IOWA CITY - Iowa is operating from a position of rare strength at running back.
Not only do the Hawkeyes have a stable of capable backs, they're nearly all healthy heading into the summer.
Iowa took it easy on its three top backs- starters Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri and third-down back Damon Bullock - and as a result they should all be fresh for fall camp in three months. The Hawkeyes gave many of the carries those backs would have normally gotten to a host of youngsters, including LeShun Daniels, Jonathan Parker and Barkley Hill.
"I think Damon is better now than he was at the start of practice. I think Jordan had a good spring and LeShun continues to move and those three young guys are doing some good things," Ferentz said.
Here are five takeaways from Iowa's spring camp, which concluded on Saturday.
RUDOCK'S THE ONE
Though sophomore C.J. Beathard was given plenty of practice reps over the past month, junior Jake Rudock re-affirmed his grip on the starting quarterback job with an impressive spring. Rudock's experience from last season and his superior knowledge of Iowa offense helped him hold off Beathard, who has impressed the coaching staff with his arm strength and mobility. Though there's talk that Iowa could find ways to utilize Beathard's athleticism next fall, Rudock will enter the fall as the clear No. 1.
"You kind of have a better feel when you come to the line, certain movements that the defense is doing, you kind of see it a little bit sooner than you would have previously. Having that game experience definitely does help," Rudock said.
The biggest addition the Hawkeyes made to their 2014 roster came when offensive tackle Brandon Scherff - widely considered a future first-round pick in the NFL Draft - decided to return for his senior season. The presence of Scherff will help the Hawkeyes compensate for the loss of Brett Van Sloten and Conor Boffeli and help protect Rudock's blind side. Scherff talked at length about how he and his fellow seniors have the opportunity to lead Iowa. That was something that played into his decision to return for one more year. "I wanted to come back and improve in all the football aspects but also improve my leadership role," Scherff said.
One of the biggest reasons why Iowa doubled its win total form 4 to 8 in 2013 was that offensive coordinator Greg Davis and defensive coordinator Phil Parker were no longer new on the job. Now each in their third seasons as Ferentz's top assistants, Davis, Parker and their staffs are much more comfortable with each other and their players. According to Scherff, the offense is operating more efficiently under Davis. "He's doing a heck of a job with us," Scherff said. "We're changing some things so we can play faster. Instead of looking over to the sidelines we just hold a number up and we go. So we have to get used to playing that way. It's a good thing we have all summer to do that."
One of the stars of Iowa's spring workouts was middle linebacker Quinton Alston - a player the Hawkeyes need to step up next fall. Alston, a senior who played behind James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens last season, has been praised for his work ethic, leadership and knowledge of the defense in preparation for his first and only seasons as Iowa's starting middle linebacker.
The buzz of the Iowa spring game came from wide receiver Derrick Willies. The sophomore had two catches of over 40 yards. The first was on a seam route when sophomore split defensive backs Anthony Gair and Greg Mabin on a pass from Beathard for a touchdown. Willies grabbed an array of catches, but the one that impressed Ferentz the most was early in the game. The 6-foot-4 wide out corralled a pass on an out route towards the sideline and dragged his toe before falling out of bounds for a first down. "Today was (Willies') best day," Ferentz said. "Now we have to corral him because he'll be the spring game sensation. But really, he did some good things."