IOWA CITY — Carl Davis hasn’t seen his billboard. He’s the guy in the helmet and eye black looking down at you on Eighth Avenue in Cedar Rapids. The 6-5, 315-pound senior defensive tackle in crouched in a three-point stance next to the phrase “Until the Game is Won.”
This is the 2014 Iowa Hawkeyes. It’s a team that has some name recognition. Along with Davis’ billboard, the athletics department put towering offensive lineman Brandon Scherff up with the phrase “Tickets!?” on I-380 south.
This is a team with faces you know. The Hawkeyes, a consensus cofavorite along with Wisconsin and Nebraska in the Big Ten West Division, also happen to be a team worth talking about.
“I went out to Aldi [in Iowa City] and this guy kept staring at me,” Davis said. “What’s this guy looking at? Then, I realized people are starting to see my face more. It was cool. I introduced myself and he said, ‘Yeah, I know who you are.’ Nice to meet you, man.”
As the conversation goes along with Davis, a second-team all-Big Ten pick by conference coaches last season, brings up a point that probably tells you why head coach Kirk Ferentz has been so talkative during this talking season.
“I feel like I’m just a guy, I don’t feel like I’ve done much,” Davis said. “All the preseason stuff, I don’t feel like I deserve it. Like coach Ferentz says, it’s fool’s gold.”
And there’s why Ferentz likes his team. The rest of the world sees Scherff, Davis and four returning starters on the D-line, quarterback Jake Rudock in his second season as starter and four healthy running backs. It sees a potential all-Big Ten cornerback in sophomore Desmond King. It sees what could be Iowa’s best wide receiver group during Ferentz’s 15-plus seasons.
The outside world sees a contender. Ferentz sees projects realized.
Scherff, Davis and a host of others (defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat began his career at 240 pounds and is now 290 and all-Big Ten caliber) started from scratch. Ferentz sees that mix of program players, fifth-year seniors and potential (let’s throw in wide receiver Derrick Willies here) and he likes what he sees.
And so, he’s happy to talk about this team. Well, as much as Ferentz can be happy to talk.
“This is, I would say, a record year for it, and we keep expanding our opportunities to talk,” Ferentz said during a Monday news conference. “It’s going to be fun to actually see what’s going on and what we can do.”
Iowa tends to get talked about when it has returning starters in the offensive and defensive lines. You know Scherff. The left offensive tackle is a returning first-team all-Big Ten performer and a bona fide Outland Trophy candidate. He could’ve been a first-round NFL draft pick last season and has a $1 million insurance policy going into his final year at Iowa.
There’s all that. Everyone has seen the video of Scherff hang cleaning 443 pounds three times. Here’s what Ferentz sees, “Brandon is kind of an infectious guy. He’s a guy who makes teams better, other players around him better. There’s a lot of value in that. There are a lot of good players, but not every player brings that part to the equation. There’s a lot of value in that when you’re trying to build a team.”
In Cedar Rapids, you’ve probably driven past Davis’ billboard. He and Trinca-Pasat give Iowa perhaps the best defensive tackle tandem in the Big Ten.
“If we do our part, the defense comes together and jells,” Trinca-Pasat said. “He’s a big body, he takes up blocks and helps everyone out.”
Trinca-Pasat had a very matter-of-fact air about him, and that’s actually a great place to depart.
The sum of what Iowa will be won’t be reached on media day. Some storylines worth following in the next three weeks:
— Rudock is the starting quarterback and “that’s not debatable,” Ferentz said. But Iowa will take a look at No. 2 C.J. Beathard and see if he can help them in games and not just mop-up time. It’s up to Beathard to wedge in there.
— The Iowa running back equation/ratio is something that will materialize and likely remain dynamic. Running backs coach Chris White said the position isn’t just something that comes with a pitch count.
— Who’s the kicker? Junior Marshall Koehn, a former Solon prep, is the front-runner. Then again, Ferentz said Monday he doesn’t know who his kicker will be (incoming freshmen Mick Ellis and Miguel Recinos are competing). Who’s the punter? Junior Connor Kornbrath and junior Dillon Kidd are in contention. Both expressed a mature approach to the competition Monday.
Reserve defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie negotiated media day wearing a Go-Pro mini-camera on his forehead. Later, a Des Moines TV crew strapped a Go-Pro on a football and played toss with Rudock. The talk Monday finally found its way to best hair, a heady competition between Beathard and right offensive tackle Andrew Donnal.
“We like to let the hair do the talking for us,” Donnal said with a laugh.
And with that, the most recognizable Iowa team in quite some time stopped talking and started practice on Monday night.
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