Posted by: marcmwm | July 22, 2008

Big Ten meetings . . . and so it begins

Coach Kirk Ferentz has three media engagements on Thursday, the first day of the Big Ten Conference’s preseason football meetings. On Friday, the embattled coach will sit at a table and talk with every reporter in Big Ten country and beyond.

We’ll see what happens.

Here’s tomorrow’s story right now:

Ready or not, and a lot of you probably aren’t, Iowa football enters the football portion of its season with Big Ten Conference’s preseason football meetings Thursday and Friday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

It’s not exactly football, but it is the first stage in a monthlong march of football talk that will crescendo with the season opener, Aug. 30 against Maine at Kinnick Stadium.

Coach Kirk Ferentz likely won’t say much about the latest developments in the sexual assault case that has enveloped the football program since last November.

University officials have stuck to the UI’s previously issued statement that read in part: “The safety and well-being of the student has always been at the forefront of our concern. Each step of the way everyone involved with the University worked in accordance with University policy and procedures and attempted to convey those policies and procedures to the student and her family.”

At 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Ferentz, who’s entering his 10th season as Iowa’s head coach, will talk to TV and print reporters for 15 minutes. Later Thursday, he[‘]ll be available to TV stations for nearly two hours. At 8 a.m. Friday, he’ll sit at a table and be available to every reporter in the Big Ten region and beyond.

That’d be a lot of “previously issued statement.”

Ferentz might actually field a few football questions about the Iowa football team. Whether they’re timely or relevant is up for debate, but football season and practices and games are coming.

Ready or not.

What about Jake?: Quarterback Jake Christensen was a favorite fan target much of last season. His TD-interception ratio (17 to 6) didn’t do much for fans. His 53.5 completion percentage (lowest among Big Ten starters) and his inaccuracy (the miss to Tom Busch at Northwestern has taken on legendary proportions on the Internet) at least technically opened the position during spring practice in March.

According to HawkeyeReport.com, reserve Ricky Stanzi suffered a shoulder injury recently, so “open” and “competition” might be pipe dreams at Iowa’s quarterback position.

In March, instead of partying up on spring break, Christensen spent time at former NFL quarterback Steve DeBerg’s quarterbacks camp in Florida.

And the offensive line?: The root of Iowa’s offensive problems last season centered around its offensive line. That unit, studded with underclassmen last season, was called “brutally awful” by one Big Ten Network analyst during a preseason show that has been running on the network since July.

The O-line did allow a Big Ten-worst 46 sacks last season, while the running game had another Big Ten-low at 3.5 yards a carry. That was with two senior running backs.

“Brutally awful” seems like a harsh assessment, but the offensive output backs it up.
The idea is that this unit has more bodies and, presumably, more competition than any other unit on the team. Senior Seth Olsen is a lock at a guard spot. Sophomore Bryan Bulaga is going to get a look at tackle after starting as a true freshman at guard last season. Senior Rob Bruggeman, who missed 99 percent of ’07 after suffering a torn ACL in spring, is a pretty good bet, as is junior Rafael Eubanks. Junior Kyle Calloway, who started all season at left tackle, has the best resume for the right tackle spot.

Don’t count out juniors Andy Kuempel and Dan Doering, sophomore Julian Vandervelde and junior Travis Meade.

Running back?: There’s no need to spend a lot of time on this one. Sophomore walk-on Paki O’Meara sat No. 1 on the depth chart after spring drills. Junior college-transfer Nate Guillory and true freshmen Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton will factor. Junior Shonn Greene also returns from his academic hiatus.

Thirty-five or more carries a game are on the table. The distribution is up in the air.

Leaders?: It’s apparent Iowa has had difficulty with this concept going back the last three seasons.

Going into the first steps of 2008, they need it now more than ever.

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