Hawkeyes spring football has been about creating competition

Four positions of intrigue, five players you probably want to see

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IOWA CITY — During his news conference Wednesday, Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek talked about creating competition.

So, let’s go ahead and do that.

Some projection is going to be involved here. The Hawkeyes will be about halfway through their 15 practices this spring when they hit the FieldTurf at Valley Stadium tonight in West Des Moines. This will be more of a practice than a scrimmage, so the fact that this will be the public’s first look at first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s new scheme is somewhat muted.

Let’s take Polasek’s lead and create some competition.

Strong safety

Miles Taylor left early in the Michigan game to go through concussion protocol and didn’t return to the lineup. Senior Anthony Gair entered and held up well enough to hold the starter’s role the final four games of 2016.

Going into spring practice, Taylor once again was named starter. He intends to hang onto the job.

“I’ve always come in with a chip on my shoulder, every day,” Taylor said. “Every day in practice, I play like it’s my last play. Anybody will tell you that. I don’t look at it as my job, I just look to go in and get better every single day.”

No new sense of urgency coming off 2016.

“I feel like I’m urgent every single day,” Taylor said. “This is what I live for. I love football. My teammates know I love football. I just go hard every single day. If you don’t do that, you’re taking a step backward, in my opinion.”

Is true sophomore Amani Hooker ready to make a push here? Hooker is listed as the backup. He played in all 13 games last season mostly on special teams.

Taylor holds pole position. Can Hooker grow the mental part of his game to put himself in position to make a move?

That’s why they have these practices.

Running back

Iowa’s rush offense has been productive over the last four years, a span of above average football for the Iowa program (8.75 wins per season).

It might or might not work out this way in 2017, but Iowa running back has come with a “1a” and “1b” pattern to it. Over these four seasons, RB 1a has averaged 208.7 carries per season (16.0 a game) while RB 1b has averaged 133.2 carries (10.25 a game).

Again, 2017 will have a new coordinator calling the plays, so it might look way different. Let’s assume senior Akrum Wadley will be RB 1a. He led Iowa with 1,081 yards and 10 TDs last season (in the last two years, Wadley has 1,577 rushing yards and 17 rushing TDs).

Sophomore Toks Akinribade and redshirt freshman Toren Young might be competing for as many as 10 to 15 carries a game and 100 to maybe as many as 150 carries next season.

There’s some meat on the bone for RB 1b. Tonight’s practice might offer a measure for how that competition is going.

Left guard

This is the position that head coach Kirk Ferentz always defaults to when asked about QB competitions. Let’s give left guard some love.

You have to think junior Keegan Render holds the upper hand against junior Ross Reynolds or sophomore Levi Paulsen. Render (6-4, 310) emerged from a couple of years in the weightroom and started seven games last season.

A year in the weightroom might have the contenders ready for a push, but Render also spent the winter in the weightroom.

Polasek mentioned creating competition for the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 spots on the depth chart. Coaches and players always will tell you no one can get too comfortable, but it sounds as if Polasek is looking to solidify depth.

Tight end

This week, tight ends coach LeVar Woods said his group is definitely under discussion for a larger role in Brian Ferentz’s passing scheme.

OK, now who’s going to do what? Iowa suddenly has a pile of tight ends. Senior Peter Pekar and sophomore Noah Fant are listed on the depth chart. Pekar earned a scholarship with his performance as a blocker last season. Going off Woods’ comments, it sounds as if Fant is in line for a bunch of targets in the passing game.

Redshirt freshmen T.J. Hockenson and Shaun Beyer will be in the mix. Senior Jon Wisnieski is healthy after two years of struggles with knee injuries. Sophomore Nate Wieting earned 118 snaps as a blocking TE last season. Sophomore Nate Vejvoda is now up to 245 pounds. There’s also incoming freshman Jacob Coons.

Woods demands his TEs to be able to block as well as catch passes. No one wants to give the defense a tell because of personnel.

Lots of bodies here, it’ll be interesting to see how this unwinds.

Five players you just want to see

Young players are exciting, right? We have no idea where they’re going or what they might be, but that’s the intrigue, isn’t it?

1. RB Noah Clayberg — The Pella native is one of maybe two actual grayshirt recruits during the Kirk Ferentz era. He’s 5-11, 209 and taking his literal first steps in an Iowa uniform tonight.

2. WR Nick Easley — The 5-11, 203-pounder was a juco all-American at Iowa Western last season. He was originally going to walk on at Iowa State, but Iowa yanked him away. With four or five incoming freshmen, the wide receiver depth chart will be in flux going into fall camp, but Easley is among the top four right now.

3. OT Alaric Jackson — Polasek talked a little bit about the 6-7, 320-pounder this week. Yes, Jackson is behind two senior starters (Boone Myers and Ike Boettger), but remember when the Hawkeyes went through seven different lineups on the O-line last season. Polasek said Jackson is one of the young players who needs to be ready to provide depth in late September and October.

4. Young DEs — Iowa’s D-line needs tackles to emerge. But it also has three redshirt freshman ends in Romeo McKnight (6-5, 250), Chauncey Golston (6-5, 255) and Brandon Simon (6-1, 240) who are mysteries. D-line coach Reese Morgan said Golston and Simon are where they need to be as far as stopping the run, but need work on the heavy technique against the run. Probably file these three in developmental. If they bring anything this season, it’ll be a bonus. Oh, and 5-star A.J. Epenesa will be here in August. That will shift the depth chart.

5. QB Nathan Stanley — Oh yeah, the quarterback. You kind of need to see the quarterback. Probably won’t be able to gauge much from Des Moines, but these will be Stanley’s first steps as the No. 1 QB. If he takes what the defense gives, that’ll be solid progress (it also was a benchmark of quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe offense when he was Iowa’s coordinator from 1999-2011). There is competition here with junior Tyler Wiegers. It’ll be interesting to see how that rotation goes.

__________________

Hawkeyes in Des Moines

Gates open at 5 p.m.

Practice begins at 6:30 p.m.

Kids Clinic and kids autograph session will take place following practice

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

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