Spring Game Previews New Talent

April 17, 2004

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With a 70-yard touchdown run and with a 60-yard touchdown pass, junior running back Marques Simmons and sophomore quarterback Jason Manson distanced themselves from the pack Saturday in Iowa’s annual spring game before nearly 30,000 spectators inside Kinnick Stadium.

Simmons, who rushed for 110 yards on six carries during the two-quarter scrimmage, led the Black squad to a 38-3 win over the Gold team, whose sole scoring drive was in the form of a 38-yard Kyle Schlicher field goal in the first series.

But the spring game’s final score was not in the forefront of many minds.

While many fans were just pleased to spend time inside sunny Kinnick after a four-month football recess, even more came to see the new faces of their Hawkeye squad, and the rookies didn’t disappoint.

The much publicized battle between freshman quarterback Drew Tate and Manson had a new dimension after the game with Manson on even stronger footing.

The 6-foot, 1-inch, 195-pounder from Bloomfield, Ct., went 7-for-7 for 139 yards, while Tate managed 6-of-9 for 83 yards. Manson managed a touchdown on each of his three appearances as well.

“Both Drew and Jason have really improved since the fall, and that is pleasing to see,” Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Jason is a little stronger and a little more confident (than in the fall). I think those two guys have really taken the next step. We just have to put it all together.”

Tate and Manson were both pleased with their performances, but neither one was going to shed any light on the race for the top spot on offense.

“I don’t know,” Manson said. “It’s up to the coaches. I’ll let them decide. I did some good things, but everybody did pretty well. The coaches will decide who did the best.”

Tate, who is still regarded as the most probable starter in the fall, was even more direct when he was asked if his status had changed.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think we all had a great day. But none of us are ready. We have to grow.”

Ferentz was said the winner of the position has his fate in his own hands, but the coach was confident of only one thing: the competition between Tate and Manson has made the Hawkeyes’ “as healthy as [they’ve] been” at that position.

“We’re going to let them compete,” Ferentz said. “I thought they did a nice job this spring. But we haven’t won a game with either of them playing, so to say that they have a firm grip on anything at this point is premature.”

But 4 ? months away from competition, the race for quarterback was not the only thing that’s premature. There was a striking duality in the mood of the players and in Ferentz that could best be described as cautious optimism, with qualifiers to every positive statement made.

Wide receiver Herb Grigsby, a redshirt freshman from Mayflower, Ar., made a few statements in the controlled practice preceding the scrimmage, but his play highlighted a concerning feature about the team’s “green” players: inconsistency.

“They’ll flash and do some great things,” Ferentz said, “and then they’ll do some things that will make you think they’re freshmen. That’s the reality. That’s the problem with youth – inconsistency.

“If we’re going to have a good football team, we’ll have to have a lot of guys develop that consistency. You can’t be successful in our conference if you don’t have guys with that mentality, and that level of performance.”

“We’re going to let them compete. I thought they did a nice job this spring. But we haven’t won a game with either of them playing, so to say that they have a firm grip on anything at this point is premature.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz on his quarterbacks

The junior, Simmons, who had originally played at Nebraska but moved back to Iowa after spring ball last year, was certainly not one of the players prone to youthful exuberance on the field Saturday.

Outside of his break-away 70-yard touchdown run in the third series of the scrimmage, he managed a 19-yarder on his first carry and was a consistent source of yardage for Tate.

“He ran behind a little better group,” Ferentz said. “He’s been running behind our second-team group, and if he’s going up against the No. 1 defense, there hasn’t been a lot of wiggle room. I asked him what it felt like to see a hole out there, and he kind of smiled.

“He’s a guy who’s working hard, and we’re pleased. He hasn’t done anything to displease us since he’s been back. It was a good day for him.”

There is a remaining question mark for Simmons, however. Due to his transfer and his mandatory waiting period this past year, the Davenport native is not guaranteed a scholarship. According to Ferentz, that question won’t be answered until August.

“Marques is certainly going to be one of those we consider,” said Ferentz. “We’re starting to create a list in the coming week, but we don’t make any decisions until August. He hasn’t hurt himself this spring. It was nice to get him out there and get him some work.”

Another question mark following the spring game was how Lee Gray and Kyle Schlicher were going to emerge from the towering shadows of the players they have to replace on the lineup: Robert Gallery and Nate Kaeding.

“I consider (replacing Kaeding) an honor, and I’m not discouraged,” Schlicher said. “I won’t let that drag me down. (Kaeding) told me to be comfortable and no one is perfect. You can’t 100 percent all of the time.”

Gray, who moved from the defensive line following the 2002 season, is set to take over for possible first-round NFL draft pick Gallery at left tackle. Gallery won the prestigious Outland Trophy for best interior linesman of the year following the past season.

“I know I’ve made progress,” Gray said. “I look at (Gallery) and learn from him, but I can’t compare myself to him. I have to work hard and strong. Basically, his hustle, his concentration, his heart and his intensity out there, that’s what I learned from watching him last year.

“If I do my best, I might be as good as him. But we have to get out there to know.”

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com