Tracking Change is the Game this Spring

By Marc Morehouse, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa — You'll be able to create a drinking game out of Hawkeyes fans looking for changes in the offense and defense this fall.

The Hawkeyes did split out a tight end and send a running back in motion during a two-minute drill in practice Wednesday. Not drastically different, but not the usual. The offense worked at a quick pace. The defense walked through a few blitz calls, but it was just the third practice of the spring and the first in full gear.

New offensive coordinator Greg Davis wore shorts. First-year defensive coordinator Phil Parker was perpetual motion.

So, depending on the rules for your particular Hawkeye change game, drink.

You didn't have to look far for change on the Iowa staff. Eric Johnson, who's coached tight ends on and off since 2003, will focus on recruiting coordinator, a position he's held since 2003, and will assist with the defensive line. David Raih, a third-year graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes, will take over tight ends.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said the "speed of recruiting" has accelerated in recent years and he wants Johnson, who's been on Ferentz's staff at Iowa since the beginning in 1999, to focus on that aspect, essentially becoming Iowa's director of personnel. Johnson will be able to watch more player video, do more evaluating and keep track of the social media trail many recruits leave.

Ferentz isn't sweating early commitments that are piling up across the country right now. He favors thorough.

"There are a lot of prospects out there right now, a lot of players who haven't been offered scholarships who feel like, boy, what have I done wrong," Ferentz said. "That's just a culture we've created in college football right now. It's hardly the case.

"I mentioned Karl Klug (former Iowa defensive tackle who went from one scholarship offer to the NFL). Our quarterbacks, [James] Vandenberg and [Ricky] Stanzi didn't get offered until their senior years. I'd say half our roster is made up of players who were offered during or after their senior years."

Again, if this were a drinking game, this next change might put you on the floor.

Defensive backs coach Darrell Wilson said the terminology and systems of Iowa's defense will remain the same, but Iowa is looking hard at man-to-man press coverage. Iowa played press more last season than it maybe ever did under former defensive coordinator Norm Parker. Next season, Iowa will have a third-year starter in Micah Hyde at one corner and promising junior B.J. Lowery at the other, so they might be able to handle the physical nature of press technique.

"They like it," Wilson said. "I'm a firm believer in teaching them every technique and letting them play the technique they feel most comfortable with."

The favored coverage in 13 seasons under Norm Parker was zone, which called for the corners to line up 6 to 8 yards off receivers. This is called the "cushion."

"We feel with the talent we have, we can close that cushion down and that's something we've been working on in the winter and right now during spring practice," Wilson said. "We've talked about aligning a little closer. Trust the technique; trust yourselves.

"That's what we talk about: Trust yourselves, trust your ability and we'll teach you technique, but trust yourselves. If they can do that, we'll be fine."

Hyde cautioned that it won't be all press coverage, which is what NFL scouts want to see out of college cornerbacks. He sees the possible benefits. It would allow extra bodies to play closer to the line of scrimmage, where Iowa might be vulnerable next season with several redshirt freshmen in the two deeps on the D-line.

"It's just one-on-one, when you can get a corner up in the receiver's face," said Hyde, who has seven career interceptions. "You can put more people in the box. The safeties and linebackers are free. We've definitely been trying to incorporate that."

That would qualify as change.

First-year linebackers coach LeVar Woods will help on special teams, taking over punt return and helping Wilson, also co-special teams coach, with field goal units. The first depth chart change — and Ferentz called depth charts "a starting point, nothing more than that, especially with a young team" — was senior Joe Gaglione moving to defensive end and redshirt freshman Dean Tsopanides taking his spot at No. 2 tackle.

The nerve centers of Iowa's offense and defense said Wednesday their jobs haven't really changed. Vandenberg did joke that it was only practice No. 3 and the zone read, the play Davis called Vince Young to run during a national title season at Texas in '06, might still be coming.

"I think coach Davis said it best when he said we're not reinventing the wheel, we're just doing it a little different," said Vandenberg, citing changes in formations, protections and pass combinations. "It just keeps everyone on their toes."

Other than his new mustache, junior middle linebacker James Morris said "everything is the same stuff."

"I think that's going to have more to do with our schedule and our season and what offenses are throwing at us," Morris said. "Our defense is very much a reactive defense. 'Bend don't break' is a phrase a lot of people like to use. As far as my assignments changing, that will go week to week."

"Bend don't break," that's what will keep you drinking.
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