IOWA CITY — The big point of interest for Iowa football this spring is new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.
A side note here is how interesting the Big Ten West became with offseason moves and hires. Brian Ferentz ascended to a major role on his father Kirk’s staff. His name is on the thing now. Minnesota hired P.J. Fleck as head coach and the Gophers’ 2018 recruiting is ranked fifth in the Big Ten by Rivals. Nebraska hired former Iowa linebacker Bob Diaco, who was fired at UConn after three seasons as head coach, as defensive coordinator.
Those stories will unfold. Right here, right now, you’re interested in what Ferentz will do with Iowa’s offense. And right now, there’s no clear answer. Head coach Kirk Ferentz completely reshaped his offensive staff — tight ends coach LeVar Woods is the only coach in the same seat and he added special teams coordinator to his duties — after finishing 8-5 in 2016 with an offense that never found footing in the passing game.
Whatever conclusions the new think tank has made are X’s and O’s on a dry erase board. Until Wednesday morning, that is. The Hawkeyes open spring practice Wednesday. One interesting question will be how time is split on installation and fundamentals, so these 15 practices, with scrimmages in Des Moines (April 7) and Kinnick Stadium (April 21, both Friday nights), become kind of a big deal.
Iowa offense 2017 comes with some shape to it. Four starters return on the offensive line, with No. 5 (guard Keegan Render) having started seven games last season. Running back Akrum Wadley, who’ll be held out of contact this spring after offseason knee surgery, is a 1,000-yard rusher. He also averaged 107.4 yards from scrimmage per game last season, the best for a Hawkeye since Marcus Coker averaged 128.4 in 2011.
There will be a new quarterback, either sophomore Nathan Stanley or junior Tyler Wiegers. You want to say it’s probably Stanley, but Iowa does now have its first dedicated QB coach since Chuck Long in 1999 with the hiring of Ken O’Keefe, who spent 13 years as Kirk Ferentz’s offensive coordinator.
And there is a ton of skepticism cast toward a passing offense that last season produced the fewest yards (1,991) since 1982 (1,873).
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When Ferentz was named coordinator in January, he didn’t make any campaign promises. Peel back one more news conference, back to Dec. 16, when Iowa coaches were available to discuss the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line, something Brian Ferentz certainly had a hand in as the offensive line coach.
Then, Brian Ferentz dropped what likely will be a guiding principle with his offense. It was basically the Levi Paulsen story from last season.
Paulsen was a little-used redshirt freshman until tackle Boone Myers suffered an injury at Purdue. This forced a reshuffle. At one point, Brian Ferentz asked for a timeout on a third-down passing play because he wanted to get Sean Welsh back on the field at tackle. Welsh had to leave the game because his helmet came off on the previous play.
Welsh was forced to sit because of that helmet rule, but Iowa avoided that with the timeout. Brian Ferentz wasn’t confident in Paulsen’s pass blocking. So, timeout.
Four games later, Paulsen was tagged in for his first career start at right guard because Ike Boettger had to sit out of the Illinois game with an injury.
“My biggest concern with Levi was how was he going to hold up in pass protection in a one-on-one situation,” Brian Ferentz said. “By the fourth third down of that game, it was hard to hide him. He had to block a guy. He blocked the heck out of him. He did a great job. Now, he didn’t the whole game, but it just goes to show, at some point, they’ve got to get out of the nest.”
Bottom line, this is knowing your personnel, knowing what they can and can’t do, and then it’s not asking them to do things they can’t do.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as making sure you don’t put guys in the wrong position, make sure you don’t ask them to do things they can’t do,” Brian Ferentz said. “That’s probably an easier answer than asking them to do things they can do.
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“It depends on how deep you are at any given point in the year, any given point in practice. Sometimes it’s easier than not.”
Other than bending to fit strengths of personnel, Kirk Ferentz has spent a few minutes in his last few news conferences telling you not much will change.
On a question about the new playbook on Monday, he said, “That will all pan out. Part of that will be who wins the jobs, how things pan out personnel-wise. You’re not going to see a dramatically different team.”
And then Brian Ferentz in January when he was named coordinator, “So as far as an overarching plan, I think he (Kirk) would be the first one to tell you that everything here is going to start up front and winning the line of scrimmage and running the football and then after that, how do you best complement that moving forward?”
But yeah, that passing game. Gotta get on that.
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