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Relativity theory: most-improved

BY JORDAN HANSEN | JUNE 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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Earlier this month, Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard and safety Jordan Lomax were asked which position group on their respective sides of the ball had made the most improvement since spring began.

“I’d probably say our offensive line,” said Beathard, who is expected to start this season for the Hawkeyes. “Over the course of the spring, [the players] improved a lot, and they’ll need to continue to do so if we want the season to go the way we want it to.”

Lomax was also quick to answer the question.

“You’d have to give it to our linebackers,” Lomax said. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh, we’re going to have new linebackers’ and worrying about the position, but they came through spring ball, and I think they did a pretty good job.”

If there’s any truth to what Beathard and Lomax say, it’s good news for the Hawkeyes. During spring ball, both groups appeared in need of work in the limited reps open to the public.

The progression, however, can’t stop. It’s something that Beathard referred to in his answer and is partially because of the void created by Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal leaving for the NFL.

Offensive tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers are untested — they’ve played in a combined 12 games with exactly zero starts. Center Austin Blythe leads all the returning linemen with 35 career starts, and guards Jordan Walsh and Sean Welsh have 24 and seven, respectively.

Iowa’s linebacking corps is in a similar position. Of the likely starters (Bo Bower, Ben Niemann, and Josey Jewell), only Bower has started more than 10 games — logging 13 thus far in his Iowa career. Jewell has started just four, and Niemann has played in 13 games but did not start a contest in his freshman campaign.

Phil Steele of Steele’s College Football Preview said Iowa’s offensive line has just 69 starts returning, which puts it tied for 57th in the country, eighth in the Big Ten. Defensively, the Hawkeyes have just over 58 percent of their number of tackles recorded in 2014 — 85th in the country and 12th in the conference, Steele said.

The linebacking trio has just a combined 96 tackles while at Iowa, and Jewell owns the majority of them at 51. With Quinton Alston graduated and Reggie Spearman departing via transfer, Iowa is as young at linebacker as it has been in quite some time.

Youth and inexperience, however, will be combated in part having Blythe, Walsh, and Welsh back on offense. Senior linebackers Travis Perry and Cole Fisher should be in the mix as well.

Having the interior linemen back will be critical in short yardage situations, where Iowa was relatively successful a season ago. Power Success Rate, a Football Outsiders metric that measures short yardage situations, calculated Iowa as having a 69.2 percent success rate on third- and fourth-down plays with fewer than two yards to go. It also includes first-and-goal and second-and-goal situations of fewer than two yards.

The inexperience is somewhat alarming, but right now, it’s what Iowa football has to work with.


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