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Four Downs - Iowa's 2016 special teams

Not quite starting from scratch, but pretty much

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QUICK LOOK BACK: Overall, general sense of things, Iowa special teams were a positive in 2015.

Yes, Marshall Koehn missed six PATs, but none of those cost Iowa a victory (it did keep the Illinois game interesting probably longer than it should’ve been) and Koehn did beat Pitt on a 57-yard field goal on the game’s final play. The Pitt victory was a sign of things to come for the Hawkeyes.

Koehn ended up making 16 of 20 field goals and probably gets a look in an NFL camp. He has NFL leg strength. The NFL won’t tolerate missed PATs, but PATs are now around 33 yards in the NFL compared to 21 give or take in college, so Koehn will probably be fine.

He was a big positive in 2015, earning second-team all-Big Ten on the coaches ballot and honorable mention on media.

Punter Dillon Kidd was pretty good. He had 43 of his 59 punts either fair caught or downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He had 11 punts travel longer than 50 yards. He had one blocked and one returned for a TD. Punting can be better, but you could make an argument that Kidd was one of the most improved Iowa players from 2014 to 2015.

Desmond King went into 2015 as Iowa’s best cornerback. There’s always a little worry when the best defensive back on the roster ends up as the punt and kick returner. King clearly won both jobs out of camp and this coaching staff clearly played 2015 with a mind-set to take advantage of everything it could. So, any risk of injury or overuse was thrown to the wind and King ended up honorable mention on both ballots as a return specialist.

King finished second in the league with 14.18 yards per punt return and was fourth in kick returns with 24.4 yards per return. King didn’t take to the role from return No. 1. Patience was thinning late in the second half against Iowa State on Sept. 12. Iowa had lost three of the past four games to its state rival. In the second half, the Hawkeyes generated two punts and a fumble. When King took a fourth-quarter punt by Colin Downing 34 yards to midfield, it ignited a rally. The Hawkeyes scored in seven plays to break a 17-17 tie and won 31-17.

SPRING DEPTH CHART

Punter: Colten Rastetter, Miguel Recinos

Kicker: Miguel Recinos, Mick Ellis

4th Down — Critical Questions

Iowa begins spring practice Wednesday. The kicker and punter positions are currently filled with walk-on underclassmen. That’s OK, that’s not unprecedented, it’ll just take me a while to figure out when the last time Iowa played it that way.

We’ll get into it more on Second Down, but punter and kicker are significantly critical questions.

How much will Iowa’s core special teams change in 2016?

Linebackers Cole Fisher and Travis Perry graduated. Fisher did everything his senior season, including starting 14 games at weakside linebacker, without punching out for his usual dose of special teams (he might’ve been excused from some kick stuff, but definitely covered punts). Perry was a de facto special teams captain, probably for the last couple of seasons.

Look a little deeper. Linebackers Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann also played a fair share of special teams (punts for sure). Snap counts piled up last season. Long story short, I don’t see either of these two not playing special teams, but it would help the long-term health of the team and the defense if a few young linebackers earned enough trust to take a portion of special teams snaps off their plates.

Four Downs: Iowa's 2016 linebackers

Here are five candidates: Jack Hockaday, Angelo Garbutt, Justin Jinning, Jake Gervase (he did actually earn special teams time last season and probably, as a safety, wouldn’t have the same job as a linebacker, which the three ahead of him are) and one of the true freshmen linebackers (all Christian Kirksey played as a true freshman was special teams, that worked out OK).

3rd Down — Additions/Subtractions

We’ve talked Koehn and Kidd. They’ll be missed. Once Koehn showed he had game-winning leg strength from 50-plus, he probably did more than we know for confidence in late-game planning. Kidd was OK, much improved.

Who’s coming in?

Sophomore Mick Ellis begins anew in 2016. You might remember him from 2014. He entered the Ball State game as a true freshman when Koehn missed 35- and 26-yarders. The door was open for Ellis. He had a couple of extra points and then missed a 29-yarder late in the third quarter. This game was ugly and headed toward embarrassing before two fourth-quarter TDs (in the last three minutes) saved the day for Iowa 17-13.

But enough about that. Ellis ended up 0-for-1 on field goals and 7-for-7 in PATs, but didn’t kick the final nine weeks of 2014. Last season, he sat out as a redshirt. This spring, he returns with his eyes on the job.

Colten Rastetter, a redshirt freshman from Guttenberg, is listed as the No. 1 punter. He’s never kicked with the clock on.

There is a brigade of walk-ons headed to Iowa City to find their fortunes (I know that sounds “old timey,” but it’s Monday and, man, that UNI game).

Keith Duncan, a freshman kicker from North Carolina, has a nice profile on the Chris Sailer (kicking guru) site. Caleb Shudak is an incoming kicker from Council Bluffs Lewis Central. Here’s a link on incoming freshman punter Jackson Terry.

Perhaps the most intriguing incoming walk-on is Ron Colluzi. He’s a graduate-transfer from Central Michigan. He’ll compete for punter and kickoff specialist this fall. Both jobs are open. As a junior, Colluzi had 59 punts with an average of 39.1 yards and a long of 61. He had 21 touchbacks on 64 attempts on kickoffs last season.

Oh yeah, Koehn and his 90 (!!!!) touchbacks the last two seasons also are gone. That number, by the way, is tops in the B1G the last two years. Someone is going to need to be able to kick the ball 65 yards into the end zone because that’s the best kick coverage there is.

SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS

Senior: PR/KR Desmond King (5-11, 200)

Sophomore: K Mick Ellis (5-10, 180)

PROMINENT WALK-ONS

Juniors: LS Tyler Kluver (6-0, 220)

Sophomores: K/P Miguel Recinos (6-1, 180)

Redshirt freshman: P Colten Rastetter (6-2, 205)

Freshmen: K Keith Duncan, (5-11, 160), K Caleb Shudak (5-8, 175), P Ron Coluzzi (5-11, 182), P Jackson Terry (5-11, 184)

2nd Down — Battles Brewing

Let’s give this spring a courtesy paragraph (because as you can see, the leg brigade is coming this fall): Sophomore Miguel Recinos is the No. 1 kicker this spring and I think he could very well be the neo who dodges the bullets in the Matrix and hangs on this fall. He was Koehn’s caddie last season, so he’s seen the pressures and has been in all of the meetings. He made two PATs. I’m not sure how strong his leg is or any of that. He’s starting from a good spot, No. 1.

Ellis is behind Recinos. Recinos is listed 6-1; Ellis is 5-10. It’s kind of Nate Kaeding vs. Kyle Schlicher . . . at least in body types. Ellis has shown he has some pop on the leg. Does Iowa consider a platoon field goal thingie? I don’t know. That doesn’t seem to be Ferentz’s thing. They’ve done it maybe twice in 17 seasons.

And then spring punter, it’s Rastetter (he did all of the kicking in high school) and Recinos. I didn’t even know Recinos was a punter. Maybe I need to arrive at the press box for the warm-up having had my coffee.

The whole point is, clearly, the real nitty-gritty with these jobs will happen this fall. And who’s to say this is the complete list of candidates. The only reason we know about Coluzzi is he tweeted a pic of him and Ferentz and Seth Wallace, who’ll have a big say in special teams this season (I think even bigger than last season).

Kickers here this fall: Recinos, Ellis, Duncan, Shudak (yes, that name sounds familiar because his dad, Jeff, was an all-Big Eight kicker for Iowa State) and, maybe, Colluzi. (I think Recinos because of a high degree of familiarity likely will translate to trust with the staff.)

Punters here this fall: Rastetter, Recinos, Terry and Colluzi. (I have no idea how to handicap this. Maybe Colluzi’s experience gives him an edge as punter and kickoff specialist.)

King will be the punt and kick returner. I think we all can agree on that.

1st Down — In Summary

This is where I usually do “Five finishing thoughts on what needs to happen for the best-case scenario.” I can’t really do that with a group that has so many questions.

So, what I am going to do is write about long snapper Tyler Kluver. (Hey, I didn’t forget about long snapper.)

The 6-0, 220-pounder will be in his third season as a starter at long snapper, an unheralded and yet supremely important cog in the special teams machine (Kluver, a Marshalltown native, handles punt and field goal snaps).

Did you know he basically won his shot to become a long snapper in the Big Ten through an Under Armour camp competition? Well, he won a chance to play in the Under Armour Bowl (Kluver is the only Hawkeye currently on the roster who’s done this, for what it’s worth) through a camp competition.

There was a point system in the camps he went to. After day 1 during the camp he attended, he looked for his name on the leaderboard. He almost didn’t attend the camp. It was the end of summer going into his senior year. He thought, OK, one more camp.

So, looking up and down the leaderboard, there Kluver was at the top.

“I was like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “So then day 2, I had a set of 15 snaps or something and I thought, if I win this, this is the Under Armour game.”

And so there was pressure.

“It’s playing in Kinnick,” Kluver said. “If you think about all of the outside things, you’re going to mess up. If you think ‘don’t mess up,’ you’re going to mess up. That’s how special teams works. I was just locked in that day.

“I couldn’t really contain myself because I knew what was on the line. After that last snap, I was so happy. I kind of blacked out for a little bit.”

This is Kluver’s third year as a starter. He’s got to be somewhere near the front of the line for a scholarship. But you know what? It’s not something that eats at him.

“I’ve always said when people have asked about that for the last couple of years, media or friends or family, the main goal when I came here was to get on the field and play in Kinnick Stadium,” Kluver said. “If you gave me the option coming out of high school to be on scholarship or to be able to go out there and start and play as a second-year and two years in you got to play in the Rose Bowl, I’d take the latter.

“That (a scholarship) isn’t really the end game here. I might be getting closer. I have to earn it. I’m just trying to do my best.”

That’s the attitude that wins.

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

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