This is the second part of a preseason preview of Hawkeye football.
Last week, I looked at the offensive line, the tight ends, receivers and fullbacks.
This week I’ll break down the quarterbacks, the running backs and defensive line.
There is no doubt that James Vandenberg (6-3, 212) is the straw that stirs the drink on the Hawkeye football team.
James Ferentz leads the offensive line and Micah Hyde the defense, but the Hawks will go as far as Vandenberg leads the team.
Last year, he passed for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns. Only Chuck Long and Chuck Hartlieb passed for more yards. His 25 touchdown passes rank third behind Chuck Long (27) and Brad Banks (26). Both were Heisman runner-ups.
Iowa has a new system under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis, and I believe James will have a better year than last.
“James probably made adjustments better than anyone, including the coaching staff,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz. “He embodies all the things you hope for in a quarterback. We have nobody on our team, with all due respect, that is more committed.”
James has one of the strongest arms in the Big Ten and has been academic All-Big Ten and academic All-American.
Jake Ruddock (6-3, 200), John Wienke (6-5, 220) and Cody Sokol (6-2, 205) are listed as backups, although John is competing for the punting job.
“Jake made good progress in the spring,” said coach Ferentz. “Cody came in January and we’ve really liked what we’ve seen of him as well. Jake is probably a little bit more game ready now, but Cody has a lot of upside.”
The plan is to redshirt Cody, a junior college transfer, so he has two years to challenge for the top spot when James graduates.
It would be great to get Jake, a redshirt freshman, some snaps in two or three of the first four games.
Running back will be young and inexperienced, but what else is new?
At this moment, sophomore Damon Bullock (6-0, 195) is the man. He played last year, had 10 carries for 20 yards, one catch for 11 yards and two kickoff returns for 43 yards.
Can Damon carry the ball 20-25 times a game?
Fred Russell did and he was listed at 5-8, 185.
At the Kids Day scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 18, some of the backs were hurt so Damon and Andre Dawson (6-1, 220) got the most carries.
Andre went to junior college last year and walked on last December. He has good size and ran for 4,885yards, scoring 64 touchdowns in his high school career at Cedar Rapids Washington.
Greg Garman (6-1, 200) and Barkley Hill (6-0, 210), both incoming freshmen, will challenge for the top spot.
Both have good speed and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Brad Rogers was also hurt, but when Iowa runs their one back set, like they did a lot in their first scrimmage, look for Brad to be in there.
In the second scrimmage, held on Saturday, Aug. 25, the young guns got to show their stuff as true freshmen Garman, Hill and Mike Malloy (a walk-on from Sioux City Heelan) got some carries. All looked good until Barkley hurt his knee at the end of the scrimmage.
For the last three years, Iowa was led by freshman and sophomore running backs.
In 2009, Iowa rushed for 1,485 and were led by freshman running back Adam Robinson, who totaled 834 yards as Iowa finished 11-2.
The following year, the Hawks rushed for 1,929 yards and were led by sophomore Adam Robinson, who had 941 yards. The Hawks were 8-5.
Last year, Iowa rushed for 1,790 with sophomore Marcus Coker picking up 1,384 yards as the Hawkeyes ended up 7-6.
The offensive line, which should be real good, can make a good back even better, and I think that will be the case for Iowa this fall.
The defensive line is what most people have been worried about this off-season.
There is not a lot of experience, but there are some good players that are ready to step up. Plus, I believe one of the best moves Kirk Ferentz made was to put Reece Morgan as defensive line coach. As far as I’m concerned, Reece is one of the best teachers/coaches on the staff.
The depth chart, which could change before the first game, has senior Joe Gaglione (6-4, 264) at left end, sophomore Carl Davis (6-5, 310) at left tackle, sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat at right tackle and junior Dominique Alvis (6-4, 265) at right end. Senior Steve Bigach (6-3, 282) was the first one off the bench. Steve and Dominique are the only lettermen.
“The most pleasant surprise of the whole group is Louis Trinca-Pasat,” said coach Ferentz. “We’ve had examples through the years of guys who were not on the radar screen in December, yet they showed up in the spring.”
Dominique played in nine games, had 3.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 quarterback sacks.
Carl Davis gives Iowa that big tackle they haven’t had for a while. Hopefully he can be a big help in stopping the run.
Backups include Darian Cooper (6-2, 280) who as a redshirt freshman, has a huge upside at tackle.
Riley McMinn (6-7, 245) is another redshirt freshman who can help out at defensive end.
Mike Hardy (6-5, 270) is a sophomore who played in a couple of games last year at tackle.
Melvin Spears (6-2, 255) is a redshirt freshman who started out as linebacker and is now at defensive end.
“I actually enjoy it a lot,” said Melvin about his new position. “I didn’t think too much at first, but after I got the hang of it, I think I’m doing pretty well. It’s new, but I’m getting used to it.”
Look for one or two true freshmen to add depth.
Faith Ekakitie (6-3, 275) and Jaleel Johnson (6-4, 300) are good athletes. It all depends on how fast they adapt to playing against people their own size.
When you get to this level, leverage and technique is more important than size and strength.
The Hawks have the first four games to get the defensive line together before the Big Ten season starts.
Next week I’ll look at the linebackers, defensive backs and special teams.