Q1. The Hawkeyes will have a new starting quarterback this year after the departure of Drew Tate. Who do you see as the starter, sophomore Jake
Christensen or red-shirt freshman Arvell Nelson? What type of quarterback are they (pocket passer, scrambler, etc.)? By all accounts, Jake Christensen solidified his grip on the starting job during the spring. He went into the spring with a big advantage over freshmen Arvell Nelson and Rick Stanzi in terms of game experience and understanding of the offense. Christensen spent the spring and fall of 2006 getting reps with the first- and second-team offense, while Nelson and Stanzi only had one fall of operating the scout team.
Christensen is a little bit like a left-handed Drew Tate with his size and ability to move around and buy time in the pocket with his feet. I’m still not sold on his arm strength, and until he performs in big situations you have to wonder how he’ll handle a night game at Wisconsin or on the road at Penn State.
Nelson might have the highest ceiling of the three being 6-4 and probably having the best arm strength and mobility in the group. Stanzi is more of a pure pocket passer. But Christensen is best equipped to start now with the way Iowa is built and his intangible advantages.
Q2. What will be the strength of this year's offensive unit? Who are some players we should keep an eye on?
The strength of the offense should be the running backs and receivers in that order. Albert Young and Damian Sims are both career 1,000-yard rushers. Young is more of a complete back with his blocking, inside running and receiving skills while Sims is a big-play threat who has averaged 5.9 yards per carry the past two seasons. The receivers went from being a liability to an asset over the course of the final three months of the 2006 season. WR Andy Brodell caught 13 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games of the season and Dominique Douglas broke nearly every freshman receiving record in Iowa history last year when he caught 49 passes for 654 yards as a true freshman.
Q3. Defensive end Kenny Iwebema is listed as All Big Ten. What can you tell us about him and the rest of the defense?
Kenny was a first-team all-Big Ten selection as a sophomore in 2005 when he had seven sacks, including two that came head-to-head against Joe Thomas. He was listed by a few publications as a preseason All-American last year, but that turned out to be one of the highlights of his junior season. He missed some time during training camp for an unspecified violation of team rules, served a one-game suspension and then suffered a shoulder injury in the Big Ten opener. He basically played one-handed for three weeks and only had five tackles during that stretch. Finally, they shut him down and he underwent shoulder surgery that sidelined him until the Alamo Bowl. When Kenny’s right, he’s probably the biggest playmaker on Iowa’s defense. With him, they thought they had one of the Big Ten’s best defensive lines last year. Without him and without a healthy Mitch King, Iowa put little pressure on the quarterback last year and had trouble slowing the run.
As a whole, Iowa’s best unit on paper is its defense, provided it can avoid injuries at a couple positions. The first-team defensive line is filled with guys entering their third year as starters. As a whole, the defense has eight starters returning, including both corners and MLB Mike Klinkenborg, who was second in the Big Ten in tackles last season. The biggest questions are the safeties and the depth as a whole. Reserve DT Ryan Bain and FS Marcus Wilson figured to play key roles, but both players left the program during the offseason.
Q4. What is the feeling around campus and the football team after there were high expectations last year only to finish with a 6-7 season?
There seems to be a lot of curiosity about Iowa football right now. I think a lot of fans are wondering whether the Hawkeyes will bounce back and have a season like the 2002 through 2004 years or if they’ll continue to hover around .500 like they have the past two years when they went 13-12. What’s interesting about last year’s 6-7 team was that it was so unlike Kirk Ferentz (photo) teams of the past. It got off to a 4-0 start and then things came unraveled. More specifically, ball security, special teams and in-season improvement have been trademarks of Ferentz teams. Iowa was one of the worst teams in the country in turnover margin last year, the special teams were mediocre at best and the Hawkeyes lost six of their final seven games. Ferentz even questioned his team’s attitude in a loss at Indiana and called the Hawkeyes “fat cats” after they got hammered at home by Northwestern. But after the Alamo Bowl, he said they looked more like an Iowa football team again. All of the circumstances surrounding last year’s puzzling season and a new starting QB have created a lot of interest entering this season.
Q5. The Hawkeyes do not play Ohio State nor Michigan this season. Overall, what do you expect from this year's team? What will their final record be?
Anybody who asks Ferentz about not playing Ohio State and Michigan this year will get his standard answer – he’ll point out Iowa was 2-4 last year against the other six Big Ten teams on the 2007 schedule. I’m not sure what to think of the 2008 Hawkeyes yet. I think they learned a lot of lessons from the 2007 team and Ferentz is confident they got back on the right track during bowl prep and through the spring and summer. But this isn’t a deep team and injuries to Drew Tate, Albert Young, Kenny Iwebema and Mitch King derailed the 2006 team and showed what can happen if Iowa endures a few critical injuries. This team can’t afford an injury at a couple positions and it will have to improve across the board on special teams and especially in the turnover-margin category.
With some progress in those areas and a little luck, it could reach double-digits in victories. But if the offensive line doesn’t create running room for Young and Sims and Christensen has to put the offense on his shoulders like Tate did in 2004, if the defense has an injury or two at the wrong spots and the defensive line performs like it did last season, if the turnover-margin stats and special teams don’t improve, Iowa could be looking at another 6-6 regular season.
I want to thank Andy for his time....it is much appreciated....please note that I will not have a blog on Friday morning because I will be leaving early for a meeting in Columbus...