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Three questions for spring football

BY SETH ROBERTS | MARCH 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Spring is in the air. The daffodils are blooming. Winter coats have been retired and replaced by shorts, sundresses, and flip-flops.

And, perhaps most importantly, the Iowa football team is gearing up for the start of spring practice. The Hawkeyes will take the field at Kinnick Stadium for the first time on Wednesday.

Iowa faces a multitude of questions as it tries to move past what many considered a disappointing 2011 campaign — a season that included close losses to Iowa State and Minnesota and whippings at the hands of Michigan State, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

Who will step up on offense?

Arguably the best wide receiver in Iowa history is gone. Three members of the 2011 offensive line will likely spend their falls in the NFL. And there's the small matter of having no established running game going into spring ball.

The obvious anchors are quarterback James Vandenberg and center James Ferentz. It's murky beyond them.

Keenan Davis will likely start the spring as Iowa's No. 1 receiver; he's big and played well in stretches last season, but seemed to drop as many passes as he caught. Kevonte Martin-Manley played in the slot and was brilliant early in year but faded badly down the stretch.

C.J. Fiedorowicz came on strong at the end of the season but finished with only 16 catches and 1 touchdown — significant departures from the numbers posted by former tight ends Tony Moeaki and Allen Reisner.

Iowa's leading returning running back, Jordan Canzeri, finished the season with 31 carries for 114 yards; senior Jason White could see some carries as well (he left the team after his redshirt junior season last year but decided to come back). It wouldn't come as a shock to see some true freshman tailbacks get playing time.

How will Iowa fix its 2011 road struggles?

The Hawkeyes were excellent in Kinnick Stadium, where they posted a 6-1 record and didn't lose until Senior Day.

That wasn't the case away from Iowa City — the team was 1-5, including a 1-4 mark in true road games (the fifth, the Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma, was at a neutral site). Ignoring the 41 points Iowa posted in its triple-overtime loss to Iowa State, the Hawkeyes scored 66 points on the road.

They scored 241 at home.

The 2012 schedule is home-heavy and includes a four-week stretch in September where the team won't leave Iowa City at all. But that stretch could hurt the Hawkeyes if they get too used to playing in front of friendly crowds before opening the true road schedule at Michigan State.

Still, Iowa has a good chance to come out on the other end of 2012 feeling better about its road performances than the 2011 team did. The Black and Gold will play five road games; Northern Illinois will be a tossup, and Michigan and Michigan State are dangerous, but Northwestern and Indiana look — at least for now — like fairly winnable contests.

What changes will Greg Davis and Phil Parker bring to the Hawkeyes?

By now the consensus seems to be that first-year coordinators Davis and Parker won't do much to change the DNA of Iowa football.

Parker worked under the retired Norm Parker for 13 years, and he jokingly asked a reporter to draw up and submit blitz plays during his introductory press conference on March 2.

Davis ran schemes largely similar to Iowa's during his 13-year tenure at Texas, although he made some temporary departures to better utilize dual-threat quarterback Vince Young.

But a few small changes are inevitable given that Iowa has new coordinators for the first time since 1999.

We'll just have to wait a while to find out what they are.

Neither Davis nor Parker gave much away — if anything — about their game plans when they spoke to the media earlier this month, so the earliest opportunity to see change will probably be at the team's annual open practice on April 14.

And even then, the reality is the team may not reveal anything substantial at a scrimmage in front of a few thousand particularly dedicated fans. There's a good chance we'll have to wait until September for a concrete answer.

Follow DI Sports Editor Seth Roberts on Twitter.


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