Notebook: Iowa football 'not there yet'

BY SETH ROBERTS | APRIL 25, 2012 6:30 AM

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The upcoming Iowa football season has all the indicators of a rebuilding year.

The coaching staff is almost entirely new — some coaches shifted positions, and others, such as offensive coordinator Greg Davis, were brought in during the off-season.

The offense has had to learn a new playbook on top of the daunting task of having to replace last year's record-breaking wide receiver and workhorse running back.

As many as five of last year's linemen, from both sides of the ball, could be drafted into the NFL this week.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz appeared to be realistic about the situation when he spoke to the media on Tuesday.

"We're not there yet by any stretch," he said. "We're not a great team by any stretch."

The learning curve has been particularly steep on the offense, where Davis changed most of the terminology for calling plays and in some cases changed the plays themselves. And while some players seemed to grasp the changes quickly — Davis has raved about quarterback James Vandenberg, for example — others weren't as consistent during spring practice.

Ferentz highlighted the wide receivers as a particular area where the team has "some room for guys to step up." Kevonte Martin-Manley "looked really good" when he was healthy, Ferentz said, and Don Shumpert has "made some strides."

But others in the group had less success in the spring, including Keenan Davis ("he was injured a little bit and up and down all spring," Ferentz said) and Steve Staggs.

"I don't know that we have a handle on that one [the position] right now," Ferentz said. "It's going to be a big area for us to concentrate on recruiting, as well."

But at the same time, other areas that might have worried Iowa fans — and coaches — at the beginning of the off-season appear to have stepped up.

Ferentz admitted that he was "concerned with the defensive line" before the spring practice season began. The group is young, with only one returning starter (Steve Bigach) and very little game experience sprinkled around the rest of the players.

Those players have stepped up, Ferentz said, especially Louis Trinca-Pasat. The sophomore from Chicago redshirted in 2010 and only played in one game in 2011; Ferentz said he thinks Trinca-Pasat wasn't sure whether he wanted to continue with football.

"He was kind of on the ropes back in December, quite frankly … and it showed up in his performance," he said. "In the spring, he has really quietly emerged, and by the second half of spring ball, he's playing as well as anybody on the field — either side of the ball."

DiBona's career over; McMillen, Chelf have surgery

Linebacker Shane DiBona will call it a career after he reaggravated the Achilles injury that held him out of last season during spring practice. Ferentz said the junior-to-be, who redshirted his true freshman year, will finish his degree while on scholarship.

DiBona played in each of Iowa's 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and started in wins over Michigan State and Indiana. The Massachusetts native suffered his initial Achilles injury during preseason camp in 2011, and he wraps up his career with 13 total tackles.

The spring injury bug also claimed two more names since the team's open practice two weeks ago.

Both sophomore wide receiver John Chelf and senior offensive lineman Casey McMillan suffered knee injuries, and both have had surgery to repair the damage. Chelf had his operation two weeks ago, and McMillan went under the knife on Tuesday. Both are expected to be healthy enough to practice by July.

Previously injured defensive linemen Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis are "moving back in a good way," Ferentz said; both missed spring practice with knee problems, but they will be ready to go by June.

Iowa reels in more recruits

The Hawkeyes had only one oral commitment from a recruit at this point last year.

But after a trio of three-star linemen committed in as many days, Iowa's class of 2013 is up to six members.

The most recent of the three, defensive tackle Brant Gressel, reportedly gave his oral commitment on Monday; he had offers from Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia, among others. The 6-2, 280-pound Ohio native was in town for an unofficial visit when he committed.

"Basically, I felt right at home when I was out there and felt like I could fit right in with their defensive scheme," Gressel told Rivals.com recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt. "The coaches couldn't have been nicer and welcoming. It was the right time to do it, and I feel great about it."

Gressel joins a pair of linemen who committed over the weekend, Illinois' Colin Goebel and Nebraska native Nathan Bazata.

Bazata is another defensive tackle, and his body is similar to Gressel's; he's listed as 10 pounds lighter, but is also 6-2. His only other offer, according to Rivals, was from South Dakota State. He committed on April 21.

Goebel is a 6-4, 275-pound offensive guard from Naperville, Ill. Rivals lists him as the No. 18 guard in the class of 2013, and he chose Iowa over a list of schools including Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Toledo, and West Virginia on April 20.

"Iowa has a great reputation of developing offensive linemen, and it seems like every year they send one or two offensive linemen into the NFL," Goebel told Rivals.com. "… I'm also excited for my family because Iowa is just three hours from home, and they can come out and see me play in college. Iowa is pretty close to home, and that was another big factor for me."

The three join Delano Hill, David Kenney, and Derrick Willies in Iowa's class of 2013.

Saturday Night Lights

The Hawkeyes will get to test Kinnick Stadium's new permanent lights in a game for the first time on Oct. 20. Iowa's only prime-time game of the year will be the contest against Penn State; it will start at 7 p.m.

The night game signifies the fourth time in as many years that Iowa has hosted a game after nightfall; overall, the team is 6-3 in home night games.

"I'm all for night games at home," Ferentz said. "… Night games in Kinnick, it's tough to beat that."

Iowa beat Northwestern under the lights last season but fell to Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl to complete a 1-1 record in night games.

Bye-bye Bubble

Iowa's 27-year-old indoor practice facility, the Bubble, was deflated last week in favor of a state-of-the-art new building that will be completed in August.

But while construction workers stopped installing the new building's roof to watch the Bubble's fabric casing sink to the ground, Ferentz said the football staff approached the destruction of an Iowa City landmark with little fanfare.

"I missed it — it happened pretty quick," he said. "We were in a meeting, watching tape, what-have-you. It was almost nondramatic, anti-climactic, and it was gone."

The space on which the Bubble stood will be turned into a 689-space parking lot, which is expected to be finished in September. And while the history that used to be housed in the Bubble — 27 years of football, including most of the Iowa head-coaching career of Hayden Fry and all of Ferentz's up to now — is gone, Ferentz said he was looking on the bright side.

"I never saw those trees by the Dental Building — that was kind of neat," he said with a grin. "It's going to be a beautiful parking lot, no doubt about it."

Follow DI Sports Editor Seth Roberts on Twitter.

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