Spring Football 2017 (part three)
This is the third part of a series of breaking down Iowa Hawkeye football.
I’ve covered the offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers and fullbacks.
This week I’ll look at quarterbacks, running backs and the defensive line.
Iowa loses two-year starter C.J. Beathard, who will go down as one of the top quarterbacks ever to play at Iowa.
C.J. started 28 games for the Hawkeyes and won 21.
Beathard had a great career, but you could wonder how much better he could have been if he hadn’t been injured.
C.J. started the 2015 season, which would see Iowa go 12-0 during the regular season, with mobility and a great arm.
The former Tennessee prep had two big running plays (57 and 44 yards) against Iowa State in the second game which helped the Hawks beat the ‘Clones, 31-17.
He hurt his leg against Pittsburgh and played the rest of the season with the injury.
C.J. finished the season ranked fourth all-time in total offense (3,046 yards) in a single season and tied for fifth in completions (223). He completed 62 percent of his passes, threw 17 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Last season, C.J. was never 100 percent and his numbers dropped to 56 percent completions, 17 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
This spring, the Hawkeyes have two players battling for the starting job… sophomore Nathan Stanley (6-5, 235 pounds) and junior Tyler Wiegers (6-4, 225).
Nathan is listed as the No. 1 quarterback after playing in seven games last season as a true freshman.
The last Iowa quarterback to play as a true freshman was Drew Tate in 2003.
When Drew was a sophomore in 2004, he helped lead the Hawks to a co-Big Ten title and was named the offensive player of the year in the Big Ten.
The first thing you notice about Nathan is his size.
Last year as a true freshman, Nathan was listed at 6-5, 212.
Twenty-three more pounds make Nate an imposing figure.
Nathan was a four-year letterman in high school in Wisconsin.
He was also a four-year starter in basketball and baseball, and grew up in a football family as his dad was one of his coaches.
Junior Tyler Wiegers (6-4, 225) has had a good spring and could give Nathan some competition.
Tyler played in four games as a redshirt freshman in 2015 when Iowa started 12-0.
Tyler was first-team all-state as a junior and senior in Orion, Michigan.
It will be interesting to see what Drew Cook (6-5, 235) does.
Drew, who put on 15 pounds since his freshman season, is listed as the third quarterback on the depth chart.
Drew has too much ability to be sitting on the bench and if he doesn’t crack the two-deep at quarterback, would he maybe move to tight end?
Drew’s dad Marv wasn’t too bad of a tight end when he played for the Hawkeyes.
Marv was a two-time first-team All-Big Ten performer at tight end (1987-88) and was a consensus All-American in 1988. Marv played seven years in the NFL and was All-Pro twice.
Peyton Mansell (6-3, 210) will be on campus this summer.
Peyton completed 70 percent of his passes his senior year at Belton, Texas.
He passed for 2,526 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior.
Peyton also ran for 1,134 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.
I like his size coming in and it looks like he will be a mobile quarterback that can tuck it and run if the pass play breaks down.
Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie were a solid one-two combo at defensive tackle.
Who could forget Jaleel’s safety against Michigan that turned the game around?
Jaleel was first-team All-Big Ten and should have a shot at the pros.
Faith also had a solid senior season and had a huge fumble recovery against Wisconsin, as a junior, on Iowa’s goal line that helped seal the win in 2015.
Both were four star recruits and both were great at stopping the run.
Iowa has four defensive linemen back with starting experience.
It all starts with the Nelson boys, Matt (6-8, 285) and Anthony (6-7, 260). They are not related, but bring the kind of size you can’t coach because Chris Doyle, one of the best strength coaches in America, can’t make a player taller.
Matt, who will be a junior, started all 13 games at defensive end and was Academic All-Big Ten for the second straight year.
Anthony played in all 13 games last fall as a redshirt freshman.
He was also Academic All-Big Ten and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week following the 45-21 win over Miami (Ohio).
Junior Parker Hesse (6-3, 257) had 12 starts last season at d-end.
Parker is an Academic All-Big Ten for the second year in a row. He was awarded the Team Hustle Award on defense, provides leadership in the d-line, had four sacks and eight tackles for a loss last season.
Parker, as a redshirt freshman, had a big 4-yard interception that went in for a score against Nebraska in 2015. That helped the Hawks beat the Huskers, 28-20.
Nathan Bazata (6-2, 287) is back for his senior season.
Nathan was Academic All-Big Ten as well as Honorable Mention All Big Ten.
The former Nebraska prep played in all 13 games last fall with 10 starts.
Nate started in all 14 games in 2015 and was also Academic All-Big Ten.
Backup defensive ends include junior Sam Brincks (6-5, 270), who played in 13 games last year.
Backup defensive tackles include sophomore Brady Reiff (6-3, 260) and senior Jake Hulett (6-3, 289).
Brady is a little undersized, but coach Kirk Ferentz said he has a little Matt Kroul and Mitch King in him. Both were undersized when they started playing for the Hawkeyes but both became solid tackles with great technique and pad level.
Mitch was listed at 264 pounds as a sophomore and played about 280 as a senior.
In 2008, Mitch was named the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and first team All American by ESPN.
Iowa is bringing in one of the top recruits in the nation on the defensive line when A.J. Epenesa (6-5, 270) arrives in Iowa City this June.
A.J. is rated the No. 1 defensive end in the nation. He could have picked any school in the country to play for, but he grew up a Hawkeye fan, partly because his father Epy played for Hayden Fry in 1997.
Reese Morgan, who coaches the defensive line said A.J. is a throwback and everything you want in a football player.
A.J. is big and strong enough to play in any position on the defensive line which will give the Hawks some flexibility.
Iowa’s spring game is Friday, April 21.
I’m not a fan of Friday night scrimmages or Friday night games but I will be there and will be interested in seeing the new players in the mix.
Last week I talked about how Jerminic Smith could be a break-out receiver, then we found out that he was being held out of spring practice so he can get his grades and classes in order.
Hopefully he will be back this summer or next fall.
Next week I’ll finish off the spring preview with linebackers, defensive backs and special teams.
The Iowa linebackers might be the strongest group (along with the offensive line) while the defensive backs might be the weakest (along with wide receivers), especially since safety Brandon Snyder went out with a torn ACL.