IOWA CITY – Kevonte Martin-Manley sees it every day.
Ray Hamilton can sense it, too, as can Mark Weisman.
There is a comfort level that exists between Iowa football players and the offensive system that Greg Davis implemented a year ago that wasn’t there when the Hawkeyes sputtered their way to a 4-8 record.
“I think we’re all on the same page now,'' Martin-Manley said. "I’m not sure that was the case last year. We all thought we were, but the mistakes we were making then I don’t see us making now. I think it’s just a matter of experience.’’
Davis also suspects that is the case.
“The more experience we all have together, the better things should be,’’ Davis said. “Things didn’t go as smoothly as any of us would have liked a year ago, so we learn from it and move forward. That’s all we can do.’’
Iowa averaged 19.3 points per game – its second-lowest total since 2000 – a year ago while averaging a Big Ten-worst 123 rushing yards per game. The Hawkeyes’ average of 310.4 total yards was also the program’s lowest offensive average since the 2000 season.
The lack of success led to Davis becoming a lightning rod for fan criticism in much the same fashion that his predecessor, Ken O’Keefe, became a target during the latter years of his 13 seasons as the Iowa offensive coordinator.
Hawkeyes players say they share responsibility for what transpired.
“There was more of a period of adjustment from one system to another than I think any of us would have envisioned,’’ said Weisman, Iowa’s top returning rusher. “There was a lot of change and I think we’ll benefit now from what we learned last fall.’’
Hamilton, competing for playing time at tight end, sees players developing a comfort level with the offense and with Davis that wasn’t there a year ago.
“Everything was new last year and while everybody tried to do the right things, it didn’t always work,’’ Hamilton said. “I think the coaches have a better handle on what we are capable of and I think we know what is being asked of us to a greater degree. I think that goes for everybody who has been here for two years now. There’s a better feel for the offense.’’
Coach Kirk Ferentz believes that, as well, starting with the cohesion he sees from a staff that underwent significant changes over the past two seasons.
He believes progress Iowa made in the spring is a result of greater cohesion and understanding within the program.
“Going through spring practice, it felt like things were really coming together,’’ Ferentz said. “It starts with your coaching staff. You can’t expect the team to play like a good team if the staff is not on the same page, and I think certainly we’ve been together enough now that we’re there.’’
Ferentz thinks Iowa’s players are more comfortable now than they were a year ago with the terminology changes that accompanied Davis’ arrival and with the increased tempo he wants the Hawkeye offense to operate at this fall.
Davis believes the addition of Bobby Kennedy as Iowa’s receivers coach also has helped in that area. Kennedy worked with Davis for seven seasons on the staff at Texas.
“The fit there is like a good old sock, very comfortable,’’ Davis said. “He knows exactly what I want and how I want things conveyed to our wide receivers. Sometimes, there are many ways to say the same thing, but if the same general message is delivered in two different ways with different terms it confuses people.’’
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Davis doesn’t believe that is a problem any longer.
“Now when they go into the receivers meetings, I know the message is being delivered in the same way I’m delivering it to the quarterbacks and so forth,’’ Davis said.
While not discounting the ability of a deep group of running backs, Davis expects the Iowa offense to look deep more frequently this season as the passing game develops.
He views the ability to “take more shots’’ as a critical component to the offense and he believes the Hawkeyes have the personnel to accomplish that.
“It’s something we didn’t do enough of a year ago and it’s something we have to do as another way to put pressure on the opposing defense,’’ Davis said.
None of the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job at Iowa took a snap last season, something Davis said in retrospect could have benefited the Hawkeyes now.
“But that’s not what we did we did, so we’ll live with that,’’ Davis said. “We could have used some guys in mop-up duty, I’m not going to argue that fact but we felt like, Kirk and I felt like, we were doing the right thing at the time to give ourselves the best chance to win.’’
That objective won’t change.
“We’ll continue to put the players on the field who we feel give us the best chance. We’ve got a few areas on offense where we’re still trying to figure out just who those players are, but that is what fall camp is about,’’ Davis said. “We’re looking for guys who can play fast, play strong and play smart and then we’ll go from there.’’