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IOWA CITY — Bruises, tweaks and actual injuries a week into training camp have forced some of Iowa’s true freshmen into the team’s legitimate depth chart.
So far, they look like they belong. With senior cornerback Greg Mabin withheld from competition, Manny Rugamba played nickel with the first-team defense. Second-team sophomore linebacker Jack Hockaday didn’t compete in the scrimmage, so in came Amani Jones. Second-team junior defensive tackle Jake Hulett suffered an undisclosed fracture that will cost him four-to-six weeks, and Cedric Lattimore slid over from defensive end to fill the void.
It wasn’t just on defense, either. Sophomore wide receiver Jay Scheel nursed a slight hamstring pull, and Devonte Young worked plenty with the top two offenses. Running backs Toks Akinribade and Toren Young competed with every unit during Saturday’s kids’ day scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium.
Jones (6-foot-0, 215 pounds) has an impressive physique and provides the hits to match. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz called Jones “a really spirited player.” That was necessary for Jones, who was injured as a high school senior, to help lead Phillips Academy to the Illinois Class 4A title, the first ever by a Chicago public school.
“(Jones) really impressed us with the way he played in high school,” Ferentz said. “It started probably a year ago February. A former college coach and pro coach ran into me at a clinic and really just kind of jumped on the box for Amani. That got our attention and put our sights on him. The more we learned about him, the more interested we got. He’s our kind of guy. He’s doing some good things right now. He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s got a chance I think.”
“He’s a tough guy,” Iowa starting middle linebacker Josey Jewell said. “Hits hard. He runs to the ball a lot and gives 100 percent effort all the time. The things he needs to work on is just like any other freshman. You’ve got to learn the playbook, you’ve got to understand the defense. That’s what I struggled with, and that’s what a lot of people struggle with coming in.”
Young (6-0, 195) took snaps with the first team and seemed at ease. He made a couple nice catches and fit in with the unit.
“Devonte has gotten a lot of work with our guys with Jay being out,” Ferentz said. “I think he’s handled himself well, too. I think it’s realistic to think that he’ll be in the mix, and we may have to move some guys around. It’s a discussion that we’re going to have to have, but I could see him certainly playing in a couple of weeks when we get started.”
“He’s been playing well,” Iowa senior receiver Matt VandeBerg said. “I’m not going to speak so much on his behalfm but I just know he comes to work every day and obviously it’s shown because he played a lot (Saturday).”
Lattimore’s 6-5, 260-pound frame looks natural for defensive tackle. He’s raw but showed nice burst and strength against Iowa’s second-team offensive line.
“The way things are shaking out with our group, watching them and our needs, we’re a little bit thin in there with Jake being out,” Ferentz said. “That happened pretty early in camp, so it opened the door a little bit. Cedric’s done a really good job. I talked about Amani’s attitude and personality, and I’d compare Cedric the same way. He’s got a little bit of life to him. So he’s done things well, and we’ll let him keep pushing forward.”
Both Akinribade and Toren Young (5-11, 220) carried the ball in heavy doses Saturday. Akinribade (6-0, 205) flashed speed and quickness to go along with his power. Young showed good feet and was physical.
“Toks has looked good and the question with backs is, ‘What’s it going to be like when they get tackled?’” Ferentz said. “(Saturday) was his first day he got tackled, and I thought he handled it really well. Toren the same way. Toren’s probably one of those players that more contact involved, the better it is for him.”