6.0 things to watch at Iowa's scrimmage

There's C.J. Beathard and an army of kickers/punters and true freshmen

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The curtains are closed during fall camp. They don’t want you to see what’s happening on the practice fields behind the Hansen Performance Center.

What the Hawkeyes do for nearly three weeks and, certainly, the next 22 days before kickoff against Miami (Ohio) is secret. But there is this Saturday. They call it Kids Day because the Kinnick Stadium gates are open and there’s an autographs session for, hopefully, kids. There’s also a practice and, maybe, a scrimmage.

It’s your first glimpse at what the 2016 Hawkeyes might be. Given the fact that the team has practiced every day since camp opened Aug. 4, including two-a-days on Tuesday and Thursday this week, it won’t be a fresh-legged look, but it at least will be players in helmets.

So, what’s what?

1. There’s Beathard

Quarterback C.J. Beathard is a front-and-center reason for you to buy into the 2016 Hawkeyes. Like, really buy in, with real money for tickets and everything. Beathard, a second-team all-Big Ten pick last year, has his own schedule poster to go along with senior cornerback Desmond King’s poster.

The one lifeline for everyone interested in Iowa during this time of the closed curtain is the pictures from practice that are posted on a kind-of-daily basis on hawkeyesports.com. Beathard disappeared from these from Aug. 4 through the morning session pictures from Thursday morning. Finally, Thursday evening, the Iowa football Twitter account posted a picture of Beathard.

In June, Beathard said the sports hernia surgery he had during the offseason wasn’t quite 100 percent. In late July, at Big Ten media days, Beathard said he is good and excited to see what he can do pain-free. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said he had seen Beathard win sprint drills during summer workouts.

So, Beathard was either held out of practice for a few days (probably precautionary, why scratch the good plates on a regular, old week night?) or the UI decided not to publish a picture of one of the most popular athletes. Remember, these pictures don’t go up on the web all nimbly bimbly.

1.1 There were a lot of pictures of the other quarterbacks. Sophomore Tyler Wiegers remains the backup. Redshirt freshman Drew Cook remains a quarterback and not a tight end. True freshman Nathan Stanley is real.

1.2 Wiegers had a chance to drive the bus during the spring game. He threw two interceptions. This was the end of April and one of those interceptors was King, who’s good at the intercepting thing. Yet, these still poke at Wiegers.

“Obviously, I wish I wouldn’t have thrown those two picks in the spring game,” Wiegers said. “It was a good learning experience and another chance to get in there with the first team and move at a different tempo.”

2. It’s raining kickers and punters

Iowa is allowed to invite 105 players to fall camp. This year, six of that 105 were kickers and punters. Sophomores Miguel Recinos and Mick Ellis and true freshmen Keith Duncan and Caleb Shudak are the kickers. Senior Ron Coluzzi and Colten Rastetter are in contention for the punter job.

You’ll probably get an eyeful of specialists Saturday. On kickers, watch which hash they’re asked to kick from and where the ball goes through the uprights. Are they crawling over the crossbar or are they majestically splitting the uprights? If any of you are nerdy enough (my hand is up), try tracking hang time for the punters. Anything more than 4.2 seconds is pretty good, 4.7 seconds and above, consistently, probably wins the job.

Video: Ferentz on specialists competition
 

 

2.1 Ellis is the only one of the six who is on scholarship. Don’t get hung up on that. The 105-man roster is sacred. The fact coaches decided to invite all six says they are being seriously considered.

3. Is Sean Welsh the center?

Probably. Maybe? Let’s see.

Welsh is perhaps Iowa’s top offensive lineman. Last season, he played guard and right tackle. With Austin Blythe graduated after three years at center and with sophomore James Daniels out for the spring, Welsh was tried at center. It looks as if it stuck.

Let’s make sure, though. Daniels was recruited as a center, a crucial position in Iowa O-line operations.

3.1 Daniels also jumped in at tackle last season and was the first true freshman in Ferentz’s 17 seasons to see action at the tackle position.

Where there any “oh crap” moments?

“The first game, Illinois State, when I first went in,” said Daniels, the younger brother of running back LeShun Daniels. “It was the third quarter. Coach Brian Ferentz (O-line coach) told me you’re going in next series. I’m just sitting on the bench and I’m just smiling. I couldn’t stop smiling. Then, when I got out there, I was like, ‘Please, don’t false start.’”

4. Wide receivers watch

Maybe “watch” is too strong of a notion here. Let’s try “wide receiver opportunity patrol.” OK, that’s basically the same thing.

Wide receiver is the position with the most opportunity on Iowa’s offense. You have senior Matt VandeBerg (led Iowa with 93 targets and 65 receptions last season) and then opportunity.

Senior Riley McCarron (eight targets in 2015) will factor. Sophomores Jerminic Smith and Jay Scheel are in it. Freshman Devonte Young has shown up an awful lot in the camp photos.

4.1 On media day, Smith talked a lot about his job as a blocker. He texts former Iowa wide receiver Tevaun Smith, who’s in the Indianapolis Colts’ camp, almost daily. Tevaun Smith’s advice?

“Block, he just tells me to block,” Jerminic said. “He tells me to know my assignment and block.”

5. True freshmen in contention

Last season, four true freshmen saw action. There is a “break glass in case of emergency” factor that makes this hard to predict, but let’s predict.

5.1 Linebacker Amani Jones (6-0, 215) came to Iowa City with a Power 5 body. Linebackers make up the guts of Iowa’s special teams (current Cleveland Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey only played special teams his freshman year at Iowa), and that’s probably where you see Jones.

5.2 Iowa needs tight ends, and Noah Fant (6-5, 220) and T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 230) have bodies that are as close to ready as freshmen tight end can be. During Big Ten media days, Ferentz said about Fant “My message to him (during recruiting) was I thought he had some talents and abilities offensively that were a little bit uncommon. If he would run the course with those and do the best that he could with those, he’d really have an opportunity to develop into a special tight end.”

Video: Ferentz on true freshmen
 

 

5.2 Young fits in here. Quick refresher on the 6-0, 190-pounder: From Waldorf, Md., also had offers from Pitt and Rutgers, 40 catches for 735 yards and five touchdowns for North Point High School last season.

5.3 For special teams and depth, defensive backs Amani Hooker (6-0, 203) and Emmanuel Rugamba (6-0, 172) have great chances to see the field.

5.4 Could a freshman defensive lineman burn a redshirt? It hasn’t happened a lot (maybe Christian Ballard was the last in 2007?). They will have to prove they can make an impact, so it won’t be easy. Then again, we’re not talking about winning the Heisman Trophy. We’re talking about playing a few series in a game. Maybe a Cedrick Lattimore (6-5, 260) or Brandon Simon (6-1, 236) or Chauncey Golston (6-5, 227) or Romeo McKnight (6-5, 235) can add to Iowa’s D-line depth.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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