Notebook: O’Keefe says offense still has work to do

BY SETH ROBERTS | APRIL 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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Fans attending this weekend’s Spring Game should probably bring a media guide.

Otherwise, they might have a hard time recognizing the players.

Ricky Stanzi is gone. So is Allen Reisner. Julian Vandervelde? Ancient history.

Offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe lost 14 lettermen from last year’s squad, but he said that’s part of the job of a college coach.

“Not that I’m on a total Novocain drip or anything, but whether it’s guys getting hurt or guys going to the NFL, you just keep on going,” he said during his spring press conference on Wednesday. “I don’t spend much time overthinking things.”

Instead of looking back on what was lost, O’Keefe is working to make sure his new players are ready to live up to their new, Big Ten-mandated billing as “Legends.”

He has a pretty solid foundation to work from, too.

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Quarterback James Vandenberg has only two starts under his belt, but he performed well in both a 27-24 overtime loss to Ohio State and a 12-0 win over Minnesota in 2009. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker rushed for 219 yards in the fourth start of his career to help lead Iowa to the 2010 Insight Bowl title. Junior wide receiver Keenan Davis pulled in 11 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown in limited action last year.

Add injured wideout Marvin McNutt and an offensive line that returns three starters — left tackle Riley Reiff, center James Ferentz, and right tackle Markus Zusevics — and it’s easy to see why defensive coordinator Norm Parker said the offense has looked “pretty good” after a handful of spring practices.

That doesn’t mean everything is set in stone, though. The quarterback situation after Vandenberg is murky, and O’Keefe said he still has “a long way to go” with his inexperienced team — particularly on the offensive line. Redshirt freshman Brandon Scherff, for example, is listed as the starting left guard, but his offensive coordinator said the 6-5, 310-pound Denison native “has to learn what he’s doing.”

“He’s still a guy trying to get the system figured out,” O’Keefe said. “You can see him flash and you can see him use that body at times, which makes a huge difference. But he has to know what he’s doing on every play.”

The season is still several months away, which gives Scherff and the other young players plenty of time learn their roles. And while O’Keefe said no single practice is more important than the others, he admitted Saturday’s Spring Game will be beneficial because it will force his players to perform before an expected crowd of 25,000 people.

“Now instead of them just looking up the crowd like they used to … now they have to actually listen to what’s going on in the huddle and listen to the snap count,” he said. “That’s where the value would come in.”


Parker spoke at length about the Hawkeye offense and particularly praised Vandenberg’s magnetism.

“He’s a popular guy,” Parker said. “The team and the guys really liked Ricky Stanzi … he was their guy, and therefore, they played hard for him. And I think the team really likes Vandenberg.”

Parker, who is entering his 13th year as Iowa’s defensive coordinator, also had plenty of positive things to say about the wide receivers and how Coker has gotten bigger and faster since his Insight Bowl performance.

“I think it’s very encouraging,” he said. “I think they’re pretty good. I hope they are.”

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