Quarterback James Vandenberg will have to carry an Iowa offense that suffered some key losses.
By: Steven Lassan | 5/21/12, 9:34 AM EDT
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Big Ten Legends PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Kirk Ferentz, 96-66 (13 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Greg Davis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Parker
For the first time since the 1998 season, somebody other than Ken O’Keefe will be calling plays for the Iowa offense. Former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis was hired to replace O’Keefe for the same job at Iowa. Davis takes over an offense that returns a 3,000-yard passer from last season in senior James Vandenberg, but also one that has to replace the school’s all-time leading receiver in Marvin McNutt, as well as leading rusher Marcus Coker.
Keenan Davis is coming off a junior season in which he caught 50 passes for 713 yards and four touchdowns. He becomes the featured receiver, and sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley will be the other starter.
Expect to see a lot of junior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who late last season started living up to the enormous hype that followed him from high school, with 12 of his 16 catches coming in the final four games. “I’ve never had a tight end like C.J. with his size and his ability to play at the line of scrimmage and stretch the field,” Davis says.
Three starters have to be replaced on the offensive line, including All-Big Ten left tackle Riley Reiff. The anchor is senior center James Ferentz, the head coach’s son.
Running back is without question the biggest concern on offense. Six backs, including four with extensive playing experience, have quit the team since 2010, the latest being Coker, who rushed for 1,384 yards before being suspended prior to the 2011 regular-season finale. Sophomore Jordan Canzeri began spring practice as the starter, but he suffered a knee injury early on and likely will miss the entire 2012 season. Sophomore Damon Bullock became the starter after Canzeri was injured but is hardly a proven commodity. Two true freshmen will be given a chance to play.
Phil Parker has the daunting task of replacing Norm Parker (no relation) as Iowa’s defensive coordinator. Phil Parker, who coached the Hawkeye defensive backs for the past 13 seasons, hinted during the spring that his defense might blitz more than his predecessor’s. But don’t expect Iowa’s 4-3 alignment to change.
The biggest concern on defense for the second year in a row is up front, where replacements have to be found for Mike Daniels at tackle and Broderick Binns at end. End Dominic Alvis and tackle Steve Bigach are the only defensive linemen on the roster to have earned a letter.
Two starters return at linebacker and in the secondary, including senior cornerback Micah Hyde, who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season.
Finding a new punter is a top priority for the second season in a row. Senior John Wienke came to Iowa as a quarterback, but now he’s focused on replacing Eric Guthrie as the punter. Guthrie’s consistency was one of the bright spots last season. Junior kicker Mike Meyer, on the other hand, was more up-and-down, missing on six of his 20 field goal attempts.
There is without question a new attitude with all the coaching changes and with Iowa coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons. But what hasn’t changed much is the personnel, and that’s why Iowa could be headed for another season like a year ago. Vandenberg might be the best pocket passer in the Big Ten, but he struggled on the road last season. The schedule is favorable, but that was also the case last season, and Iowa still failed to contend in the Legends Division.