Positional Awareness 2017: Updates!

By Patrick Vint on August 9, 2017 at 2:30 pm
Everything's Jake.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

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When we run Positional Awareness from May through July, we work in order from the positions we are most certain about to those where we have no idea.  Of course, the earth continues to spin on its axis, so things change over time.  Let's revisit some earlier posts with updates from the first week of practice.

Quarterback

We chronicled quarterback just two weeks ago, and not much has changed since that time. However, quarterback-whisperer-in-residence Ken O'Keefe did break down the QB race for the Des Moines Register on Saturday:

It's what you expected: Wiegers is the guy with the intangibles and work ethic, Stanley has the big arm and "big guy" footwork issues, Boyle is the young dual-threat guy, and Mansell is the freshman who is overwhelmed at the moment.

The last time that Iowa faced a quarterback struggle in August was 2013, and that could be enlightening here.  For one, Iowa was facing essentially the same problem: An experienced "intangibles" guy with an extra year in the program against a big-armed sophomore that maybe didn't do exactly what the coaches wanted but could fire his way out of trouble when necessary.  

In the end, Iowa went with the intangibles/work ethic/leadership/experience guy, in what was quietly acknowledged as a split decision between the Ferentzes and the quarterbacks coach.  Despite on-field evidence to the contrary, the program stuck with that decision for nearly two years before the athleticism finally won out.  And when it did, Iowa won twelve straight games.

Now look back at the last quarterback controversy involving Ken O'Keefe.  Iowa had a returning starter in 2008, albeit one who struggled through his first season.  It also had an unheralded backup who wowed onlookers with his touch on deep passes and surprising agility.  And Iowa went with the returning starter in the first game, the backup in the second, split time in the third and fourth games, and really only gave the job to the backup in November.  And when it did, Iowa won thirteen straight games.

Also, don't forget that experience won out in quarterback controversies before the 2001 and 1999 seasons.  The battle in 2000 was split between three players, but that included another guy playing the role of the "intangibles" candidate getting the most pass attempts that fall.  In other words, you'd be foolish to count out Tyler Wiegers at this point, because Tyler Wiegers is playing the role of the guy who wins these things almost every time.

Safety

We have two potential developments at safety.  First, true freshman Noah Clayberg (who wasn't even in the PA post, mostly because he's a true freshman named Noah Clayberg who never played safety before this week) was in the two-deeps released before Big Ten Media Days.  It might be legit, or it might be that there are only three healthy non-freshman scholarship safeties on the roster and Clayberg, by virtue of being a grayshirt last year, got the fourth spot.

Clayberg is a real-live grayshirt (Iowa now has had two of these). The Pella native committed to Iowa in 2016, attended school last fall on his own dime and went on scholarship in January. He counts for the 2017 class (I think that’s how that works).

Clayberg played running back for the first part of spring. At 5-11, 209, he looked very running back. After Snyder’s ACL tear, Clayberg shifted to safety. Opportunity knocked. Clayberg probably was running up hill on the 2017 RB depth chart, and that was before James Butler grad-transferred in from Nevada in July. Now at safety, he’s that much closer to the field.

There is also the outside possibility that Brandon Snyder returns later this year, though that looks more like wishful thinking than an actual prognosis at the moment.  I don't see any change in the actual outlook for this fall; it's Taylor and Gervase until something changes.

Wide Receiver

How do you update a post that hasn't been written yet?  You do this:  Iowa returns exactly one wideout who has caught a pass in Division I (at least until the most recent graduate transfer gets through admissions), and that guy has broken his foot twice.  Aside from Matt VandeBerg, the Hawkeyes are using a JUCO walk-on, a couple of scholarship guys who haven't ever shown signs of breaking into the lineup consistently, and a handful of freshmen.  So how is it going for first-year receivers coach Kelton Copeland?

“The lack of experience right now (shows),” Copeland said. “It’s definitely not talent. I can tell you that. There is definitely a lot of talent and the willing to work is the big thing you are looking for as a coach. Are they willing to work? Are they willing to put in the extra time that it takes to be successful at this level?”

He’s seeing it from Falconer. Copeland called the junior the most improved returning player through the first six practices. He also singled out newcomers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith for their big-play ability downfield.

“Ihmir Smith-Marsette, he’s shown a real ability to stretch the field,” Copeland said. “Right away you see your DBs after Day 2 they recognized him. They don’t sit on routes quite as much when he is in there.”

If there is a consensus on where a Kirk Ferentz/Brian Ferentz/Ken O'Keefe/Tim Polasek offense is headed, it's toward a run-heavy, play-action-based system.  The one thing that O'Keefe always understood -- and that Polasek showed an aptitude for understanding at North Dakota State -- it's that the play action pass has to include a credible deep threat in order to work properly.  The play action pass functions to punish the defense for cheating up against the run.  If that punishment is a three-yard out to a covered tight end, the punishment comes nowhere near fitting the crime.  In other words, you will see Smith and Smith-Marsette on the field this fall, possibly in significant quantities.

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