As promised, here’s the QCI 2008 Hawkeye Football preview by our Hawkeye Correspondent, Howard Jones. Have at it Howie….

Welcome QCI-ders to the first annual QCI Hawkeye Football Preview! A huge shout out to G$ for his brilliant addition to the blogosphere and his invitation to write a guest blog on my favorite subject: Iowa Football. Up first: the Iowa offense.

Much blood has been spilled on the issue of the 2007 Iowa offense and it’s, well, offensiveness. The only consistent, reliable player that suited up for the Hawks last year was the criminally underappreciated and underrated Albert Young (see Michigan State) and running back is the only position where no starter is returning. The O-Line was young and inexperienced. The receivers were injured and their replacements didn’t know the offense well enough. The quarterback, well, everything has been said about the quarterback. Let’s go ahead and break this down position by position. And because no football game is complete with out the cliché that it all starts up front, let’s start… up front.

O-Line –
Iowa has the tools to put together an impressive offensive line in 2008. Let’s take a quick look at some of the pedigree on the line.
Seth Olsen – Parade All-American and generally agreed to be the best offensive lineman on the roster, the only Sr. on the line and a 3 year starter.
Rafael Eubanks – An all everything center from MN football powerhouse Cretin-Durham high school. A 2 year starter
Dan Doering – Army All-American, offers from every major FB program in the country coming out of high school and yet only a part-time player last year as a sophomore. Dinged by injuries so far.
Bryan Bulaga – A combination of all of the above.

That is a pretty solid list of talent coming out of high school. However, for some reason they have been unable to live up to their lofty expectations. Bear in mind gentle reader that Iowa’s best lineman since Alex Karras (Webster!) was the brother of an old Hawkeye punter who had only one other scholarship offer. So, high school pedigree doesn’t always matter. The other 6 guys on the radar screen for the offensive line:
Kyle Calloway
Rob Bruggeman
Travis Meade
Julian Vandervelde
Andy Keumple
Wes Aeschelman

The offensive line gave up a league worst 46 sacks last year. That is not all on their shoulders in some cases the receivers ran the wrong routes and that led the QB holding onto the ball too long. In other cases the QB just held onto the ball too long. However, they were still plenty of blown assignments and ineffectiveness going on in that unit. My only demand is that Travis Meade not see the field unless there is a rash of injuries so severe The Lug has to call Iowa City a disaster area… again.

Reason for hope:
I recall the dark days of the Fry-Ferentz transition… these were the 1-11 and 3-9 seasons where the game would be out of hand by the 2nd quarter. Those dark days put together the most dominant offensive line in my memory in 2002 because the guys on that line had a lot of game experience by the time they were seniors. I’m not saying this line will be as good as the 2002 line but the top 6-8 lineman saw a lot of snaps last year and they have the size and skill to make a big step forward from last year’s debacle.

WR and TE –
The loss of Brodell – break out games against Minnesota and Texas in 2006; Stross – reportedly the receiver that has the best chemistry with Jake; Moeaki – again a candidate for best TE in college football; and Douglas – lead the conference in catches by a freshman – made the receiving core an inexperienced and sometimes just plain bad group to watch. The wrong routes, the drops, the missed blocks, it was like watching Chet Culver get through a July 4th parade without having a 20-year-old Grinnell student spraying down him with a hose.

However, just like the offensive line these guys learned and received valuable game experience in 2007. With Stross, Brodell and Moeaki back and the emergence of the Internet Legend DJK look for the hawks to be in plenty of 3 wide receiver sets with weapons all around for the QB to utilize. This group should be everything last years wasn’t – competent, experienced and successful.

No review of the WR and TE would be complete without mentioning the addition of Erik Campbell as WR coach. Campbell replaces the retiring Carl Jackson at RB coach (former WR coach Lester Erb moved to RB coach). His addition to the staff has been met with a nearly disconcerting level praise from recruits and from current Hawkeye receivers. If the Hawkeye receivers listen to their instruction they should have the tools necessary to be difference makers on the field this year where they were not in 2007.

Wildcard: Injuries
With the startling level of attrition at this position – Cleveland, Douglas, Bowman all thugs who are no longer with the team – this position, once an area of depth is now pretty thin. If the rash of injuries happens again in 2008 there will be more problems at the receiver position. The one exception to this is TE where Brandon Myers and Allen Reisner provide a pretty solid set of back-ups. How punishingly ironic is it that since I first wrote this both Stross and Moeaki have gone down with injuries in the pre-season…dang!

Running backs
My awkward love for Albert Young aside, I’m not sure I can remember a time when the Iowa RB depth chart has been so thin. I always commented in 2007 that you know the team is thin when Paki O’Meara is making special teams plays. Now Paki O’Meara is our starting running back. Be afraid, be very afraid. However, if the hawks can win the Capitol One Bowl with Sam Brownlee starting at RB then anything is possible. Look for Shonn Green to step in no later than the ISU game and be the full time starter and carry a bulk of the load. A couple of incoming freshmen with gaudy HS stats also join the Hawks this fall. Jewel Hampton out of a powerhouse school in Indiana and Jeff Brinson from Florida, who at one time during last year had offers from both Florida and FSU but spurned them both for our beloved Hawkeyes. To sum: the talent is there, it’s just young or rusty.

Fred Russell was a great and dynamic running back. However, he had some pretty decent holes to run through during that 2002 campaign. I’m not saying that RB don’t matter, what I am saying is that the O-line play is likely more responsible for the success of the running game than a difference between a ‘B-‘ running back and a ‘A+’ running back.

If I have to talk about the QB position I will; but only because G$ made me. Everyone is down on Jake because he had a rough season last year. However, the entire offense’s woes last season were far from a one position problem. I think with the improvement of the players around him Jake will be better and I look for him to be the starter and remain the starter all year.

If Jake starts to fall apart and the wheels come off, I’m not confident that the team can keep it together during a QB change. Nothing against Stanzi but there has been too much turmoil and too many crises for this team to endure another one during the season at the most important position on the field.

Final Thoughts:
After more than a thousand words I’m sure you never thought you’d read that sub-header… Here are my bold predictions for the 2008 Iowa offense:

1. You will see a dramatic reduction in the role of the fullback. You will see I didn’t even mention the FB in the RB section and that was for a reason. I think Ferentz and O-Keefe are phasing out the heavy involvement of the FB in this offense. I believe they will be running a lot more two tight ends, two wide receiver sets, especially if Moeaki can get/stay healthy.

2. I think we’ll also see a lot more WR sets. With Brodell, Stross and DJK the Hawks can put a pretty solid WR core out there and should cause some serious match up problems with DJK on a safety or a linebacker.

3. This offense will average more than 21 points/game if they can stay reasonably healthy. I believe what the head coach says when he continually states that game experience is the most valuable thing a player can have to improve his play in the future. And we saw a lot of ‘experience gaining’ last year on offense for sure. Here’s to progress!

Great work Mr. Jones! Alright Hawk fans, forget all that crap this off season, and focus. Here's a nice little video you'll want to crank up. With bonus Hayden Fry interview...