Spring Football Starts Today

March 23, 2005

Even though snow is on the ground in Iowa City, the only thing on many people’s minds is spring football, which officially starts Wednesday.

And with some early polls putting the Hawkeyes among the most elite programs in the country, there’s reason to be excited.

But despite being ranked No. 2 in the country by a preseason CBS Sportsline analyst, Head Coach Kirk Ferentz still puts the 2005 Capital One Bowl champion Iowa football team in the chase group.

“There are five teams that are really strong,” Ferentz said in a press conference Tuesday. “Then there is a group of 30 to 35 teams that are right behind. We’re in the second group, and it’s a long road to hoe.”

Ferentz did say that the off-season preparations for the team went well, despite being littered with injuries.

“The team’s focus is good,” the coach reported. “It’s something you always worry about, whether the guys understand what’s necessary (to succeed). We have some guys on the team that have played some good, winning football to convey the message, and the indicators look good.”

Indications did not look good for those players who had surgery or other injuries last season. Ettore Ewen, Mike Humpal, Marcus Schnoor, Albert Young, Champ Davis, Kevin Sherlock, Alex Willcox, Marcus Paschal, and Tyler Bergan will be “limited to nil” this spring, according to Ferentz.

With an abdominal injury during the regular-season-ending Wisconsin game, linebacker Chad Greenway will also be down for the count.

“We have some guys on the team that have played some good, winning football to convey the message, and the indicators look good.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz

“It’s an injury that kind of requires rest,” Ferentz said. “He’s one of the most frustrated guys on the team right now.”

Paschal, a 6-foot, 200-pound safety, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury during the bowl game and may not see game time until the start of the Big Ten Conference schedule, but the other players should be practicing at full speed during the summer.

“We were hopeful that surgery wouldn’t be necessary, but the tests indicated that wouldn’t be the case,” Ferentz said of Paschal’s case. “I think he should be ready for the start of the season – optimistically.”

Many of the injuries affected running back more than any other position. Schnoor, Young and Davis were three of four members of the backfield that were felled in a bizarre string of injuries last season.

Ferentz still indicated that he was positive about their progress and optimistic about the return of a running game – which ranked second-to-last in the nation last year, but the coach did say he would keep an “open mind” about placing an incoming freshman in that spot.

“Last year we thought we were great at running back, and we all know how that panned out,” Ferentz said. “It’s a month issue. Our experience is that even if (a player) is cleared medically in October, it’s not until December where we see him at full speed.

“We hope to have a balanced offense again and get our numbers back.”

Ferentz is looking to Young, who has two years of practicing experience, to lead the crew.

“We’re hoping to have him come in and play like an upper classman,” he said. “Everything in general is in good shape and he should be 100 percent by June 1st.”

On top of injuries, Ferentz also has to be concerned with the status of his defensive line, which graduates four starters, including two that are major prospects for the NFL.

“We’re going to be young no matter who’s playing for us,” the coach said. “We’re going into it with an open mind. There all good guys to work with, but they’re going to be young. I’m not sure we’ve got a guy who will go nine innings yet, but I’m sure once they get their feet on the ground they will be fine.”

NOTES: The off-season did see plenty of position changes. Among the new faces on different parts of the field: Mike Follett will move from linebacker to the offensive line, Lucas Cox will move from the defensive line to tight end, C.J. Barkema will move from tight end to the offensive line, and Eric McCollum will move from backup quarterback to wide receiver.

“(McCollum’s) priority is playing and seeing the team win,” Ferentz said. “He’ll be a good player out there.”

… Iowa has six players prepping for the NFL draft, including defensive linesmen Jonathan Babineaux and Tyler Luebke and end Matt Roth.

Ferentz singled out Roth’s personality as a major selling point and compared him to Bob Sanders, who went to the Indianapolis Colts out of the draft last year.

“I think (the scouts) really enjoy his personality – he’s kind of a throwback,” Ferentz said. “It’s really going to work for him.”

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com