By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — You’ve got to hand it to Kirk Ferentz. He never loses that smile.
Even as he entered the Feller Club Room in Carver Hawkeye Arena for what was to be his 15th “Media Day” gathering with the assembled members of the statewide press.
Even after having his first losing season in six years and fourth in 14 years overall.
Even after losing the last six games of last year, leading fans to have more anxiety than enthusiasm going into this season.
No. Kirk Ferentz walked right into Iowa Football Media Day with that smile. That same soft-spoken, gentle greeting for the everyone that was waiting with a wide variety of questions.
You think last fall got this man down? You think he’s grown weary of answering those questions? His opening statement provided that answer.
“It’s great to get back on the field for us,” Ferentz said. “I think all coaches certainly that’s what they enjoy the most, and it’s great in that regard. We’ve had four practices now, and probably like most teams in a America we’ve got a lot of work to do. We realize that.
“I think we’ve had a positive summer. Certainly at the end of spring I felt like our team progressed. I thought we were a better team than we were back in November and now we’re back to it again and building up to it as we go.”
That seemed to be the theme of this year’s Iowa Football Media Day. While Ferentz took plenty of questions and provided answers for over half an hour on topics ranging from his three-man quarterback battle to the potential of having as many as five tight ends to choose from (including Mount Pleasant sophomore Henry Krieger-Coble), there still felt like plenty of questions need to be answered as the Hawkeyes prepare to hit the Kinnick Stadium gridiron for their opening game against Orange Bowl qualifier Northern Illinois and Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Jordan Lynch on Aug. 31.
But if you, the Hawkeye fan out there, think you’re anxious to see this Hawkeye team finally get on the field, that’s not nearly as anxious as Ferentz is himself to get a brand new season under way. Sitting on six-straight losses for nine months will do that to a football coach.
“I think any time it’s like losing a game on Saturday. The next Saturday usually doesn’t come soon enough,” Ferentz said. “I can’t imagine anybody was happy about last year, fans, anybody that follows the team, certainly people involved with the team that put a lot of hours into it. Again, it’s a simple adage: It’s a lot more fun when things are going the way you want them to go. That’s what happened, and the only thing you can do is try to do something about it, so certainly that’s where our focus has been.”
One look at Iowa’s current depth chart tells you all you need to know about the uncertainty that the Hawkeyes still have at several key positions. The chart is littered with “or” up and down the chart, including in the biggest position in the game.
At quarterback, Iowa has listed sophomore Jake Rudock at the top of the chart. OR junior Cody Sokol. OR redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard. Who’s job it will ultimately be when the clock hits 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 is one of several questions Ferentz tried to answer on Thursday.
“It’s early, and really there’s not (any movement at the position),” Ferentz said. “We have a three-horse race, and we’re going to let them compete.
“Guys are really feeling their way right now, and that’s what you’d expect. It was like that at the start of spring, as well, so anytime you jump into a new phase it’s just totally different than what they did in May, June and July.”
So no clear-cut passer of the football yet for Iowa. How about the clear-cut top pass catchers? Some would say that would be Kevonte Martin-Manley, the returning sophomore who had a breakout freshman season at wide receiver for the Hawkeyes.
Then there’s Mount Pleasant speedster Jordan Cotton. The senior is already on several preseason watch lists, including preseason first-team All-Big Ten, for his kick returning abilities, but is listed along with another sophomore, Jacob Hillyer, as the potential second wide receiver on the depth chart.
But neither of those two names who Ferentz mentioned as a player that appeared to be the one to step into that as the next two threats in the passing attack for the Hawks.
“Martin-Manley is our most experienced guy certainly outside and then Tevaun Smith moves up at the other position,” Ferentz said. “C.J. Fiedorowicz is part of the passing attack, too.”
Ah, yes. Fiedorowicz. The 6-7, 265-pound senior appears to be ready to continue the legacy of great tight end play at Iowa as the latest Hawkeye to earn a spot on the John Mackey Award Watch List.
After that, however, the position is a very open one for anyone else who wants to get on the field. Krieger-Coble caught a touchdown pass in a road loss at Michigan last year, one of the few Iowa passing scores throughout last fall, but is currently battling fellow sophomore Jake Duzey for the third tight end spot on the depth chart with junior Ray Hamilton listed ahead of both.
“I think right now we probably have five guys we’d be comfortable putting in a football game, and I can’t say that about any other position,” Ferentz said. “Certainly you never have a five deep, and it’s a little bit of a different position, but it’s almost like a two-and-a-half deep if you think about two of them on the field at once. We anticipated that. We saw that coming last year and felt pretty good about the way the group was developing.”
To say nothing about the discussion of an eight-man rotation on the defensive line or any potential of needing to be stocked up at running back, where Iowa has lost several players throughout the year. At least health-wise, the Hawkeyes appear completely ready to go with all the players they want suited up and ready to go for kickoff in 23 days.
It’s 23 days that can’t get here soon enough. Six straight losses, and nine months of stewing, is long enough for Hawkeye fans. Ferentz knows it full well.
“I think, especially when you experience disappointing things, and if you do anything it’s worth trying to do, that’s significant and hard to do, you’re going to have disappointing results,” Ferentz said. “It comes with the territory. Maybe somebody is going through life undefeated, coaches, people, whatever, but you’d better be able to deal with it, and if you can’t you probably should look into doing something else. I’m not really thinking about that right now. It’s just part of the deal.”
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