with only an overtime loss to Michigan and a one-point upset at Northwestern keeping the Hawkeyes from tying for the conference crown. True, Iowa failed to win 10 games for the first time since 2001, but it kept alive its impressive streak of success. The Hawkeyes are one of only four teams in the nation to have played in January bowl games the last four years, and they're tied with Michigan and Ohio State for the most conference victories (25) in that same span.
A peek at the stats helps show how Iowa maintained that success. The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten in both offensive and defensive performance in the red zone last year, scoring on 93.3 percent of their red zone possessions, and holding opponents scoreless 28.6 percent of the time. They also ranked fourth in the nation in fewest penalties per game at 4.3, and 11 of their 52 flags on the year came in the loss to Michigan, which snapped their 22-game home winning steak.
The Hawkeyes made their mark early last year, outscoring their opponents 119-37 in the first quarter, including a 91-0 mark in their six home games. They were only held under 20 points twice -- on the road against Ohio State's dominant defense, and at Iowa State when quarterback Drew Tate was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second quarter.
Now, for the first time in Ferentz's eight seasons at Iowa, he gets his starting quarterback and top rusher back. Senior Tate returns for his third year as a starter, and Albert Young is back after a sensational sophomore season that put to rest concerns about the depth and health of Iowa's running back corps. But the head coach knows the two of them can't do it alone.
"We don't want either of those guys to feel like they've got to carry our football team, because that's not the way we want to be built," Ferentz told the Daily Iowan. "That being said, we're really counting on them to be top-notch players. There's no reason they shouldn't be."
In a sense, Tate and Young have to shine again this season to help replace some key losses, including both starting wide receivers, two All-Big Ten linebackers and a pair of decorated defensive backs. Predictably, the Hawkeyes had some kinks to work out this spring, and they still have quite a few questions to answer in August camp.
"The good news is, there's no game next week," Ferentz cracked after one particularly frustrating spring practice. "If there were, we'd be in serious trouble."
But remember, this is Iowa, so trouble is a relative term.
Two years ago, the Hawkeyes were looking for their fifth starting quarterback in five seasons. Now, senior Drew Tate (6-0, 192) is back to put the finishing touches on what has been a sparkling career in Iowa City. He's a preseason second-team All-Big Ten pick by The Sporting News and consistently ranked among the top quarterbacks in the country.
Last year, Tate was coming off a first-team all-conference season and he posted even better numbers, with 2,828 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing 219-of-352 passes (62.2 percent). Another solid season will put him in second place on the Iowa all-time passing yardage chart behind only Chuck Long, and his mobility and arm strength will make him a top prospect for next year's NFL draft.
The depth behind Tate is the biggest concern. Senior Jason Manson (6-1, 195) has been a top backup for two seasons, but with his eligibility expiring this year, the coaching staff wants to reward him for being a good soldier and find a role for him somewhere in the offense, most likely at wide receiver.
"He is a very good athlete," offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe told Scout.com. "The guy is a winner and he loves playing the game. He is a total team guy; he will do whatever he can to help a ball club."
That move will be easier to make if redshirt freshman Jake Christensen (6-1, 205) proves he's ready for the No. 2 role. He was a prep All-American at Lockport, Ill., and spent his first year on campus adjusting to the speed of the college game.
"Jake is doing OK. He survived his first blitz-pickup period without much mental trauma," O'Keefe told the Daily Iowan during spring practice. "He's doing well. He knows the system, and he works at it. He'll invest the extra time, both in the classroom studying tape and on the field, afterwards, to work on timing with his receivers or whatever it may be. He's coming along, but he's got a long way to go."
Redshirt freshman Blake Zundel (6-3, 218) will battle a pair of incoming freshmen from Ohio -- Arvell Nelson (6-4, 175) of Glenville High School in Cleveland, and Richard Stanzi (6-4, 200) of Lake Catholic High School in Mentor -- for a foothold on the depth chart.
Coming off a season in which the top four tailbacks were lost to injury, the Hawkeyes held their breath every time one of their backs took a hard hit in '05. But by the time the year was over, junior Albert Young (5-10, 209) had put together one of the top seasons for any running back in Iowa history.
Young, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 of the 2004 season, came back with a vengeance last year, finishing fourth in the Big Ten with 1,334 rushing yards, scoring eight touchdowns and averaging a conference-high 125.2 rushing yards per Big Ten game. He set an Iowa record with seven straight 100-yard games, and also caught 24 passes for 244 yards.
Now, he's a preseason first-team All-Big Ten pick by The Sporting News after being chosen second-team all-conference by the media last year and is considered one of the sure things in the Iowa offensive attack.
"The sky's the limit with just the people we have," Young told the Daily Iowan. "But personnel doesn't do it all. We've got to find a way to gel and be consistent every day." Young was also hurt most of his freshman season, but he proved last year he's 100 percent healthy. Young is poised for a repeat performance this year. "It's kind of exciting," Ferentz told the Daily Iowan. "I think we might see a little quicker Albert out there, and he's a little bit bigger and stronger as well."
The backup will come from a trio of players with varying degrees of experience. Junior Damian Sims (5-9, 185) flirted with playing defense last year, even logging a few games at cornerback before being moved back to offense. He ended up rushing for 296 on just 30 carries, including a 71-yard touchdown against Minnesota, the Hawkeyes' longest run of the season.
Senior Sam Brownlee (5-10, 200) ended up atop the depth chart two years ago after the rash of injuries in the backfield, and although he returned to his backup role last year -- nine carries, 32 yards and a pair of scores -- he has already proven to be a reliable option if needed.
Meanwhile, sophomore Shonn Greene (5-11, 225) played in 11 games last year as a freshman, rushing for 173 yards and a touchdown and making five tackles on special teams. Clearly, this is a team that's got some options at running back.
"Albert is probably the more complete guy," O'Keefe told the Daily Iowan. "Damian is extremely gifted -- he may even see the field better than any of the guys we have. He's got that little make-you-miss element and Greene, he's kind of a blend of both to a certain degree."
Redshirt freshman Dana Brown (5-10, 203) rounds out the tailback corps, and with that kind of depth, the Hawkeyes didn't even recruit any incoming freshmen for the backfield.
Junior Tom Busch (5-11, 231) started all 12 games at fullback last year, and he'll be back mostly as a blocker. He had 13 touches for 60 total yards last season, so don't look for him in the boxscore much, but he remains an integral part of the Iowa offense.
Tate's productivity could take a hit this year with the loss of starting wideouts Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkeland backup Matt Melloy.
Solomon finished second on the team with 46 receptions, led the Hawkeyes with 800 receiving yards and tied Hinkel for top honors with seven touchdown catches. Hinkel caught 40 balls for 518 yards, while Melloy added eight grabs for 103 yards and a score.
The returning receivers have 42 catches among them, leaving a gaping hole the Iowa coaching staff worked on filling this spring.
"We are really green at the receiver position," Ferentz told the Daily Iowan. "It is going to be a challenge for us and also an opportunity for some guys to step into that role. We are going to need someone to really step in and do a good job. & It's wide open. All we have is a list of names."
The top two names on that list are senior Calvin Davis (6-1, 197) and junior Herb Grigsby (6-0, 175). After starting four games as a freshman, Davis has battled a variety of injuries the last two seasons -- he missed half of his sophomore year and two more games last year, and his productivity dipped to just eight catches for 79 yards. Meanwhile, Grigsby finished fourth on the team with 25 grabs for 335 yards and three touchdowns. Now, they're going to have to shoulder the burden of trying to replace Tate's go-to guys.
"I would not say pressure -- a little more responsibility," Grigsby told Scout.com. "We lost some good guys but we cannot look in the past. It is time to move on; it is on us now. Some of the veterans like Calvin and me have got to step up and fill their holes. Those are some big shoes to fill. We have just got to get it done some way."
The initial reports, especially on Grigsby, have been promising. "Herb's having a really pretty good spring. He's really starting to detail things and show some leadership at the position," O'Keefe told the Daily Iowan during spring practice. "Ed [Hinkel] showed a lot of real leadership qualities, without ever really opening his mouth, and, certainly, Herb's starting to develop some of those."
The top backups are unproven. Junior Eric McCollom (6-0, 190) was buried deep on the quarterback depth chart last spring, so he moved to wide receiver, where he saw action in five games and caught two passes last year. Sophomore Andy Brodell (6-3, 193) made one start in '05 and finished his first campaign with six catches for 69 yards, but he missed some valuable time in spring practice when he was slowed by a heel bruise.
Others in the mix include junior Kennon Christian (6-2, 209), a special-teamer who played in all 12 games last year but caught just one pass, and redshirt freshman Trey Stross (6-3, 190). One player to watch is true freshman James Cleveland (6-1, 185), who graduated early from Lee High School in Baytown, Texas and began college in January. He drew rave reviews for his performance in spring practice, and he caught a 66-yard touchdown pass in the spring game, impressing his starting quarterback in the process.
"I think James has just come up and done a phenomenal job," Tate told Scout.com. "He has got the savvy that he needs. He knows how to play the game and he is smart." At tight end, the Hawkeyes return senior Scott Chandler (6-7, 257), a solid receiver who needs to sharpen his blocking to become a full-service tight end. He was Tate's favorite target last year, catching 47 passes for 552 yards and two touchdowns, and with new wide receivers still developing chemistry with the quarterback, don't be surprised if those numbers increase as a senior.
Meanwhile, sophomore Tony Moeaki (6-4, 250) is back after playing all 12 games as a freshman last year. He earned honorable mention all-freshman kudos by The Sporting News and caught eight balls for 112 yards. Both tight ends clearly have the confidence of the man throwing the ball.
"I think that Scott and Tony are going to be involved a lot in the passing game in the fall, which is good because Scott knows exactly what is going on and Tony is getting better every time," Tate told Scout.com. "He played last year as a true freshman and is learning how to do things well. Like knowing what to do and not to do."
Senior Ryan Majerus (6-3, 245), who started two games and caught 10 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns last year, also will be in the mix for playing time.
The Hawkeyes must find replacements for starting center Brian Ferentz, an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick by the media, and starting tackle Ben Gates, as well as backups David Walker and Ben Cronin.
But they've got a trio of versatile seniors returning to the line and a couple of up-and-comers who appear ready to crack the starting lineup. Senior Mike Jones (6-5, 302) is slated to start at left guard, but he also started games at left and right tackle last year and was impressive enough to garner a preseason first-team All-Big Ten nod from Blue Ribbon and The Sporting News heading into this season.
Jones will be joined by senior Marshall Yanda (6-4, 305), a preseason second-team All-Big Ten pick by The Sporting News. Yanda, a junior college transfer getting his first Division I-A experience last season, started the first four games at left guard and the last eight at right tackle, where he is expected to settle in for good in '06.
Senior Mike Elgin (6-4, 288) is another jack-of-all-trades on the line. After starting 11 games at center as a sophomore, Elgin switched to right guard last season and started all 12 games. It looked like he was going to shift back to center this spring, but that move became less likely thanks to the emergence of redshirt freshman Rafael Eubanks (6-3, 288) in spring practice.
Eubanks moved into the center role with the first team during spring drills and didn't let go. While Ferentz said the position would remain open in August, Eubanks is the clear leader.
Sophomore Dace Richardson (6-6, 306) saw action in nine games as a freshman last year and should get the nod at left tackle this fall.
The Hawkeyes were hoping to get a sixth year of eligibility for Lee Gray, who missed last year with a torn knee ligament, but the NCAA denied his request. That leaves sophomore Seth Olsen (6-5, 301) as the most experienced backup on the line. Olsen made one start last year, but saw enough action to be selected to the Big Ten all-freshman team by The Sporting News.
Other top reserves on the line include sophomores Rob Bruggeman (6-3, 280) and Rashad Dunn (6-3, 290) and redshirt freshmen Andy Kuempel (6-7, 295) and Dan Doering (6-7, 290), who missed spring practice recovering from an offseason foot injury.
Senior Kyle Schlicher (5-9, 184) has carried on the legacy of Nate Kaeding just fine, earning consensus second-team all-conference honors last fall by leading the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (81 percent, 17-for-21). He is a preseason first-team All-Big Ten pick by Blue Ribbon and The Sporting News and is expected to be in the running for the Lou Groza Award this year.
Junior Jonathan Chupka (6-1, 226) and sophomore Griffin Karr (5-10, 185) are available in an emergency, and will battle incoming freshman Ryan Donahue (6-3, 180) of St. Rita High School in Evergreen Park, Ill., to get a leg up on the job for next year.
The Hawkeyes started with a clean slate on the defensive line last year after four seniors graduated. Now, two juniors and two sophomores return with a year's experience as starters, and the line will be regarded as the rock of the defense.
Of the new starters last year, junior defensive end Ken Iwebema (6-4, 270) probably had the biggest impact. Iwebema, a preseason first-team All-Big Ten pick by Blue Ribbon and The Sporting News, also earned first-team honors from the media last year when he made 48 tackles, including 10 behind the line, had seven sacks, a force fumble and two blocked kicks.
His bookend will be junior Bryan Mattison (6-3, 272), who made 46 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and four sacks in his first year as a starter. Both ends started all 12 games, and Iowa coaches think they've found two guys who will be terrorizing opposing quarterbacks for the next two seasons.
On the inside, sophomores Matt Kroul (6-3, 271) and Mitch King (6-3, 264) are back after doing a lot more than just getting their feet wet as freshmen. Kroul started all 12 games, chipping in 48 tackles and a pair of sacks, while King moved into the starting lineup after three games and stayed put. He earned numerous first-team freshman All-America honors last year after making 60 tackles, including 10.5 behind the line and two sacks. He also batted down three passes and forced three fumbles, and he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick by the media.
Last year, the young linemen had experienced linebackers covering for them. This year, the roles are reversed, and the line might have to cover for their linebackers to give that unit time to find its identity and settle on a rotation.
The top backups are sophomores Alex Kanellis (6-4, 281) and Ryan Bain (6-2, 282). Both played extensively as true freshmen last year, with Bain making 21 tackles -- including four sacks -- and Kanellis chipping in nine stops. Bain has to recover from a knee injury suffered in spring practice, but the Iowa coaches are counting on him to be ready by fall. Meanwhile, Kanellis came on strong this spring and has gained 25 pounds since the start of practice last year.
Other backups include redshirt freshmen Justin Collins (6-2, 250) and Vernon Jackson (6-1, 265), who cracked the two-deeps heading out of spring drills. Junior Alex Willcox (6-2, 282) started the first three games last year but has battled injuries since.
It's tough to find two linebackers as highly regarded as Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge. It's even tougher to replace them, as the Hawkeyes will find out this fall. Both players started 37 straight games to end their careers, and finished in the top five on Iowa's all-time career tackles list.
Last year, they finished 1-2 in the Big Ten in tackles, with Hodge leading the conference at 13.2 per game, and Greenway just behind him at 13.0. They combined for 21 tackles behind the line, 11 for Hodge and 10 for Greenway. Hodge recovered two fumbles and forced three others, while Greenway broke up eight passes and picked off one.
The two will get plenty of time to see each other in the NFL, as Greenway was the No. 1 pick of the Minnesota Vikings, while Hodge was a third-round pick of the Green Bay Packers -- a great place for him to land, considering his younger brother Elijah is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin.
The lone returning starter is senior Edmond Miles (6-1, 228), who's a preseason second-team All-Big Ten pick by The Sporting News. Miles finished third on the team in tackles with 68, including nine for loss, one sack and one interception. Miles played on the outside, but he could move into the middle to replace Hodge. If not, look for junior Mike Klinkenborg (6-2, 240) to play inside in his first year as a starter. Klinkenborg played in 11 games last year, making 11 tackles, but he picked up plenty of tips along the way from his star mentors.
"They really led us and showed us ways how to do things right," Klinkenborg told Scout.com. "I just hope to fill their shoes half the way they did."
Junior Mike Humpal (6-2, 232) is the likely replacement for Greenway. Humpal played in all 12 games last year, making 25 tackles, and caught the eye of his defensive coordinator.
"First of all, the guy's super smart," Norm Parker told the Daily Iowan. "He's a good enough athlete to win the state of Iowa 219-pound wrestling title two years in a row. He ran track and reached the high-hurdle finals. He's a hard-working guy. And I think he's going to be an outstanding player. I mean, better than good player. I'm super high on Mike Humpal."
One unknown quantity to keep an eye on is junior college transfer Bryon Gattas (6-1, 232), who comes to Iowa from Harper Junior College in Palatine, Ill., where he had 110 tackles, six sacks, two picks and two forced fumbles as a sophomore. He could fight his way into the mix with a strong showing this fall.
Other top reserves include senior Zach Gabelmann (6-1, 233) -- Iowa's co-special teams player of the year last season when he finished with 17 tackles, junior Chris Kuehl (6-2, 230) and redshirt freshman Pat Angerer (6-1, 222).
The secondary also sustained major losses, as graduation left a gaping hole with the departure of two veteran cornerbacks.
Jovon Johnson, a first-team All-Big Ten pick by the media last year, was a three-year starter who was fourth on the team in tackles with 67. He also led the Hawkeyes with three interceptions and 11 pass breakups, and his 17 career picks are second on the all-time Iowa list. Iowa must also replace Antwan Allen, who earned consensus honorable mention kudos last year, his fourth as a starter. Allen made 60 tackles and broke up four passes in 10 starts.
They'll be replaced by a pair of juniors, Adam Shada (6-1, 185) and Charles Godfrey (6-1, 208). Shada had 22 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions last year, while Godfrey -- Iowa's co-special teams player of the year -- made 35 tackles last season in his reserve role.
"Both these guys, Charles and Adam, are very good, athletically," Ferentz told the Daily Iowan. "They don't have a ton of game experience, obviously, at the corner position, so it's going to take some time. It will be interesting to see how they pick things up."
Godfrey is making the switch from safety, but mastering the pass-coverage technique shouldn't be that tough for him -- he started his collegiate career at corner. Parker thinks it's just a matter of time before he gets comfortable with his new/old position.
"[Godfrey] was at corner, he was at safety -- he was a jack of all trades and master of none," Parker said about his defensive back's play in 2005. "I think for him to settle down and be a corner, I think that's really made a difference for him. I mean he's had a great spring. He's got ability; there's no question he's got athletic ability. For him to just settle down at just one position, rather than try and do a little bit of this, a little bit of that, he's much better now."
If either of them falters, sophomore Bradley Fletcher (6-2, 195) could fight his way into the mix after a strong showing in the spring. He played 10 games last year, mostly in a special teams role. Senior Ma'Quan Dawkins (5-9, 166) also could work his way into a more prominent role this year if he recovers from a torn ACL that prematurely ended his season in '05.
A pair of seniors will man the safety spots and provide the secondary with stability and experience. Strong safety Miguel Merrick (6-0, 203) was a preseason first-team All-Big Ten pick by The Sporting News after starting all 12 games last year, making 59 tackles, breaking up four passes and intercepting one.
At free safety, Marcus Paschal (6-0, 207) is back for his third year as a starter. Paschal was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick by the league's coaches last year when he finished fifth on the team with 62 tackles, broke up six passes and recovered a fumble.
The top reserve at strong safety will be senior Devan Moylan (5-10, 201), a walk-on who was slowed by an ankle injury during spring practice.
redshirt freshman Corey Robertson (6-1, 222), making the switch from running back, should move into the mix this year.
"He's a talented, talented athlete that we just threw back there," Parker told the Daily Iowan this spring. "He's only had a couple practices, but you can see that this guy can be a something special player, someday. He needs to go in there and make a million mistakes and just learn. It's like taking the guy to the end of the dock, throwing him in, and saying, 'swim.' That's what we've done with the guy. I hope he doesn't drown."
Redshirt freshman Marcus Wilson (6-3, 198) is the top backup at free safety.
Senior Andy Fenstermaker (6-3, 225) was one of the few weak links in the Hawkeye special teams last year, averaging just 38.5 yards per punt, ranking him 10th in the Big Ten. However, 21 of his 49 punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, helping him to a net of 35.9, good for fourth in the conference.
The Hawkeyes had a mixed bag on special teams last year, leading the Big Ten in kickoff coverage but finishing last in kickoff returns at 16.2 yards per return. Running backs Greene and Young are expected to drop back and get the first crack at improving that mark.
Meanwhile, on punt returns, the Hawkeyes must find a replacement for Johnson, who led the Big Ten with a 17.4-yard average last year. Grigsby will be the top candidate for that role.
Junior Daniel Olszta (5-11, 222) and Mattison will vie for long-snapping duties, while Fenstermaker is back as the holder.
The Hawkeyes will need time to jell, especially on defense with four new starters in key positions.
Fortunately for them, the schedule provides relief with four likely blowouts before they play host to Ohio State. They'll also miss Penn State and get Wisconsin at home. Ferentz has rebuilt this program to the point where now a New Year's Day bowl game almost feels like a given, and with another dynamite offense and a strong defensive line, the Hawkeyes should be back on national TV again come January.
For the most comprehensive previews available on all 119 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college football, the 2006 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).
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