March 25, 2009

Running game is key for Iowa this spring

Iowa was a pleasant surprise last season. The Hawkeyes rode the strong running of Shonn Greene and a stingy defense to nine victories, including a win in a New Year's Day bowl.

Can they keep it going this fall?

The first priority this spring is making sure the running game will keep clicking even without Greene and two starters on the line. Defensively, the key is replacing the starting tackles.

Here's a look at the Hawkeyes as they prepare for spring ball.

iowa AT-A-GLANCE
Kirk Ferentz has to replace Shonn Greene, the Big Ten's top running back last season.
THE BASICS
Coach: Kirk Ferentz
Last season: 9-4, 5-3 Big Ten. Beat South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
Spring dates: March 25-April 18
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (6): T Bryan Bulaga, T Kyle Calloway, WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, FB Brett Morse, QB Ricky Stanzi, G Julian Vandervelde.
Defense (8): LB Pat Angerer, E Christian Ballard, E Adrian Clayborn, LB A.J. Edds, FS Brett Greenwood, LB Jeremiha Hunter, SS Tyler Sash, CB Amari Spievey.
Special teams (2): P Ryan Donahue, K Daniel Murray.
Positions of strength

The defense will be strong even without the tackle duo of Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Starting safeties Brett Greenwood and Tyler Sash may be held out of spring drills after offseason shoulder procedures, but that will allow youngsters such as David Cato and Jack Swanson to get reps. The starting linebackers are back, led by Pat Angerer in the middle. Cornerback Amari Spievey looks like an emerging star.

Help is needed

The offensive line needs work, with the center/guard combo of Rob Bruggeman and Seth Olsen gone. They were key performers in opening holes for Greene. Will Dan Doering - a former ballyhooed recruit - step in at guard, or will it be Andy Kuempel? Rafael Eubanks will battle James Ferentz, coach Kirk Ferentz's son, at center. The Hawkeyes need two new starting defensive tackles.

Keep an eye on

CB Jordan Bernstine: Last year, Bernstine was the favorite to earn a starting spot, but he got hurt and Spievey passed him on the depth chart. With Bradley Fletcher graduating, Bernstine, a junior, will get another shot and he must deliver.

RB Jewel Hampton: He showed plenty of promise as a true freshman backup last season and will be backed up by redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson, who drew some strong reviews in practice last season. Regardless, it will be nearly impossible to replace Greene, who arguably was the nation's top running back last season.

DT Karl Klug: Like King and Kroul, Klug is another undersized guy who, in spot duty, has been disruptive. He earned Big Ten player of the week honors early last season. Now, he'll have to do it on a full-time basis.

Their time is now

Injuries have held back Doering and wide receiver Trey Stross, and they need to step forward at their respective positions this spring. Another veteran to watch is offensive tackle Dace Richardson, who may return from numerous knee problems. He didn't play last season and saw limited action early in 2007. It was thought that Richardson's career was over, but he plans to practice this spring. If he can play, it would be a huge boost.

The buzz

When Iowa has a good team, it always has good lines. Keep an eye on how the offensive line breaks in two new starters. It also will be important to find a couple of productive defensive tackles. There is a chance Adrian Clayborn or Christian Ballard could move to tackle, which would allow sophomore Broderick Binns to play end. Another goal: finding a backup quarterback. Jake Christensen is transferring, so one of two redshirt freshmen, James Vandenberg or John Wienke, will have to emerge behind Ricky Stanzi. There has been a lot of buzz about Vandenberg.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.




 

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