By Stephen McDonald
With two new co-coordinators and two new playbooks for the first time in 13 years, Hawkeye fans were excited to see what the Hawkeyes would look like in this year’s spring game. Generally, they weren’t disappointed. The Hawkeyes showed new looks on both offense and defense. Even showing blitz packages, and running no-huddle splits on offense, contrary to the style for Iowa over Coach Ferentz’s tenure.
Quarterback James Vandenberg looked impressive routinely hitting his receivers in stride. He also did a great job of hustling his team up to the line and getting the play to his line-man and receivers in the hurry-up. The inclusion of the no-huddle into the Hawkeye offense was an obvious change to last year’s spring game. Even when the Hawks would use the no-huddle during the season, it was so awkward and predictable that fans, much less opposing defenses, knew what play was coming next. Also, the Hawkeyes showed the ability to change formations in between plays without huddling, a huge upgrade in the offensive versatility. Whether these plays were scripted, or the result of an at-the-line audible, it was refreshing to see the Iowa offense move into the 21st century. There is a lot of excitement with Vandenberg with the reigns in his hands, a year older, and more experienced, in an offense that should play to his strengths.
The defense was not without obvious changes itself. Showing a new willingness to blitz line-backers and safeties, the Iowa defense looked more aggressive than it has in previous seasons. A perfect example of this came early in the scrimmage. During a no-huddle set, a defensive back was covering a slot receiver, shifted away from his man and took advantage of the lack of Tight End help, blitzing around the edge and getting to Vandenberg easily. With a young defensive line, it will be very important for the line-backers and safeties to get pressure on their blitzes. Christian Kirksey and James Morris will look to continue their success that bloomed in 2011, with the help of Anthony Hitchens who will hope to make an impact immediately.
There was a new sense of excitement around this years spring game, and it showed. As lots of people made their way out to Kinnick Stadium on a Saturday afternoon, eager to see the new playbooks and maybe get a look at the two new lieutenants. It was a fun game to play in the stands trying to guess where Greg Davis was, what Phil Parker was saying to his players, and just who was playing running back, with Jordan Canzeri absent for the season after an ACL injury. Looking around at the field, seeing the players shuttle in and out, and coaches shout things out to their position groups, it was obvious that this was a glorified practice. It is hard to take anything substantive from this, but it’s noticeable that for the first time in 13 years, change is coming to Iowa football.
Just how much change remains to be seen. But seeing 4 and 5 receivers on the field at a time, and linebackers blitzing on back-to-back plays, even casual fans could see that this is a new Iowa Hawkeye Football team. But rest assured Iowa fans. These are not completely uncharted waters. All the no-huddles, and all the blitzes, were overlooked by a gray-haired man in a hoodie, stoically chewing gum, just off to the side.