IOWA CITY — This is the time of year for questions about why the right tackle is playing left tackle and just who in the world is Kyle Groeneweg.
Iowa football can get kind of weird like that in the spring.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz spoke to the media on the eve of the Hawkeyes’ spring football practice opener on Wednesday. Let’s start with announcements.
— Sophomore defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon has been ruled academically ineligible for the 2018 season. Nixon, a native of Kenosha, Wis., was an Iowa signee in 2017, was unable to enroll and instead attended Iowa Western Community College as a full qualifier. On signing day in December, Nixon, a 6-4, 306-pounder, was a go. Now, he’s taking the year off for academics.
“It’s just something we knew was a possibility,” Ferentz said. “It’s really not a big deal. It just means he’s not going to be able to play on the game field, but he’ll practice and work for it as a football player. When we get him out there, he’ll be a good player for us.”
Nixon would’ve helped strengthen a strength. Juniors Cedric Lattimore and Brady Reiff are the likely starters at tackle with junior Garret Jansen and sophomore Dalles Jacobus rounding it out this spring. Two things this might do: 1) Keep incoming freshman Tyler Linderbaum at defensive tackle. The Solon native has been mentioned as a possible center, but that probably goes on hold for now. 2) Get incoming DT Noah Shannon on the field. The 6-1, 310-pounder from Oswego (Ill.) had 21 offers.
— Iowa doesn’t have a lot of injuries going into spring, but defensive tackle Matt Nelson is out (shoulder). The following also are out: safety Brandon Snyder (ACL surgery), defensive end Romeo McKnight (undisclosed), fullback Austin Kelly (undisclosed), linebacker Kyle Taylor (undisclosed) and running back Toks Akinribade (surgery undisclosed).
— Sophomore Alaric Jackson ended the season on suspension and was held out of the Pinstripe Bowl. Ferentz said Tuesday that Jackson is fully cleared and back with the team.
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Jackson also is listed at right tackle this spring. He played the first 12 games of 2017 at left tackle. Fellow freshman Tristan Wirfs moved from the right to the left for the Pinstripe and might’ve at least given the staff something to think about at left tackle. Wirfs is listed as the starter there after seven starts in 2017.
Ferentz made it sound like this was an exploration.
“You watch these guys on film, and there were a lot of things they did pretty well last year, but a lot of things they’re going to do better in the future just because they’ve got good attitudes,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got ample experience now, so hope to see really good growth out of both of those players.”
— That “replacing outside linebacker with a safety” thing has lost some steam. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker mentioned it after the season. Ferentz listed senior safety Jake Gervase and Snyder as the main candidates. Gervase (eight tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception in the Pinstripe) is busy at free safety this spring, and Snyder is out.
It’s lost steam, but it’s not totally dead.
“The thinking there is we played so many teams that don’t play with fullbacks or tight ends, that it’s kind of the world that college football has become,” Ferentz said. “So, there might be that flexibility of integrating that package. ... The other part I would add, both those guys are pretty veteran, smart, savvy guys who’re both fifth-years who know what’s going on. I think they could do that without crossing their wires back in the back end.”
— Iowa loses all three starters at linebacker in 2018. On this day in March, the replacements are sophomore Nick Niemann at outside linebacker, junior Kristian Welch in the middle and senior Aaron Mends at weakside. That’s the first depth chart of the season. It’s subject to change and more change.
“It’s anybody’s ballgame right now,” Ferentz said. “Some guys have a lot of position flexibility, the other guys maybe not as much. The key thing for us right now is to figure out who the best three are and then where can we put them most effectively.”
What does Iowa look for when deciding who’s the middle (Mike) linebacker and who’s on the weakside?
“Mike position is a communicator position, so he’s got a lot on his shoulders, lot of things to process and think about. That’s part of the equation, for sure,” Ferentz said. “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.”
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He’s a walk-on senior wide receiver from Inwood via University of Sioux Falls (S.D., NCAA Division II school). He’s 5-10, 186 pounds. In 2016 at Sioux Falls, Groeneweg caught 24 passes for 402 yards (16.8 yards per catch) and five TDs. He also led the Northern Sun Conference with 891 return yards.
Groeneweg also is the No. 2 X wide receiver at Iowa this spring, listed behind sophomore Brandon Smith. Matt Easley was a No. 2 wide receiver last spring and a fairly anonymous walk-on from Iowa Western. He led the Hawkeyes with 51 receptions and 530 receiving yards.
“He kind of blended in out there until we started playing,” Ferentz said. “Then, he did some really good things, and he had a really good month of December.
“We’re anxious to see what he can do this spring. But he’s a guy, I think, that we’ll add to that senior class. That’s kind of a pleasant surprise.”
You never know. That’s why this can be maddening and fun at the same time.
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