IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa's offense was as inconsistent as any in the country last season, capable of hanging 55 points on Ohio State one week and getting shut out by Wisconsin the next.
A more reliable attack could help vault the Hawkeyes back atop the Big Ten West in 2018.
That's certainly the hope at Iowa, which will bring back one of the nation's most underrated quarterbacks in junior Nate Stanley, an imposing tight end combination in Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson and a veteran offensive line bookended by a pair of highly talented young tackles in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz will also be in his second season at his post.
Iowa closed spring practice with an open practice on Friday at Kinnick Stadium — which will re-open on Sept. 1 when the Hawkeyes host Northern Illinois.
"The second year in this system and being comfortable with the coaches and everything (is important). We're continuing to build consistency every single day, and this spring, I think, we worked extremely hard at that and took a good step forward," Stanley said.
Perhaps the biggest question Iowa's offense will have heading into the summer concerns who will replace senior backs Akrum Wadley and James Butler.
It appears as though sophomores Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin have the inside tracks for those available snaps, as both received the bulk of the playing time in Friday's practice.
The 5-foot-11, 221-pound Young looks like the prototypical bigger back the Hawkeyes that long used as their top option, and he rushed for 184 yards and three TDs a year ago.
Kelly-Martin's speed was so evident that Iowa used him right away in 2017 on kickoff returns, and he also ran for three TDs and caught another.
"I know we're inexperienced, but certainly not as inexperienced as we've been at other positions in the past. You've got both guys that have carried the ball in live action when it counted, not just in mop-up duty. So both guys have made plays for us in games, in tight ballgames. They just haven't made as many as maybe what we're used to bringing back the last few years," said Brian Ferentz.
Iowa's offense made it through the spring without any major injuries.
The same couldn't be said for its defense.
The Hawkeyes announced on Friday that oft-injured senior linebacker Aaron Mends, who was in line for a starting job after the program graduated three seniors, will miss "extended time" because of an injury he suffered earlier in the week. Coach Kirk Ferentz indicated that Mends will likely miss the season.
"It puts a damper on things," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He just can't seem to catch a break."
There was some good news announced for fans on Friday as well, as the Hawkeyes announced that they plan to put their TigerHawk logo on the water tower just behind the north end zone.
It's a move supporters have been pleading for Iowa to make for decades, and it's expected to be finished before the season starts.
"How about that?" Kirk Ferentz joked. "I think it's great."