Camp Central: UI offense takes flight during scrimmage
Aug. 12, 2008
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The overall team depth of the University of Iowa football team showed its offensive side during the first scrimmage of fall camp this morning inside Kinnick Stadium.
Preseason practice No. 11 for the Hawkeyes included several spectacular plays from players who are not only making an impact on the depth chart, but may soon become household names. Wide receiver Paul Chaney, Jr., made a remarkable touchdown catch during a two-minute drill. Tight end Allen Reisner hauled in a diving reception in the end zone for another score. Then there was walk-on Steve Staggs from Oskaloosa, who concluded the scrimmage with a nice grab in traffic before he absorbed a big hit but held onto the ball.
"Colin Sandeman had a nice day and Andy Brodell made some nice catches as well," said UI offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe following the scrimmage. "Sandeman has really been coming on strong and competing extremely hard the last four practices or so. We have a lot of good competition at the X position with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Colin at this stage. Brodell is a veteran guy and knows what he's doing -- he made the catches that came his way today which he needs to do. The tight ends -- Brandon Myers and Allen Reisner -- showed up and made some big plays as well today. Chaney did a nice job and he's starting to play full speed. Some of the young guys who are making plays at the wide receiver position -- Steve Staggs had a nice play at the end of practice, Nick Kuchel has really been competing hard, Ben Evans -- those guys have all been pushing for their chances to show what they can do when the ball is thrown their way."
O'Keefe said he was pleased with the tempo from both offensive units during the scrimmage and he was also impressed with how physical the "three's" played during what he phrased "a lot more work than they normally do at this point in time."
The Hawkeyes recognize that the offensive production -- or lack thereof -- from the 2007 season cannot be duplicated if a return to prominence is expected this fall. Last season in the Big Ten statistics, Iowa was 10th in pass offense (190.1 yards per game) and rushing offense (126.2) and 11th in scoring offense (18.5 points per game), total offense (316.3 yards per game), passing efficiency (115.1) and first downs (203). The Hawkeyes averaged more than a touchdown less per game than No. 10 Northwestern in the scoring offense category and collected 56 fewer first downs than No. 10 Minnesota.
"The No. 1 step we're taking is something we call practice," O'Keefe said. "We still use it and do it the old-fashioned way. Our guys have been practicing hard, working on fundamentals and technique to use at their position to be efficient players. We've been focused on the fundamental aspects of things and a lot of that showed up on the field this afternoon."
Another strong suit that appeared during the scrimmage was a powerful ground game. The running back position was a primary question mark for the offense because of the loss of Albert Young, Damian Sims and Tom Busch. Shonn Greene found the end zone twice during Tuesday's scrimmage and one of the most productive practices was turned in by freshman Adam Robinson, a high school teammate of defensive back Jordan Bernstine at Des Moines Lincoln.
"Paki O'Meara and Jayme Murphy have done a great job," O'Keefe said. "Shonn Greene gave us a little boost today. Everyone ran hard and I thought our offensive line did a great job getting some push up front and our backs didn't mess around and got the extra yards. (Coach) Lester Erb has been doing a great job with those guys, especially the young guys like Jewel Hampton, Jeff Brinson and Adam Robinson, They're all getting a little bit of work right now and they all know what to do with the ball when they get their hands on it."
Iowa's offense returns 26 letterwinners and seven starters, including junior quarterback Jake Christensen, who, during his first season as a starter, completed 53.5 percent of his pass attempts for 2,269 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. Against Syracuse he threw for 278 yards and four touchdowns. He had three-touchdown performances against Indiana (308 yards passing) and Western Michigan (249 yards and a season-high two interceptions).
"The thing that has gotten in Jake's way more than anything else has been his consistency," O'Keefe said. "He started slow the first two or three days of preseason, but he has really come on, especially the last three or four practices in his consistency and performance. It's one thing to be able to make a throw one out of every two times...we're looking to make it all the time and that's starting to show up a little more, which is what we need to have because we want to have increased passing efficiency."
Iowa was sacked 46 times last season, but plenty of experience returns on the offensive line in seniors Wesley Aeschliman (right tackle), Seth Olsen (right guard) and Rob Bruggeman (center), juniors Andy Kuempel (left tackle), Dan Doering (left guard), Rafael Eubanks (center), Travis Meade (right guard) and Kyle Calloway (right tackle) and sophomores Bryan Bulaga (left tackle), Kyle Haganman (left tackle), Josh Koeppel (center), Julian Vandervelde (left guard). O'Keefe said the 2007 growing pains helped the offensive line mature.
"To get experience under your belt on the practice field is one thing," he said. "To get it under your belt in a game situation is much more valuable. Those guys understand what's going on. They've been coached, they've been a part of what we're doing and their base of knowledge is a lot greater than it used to be. That allows them to be more confident and trust their techniques and fundamentals on the field more where they're not worried about what they should be doing as much and they're focused on how they're doing it."
Iowa opens the season Saturday, Aug. 30, at home against Maine. It was announced yesterday that two more Hawkeye home games reached sell-out status. Tickets still remain for games against Maine, Florida International and Purdue.
"Like Kevin Costner said, this isn't heaven, it's Iowa," O'Keefe said. "Our players feed off of our fans. As coaches we appreciate the fan base and support that we get. We know this isn't heaven, but it's Iowa and it feels great knowing that we have great support -- we think it is the best there is anywhere in the country. We're a small state, but we have a mighty fan base and great, great support."
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