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March 26, 2008
Player suspensions and lost games have come with unusual frequency in Iowa City of late, and coach Kirk Ferentz is trying to put an end to both issues. He may have gotten the attention of the rest of the roster earlier this month when two players were kicked off the team, including one of last year's top receivers. Taking care of the other issue won't be as easy. The Hawkeyes are 11-12 in the past two seasons, and will be looking to make significant progress in the passing game and along the offensive line this spring. Defensively, the Hawkeyes have some questions at cornerback, but appear solid up front and at safety. Here's a look at the Hawkeyes as they get ready for spring drills.
Kirk Ferentz would like to build some positive momentum this spring.
Defense—5: SS Harold Dalton, LB A.J. Edds, T Mitch King, FS Brett Greenwood, T Matt Kroul.
Offense—7: T Kyle Calloway, QB Jake Christensen, C Rafael Eubanks, WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, G Travis Meade, TE Brandon Myers, T Seth Olsen.
Special teams—2: P Ryan Donahue, K Daniel Murray.
RB Nate Guillory (junior college transfer).
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Though undersized, King - who has All-Big Ten credentials - and Kroul make the Hawkeyes solid at defensive tackle. Greenwood and Dalton return as starters at safety, and some highly regarded youngsters ensure the Hawkeyes at least should be deep there.
HELP IS NEEDED
Though several starters return on the offensive line, Iowa definitely needs more consistency and better play up front. Guard Bryan Bulaga, who moved into the starting lineup in the latter part of 2007, will miss the spring after shoulder surgery. Two new starters are needed at defensive end and two more at cornerback.
KEEP AN EYE ON
FS Diauntae Morrow: A four-star prospect in 2007, he received limited action last season. There is a chance he could work his way into the starting lineup this season.
TB Jevon Pugh: As a freshman, he gained just 40 yards – but that still makes him the Hawkeyes' top returning rusher. He'll compete with Guillory for the starting job.
LB Jeff Tarpinian: A three-star defensive back coming out of high school, Tarpinian is a bulked-up third-year sophomore with a good chance of replacing Mike Humpal at outside linebacker.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Christensen – who will be a junior this fall – is coming off a 2007 season that could be called inconsistent at best. He needs a strong spring to show that he's progressing and capable of leading the Hawkeyes to a winning season.
Iowa's passing offense was next-to-last in the Big Ten in 2007, and bolstering that is vital. While Christensen needs to show more accuracy, the receivers must show progress and the offensive line has to get settled. If those things don't happen, the Hawkeyes will go into the summer wondering if a repeat of last season's disappointment is looming.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.