Spring practice, at the very least, is debut time.
You can argue whether positions can be won or lost (probably not). You can argue if it starts a young player on a path to starter (probably). You can’t argue that it’s the first time some players will see significant playing time.
Herman was a relative unknown when he signed with Iowa in February ’08.
He played tight end and linebacker for Metamora (Ill.) High School, helping the Redbirds to the Class 5A state title in 2007. He teamed up with future Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush for 21 catches, 578 yards and six TDs his senior year (27.5 yards a catch).
“Yes, the coach was smart enough to have the future Big Ten quarterback throw to the future Big Ten tight end,” Metamora coach Pat Ryan said. “We always thought Brad would get his chance if he put the work in. He was always a great character and work-ethic kid here.”
Herman showed enough during fall drills to earn the No. 3 tight end position, with starter Tony Moeaki injured. He burned his redshirt, but didn’t catch a pass. Still, Iowa coaches believe the experience was worth the redshirt.
“We worked him hard last year and he got more practice reps than he ever got in a game,” offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said. “We’re hopeful that pays off this fall.”
Moeaki is out this spring after surgery on his left foot. This moved Herman up to No. 2 behind junior Allen Reisner. Tight end is an important position in Iowa’s offense, O’Keefe said, and Herman’s learning curve is steep.
“He’s got a long way to go,” O’Keefe said. “He’s beginning to understand what we’re after. For a freshman (now a sophomore), especially at the tight end position, because you’ve got to know the running and passing games better than anyone, he’s been able to put it together a lot quicker than a lot of guys could, but he still has a way to go.”
When he was a freshman at Metamora, Herman checked in at 6-1, 150 pounds. His sophomore season he was 6-3, 180. Now, he’s 6-5, 242.
“He was always a model weightroom guy,” Ryan said. “He really bought into it from day one and saw the results. That attitude made him a confident athlete. He made a big jump going from Illinois 5A to the Big Ten, but that attitude has obviously helped him.”
Right now, you might only know Mike Daniels for a few scary moments after last season’s game at Indiana.
After the last play of the game, Daniels, a 6-1, 267-pound defensive tackle, remained on the turf. Iowa trainers attended. Coach Kirk Ferentz, who had jogged off the field, ran back to make sure Daniels was OK. The game-time temperature was in the 80s, so hydration had something to do with it.
Obviously, there’s more to Daniels.
He’s in line to replace four-year starter Matt Kroul at defensive tackle. Daniels, a Highland Regional High School (Blackwood, N.J.) grad, had six tackles with one sack in extremely limited playing time as a redshirt freshman last season.
He’s in a group at tackle that includes junior Karl Klug (258 pounds), senior Travis Meade, redshirt freshman Steve Bigach and sophomore Cody Hundertmark, who’s sitting out spring after shoulder surgery.
Like Herman, Daniels was also an “under the radar” recruit. He had offers from several FCS schools but Iowa was his only FBS offer.
“He’s got a combination of explosiveness and strength,” Highland coach Frank Plefka told HawkeyeNation.com. “I think being on the defensive line, he’s 6-1. I think he kind of flew under the radar because of his height. His strength, explosion, speed, and athleticism on the line is why he’s Division I talent.”
Defensive coordinator Norm Parker said as many as five players could rotate at tackle this season. Some of that could also be hooked into down and distance. Sophomore defensive end Broderick Binns might be in line for a role as a pass-rush specialist, shifting one of the ends — Christian Ballard or Adrian Clayborn — inside to tackle.
“Klug is more like King than any of them. He can flash and make a big play,” Parker said. “Daniels is a little smaller than Kroul, so we may have to do some more movement with those two guys. Kroul and King could sit in there and slug it out with you. These guys might have to bob and weave a little bit.”
Brinson was not an “under the radar” recruit. He was one of the jewels of the ’08 recruiting class, coming out of Northeast High School (St. Petersburg, Fla.) with 4,965 yards and 67 TDs in his four-year career.
He’s had some profile at Iowa. Last season, a bout with asthma knocked Brinson out of a running back race that included Shonn Greene and Jewel Hampton. Greene set the season rushing record. Hampton, now a sophomore, positioned himself nicely to be “the guy” for ’09.
Brinson, a 5-11, 215-pounder, will try to find a role. He could end up spelling Hampton, splitting time with Hampton for a 1-2 type of thing or he could be “the guy.”
“He had an opportunity last Saturday to perform in our scrimmage and did a pretty nice job,” O’Keefe said. “Jeff’s a big, strong guy still trying to feel his way through certain things from a system standpoint and the speed of what it’s like in Division I spring practice.
“He’s really shown some pretty nice things and has done a nice job. We’d like to see him to the next jump, over the next three days especially. I think he’s put himself in position to really improve.”