After a few days off of our coverage of Iowa football this week for Big Ten media days we'll be back this weekend with a look at all things Hawkeyes. We last left you with a look at the defense and today we move to the other side of the ball.
For all the disappointment of 2012 the glimmers of hope may have shone most brightly on the offensive side of the ball – and no we aren't talking about the terrible passing game – rather we are talking about a team that may have found a running game.
In order for Iowa to be successful in 2013 that running game needs to be even better and more diverse. However, despite that glimmer of hope one has to wonder if a new quarterback battle will allow this team to turn the corner and become more like the Ferentz led teams of just a few seasons ago?
The answers lie in who makes up the battle and who is surrounding those QB's, so let us introduce you to what Iowa's offense has to offer in 2013.
If there is a theme entering 2013 in the Big Ten it's QB battles and Iowa is one of those schools helping to contribute to the theme as they attempt to find a leader under center from a trio that includes Jack Rudock, Cody Sokol, and C.J. Beathard.
Sokol comes in as JUCO transfer who spent last season behind James Vandenberg to get ready for this year. He's a polished QB who stands at 6-2 and 215lbs and is one tough cookie. He obviously hasn't played in a Hawkeye uniform, but has participated in the past two springs.
Jack Rudock is the "front runner" if you want to call anyone of them that, at least from what I've seen and heard. He's easily got the best arm of the three in the battle and has the best makeup, physically, of all the QB's in the battle. However, as he enters his sophomore season can show the consistency needed to win the job at Iowa? If the Hawkeyes see improvements on the mental side of things this battle could be over quick. He's a game changer and after going through a "game manager" for the past few years having Rudock behind center would be a welcome sight for the wide receivers.
The last man in the race, C.J. Beathard, is a redshirt freshman that shouldn't be counted out based on his high school career and the leadership he's shows so far. He's not the biggest guy in the world and that could be the issue that is his downfall.
At the end of the day these three are completely unknown quantities in an actual game and it could be that Iowa doesn't have a single starter named before the Northern Illinois game. This is perhaps the most intriguing battle out there because so little is actually known.
Mark Weisman was a pleasant surprise in 2012, rushing for 815 yards. Not bad for a guy who wasn't supposed to see the field outside of being a blocking fullback. Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention, huh?
Entering this season it appears Weisman won't be alone at the running back spot and he could even end up being the third option in the backfield. If that's the case then look for this team to really be a player in the Legend division. Joining Weisman in the backfield is Damon Bullock, who was second on the team last season with 513 yards rushing. However, thanks to a crazy 63 carry total over the first three games alone Bullock couldn't survive and stay healthy. He spent most of the season injured and was barely back in time to spell an injured Weisman at the end of the season.
Sticking with the injury theme the third option at running back is likely Jordan Canzeri – who missed all of last season with a knee injury. He has the most upside of all the backs Iowa has and is easily the fastest of the group. As long as he shows in camp like he did this spring Canzeri could be a breakout player and take over this job.
That would be the ideal situation for Iowa to get back to a bowl game. However, recent history in Iowa City suggests something will go wrong on or off the field for this group at some point.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
This could be the biggest help to the quarterback position group as Iowa has one of the best tight ends in the Big Ten in C.J. Fiedorowicz, who caught 45 passes for 433 yards and one TD. That was good enough for third on the team. However, for all that good news the bad news is that the offense never used him enough or in the proper way and that's because he struggled from time to time to stretch the field. If he can do that more in 2013 look for him to be a serious challenger to PSU's Kyle Carter and Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen for the title of the Big Ten's best Tight End.
Fiedorowicz isn't the only weapon in the receiving area either as Kevonte Martin-Manley is still wearing the black and yellow. Martin-Manley was the 2nd leading receiver last season and leads all returning Hawkeyes coming off of a 52 reception, 571 yard and two score season. Problem is Manley isn't exactly the tallest or largest receiver and he can't stretch the field as much as you'd like from a No. 1 option. However, after averaging 11 yards a catch he clearly is someone that can be counted on to at least move the chains.
So, who could be the one to explode in the Greg Davis offense? Well, it could be a former jack of all trades Canadian. We're talking about Tevaun Smith, who at 6-2 and 200lbs. and just a sophomore has the potential to change games with his speed.
Backing up the likely starters are some decent options like 6-4, 205lbs. Jacob Hillyer and Jordan Cotton. Cotton caught 12 passes a season ago and is a veteran option that can flash at times. Hillyer could be a surprise player this season on the Big Ten front as he spent most of his freshman season on special teams and caught just one pass for 15 yards.
It's a good thing that Hillyer and Smith both saw some time on the field as true freshman last season because without this group would have nothing to really scare defenses with. As it stands there are a lot of unknowns anyway, but at least there are players who've seen the field in some way, shape, or form.
What helps a new quarterback and a running game the most? How about a consistent offensive line in front of them? That'll usually do it and in 2013 that will be the goal for the Hawkeyes line. Of course the best way to be consistent is to have experience and luckily that comes at the tackle positions for the Hawkeyes.
Brandon Schreff and Brett Van Sloten are pretty good options at the tackle spots with Schreff a likely All-Big Ten caliber player. Van Sloten started every game in 2012 and that can only help a group that will be replacing the heart and soul of their group – center James Ferentz.
Taking over from him is one of the rising stars of the offensive lineman in the league and that's Austin Blythe. He was talented enough to start at right guard as a 275lbs. freshman. This season he's reportedly got his weight up to 300lbs. and can only mean better things are ahead for one of the potentially best offensive lineman Iowa has.
On either side of him should be senior Conor Bofeli at left guard and junior Andrew Donell at left and right guard respectfully. Bofeli took over at left guard late in the 2012 season and he could be the most versatile offensive lineman the Hawkeyes have thanks to a 6-5, 290lbs. frame. However, expect Bofeli to get a good push for the guard spot from redshirt freshman Mitch Keppy, whom a lot of people have been raving about since spring. They describe him as a pure mauler in the running game and if that doesn't describe the prototypical offensive lineman at Iowa I don't know what does.
Depth is a bit of a concern, at least in terms of having any experience, but as long as the majority of starters stay healthy this could be a group that improves a ton over their 2012 performance, even if they do lose the likes of Ferentz from their ranks.
Questions to be answered in fall camp:
– Will a true option at QB emerge or will the battle rage on into the season?
– Was 2012 a flash in the pan at running back or can the Hawkeyes count on the group leading them again?
– Who will emerge as viable 3rd pass catching option?