IOWA CITY — The answers are just over the fence now. They are clacking pads and running around with footballs. They are going through tackling drill after tackling drill.
The next three weeks are the cauldron where a lot of what the Hawkeyes will look like in 2019 will be burned in.
Running game is the No. 1 thing on offense and maybe the entire team. You know all the numbers. The offense can’t protect the defense if it can’t run the football better than the 3.95 yards per carry it produced last season (finishing 10th in the Big Ten in rushing behind Indiana).
“Behind Indiana” isn’t getting the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
On defense, who gets the nod at the star safety position? Redshirt freshman D.J. Johnson is No. 1 right now, but this is the two-deep depth chart in the media guide. It’s starting blocks in the 400-meter hurdles. It’s not going to matter after today.
There’s other stuff. How steady is senior quarterback Nate Stanley going to be in the big moments? Can the offense “reasonable facsimile” its way through at tight end after seeing two NFL first rounders in the draft for the first time in football history?
How long will officials force defensive end A.J. Epenesa to count “one Mississippi” on third down?
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But hey, practice is actually behind a fence covered in tarp. Camp opens Friday, but media day is next Friday with the annual Kids Day open scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 10, at Kinnick Stadium.
You won’t see a lot of the making of the 2019 Hawkeyes.
But hey, the Hawkeyes are No. 19 in the preseason coaches poll, which came out Thursday. It’s the first time since 2016 Iowa has appeared in the preseason coaches poll (15th coming off 12-2 in 2015).
So, instead of trying to see something through a tarped fence before it actually happens, let’s set some scenes for things you know will happen in the next three weeks.
There will be trash talk.
When cornerback Michael Ojemudia picks off Stanley in practice, he does talk trash. Sorry, football is mean, even Hawkeye on Hawkeye.
“I do,” Ojemudia said. “In practice, he’s smart. It’s hard to pick him off. As soon as a play is run, he knows the defense, so he knows where not to throw it.
“And when you pick him off, that means you made a really good play. Picking off someone as smart as Stanley is not easy.”
This works both ways. Yes, Stanley doesn’t hang out downtown in the Ped Mall/bar scene miasma, but that doesn’t mean he’s in the library on the field.
“Yeah, people don’t know,” Ojemudia said.
Last year, Stanley got one on former Iowa safety Jake Gervase. Stanley and Gervase are friends. “Really good friends,” Ojemudia said.
“So, Nate threw one to T.J. (Hockenson) in the end zone and he runs right up to Jake and is all in his face,” Ojemudia said. “You see it sometimes in games when he makes big throws. He’s a killer. We’re behind him and we trust him. We love seeing that killer instinct out of him. It gives us more energy.”
Iron will sharpen iron.
If you’re a red-blooded American football fan, yes, you would pay $20 a minute for a live feed just from the one-on-ones between Iowa’s offensive and defensive lines.
These are highly competitive. The difference between the wide receivers and defensive backs going at it is this: At Iowa, linemen are the apex predators. It’s bear vs. shark vs. orca vs. a wolf who wonders how he got into this.
And you know, it’s not nasty. It’s actually a healthy, sensible competition. They’re in it to make each other better.
“He’ll win one, I’ll win one,” Wirfs said. “He’ll tell me, ‘This is what I felt. I felt you lean a little bit.’
“We’ll talk about the rep. I’ll tell him if I see a big hand swipe coming. We try to help each other out. We’re pushing each other as much as we can to get better. It’s exciting. I don’t think you’re going to find this type of competition between 1s at too many places.”
There will be “farmer blows.”
This didn’t officially happen in camp. It was a Friday practice. It sounds pretty “campy,” though. Bloody noses happen. It’s almost allergy season. And it’s football.
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This is running back Toren Young on Stanley: “I’ve been in the huddle with him where he has blood running down his nose and he just looks calm, cool and collected.”
The Hawkeyes’ Friday practices are full-speed but no contact, so it wasn’t unnecessary roughness.
“I think I had to go ‘farmer’s blow’ or something and my nose just started going,” Stanley said. “You can’t let anything stop you. I tried to do my best to plug it up.”
Was it gross?
“It was probably pretty gross,” Stanley said.
Mainly, behind the tarp and the fence, it’s going to be competitive, it’s going to be intense and not everyone is going to shake hands and be best buds in the moment.
“That’s good, competition is good for everybody,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Then, Ferentz ran through a couple of the epic camp battles, DE Adrian Clayborn and OT Bryan Bulaga and DE Matt Roth and OT Robert Gallery.
“That’s a good thing, a healthy thing and I think both sides relish the opportunity to grow, improve and develop,” Ferentz said. “Tempers will flare every now and then. That’s OK. It’s a competitive sport. You’re allowed to get mad.”
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