IOWA CITY, Iowa — When Iowa football players put on the pads for the first time during spring practices Wednesday, only two groups of Hawkeyes had the same position coach as they did last fall.
Receivers coach Erik Campbell and running backs coach Lester Erb are the only members of the coaching staff with the same roles they had in 2011 after coach Kirk Ferentz announced moves that he called the “final pieces of the puzzle.”
“There has been a lot of change, but I think it has everybody pretty energized,” linebacker James Morris said.
“We’ve all taken a look at what we’ve been doing. Obviously, it wasn’t good enough to win a Big Ten championship last year, so we change. Spring gives us a fresh start.”
The final changes to the Hawkeye staff involve recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson, a member of the Hawkeye staff since 1999. He will move from coaching Iowa’s tight ends to assisting Reese Morgan with the defensive line.
Ferentz views the reassignment of Johnson as something that will not only help the Hawkeyes now, but will also allow Johnson to keep one eye on the future.
In the short term, it allows another experienced assistant to work with a defensive line that is among the most inexperienced segments of the Hawkeye roster.
It also allows Johnson to devote more energy to his role in recruiting.
“The number one driving force in the move is just the way recruiting continues to change and evolve,” Ferentz said. “I think the demands of that segment of our organization are so, so strong, and my goal was to get Eric in a position where he can dedicate more time to that area.”
With more and more recruits committing earlier, Ferentz wants the flexibility to send an assistant on the road during the season as needed to evaluate talent in person.
He said he has mixed feelings about having position coaches away from the team during game weeks, leading to the reassignment of Johnson.
“He will have time to watch more film and to skip out for a day or two in-season to take a close look at the guys we look hard at, who can be a real value for us,” Ferentz said.
He pointed to former Hawkeye defensive lineman Karl Klug, a lightly-recruited, small-town prep who developed into a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, as an example.
“If this will help us get another Karl Klug or two every year, that would be a real benefit,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz expects Johnson to have more time for tape evaluation and contact with prospects, something he said that has proliferated with the growth of social media in recent years.
“We could be doing it 24 hours a day all year round right now, but we do have to coach some football, too,” Ferentz said. “Hopefully this makes everything move a little smoother.”
Ferentz does not expect the change to necessarily result in a rush toward earlier commitments for Iowa.
“I think you have to resist that temptation,” he said. “We still will make our evaluations based on what we are seeing and what we learn and hear about prospects, doing it at our rate of speed. We don’t want to make an offer unless we really want that player here.”
With Johnson’s move, graduate assistant David Raih will now coach tight ends after spending the past two seasons assisting Morgan with the offensive line.
“He’s done a great job there, and very much like (former graduate assistant) Dan Clark in 2009, he’ll step in and work with our tight ends. Dan handled those guys and did a great job, too,” said Ferentz, who also announced the hiring of Chris Polizzi as a defensive graduate assistant.
Ferentz indicated that Iowa’s spring depth chart remains a fluid document, reflective of the youth on the Hawkeye roster. The only change at the top through the first two workouts is at defensive end where senior Joe Gaglione has replaced redshirt freshman Dean Tsopanides, who is now listed as a back-up to redshirt freshman Darian Cooper at defensive tackle.
New secondary coach Darrell Wilson said it’s possible the Hawkeyes will play more press coverage in 2012, adding that abilities of players who rise to the top of the depth chart will determine if that happens.
“Some guys like to press, some like to play off and right now, they are enjoying pressing a little more,” Wilson said. “How things go will determine how we go, but spring allows us as a coaching staff to sit back and say, ‘Hey, maybe we can do this, maybe we can do that.’”
Senior John Wienke remains listed as Iowa’s starting punter and holder, but continues to work out at quarterback. However, Ferentz said “it is safe to say Jake (Rudock) is ahead of him on the depth chart” as the back-up to James Vandenberg.
The starting time for Iowa’s public spring practice on April 14 has been set. The workout will begin at noon at Kinnick Stadium.