Commentary: Questions abound as Iowa opens spring practice


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For the last three months, all the buzz surrounding the Iowa football team has focused on — well — seemingly everything but football.

Now, the Hawkeyes hit the gridiron again.

Iowa opens its set of spring practices today, which will lead up to April 16's spring game. The season-opener is more than five months away, but there are serious question marks for this squad.

Is there enough depth at running back?

With Adam Robinson, Jewel Hampton, and Brandon Wegher, the Hawkeyes appeared stacked entering last season.

None of those players is on the current roster.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz dismissed Robinson, and Hampton and Wegher have transferred elsewhere. Now, Marcus Coker appears to be the top option after a scintillating Insight Bowl performance in which the true freshman ran for 219 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-24 win over Missouri.

But as the past year has shown, a team can never have enough quality backs. Iowa will need someone else to emerge, whether it be returnees De'Andre Johnson or Jason White or a true freshman such as Rodney Coe or Mika'il McCall.

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Who will complement McNutt at wide receiver?

Marvin McNutt's great 2010 included a team-best 53 catches for 861 yards and eight touchdowns.
Iowa's next four-most targeted pass-catchers are all gone, though.

After McNutt, junior-to-be Keenan Davis is the team's closest thing to a proven commodity with only 15 career receptions. By all accounts, Davis — a former Under Armour high-school All-American — is capable of elevating his play. If Davis can follow through on that potential, the Hawkeyes should be fine at the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.

The third spot appears wide open.

Sophomores Don Shumpert and Jordan Cotton (redshirt), and redshirt freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley will certainly play a role in the competition, but don't be surprised if a true freshman earns some playing time. Three-star recruits Marcus Grant and Jacob Hillyer could both be in the mix.

Can the defensive line reload?

As much talent as Iowa is losing at running back, it may be losing more along the defensive line. Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard are both potential first-round picks in the NFL draft, and Karl Klug may also be selected.

Seniors Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns are the only Hawkeyes left with significant experience.

Daniels was one of 2010's most pleasant surprises, recording 11 tackles for loss. Binns' season, however, was disappointing — he failed to record a single quarterback sack. Still, he's too good for two-straight "down" seasons — he should rebound well.

LeBron Daniel, entering his fourth year in the program at end, has a good opportunity to lock down a starting spot opposite Binns.

Redshirt freshman Carl Davis and junior Steve Bigach are the most likely candidates to start at the other tackle. Bigach would seem to hold an edge by way of experience, but Davis' 6-5, 295-pound frame gives him a chance.

How will the team replace Greenwood and Sash?

The losses of four- and three-year starters Brett Greenwood (graduation) and Tyler Sash (declared early for NFL draft) leave behind two big voids in the defense.

Tanner Miller, who filled in when Brett Greenwood left the Insight Bowl with an injury, appears to be the guy at free safety. The other spot is much more up in the air. Look for Jordan Bernstine, Jack Swanson, and Tom Donatell to all potentially battle for the spot, though Bernstine may have the inside track.

The Des Moines native arrived at Iowa with plenty of accolades — he was a Parade All-American in high school — but the senior hasn't done much in his college career. This year is his chance to change that.

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