Posted: Tuesday March 22, 2005 5:33PM; Updated: Tuesday March 22, 2005 5:59PM
Head coach Kirk Ferentz has something he never had in his first six seasons at Iowa: a top-10 recruiting class.
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- Finding four new defensive linemen and improving the running game will be the Hawkeyes' two main focus areas during spring practice, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.
The Hawkeye coaching staff will concentrate on filling big holes on the Iowa front four now that last year's seniors Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux, Derreck Robinson and Tyler Luebke are gone from the team.
Experienced players should improve the running game, Ferentz said, adding that he wants to avoid a repeat of last season when Iowa's rushing offense finished 116 among 117 Division I teams.
"A balanced offense will make Drew Tate a more effective and dangerous quarterback," Ferentz said. "If he can lean on a good, consistent running game, that'll be a real plus for us."
Marques Simmons is listed the number one running back on the spring depth chart, followed by Sam Brownlee and Damian Sims.
Marcus Schnoor and Albert Young are still rehabilitating injuries from last season and will sit out spring practice. Tom Busch is expected to start at fullback.
The process of finding replacements on the defensive line began in December during Iowa's preparations for the Capital One Bowl against LSU, Ferentz said.
"We had a pretty good idea of what our starting front four could do, so we gave the young guys extensive work," he said. "It's a little bit like our offensive line situation in 2003 when we had all those guys graduate."
Kenny Iwebema and Bryan Mattison got some playing time at defensive end and are expected to start this season. George Eshareturi and Matt Kroul are listed as the top two defensive tackles.
Ferentz said as many as six to eight players, including some freshmen, may rotate on the defensive line this fall.
Iowa should be solid at linebacker with the return of seniors Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway, although Greenway will not participate in spring drills after injuring an abdominal muscle against Wisconsin last season.
In the secondary, Sean Considine is gone, but Antwan Allen, Jovon Johnson and Miguel Merrick return.
Wide receiver should be another strong spot for the Hawkeyes. Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon return, and Calvin Davis and Matt Melloy will again see significant playing time.
Ryan Majerus, Scott Chandler and C.J. Barkema return at tight end.
Ferentz said spring practice will be an opportunity for the offensive line to improve and become a more cohesive unit. Mike Elgin returns at center, Brian Ferentz and David Walker lead the spring depth chart at guard and Mike Jones and Lee Gray are expected to start at tackle.
Kyle Schlicher will again be Iowa's kicker. John Gallery and Andy Fenstermaker are competing for the job of number one punter.
With the dramatic New Year's Day win over LSU behind them and a new season ahead, Ferentz said his players have a good attitude for spring practice. He said he isn't worried they'll be over confident.
"We're never going to be in a situation where we can just go out and lineup and expect to have a chance without doing all the necessary preparation" he said. "I think we've got enough guys that have played enough good, winning football that understand that."