We're just ten days from honest-to-God Iowa Hawkeyes football, which meant it was time for our semi-annual check-in with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and defensive coordinator Phil Parker. By the usual standards set by Kirk's Tuesday pressers, it was an informative afternoon. Here's what we learned (full video of Ferentz and Parker are available from Rob Howe at Hawkeye Nation; we are eternally grateful):
Visions of AIRBHG
On the personnel side, things are settling into place. Brian Ferentz was insistent that Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent are the two leaders at halfback, with last year's starter, Ivory Kelly-Martin, and a pair of touted freshmen. Ferentz hinted that he might use them both in some formations:“Young is running the ball as good as he ever has. He’s a tempo setter. Mekhi is kind of a jack of all trades, a little bit of a utility knife....Let’s keep them involved in what we’re doing offensively." Ferentz was pleased that Kelly-Martin has been healthy through August; he was one of the most versatile players available for Ferentz last year, and presumably will get situational duty, at least, in 2019.
Merriweather Posts by the Billion?
Maybe the oddest position battle is free safety, a spot where Phil Parker has never shied away from throwing a curveball. Kaevon Merriweather, a true sophomore whose emergence last year made this look academic in the spring, is in a serious battle with walk-on sophomore Jack Koerner. Parker is concerned with Merriweather's lack of experience, and probably for good reason: Merriweather didn't play football until his junior year of high school, focusing instead on thunderous basketball dunks.
Dont understand why he jumped pic.twitter.com/jubtnEO5FP— Kaevon Merriweather (@Kaevon02) March 8, 2018
Koerner, on the other hand, is what would happen if Phil Parker went in a lab and made a walk-on free safety. He was a 195-lb. free safety at West Des Moines Dowling with offers from UNI, USD, and South Dakota State who opted to walk on for Iowa instead. He's listed at 205 now -- not huge gains, but safety isn't about weight -- and Parker is praising his knowledge of Iowa's defensive concepts and comparing him to Jake Gervase and Derek Pagel.
This does feel a bit like Parker trying to push Merriweather -- he flat-out said "Sometimes guys get to where they’ve got to keep pushing themselves and keep on getting better” in talking about him -- but Iowa's defense, particularly at safety, is about knowing where to be in every situation. If Koerner's got it, he could win the spot.
It's Better to Give
Ferentz really thinks he's got some receivers now, especially if Oliver Martin gets a waiver and becomes immediately eligible. The question mark through spring, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, is no question mark anymore: “Skill set? Not an issue. Good guy, good teammate, all those things, but developing that attitude of playing the next play and trying to build on things. I couldn’t be more pleased with the growth that he’s shown.” So there's that.
Brandon Smith is a lock on the outside. If Iowa can also use a new-and-improved ISM, with Martin available in both the slot and split end and the Velvet Underground and Nico in slot positions, Nate Stanley is going to have more options than any Iowa quarterback since 2010 Ricky Stanzi.
The only position still up for grabs on the offensive line could well be left guard. The effusive praise of Tyler Linderbaum from the spring has carried over to the fall, and he's a lock at center. Cole Banwart has done nothing to lose the right guard position, and the tackles are obvious locks.
Ferentz indicated there could be some rotation on the line, with the Paulsen twins and Mark Kallenberger mentioned. Given the volume of line injuries in the last few years, that's probably smart.
It's a Taxicab Air Freshener
Ferentz threw down the gauntlet at nine wins and quickly identified Iowa's biggest problem on offense the last two years, with a triple negative thrown in for misdirection: “We’re trying to win more than nine games. We’re definitely going to need a consistent running game. I don’t think anyone would tell you we didn’t feel like we fell short of that the last two years.” To quote another luminary talking with a son trying to follow in the footsteps of a legendary father:
Can Someone Get Him a Drink of Watergate?
We've tried to slow-roll the Daviyon Nixon stuff ever since he committed. Yes, he looks like the world-eater that Iowa desperately needs at defensive tackle. Yes, he was recruited by Alabama. Yes, he was the rare player that made a move toward leaving Iowa that didn't immediately get on Kirk Ferentz's list of bad dudes as a result. But Nixon didn't get much publicity in the spring, and guys his size usually need a year of The Doyle System before they're truly in contention.
Well, gentlemen: Start your engines.
“His effort, his hustle, the way he moves around,” Parker said. “He’s done a good job with his leadership. It’s really exciting to get more guys with that energy that you need. It brings juice to the defense.”
Phil Parker praise is so rare that, when you see even the slightest hint of it, you immediately believe the guy mentioned is a superstar in the making. Nixon had the recruiting pedigree, the size, and the athleticism. If he's showing intangibles good enough to get a "leadership" shout-out from Phil? Holy lord this is going to be great.