With Iowa’s spring practices drawing to a close with a public open practice and scrimmage slated for Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium, now seems like a good time to focus on some players that are looking to leave a good impression with the coaching staff prior to the end of the school year.
Damon Bullock has rocketed up the Iowa depth chart - just not the way he or most Hawkeye fans would have liked.
Here are five players on the offensive side of the ball worth watching as the final week of spring practices get under way in Iowa City. You won’t see guys like James Vandenberg on this list because most everyone knows what the starting quarterback brings to the fold. These are players who perhaps haven’t had their big break yet as a Hawkeye or may be getting it now and are looking to make the most of it.
Running back Damon Bullock
Raise your hand if you saw this one coming? Bullock sits atop the depth chart at running back in his first spring practices with the Hawkeyes following a myriad of injuries and defections that seemingly have plagued the Iowa program throughout Kirk Ferentz’s tenure.
Bullock wasn’t in Iowa City at this time last spring and when fall camp closed he was listed as a wide receiver. Only after an injury to Mika’il McCall and with Marcus Coker still on the mend did the freshman move back to running back. With the news that Jordan Canzeri injured his ACL and will likely be out for the majority – if not all – of 2012, Bullock becomes a man of interest for Hawk fans everywhere this spring.
Buloock rushed for more than 1,600 yards during his senior season of high school but has just 10 attempts for 20 yards in 2011 while stuck behind the likes of Coker (transfer), Canzeri (inury) and McCall (transfer) on the depth chart.
“Damon is really demonstrating to be a versatile athlete,” Iowa running backs coach Lester Erb said recently. “He has great vision, real good balance, can really catch the ball out of the backfield well, and he's a little bit faster than people give him credit for. He's kind of more of a slasher. He's not going to be a true downhill, punishing runner, but he does have some toughness and he has demonstrated he can lower his pads.”
Quarterback Jake Rudock
John Wienke’s move on the depth chart from co-backup quarterback last year to punter this spring signals the emergence of Rudock as the team’s No. 1 option behind Vandenberg.
“He'll be in the thick of things,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think it's going to be tough for anybody to beat James out. If they can do it, great.”
We haven’t seen Rudock in game action at all since he redshirted all of 2011 but it’s well known the Iowa staff is high on the Florida product. Rudock won a slew of awards while prepping at St. Thomas Aquinas High, including South Florida Player of the Year. He fits the Iowa mold perfectly – a pro-style quarterback with a strong arm and good decision-making skills.
Right tackle Brett Van Sloten
The likely starter at right tackle for the Hawkeyes this fall, the 6-7, 292 pound junior entered the starting lineup at the Insight Bowl last December when Markus Zusevics fell ill the week of the game. It looks like Van Sloten will have first crack at holding down the job this spring and fall as the Hawks look to replace Zusevics, Riley Reiff and Adam Gettis on an offense that ranked dead last in the Big Ten in rushing a year ago.
Left tackle Brandon Scherff
Another intriguing newcomer, at least to the first-string, is Scherff. He’s listed as a co-starter at the position along with Andrew Donnal. Scherff has the upper hand here due to three starts last season and should break camp as the No. 1 option on the depth chart followed by Donnal.
Wide receiver Jacob Hillyer
The Hawks are going to need multiple targets for Vandenberg this fall without Marvin McNutt in the fold. It’s hard to believe this will be the second straight year the program is tasked with replacing the school’s all-time leading receiver but that’s the case as Iowa moves forward post-McNutt.
Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley are the top two targets and receivers coach Erik Campbell said he likes how Martin-Manley is emerging as a threat this spring. But you need to go more than two-deep at receiver in the Big Ten and that’s where the question marks arise. Hillyer and Don Shumpert are the likely candidates to emerge as the No. 3 receiver along with senior Steven Staggs. Hillyer offers the most intrigue though. The redshirt freshman was a first-team all-state player as a prep in Texas.
“He's still learning as a receiver,” Cambell said. “He’s a freshman. It's his first spring. He doesn't know what it's all about, the competition level, competing every day. He's not on the scout team anymore. He's on the team where he's being looked at in those situations.”