IOWA CITY - Through it all, Nate Wieland still felt this moment would arrive.
Last year, a puzzling leg injury forced the Iowa City High quarterback to miss the last seven games of a football season in which his teammates won two playoff co ... »
Officially, there is one more day of talking. The Hawkeyes will wear football pants, their jerseys and smile and talk their way through the team's media day today.
Today, also marks the opening of Iowa's fall camp, with the Hawkeyes embarking on their first practice this evening. It's probably head coach Kirk Ferentz's favorite three weeks of the season. The players are sequestered in the Marriott-Coralville. The cutesy veneers of “what could or might be” left wafting in the air from spring are stripped away by the constant August grind that is at the heart of the game, especially for the way Iowa does things.
The players will talk today. They'll begin proving themselves tonight.
Here are five players who could realize huge opportunities in the next five weeks:
1. Quarterback C.J. Beathard
Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis started talk in the spring of integrating the sophomore quarterback into some playing time with junior starter Jake Rudock.
During Big Ten media days in Chicago last week, Ferentz further defined what the staff is looking for with the notion of using two quarterbacks. The idea is on the dry-erase board, now it's up to Beathard to show that it's worth exploring.
“If there's an intelligent way to use him and use that idea and concept, we'll do it,” Ferentz said. “What we don't want to do is screw up our team, take away the rhythm of what we're doing, those type of things. I think a big part of that will be the mind-set we take, but the first part is we have to be convinced what we see is going to help us move the ball and score points.
“That's the only reason to do it. We're not trying to keep CJ happy or any of that stuff. We're not trying to entertain people. Or create a controversy, that too. I haven't thought about that option. If it's going to help us be tougher to defend, then I think — and I think it has that potential — so that's what we're kind of working through.”
2. Middle linebacker Quinton Alston
The senior has this season to fit in four seasons of playing time. He's been stuck, for lack of a better term, behind high-performing upperclassmen.
So far, Ferentz has loved what he's seen. Now, Alston faces the camp test and turning words into action.
“I think Quinton is one of the guys who's not being talked about who is really going to be a good player for us,” Ferentz said. “Why would he be talked about? He hasn't played.”
A high bar for performance has been set in the Alston family. Alston's sister, Jade, is a professional singer who finished her first tour this spring. Quinton readily acknowledges he has some catching up to to in the fame department.
“She's doing big things, I'm just trying to catch up to her level,” he said.
3. Free safety Jordan Lomax
The junior made the move from cornerback in December and was installed as starter this spring. Here's another case of “time to do.”
We've been over Lomax's academic all-Big Ten credentials and the degree of difficulty that comes with being an economics major. Iowa's depth at safety is ankle deep. It sort of needs Lomax to come through.
If he ends up not being a good player, I'll be surprised, just going off experience,” Ferentz said. “He's made some hits in practice, especially in bowl preparation last year. He made a couple of hits on the running backs that, jeez, I haven't seen many safeties do that for a while around here.”
4. Guard Sean Welsh
Welsh, a 6-3, 285-pound redshirt freshman, ended spring practice anointed as the No. 5 starter. That's right on the line of being Iowa's starting left guard, being a rotational-type player or being on the bench.
If you're Welsh, it's not a bad place to start, but it's also motivation.
“It looks like Sean Welsh is No. 5,” Ferentz said. “He came out of spring clearly the fifth best, but he's not ready to go yet, either. This is a big month for him.”
Iowa has two scholarship punters. When the depth chart for your offensive line includes three walk-ons, three redshirt freshmen and three sophomores, that's a lot of punters.
Iowa signed junior Dillon Kidd in February to compete with junior incumbent Connor Kornbrath, a two-year starter who's averaged 39.1 yards a punt in his career.
There's not much to be said here. It's going to come down to what they do in camp. Someone will win the job, and someone won't like it. That's the nature of the game, that's the nature of camp.
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