Aug. 4, 2008
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by Sean Neugent
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Nothing brings out the best in people like competition. Ask the University of Iowa football student-athletes who are all in a proverbial dogfight to covet a starting position for the upcoming season. Of particular interest to many Hawkeye loyalists is at quarterback where Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi are going toe-to-toe.
“We’re working as a team right now,” Stanzi said. “Everyone is busting their butts and we are excited about the year. It’s always intense at practice and it is really the only atmosphere you need to have a successful team — to have everyone compete and everyone going after that No. 1 spot. That is the only way we are going to be successful.”
Injury-plagued during the 2007 season, the UI lost two valuable and vital players early on, leaving the offensive side of the ball in disarray. Standout receivers Andy Brodell and Tony Moeaki both missed considerable time last season with injuries. Now the Hawkeyes are ready to welcome them back as they will no longer watch from the sideline, but rather find ways to exploit and penetrate opposing defenses.
“I’m excited for this year,” Brodell said. “We’re going to have a better team than we did last year. We are much more experienced on the offensive side of the ball, which is exciting. We are getting Tony back, which is huge for our offense. Our receivers from last year got a lot of good experience. That will make things more competitive during camp and will hopefully make us better as a team. I don’t think we can go backward. Getting those guys some experience and getting everyone back healthy, I just don’t see us doing any worse than we did last year.”
Open competition for the starting quarterback position remains between Christensen and Stanzi with less than a month remaining before the season-opener. Stanzi had a minor setback with an injured shoulder and will have limited practice time for the next week. Whoever head coach Kirk Ferentz chooses to put in charge of the offense, they will be in a much better position than last season, where inexperience and injuries played a big role.
“Right now, it’s everyone’s job to lose or gain,” Ferentz said. “Jake is the frontrunner right now, no question about it.”
“Stanzi’s brought competition to the table,” said Ken O’Keefe, UI offensive coordinator. “He has pushed Jake to the hilt, especially coming out of spring ball. Those guys were virtually neck and neck. When you’re being pushed and do as well as you can possibly do during each and every rep and series or practice that has a way of making you perform a lot better.”
“My focus is just getting better every day,” Christensen said. “I have no doubts in my ability. It will be healthy competition, but in my eyes I am the guy.”
Inexperience came into play last year after Brodell and Moeaki went out with injuries. Sophomore wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and senior tight end Brandon Myers both stepped up their games to assist Christensen, who was a first-year starter in 2007. Johnson-Koulianos had 482 receiving yards and two touchdowns, while Myers collected five of Christensen’s 17 touchdown passes to go along with 208 yards. The most experienced wideout last year, junior Trey Stross, came up with four big touchdowns of his own and added 272 receiving yards.
“Right now we have a lot of young guys everywhere offensively,” O’Keefe said. “They do have some experience. We have to count on those guys to know what they are doing and then execute. We need to execute better than we did a year ago.”
“Brandon is a guy with a lot of experience,” said Erik Campbell, who is in his first season at the UI as wide receivers and tight ends coach. “He’s a guy who knows the system and played hard and played well when Tony went down last year. We expect him to have his best season because it’s his last year.”
Brodell is listed as the No. 1 wide receiver on the roster and Moeaki was named to the Mackey Watch List for a second consecutive season. It was not easy to replace either of them last season, which resulted in a lot of three-and-outs and a tired Hawkeye defense.
“Last year was definitely hard on the receiver and tight end positions,” Stross said. “We have everybody back healthy and we have a lot of depth this year, so it’s going to be nice to know that if anybody goes down we have somebody that has already had game experience to back us up.”
“Experience is huge and pretty much everyone on offense has a year under their belt,” Moeaki said. “That can only help, so we’re excited. If everyone contributes, it should open up outside receivers and open up inside routes.”
The Hawkeyes will go into the year with much more depth and experience. Myers and Moeaki will provide a nice 1-2 punch with a two tight end set that will open up the field for their fellow cast of wide receivers.
“If you have studied us over the years we probably use more two tight end sets,” O’Keefe said. “We are probably one of half dozen teams in the country that are always trying to find ways to get tight ends on the field because of the mismatches they can cause and the way they force the defense to simplify what they’re doing.”
“I think receivers will have their own pressure,” Campbell said. “There is pressure on every position out there on the field. By having those two veteran guys, it will help the offense and they can be a very productive force with the way we use them and all the game experience they have.”
After a 6-6 season a year ago, the forecast for 2008 looks promising. The Hawkeyes are dedicated to turn their ship around and once again finish in the upper tier of the Big Ten Conference. Iowa will look for more production out of the offense from collecting more first downs to touchdowns in an attempt to keep the defense off the field. After spending a year watching from the bench, a healthy dose of Moeaki and Brodell should certainly make that a possibility.
“I’m very excited about this group,” Campbell said. “We have a lot of veteran players. The guys have a lot of game experience. When you have that kind of experience, you’re excited about it. Let’s get on the field and get the game started.”
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