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Three things to watch at Iowa's spring football practice

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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Kirk Ferentz and Company, for the second-consecutive spring, will travel to West Des Moines to conduct a practice at Valley Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Ferentz said on March 26 that he was excited to head west because it gives the team an opportunity to reach its fans on the other side of the state.

“Valley just did a tremendous job of hosting us [last year], and we really appreciated that,” Ferentz said. “It’s a chance for us to reach out a little bit to the people who travel to Kinnick for so many Saturdays over the fall. That gives us a way to take the product to them a little bit.”

With Saturday’s practice, which begins at 1 p.m., marking the halfway point in the Hawkeye’s spring season, much has changed since the end of the 2013-14 season. Seniors have graduated. Younger players have vied for more playing time. The quarterbacks appear to be in a contest for the starting spot, despite returning starter Jake Rudock seemingly having a slight edge.

There’s a lot that Ferentz and the rest of the coaching staff still have to figure out before the calendar reaches August. Not every question will be answered this spring, of course, but there’s still plenty to keep an eye on as the team continues to practice.

The Daily Iowan takes a look at three key story lines.

1. Depth at running back

This was a new concept for the Iowa football team last season, to have a lot of running backs. There’s the hammer, Mark Weisman, the speedster, Jordan Canzeri, the (mostly) unknown, LeShun Daniels Jr., and Barkley Hill — and that’s ahead of other guys such as Damon Bullock, Akrum Wadley and Jonathan Parker, among others.

It wasn’t too long ago that Iowa struggled to keep even one serviceable running back healthy. Now, with upwards of eight listed ball carriers, running-back coach Chris White and offensive coordinator Greg Davis will be charged with the challenge of using this fleet of tailbacks in a way that best helps an offense that ranked in the middle of the conference during the 2013 season.

“It’s a good problem to have, obviously, with the depth that we have,” White said on Wednesday. “We’re trying to figure that out right now.”

2. New faces, positions on defense

There’s been plenty of talk and debate over who will replace Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens, and James Morris. The trio of senior linebackers pioneered one of Iowa’s greatest defenses in recent memory during 2013, in which the unit ranked 10th nationally at season’s end.

Their replacements, more than likely, will be Quinton Alston, Travis Perry, and Reggie Spearman — who’s just 17 years old, by the way.

“I know what I was like at 16, 17,” linebacker coach LeVar Woods said on April 2. “Nowhere near where he is.”

In addition to the linebackers, new faces are expected among the secondary after Tanner Miller and B.J. Lowery graduated. On the most recent spring depth chart, Maurice Fleming was listed at cornerback, opposite Desmond King.

Jordan Lomax, who lost his job to King after suffering an injury last season, also cracked the spring depth chart as a free safety.

“He’s got some of the traits that you look for in safety,” Ferentz said. “He’s a physical player, he’s very intelligent, he’s been an Honors student since he’s been here and communicative that way.”

3. The quarterback battle

During last year’s spring practice in West Des Moines, Rudock and C.J. Beathard both got snaps with the first and second teams. This year, though, there could be a little bit more of a discrepancy, given that Rudock is returning with starting experience.

Still, Ferentz has been adamant that, throughout spring, the quarterback job will be decided by competition.

“C.J. did a lot of good things last year, and I’d expect him to be a better player this spring than he was a year ago,” Ferentz said. “We’ll let those guys compete, and it should be great competition.”


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