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Iowa football's preseason still a work in progress

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | AUGUST 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa still has more than two weeks before its 2011 season-opener, which may be a disappointing reality for anxious fans.

For the team, it's a blessing.

Aug. 13 gave the public its latest look at the Hawkeyes, who opened the doors to Kinnick Stadium to stage an open practice.

Those who glimpsed it saw disarray. Blocks were blundered. Passes sailed incomplete. Tackles were missed.

"As you saw today, we have a lot of work to do," 13th-year head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That's kind of where were at right now."

Are there certain areas that need more work?

"It's pretty much everywhere."

But before fans sound the alarms and sell their season tickets, context should be considered.

This was eight days into Iowa's fall camp. It was just one of Iowa's 29 allotted preseason practices.

Even for perennially dominant programs, this is a time in which uncertainty is king and order is rare.
Still, order and consistency are what Ferentz and his players are seeking.

"We've been here a week," said junior quarterback James Vandenberg, who played well but was not great on this particular day. "… I think everybody on both sides of the ball knows we have a long way to go. That's what the next two weeks are for."

One of Vandenberg's weapons, Kevonte Martin-Manley, doesn't look as if he'll need more time to assert himself as the No. 3 option at receiver. The redshirt freshman worked in the slot when the first-team offense used three-receiver sets.  

Other than Martin-Manley's ascension, the depth chart remains foggy at many other positions. Most notably, players are still fighting for reps in the secondary as well as at running back behind starter Marcus Coker.

The picture probably won't be much clearer until Iowa plays Tennessee Tech on Sept. 3. Even then, Ferentz has said, fans should expect "a lot of moving parts."

"We're still trying to evaluate and see who our best one, two, and three guys are at every position," he said. "Then, we have to pull together and make it cohesive."

Injuries

A rash of injuries is hindering Iowa's push for continuity. Some players wore red jerseys on Saturday, denoting limited availability. Many others didn't practice at all.

Linebacker Dakota Getz, first-team defensive end Lebron Daniel, and Coker were among those in red — although Ferentz said he was erring on the side of caution with Coker, who could have played had the practice been a real game.

Numerous players listed as starters in Iowa's latest depth chart were not in pads, including middle linebacker James Morris, defensive tackle Dominic Alvis, and left guard Nolan MacMillan.

MacMillan has been nursing a sports hernia since the spring. Ferentz insisted most of the other injuries, including Morris', were not serious.

The attrition has been particularly taxing for the defensive line. Besides Daniel and Alvis, Mike Hardy didn't practice. Joe Gaglione limped off the field after suffering an apparent ankle injury.

"It's definitely tough not practicing with the guys who could really help us out," senior end Broderick Binns said. "It's something every team in the nation goes through. You just have to get through it and just try to get better every day."

Freshmen factoring in

Nine true freshmen saw the field last year for Iowa, a high number for any Ferentz-coached team. But don't be surprised to see just as many play this season.

The 6-0, 215-pound running back Mika'il McCall has been as impressive as any newcomer, inserting himself into the discussion as Iowa's No. 2 tailback.

"He's very shifty. He's powerful," senior cornerback Shaun Prater said. "He can catch, he can run, he can do it all. We're looking forward to him making big plays this year."

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