Hawks need to replace big guns

BY DANNY PAYNE | APRIL 10, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa is scheduled to practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines Saturday at 12:30 p.m. There are plenty of things to watch at the practice, but the following are three story lines we deemed interesting.

What is the status of the front seven?

It’s no secret Iowa is going to miss three pivotal pieces of its defensive front. Tackle Carl Davis is a lock to play on Sundays, and tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat and linebacker Quinton Alston will likely have a shot.

That leaves Iowa with question marks.

Jaleel Johnson and Nate Bazata are listed as starters on the line, while the outside, middle, and weakside linebackers are Ben Niemann, Josey Jewell, and Bo Bower. If that doesn’t worry Hawkeye fans even a little bit, it should.

While the talk from linebacker coach Jim Reid and head coach Kirk Ferentz has been generally positive this spring, those backers have each shown flashes of being a good player — the Niemann blocked punt that he returned for a touchdown against Northwestern, Jewell’s 13 tackles in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and Bower’s interception against Northern Iowa — but the lack of experience is troubling.

Same goes for the line. Bazata and Johnson got some time in the rotation, but stuffing the gaps and giving opposing offensive coordinators headaches as much as Davis and Trinca-Pasat did last season is going to be tough to replace.

Those five have a combined four letters, and teams will run all over Iowa if they can’t prove themselves near the line of scrimmage.

How does the passing game look?

Ah, the sexiest question of them all. Will starter C.J. Beathard throw for 4,500 yards? Perhaps, but it’s not likely. Saturday will be our first look at the new air-attack from Iowa, including Beathard’s likely favorite targets Jake Duzey and Tevaun Smith.

That’s not to say those will be the only guys — the junior likes to throw the home run, and wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said the Hawkeyes have plenty of deep-ball threats, including Smith, as well as Andrew Stone, Matt VandeBerg, and Jay Scheel, “when he gets comfortable.”

Other than the deep ball, running backs coach Chris White said Iowa is experimenting with more multiple sets and moving the tight ends into different positions.

It may take some time to get used to, but Beathard’s release is noticeably quicker than Michigan-bound Jake Rudock’s, so with only a handful of practices with Beathard as the No. 1 guy and a plethora of young receivers, there may be some timing kinks to work out.

With all of that aside, there is a buzz surrounding Beathard and Iowa, and this is the first glimpse the fans will get of the Beathard era.

Can the two new tackles block?

With Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff and right tackle Andrew Donnal graduated, Iowa is left with Boone and Ike Boettger to fill their positions. Given the talent of the Hawkeyes offensive line the last two years, the two have played very sparingly.

Yes, that’s a concern for the Hawkeyes — especially in pass protection. The depth at quarterback is virtually nonexistent, to the point that coaches are working with Beathard on sliding and avoiding big hits.

Scherff and Company allowed 21 sacks last season, which tied for the fourth fewest in the Big Ten with Minnesota.

Should Iowa have any success through the air this season, and Boettger are going to have to protect the edge as if their lives depend on it.

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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