IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa spring football is nearly here with practice set to begin on Wednesday.
Helmets will be put on, pads will be popping and the Hawkeyes will look to build off of an 8-win season.
Here are 5 things to know before the drills start:
1. Nathan Stanley
Officially, it’s an open quarterback battle. Unofficially, it’s Nathan Stanley’s job to lose. The sophomore will start spring as the No. 1 quarterback.
He was anointed the heir apparent to C.J. Beathard after winning the backup spot behind Beathard in camp last season.
Instead of redshirting, Stanley spent the year as Beathard’s understudy, getting second-team reps. Stanley was 5 of 9 passing for 62 yards. Junior Tyler Wiegers and sophomore Drew Cook are also vying for the starting spot.
Stanley, though, is the odds-on favorite to start against Wyoming on Sept. 2. Stanley and his development will draw plenty of attention this spring.
2. What will the offense look like?
The Hawkeyes went through an offensive overhaul in the off-season. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis retired while wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy and running backs coach Chris White weren’t brought back.
Brian Ferentz was promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator and will also coach running backs. Ken O’Keefe returned to Iowa to coach the quarterbacks while Tim Polasek is the new offensive line coach and Kelton Copeland was hired as wide receivers coach.
What will Brian Ferentz’s offense look like? The zone rushing attack — the staple of the offense under head coach Kirk Ferentz — won’t be changed. The younger Ferentz is tasked with getting more production from a passing game that was 118th nationally, averaging 153.2 yards per game.
Iowa’s passing schemes will be big talking points in March and April. A few nuggets will likely be revealed in the coming weeks, but don’t expect Ferentz to diagram his passing playbook during a press conference, or for the Hawkeyes to show much during open scrimmages or the April 21 spring game.
3. Next man up
Defensively, Iowa returns starters at safety, linebacker and defensive end. Who will start at the open defensive tackle and two cornerback spots? The answers will start to emerge this spring.
Keep an eye on defensive tackle Cedric Lattimore. He’ll begin spring drills next to returning starter Nathan Bazata with the first-team defense. Lattimore added 35 pounds, bulking up to 295. As a true freshman, he made 1 tackle in limited action in 6 games. Brady Reiff and Garret Jensen are also in the mix to start.
The Hawkeyes lost both starting cornerbacks. Manny Rugamba, coming off season-ending shoulder injury, is likely to claim one spot after serving as the nickel back as a true freshman in 2016.
Michael Ojemudia and Joshua Jackson will vie for the second starting spot.
4. Who steps up at wide receiver?
The Hawkeyes need production at wideout. The spring is about finding who could be ready to start making an impact, especially after the Rivals report that returning starter Matt VandeBerg re-injured his foot and will miss spring.
There are a slew of potential options at wide receiver — Jerminic Smith, Devonte Young, Adrian Falconer and Ronald Nash are players to watch — and growth at the position will be a focus in the spring.
5. The spring game
Iowa is trying something different. The spring game will be on April 21, a Friday night, instead of a Saturday. The Hawkeyes are intrigued to see what kind of impact playing the contest under the lights will have.
Will fans enjoy it and show up? Will recruits flock to Kinnick Stadium and like the night game more than the traditional Saturday affair?
These are the questions that will dictate whether Iowa keeps its spring game on Friday night going forward.