Iowa Football

5 things for the Iowa spring football finale

5 names to get to know: Amani Jones, Levi and Landan Paulsen, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Spencer Petras

Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Amani Jones (52) participates in a drill during a practice for the 2017 Outback Bowl at the University of Tampa in Tampa on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Amani Jones (52) participates in a drill during a practice for the 2017 Outback Bowl at the University of Tampa in Tampa on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
/

IOWA CITY — You get two looks at the Hawkeyes before the season begins. You get an open practice in the spring and a practice/sometimes game in August.

Friday night is your spring look at the Hawkeyes.

You’ll quickly notice one end of the stadium isn’t there anymore and steel girders are going up. So, the north end zone construction likely will shorten the field. Even Iowa has gone out of its way make sure everyone knows this is a spring practice and not a spring game. Oh, and the weather.

Only two preseason looks, so let’s try to make this count.

1. Linebacker

Lose 100 percent of the starters in a position group, there are going to be questions.

Now that the linebacker residencies of Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann and Bo Bower have ended after a strong three-year run, it’s time to sift through the bodies and see who kept the switch on while sitting in the linebackers room.

Let’s treat the spring depth chart with the reverence you give to a stop sign in the middle of nowhere. It’s there, sure, but no one is making that a full, two-second stop.

Still, it’s totally OK to high-five junior Amani Jones. He started spring practice listed as the No. 2 weakside linebacker. This week, defensive coordinator Phil Parker said he’ll be the starter in the middle Friday.

 

Remember what head coach Kirk Ferentz said this spring about what separates a middle linebacker from the weakside? “To me, he’s got to give you a spark in his own way. Personalities can be different, certainly, but he’s got to be the guy that gives you a little spark in there.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

That’s Jones. The Chicago native talks with a smile. This spring, he talked about setting the inside linebackers’ squat record at 625 pounds. How do you take an impressive weightroom resume to the field?

“I feel like if I pick an angle and I hit somebody, I hit pretty hard,” Jones said. “I feel like I’m the hardest hitter on the team.”

There’s saying good things and then there’s doing mostly the right things on the field. That’s going to be Jones’ proving ground and he knows it.

“I think his ability to read the box and diagnose the plays, and when he goes, he goes. I think his ability to go ahead and trigger when he sees something, and when he comes, he’s well-packed,” Parker said. “He’s got a low center of gravity, and he runs through guys. I’m really excited to see what he can do.”

Sounds like Amani Jones is hired.

Senior Aaron Mends has climbed into the No. 1 spot on the weakside, where you’ll also probably see senior Jack Hockaday and junior Kristian Welch compete. And let’s get the cries of nepotism rolling at the Niemann Family Linebacker Trust. Kidding on the nepotism, of course, but notice that there has been little bobble with Nick Niemann as the starting outside linebacker. He is Ben’s brother and Ben has said Nick is maybe an inch taller and definitely faster.

Although, sophomore Barrington Wade has entered the conversation there.

2. One of the Paulsens

Junior offensive lineman Levi Paulsen started spring as the No. 1 right guard. After four years in development, Paulsen may have punched through. But then, about halfway through spring practice, Iowa announced that Paulsen would miss the rest of spring with an undisclosed injury.

 

As a new starter, Paulsen, who started at right tackle in the Pinstripe Bowl, probably could’ve used those reps. Levi’s injury did open the door for his twin brother, Landan, also 6-5, 305. Landan probably gets that right guard spot Friday. Beyond that, it probably goes back to Levi when he’s healthy.

When Iowa has had NFL-caliber centers and guards, it’s had a productive running game. In back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons during 2015 and 2016, centers Austin Blythe and James Daniels and guard Sean Welsh anchored while a gaggle of left guards held down that spot. This year it’s senior Keegan Render in his first and only season as Iowa’s starting center and probably a pair of first-year starters in Levi Paulsen and Ross Reynolds.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

3. Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Beyond the whole phone thing with Kirk Ferentz, what else did Iowa coaches say about the sophomore wide receiver this spring?

“He’s a very bright young man; he understands football,” wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland said. “That kid studies football, he lives football. What he has to do is trust what we’re coaching him, trust the system. Once we put those two together, we’ll have something special.”

 

You have to like that coaches call Smith-Marsette a football junkie. You really have to like the fact that they trusted him enough to return kicks late last season. This really should work out for everyone.

Smith-Marsette is a personality and a player. With five sophomores to just three seniors on the spring two deeps, Iowa can use a little of both.

4. Middle of the defensive line

The 4.13 yards per carry the Hawkeyes gave up last season was the highest since 4.42 in 2014. That was with three senior linebackers.

Defensive line coach Reese Morgan said this spring that, yeah, Iowa is a little undersized in the middle of the D-line. Junior Brady Reiff, a 6-3, 272-pounder, has been playing some nose guard this spring. Junior Cedrick Lattimore will probably soak up a lot of the snaps that sophomore Daviyon Nixon might’ve gotten. The 6-3, 306-pounder has to sit out 2018 due to academics.

 

Will the back end of Iowa’s defense have to be more closely tied to the line of scrimmage to help against the run?

“Coach Morgan has done a good job of getting those guys ready, and I think they can hold their point,” Parker said. “At times I think some guys can get worn out, and that’s why we’re looking actually to make sure we have more guys who can rotate in there, and one of the advantages of spring ball is you have an opportunity to find out if they can go do it.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Ends Chauncey Golston (6-5, 265) and Sam Brincks (6-5, 275) have been taking tackle reps. Maybe freshmen Noah Shannon, John Waggoner and Tyler Linderbaum get a look.

5. QB 2

This is either an afterthought or the most important dude on planet Hawkeye.

Junior Nate Stanley is the man. His 26 TDs and just six interceptions in 2017 was a terrific debut. Now, it’s time for an encore.

Stanley is 6-4, 242. One of the reasons to believe in the Wisconsin native last season was toughness. Stanley hung in the pocket and took big hits. Quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe would like to see quicker decision making.

 

Stanley is the most important player on this team. So, the backup matters. Maybe a lot.

Redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell and true freshman Spencer Petras are battling. It feels like Petras has an edge here, but maybe that’s one of the things we can actually get a read on after the final spring practice.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.