Iowa Hawkeyes spring wrap

2012 record: 4-8

2012 conference record: 2-6 (tied for fifth in Legends Division)

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Mark Weisman, RB Damon Bullock, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB B.J. Lowery, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, OT Brandon Scherff

Key losses

QB James Vandenberg, WR Keenan Davis, CB Micah Hyde, DL Steve Bigach, DL Joe Gaglione, C James Ferentz

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Mark Weisman* (815 yards)

Passing: James Vandenberg (2,249 yards)

Receiving: Kevonte Martin-Manley* and Keenan Davis (571 yards)

Tackles: Anthony Hitchens* (124)

Sacks: Joe Gaglione (5)

Interceptions: Christian Kirksey*, Tom Donatell and Greg Castillo (2)

Spring answers

1. Ground and pound: Iowa is at its best when its offensive line is paving the way for a powerful running game. The Hawkeyes look ready to get back to that this year. The return of Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal from leg injuries means the offensive line is deep and experienced, and for once the Iowa running back curse did not rear its head during the offseason (though we've still got a few months to go). Bulldozer Mark Weisman leads a group that includes Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri and that gives offensive coordinator Greg Davis some versatility to use in the backfield. If injuries and other off-the-field problems can be avoided, this should be the strength of the Hawkeyes offense.

2. Linebackers set: Few teams return as much production at linebacker as Iowa, where all three starters are back after each recorded at least 95 tackles in 2012. That doesn't mean that they always played great, as none of the three have earned any All-Big Ten honors. But the linebackers -- Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens -- are without a doubt among the leaders on this defense, and all three played well this spring. Kirk Ferentz said that Hitchens -- who needed to improve despite his gaudy tackle numbers last year -- showed growth this offseason. All three must raise their games, but they're capable of doing so.

3. Carl's coming on strong: The Hawkeyes really need someone to emerge as a disruptive force on the defensive line, and junior Carl Davis showed he might be ready for that in the spring game. He had three sacks and batted down two passes, and though it was just a scrimmage, the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder has all the physical tools to be a star if he can stay healthy.

Fall questions

1. QB derby: Hey, Iowa's production at quarterback can't get much worse than last year. Still, the Hawkeyes have to settle on a starter, and the coaches say that it's an even three-man battle between Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard following spring drills. Rudock and Sokol look to have pulled away a bit, but Iowa doesn't plan on naming a starter until mid-August.

2. Playmakers at receiver: Davis wants the offense to go more vertical this season after too many wasted horizontal passes in 2012. The question remains whether Iowa has the players to implement that. Martin-Manley is a reliable slot guy, and Jordan Cotton has good speed. But the Hawkeyes' receivers still have trouble gaining separation and creating yardage after the catch. Davis hopes the running game can open up things via the play-action pass, but the receivers need to spend this summer maximizing every ounce of their ability.

3. This is the end? Iowa generated only 13 sacks in 12 games last year, ranking last in the Big Ten by a large margin. Only 8.5 of those came from the defensive line. While there's promise with Davis and at the other defensive tackle spots, there are large questions about who can come off the edge and cause opposing quarterbacks trouble. Can Dominic Alvis take the next step? Will young players like freshmen Faith Ekakitie and Jaleel Johnson make an impact? This is an area that has to get better, both in rushing the passer and containing plays on the perimeter.