Ferentz says the Hawkeyes are making strides

April 11, 2008

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Taking a step forward.

After nine of 15 spring practices, that’s how University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz described the current state of Hawkeye football in an exclusive interview with hawkeyesports.com.

“Overall the team has done a good job,” Ferentz said. “Just about everybody has made improvement, which is good. The offensive line has been depleted a little bit. We’ve had guys in and out because of injuries. Bryan Bulaga hasn’t practiced, but I think overall we’re seeing improvement there. Unfortunately, Brandon Myers has missed some practice time, but Allen Reisner has continued to improve and really looks good and I think that whole group has elevated. Michael Sabers is making nice progress. With other guys being out, those two have really elevated their performance.”

Ferentz is anxious to see a complete, healthy offensive line at practice, which could be one of the most improved position groups on the 2008 team.

“It’s going to be really enjoyable to see that depth on the practice field at once,” Ferentz said. “Bryan hasn’t practiced at all, Seth Olsen has missed considerable time and both our centers have been in and out — (Rafael) Eubanks and (Rob) Bruggeman. But again, the good news is we’ve seen other guys do some nice things. Josh Koeppel has helped us fill the void at center. Kyle Haganman has really done a nice job at tackle. We felt good about him in the out-of-season, watching him mature and grow and he’s done a good job out there on the field. Some guys who played last year — Dan Doering, Andy Kuempel — I’ll name those two guys right off the bat — they’re practicing better than they were in the fall and that’s good to see, too. It’s just good to see those guys taking steps forward.”

Offensive backfield situation

It was four seasons ago — 2004 — when Sam Brownlee climbed the depth chart at running back, seized the opportunity, and helped lead the UI to a 10-win season. The Hawkeyes are currently devoid of experienced depth at that position and Ferentz said the race for the starting spot is “wide open.”

“If you look at both Paki (O’Meara) and Jayme Murphy — they both have been here,” Ferentz said. “They know our offense and our system. I think they’re performing much like Sam did in 2004. They’ve been very steady, they know what to do and they’re dependable. We’re seeing them improve and then Nate Guillory — it’s all new to him right now, so this experience is invaluable to him because he’s just trying to learn how to get from Point A to Point B. That will help him compete better in the summer time, so that’s a positive.”

The improvement by the running backs currently in the program will be a nice complement to Shonn Greene and incoming freshmen Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton.

Shonn Greene and the two high school recruits will give us a little bit of a boost there, too,” Ferentz said. “Hopefully at the end of the day this whole thing comes out where it’s going to be a good situation for us.”

The progress of the Hawkeye quarterbacks has been another area of chat room debate. Last season’s starter, Jake Christensen, completed 53.5 percent of his passes for 2,269 yards and 17 touchdowns. His experience has given him an edge against Ricky Stanzi, Marvin McNutt and Tom Donatell.

“Right now the competition has been fairly even,” Ferentz said. “Jake still has an edge with the experience. It’s been even. It’s been healthy. We’re not there yet, but the good news is we have time to get there and I think we’re on the path to getting there.”

Learning from leaders

The names Mitch King and Matt Kroul strike fear into opposing offensive coordinators. Not only are they two of Iowa’s most decorated returnees, but they are also leading by example this spring.

“They haven’t only been leading the defensive line, but the whole team,” Ferentz said. “I think those two guys really have done a good job of setting the tempo for the entire team. We haven’t had a lot of four-year starters around here and both those guys will fit into that category. More importantly, they’re practicing like experienced guys — great attitudes and they work extremely hard. Their tempo is very good on the field and that’s important for the younger guys to see that.”

Missing parts allow others to grab the spotlight

It is no secret that the 2008 UI football team will have to rely on some players — whether it be Greene in the offensive backfield, Amari Spievey in the defensive backfield, or rookies on special teams — who are not currently in school. Then add a few bumps and bruises in practice and that has left great opportunities for nearly the entire Hawkeye roster to be scrutinized during spring drills.

“It gives some players maybe we wouldn’t have looked as hard at a good opportunity,” Ferentz said. “That can be real positive. That’s giving guys like Michael Sabers a chance to really show he’s capable of improvement. Same thing on the offensive line and I think you can flip it on the defensive side, too. Jordan Bernstine has been out, but Drew Gardner has done a good job. Harold Dalton has done a nice job this spring at a couple positions, so we’re seeing guys show some things that maybe wouldn’t have had the opportunity otherwise.”

The list of spring success stories doesn’t stop there. Ferentz has also been impressed with defensive backs Tyler Sash and Lance Tillison, defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard, inside linebackers Pat Angerer and Jacody Coleman. Linebackers Jeff Tarpinian, Tyler Nielsen and Troy Johnson have also been making their marks.

“We’re seeing a lot of guys emerge that we feel are going to be capable of helping us win,” Ferentz said.

Donahue an `all-league-level performer’

Ryan Donahue, who averaged 41.1 yards on 86 punts last season, is beginning to evolve into a consistent, reliable performer who will benefit the Hawkeye special teams.

“He had his good moments and he had his moments that weren’t so good,” Ferentz said. “But as the year went on he started to display some characteristics that you’re looking for. We fully expect him to be an all-league-type performer the next three years. He’s got potential and the capability. He’s practicing much better than he did a year ago and we have high expectations for him.”

The starting kicker role is still undecided. Ferentz said that the kickers have been inconsistent during spring ball.

“The key for us will be trying to iron that out from now until September and get consistency at that position,” Ferentz said.

All eyes on preparation, not scouting

Getting the most out of the remaining six spring practices is the primary concern for the UI coaching staff, not the Aug. 30 opener against Maine.

“At this time of year our focus is strictly with just trying to improve individual performance,” Ferentz said. “The biggest thing is we want to see how our guys react to different situations — the first one being how do they learn what’s been taught — the system in general. Then we try to create a lot of generic situations on the practice field that are going to happen during the course of any game and certainly during the course of a season. It’s more about getting a good evaluation on what people can handle, how they can perform in certain situations and that will help give us a better grip on where we’re going into the summer and how to prepare for next fall.”

The Coca-Cola Iowa Football Spring Game will be Saturday, April 19, beginning at 1 p.m. inside Kinnick Stadium.

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