Iowa Football

Iowa football 2018 depth chart projection: Offense

How will the Hawkeyes line up? Some spots you know, some won't be known until post camp

The Iowa offense and defense line up during their final spring practice at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, Apr. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Iowa offense and defense line up during their final spring practice at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, Apr. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Spring football is way over. If you’re a college football fan, the horse latitudes have gripped you.

The bad part is games are still 100-something days away. The positive is it’s summer. You don’t have to sweat the right guard’s ankle. You can maybe just watch baseball and not even think about college football.

Wait, what? Not even think of college football?

OK, let’s not get nutty.

But let’s do this, let’s talk about the two deep, which, really, is accurate for more than two-thirds of the positions. Probably more than that. When you see Iowa issue a depth chart, the starters tend to be exactly that. The second-teamers are more best available, so, no, the depth charts aren’t set in stone.

Why would a smart coach hold himself to that standard? Depth charts have a ton of use, not the least of which is motivation. What do you think will keep a third-teamer’s attention in the middle of summer workouts?

Maybe we should change the name “depth chart”? Maybe something with less fence around it. How about “Unofficial record of what’s supposed to happen”?

Flashback to the 2011 Hawkeyes. Walk-on running back Jason White spent the entire season listed as the No. 2 running back. He wasn’t really the No. 2. Marcus Coker had 1,300-plus rushing yards. Despite being listed as the No. 2 back, White had three carries for 12 yards.

So, when White spoke at the Insight Bowl, he didn’t have a lot to say. He had a foot out the door. He spent the season as the No. 2 running back when he really wasn’t.

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“The depth chart, I don’t know what it means,” White said. “I guess it’s an unofficial record of what’s supposed to happen.”

Let’s get a round of applause going for Jason White. Not only is that funny, it’s functional.

Quarterback

The Guy: Nate Stanley

The Dudes: Peyton Mansell, Spencer Petras, Ryan Schmidt

 

The Plan: There’s a quick line in the movie “There will be Blood.” Daniel Day-Lewis looks to the man with all of the land deeds. The man kind of plays stupid and Day-Lewis just stops and says, in very proximity, “Don’t be thick in front of me, Al.”

Let’s not overthink this. Stanley is Iowa’s QB for as long as he’s around. Forget anything that happened on the field for the guy this spring, quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said a lot when he talked about Stanley dissecting plays for the other QBs. He knows how to drive the car and Iowa wants more drivers. They trust him to teach the other potential drivers. You know that’s a big deal.

So, any talk of Stanley losing ground and maybe getting caught by someone on the roster ...

Don’t be thick in front of me, Al.

Mansell will fight with Petras for No. 2 and starting position whenever Stanley leaves. Petras’ physical upside (arm talent) was praised often by coaches this spring.

Running back

The Guys: Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin

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The Dudes: Kyshaun Bryan, Camron Harrell, Henry Geil

 

The Plan: Toren Young was one of the players you could tell had a real heart to heart with coaches post-bowl. Not anything negative, but more about the role Young will have a large chunk of this fall. He’s going from “dude” to “guy.”

What does that mean really? It’s variable, but if you don’t have Young down for a couple of hundred carries for the Hawkeyes next fall, who do you have? You’re working off a different spreadsheet. Kelly-Martin? Let’s put him at 150.

Let’s start off Young and Kelly-Martin as a LeShun Daniels/Akrum Wadley starter kit and see where it goes.

Remember when Iowa brought in James Butler as a grad transfer from Nevada last July? No idea who, but it feels like that almost has to happen. There are no college carries backing up Young and Kelly-Martin.

Fullback

The Guys: Brady Ross and Austin Kelly

The Dudes: Lane Akre, Turner Pallissard, Connor Ruth, Monte Pottebaum

 

The Plan: Ross is in the circle of trust. He might be in the middle of it. Kelly, a senior, probably is in that, too. He didn’t play fullback a ton last year, but did some special teams time and now seems like he’ll be fullback 1b.

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By the way, the two-fullback deal Iowa runs is smart. A duo takes some of the thump out of what is one of the most thumped positions in the sport.

Ross and Kelly are in the 6-0, 5-11 range. Iowa could look for a fullback with a little more height (think Brett Morse), but Ross and Kelly are on the lead lap.

This year, the fullbacks have been folded in with the tight ends with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz overseeing the positions. Template and potential uses will reveal themselves over time this season. But this year, with the tight end position teeming with talent, you might see more tight ends lining up in H-back type roles as opposed to the fullback. That might help with constraint (a tight end like Fant vs. a fullback). You don’t want to tip your hand by which fullback you have on the field.

Wide receiver

The Guys: Nick Easley, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Kyle Groeneweg

The Dudes: Max Cooper, Dominique Daffney, Henry Marchese, Nico Ragaini, Devonte Young, Samson Evans, Calvin Lockett, Tyrone Tracy Jr.

 

The Plan: Easley stayed consistently productive for most of last season. When the Hawkeyes entered Big Ten play, Easley adjusted and remained consistent. He hasn’t hit a plateau in winter training. Easley should make the quick game go, but his last reception in 2017 was a 32-yarder in the Pinstripe Bowl.

How did Iowa find Easley again? He wanted to walk on at Iowa and not at Iowa State. Smith-Marsette? Iowa won a near-signing day battle with Minnesota in 2017. The best bowl Minnesota has been to since the 1962 Rose Bowl is ... Minnesota hasn’t been to a Rose Bowl since 1962.

According to Rivals, Smith had 13 offers with Iowa and Vanderbilt being the only Power Five.

Groeneweg will only have one year of eligibility after transferring in from the University of Sioux Falls.

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The argument for this is, hey, look at all the players taking advantage of their opportunities. The argument against is where you do your wide receiver shopping in recruiting?

Iowa currently is shopping in Indianapolis and is in the hunt for wide receiver David Bell, a 6-2, 180-pounder. Bell has 20 offers, including Ohio State.

Bell recently said flat out to Land of 10, “Iowa has to prove they can actually throw the ball. In previous years, they’ve just been a run team.”

Ah, the recruits. Saying what we’re all thinking. Iowa is trying. That all said, maybe the situation is starting to turn. Tracy has a chance for touches as a true freshman. Maybe a lot of them.

Tight end

The Guys: Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, Nate Wieting

The Dudes: Shaun Beyer, Drew Cook, Nate Vejvoda, Jacob Coons

 

The The Plan: For 2018, Iowa is more than good here.

Will Noah Fant have a decision to make at the end of the year? You hope he does. Fant tied for the national lead among TEs with 11 TD receptions in 2017. He led TEs with 16.5 yards per catch. If he goes, he probably had a similar season to 2017 and Iowa probably won games because of it. The NFL will find you. People wanting to give you money to do sports, despite what the NCAA believes, is kind of what we’re all shooting for in life. Iowa has been through enough of these. You guys are used to them by now.

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Hockenson is the better blocker. Wieting is a terrific blocker. Beyer is one of the more intriguing prospects at the position and maybe with the team.

Drew Cook made some strides this spring and is seeing the field. This position probably doesn’t need to go much deeper than Fant, Hockenson, Wieting and Beyer.

Left Tackle

The Guy: Alaric Jackson

The Other Guy: Mark Kallenberger

 

The Plan: Jackson went through a minor suspension going into the Pinstripe Bowl. That let Iowa take a look at Tristan Wirfs at left tackle. It seemed to take, but Jackson struggled with playing the right side.

What this means is Jackson has a better left hand than right. Yes, that stuff kind of does matter. This is the kind of thing that comes to light when you don’t have enough tackles on the roster.

And Iowa really doesn’t. O-line coach Tim Polasek said this spring redshirt freshman Mark Kallenberger was the only other “true” tackle on the roster. For as much as Iowa likes to play up interchangeability between guard and tackle, someone has to have the requisite skills to do tackle things, like pass block.

Kallenberger is very much in development. He wanted to high five Polasek this spring because he stayed at his goal weight for more than a week. Kallenberger is the No. 2 left tackle and has been working out at both spots. Polasek also said Kallenberger is knocking on the door of being in the top seven O-linemen.

Left Guard

The Guy: Ross Reynolds/Cole Banwart

The Other Guy: Cole Banwart/Ross Reynolds

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The Plan: This might be undecided. Reynolds played a lot as a junior, splitting time at the guard spot with Keegan Render. He might be fine here. He might get the full gig.

This might not be the stated case, much like two fullbacks, but if you have two who are even after all of the evaluations, play both. Ferentz has made jokes about the left guard’s anonymity for 20 years. The upside of playing two is building depth just in case. If there’s not a clear winner, maybe it goes rotation.

Center

The Guy: Keegan Render

The Other Guy: Levi Duwa

 

The Plan: Render is a fifth-year player and he seemed to have a lot of fun this spring. He played one game at center last year. Maybe it’s the position’s constant testing of the football IQ, but whatever, it seemed to speak to Render. By the time spring was over, Polasek said Render was down to learning nuance and not structure.

Backup is tougher. Duwa is based on projection. Duwa was hurt his first two seasons at Iowa and is just now healthy enough to show what he can do. In the spring game, he was noticeable. That’s something. He’s also up to 270 pounds. He probably won’t be ready this year, but Duwa could position himself nicely for 2019. Banwart might be a backup here, too.

Right Guard

The Guy: Levi Paulsen

The Other Guy: Landan Paulsen

 

The Plan: Levi Paulsen was called up to the big leagues for the Pinstripe Bowl. He went from backup guard to starting right tackle because of Jackson’s suspension. Paulsen held up and is on track to be the starter here.

He missed a lot of spring practice with an injury and is expected to return to health in June. Sure, Paulsen could’ve used those reps, but he’s a fourth-year. He knows what he’s doing and working his way into the circle of trust.

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Levi Paulsen has been in and out of the circle of trust. So far in his career he’s been looked at as a backup. And now he’s not a backup anymore. The expectations are ramping up exactly the way a fourth-year player would want them to.

Right Tackle

The Guy: Tristan Wirfs

The Other Guy: Dalton Ferguson

 

The Plan: This is where you’d love to have some winter information. For example, how’s Wirfs been doing in the weight room? Oh, he squatted an RV? OK, things are going well in the weight room for Tristan Wirfs. That was a little joke, but we don’t know those numbers. We see NFL careers launched on those numbers. This is why recruiting rankings are relevant. The rankings are kind of like college football’s combine. They give a measure of a prospect. Who’s doing that measuring? What are the variables? How much of a measure? Well, none of that matters. People consume the info and that pumps relevance into it.

This was Wirfs’ first go-round with Iowa strength and conditioning. Where can Wirfs go in this regard? Remember, if he didn’t play a minute of football, Wirfs would be throwing the shot, hammer, discus and whatever else is in your garage for a Division I college. That explosiveness should go well with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. When Wirfs gets to full power with that body, he’s got Brandon Scherff potential.

Polasek stressed leadership for Wirfs. That’s telling in and of itself. Coaches don’t tell struggling underclassmen to be leaders. “He is a powerful personality and someday he’s going to push through for us and be a good leader,” Polasek said.

Dalton Ferguson probably is the backup here. He suffered a torn ACL last season, but has recovered. He’s a fifth-year senior. Could he be the No. 3 tackle? That’s probably a pretty good competition between Ferguson and Kallenberger.

Kicker

The Guy: Miguel Recinos

The Dudes: Keith Duncan, Caleb Shudak

 

The Plan: You could make a good argument that Recinos might be Iowa’s most NFL-looking senior. “Senior,” it’s an important distinction, because it’s pretty likely that Iowa will have a pair of juniors (Anthony Nelson and Noah Fant) who’ll have the NFL’s attention.

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Recinos got it together going into last season. He won the job over Duncan and hit 11 of 13 field goals. With 1:30 left at Northwestern, Recinos booted a 48-yard, do-or-die field goal to send the game into OT. Recinos was just seventh in the league with 45 percent touchbacks on his kickoffs, but Iowa didn’t want him booting it into the end zone. Recinos showed a knack for hanging kickoffs in the air and placing them inside the 20. This helped make Iowa’s kick coverage No. 2 in the B1G last year with just 17.08 yards per kick return. That was Iowa’s best kick coverage number since 2014 (14.8 yards).

Recinos is a senior, so Duncan and Shudak are now on the conveyor belt as far as positioning for 2019. From one viewing this spring, Shudak has a little stronger leg. They have this year to make themselves the best kickers they can be.

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

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