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Quick slants: Turning up Powell, big chances for seniors
IOWA CITY -- Damond Powell showed a ton of speed and athleticism during the first five games last season.
He piled up 206 yards on just four catches, including a 74-yard tunnel screen that was much more run than catch and that broken open Iowa's win at Minnesota. Powell, a 5-11, 180-pound junior college transfer, caught a few more passes, but as opponents realized he was Iowa's go-to deep threat, they planned accordingly.
Powell was shutout during Iowa's final four games. You saw flashes and wondered where Powell went.
Things that held back Powell were . . .
"He got here a couple of days before we got started," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He literally was brand new and all regards."
Powell, a senior, was a first-year player who showed up in Iowa City just days before camp opened last August. There was a bit of a learning curve.
Physically, Powell wasn't very big. He was listed at 180, just as he is this spring, but . . .
"He looks like a college player now, instead of a skinny kid," Ferentz said. "I'm sure it's the first time he trained with any regularity. My guess is he's just like [former Hawkeye safety] Bob Sanders. He's probably just played ball all the time. And now he's actually doing it in a structured way."
Powell will have a chance to become more of a factor, but there will be more bodies at the wide receiver position. This spring, Andre Harris, Derrick Mitchell Jr., A.J. Jones and Derrick Willies will be redshirt freshman and in the game. Willies, a 6-4, 210-pounder, is already on the depth chart.
Competition will be fierce. Ferentz said coaches liked what they saw from the redshirt freshmen in December. Now, the trick is to do it with the bright lights on.
"We don't know how they're going to react to audibles, coverage changing, so this will be a really important step for those guys," Ferentz said. "I think the potential there for the group is good. We're excited about that and hopefully they can show they'll pick things up pretty quickly and play at a winning level."
Big, last chances for seniors
Last season, O-lineman Andrew Donnal still felt the effects of a torn ACL suffered during the 2012 season. He was in and out of the lineup, mostly trading series with guard Jordan Walsh.
Ferentz said Wednesday that he wasn't fully operational until November. Ferentz also said Donnal, a 6-7, 305-pound senior, is a better tackle than guard and so that's where he'll start 2014, No. 1 right tackle.
"We have all the confidence in the world he'll play well for us," Ferentz said. "I don't think he's overwhelmed at all. He's excited about it, and I think he's totally comfortable out in that position."
On the other hand, senior safety Nico Law remains the odd man out at safety. Law has been near the starting lineup for the last two seasons. He made four starts in 2012. Last season, he lost a camp battle to John Lowdermilk.
On the depth chart released Wednesday, Law was listed as the No. 2 strong safety behind Lowdermilk, with junior Jordan Lomax listed at No. 1 free safety. Ferentz was quick to point out that it's not over for Law. Spring practice just opened Wednesday. It's a long way until August.
"Nothing has been established. He's welcome to beat Johnny out," Ferentz said. "It could be he beats Jordan Lomax out and Johnny goes to free safety, so that's something we all talk about as a staff. Our job is to get the best 11 guys out there on any situation. That's what the players expect and want. It's fair to want that and they want to compete.
"At the end of the day not everybody is going to start. That's the reality of college football. Guys have to earn it on the field, that's what it's all about."
A few other notes . . .
-- Don't count out sophomore running back LeShun Daniels. Yes, he was used the least of the returning backs during his true freshman season. This is a new season. Ferentz talked fullback when he mentioned Mark Weisman. Daniels is listed at 230 pounds. Iowa's staff seems intent on exploring the possibilities.
"The way he's carrying himself now, he's grown little bit," Ferentz said. "One of the reasons we played him last year is he seemed to handle pretty much everything in stride, didn't seem to be overwhelmed at any given time. We'll probably see a guy [this season] that's even more confident, more decisive. He's really had a good winter, worked hard. He's a guy that always seems to be very upbeat and just likes football."
Where will those carries come from? That's a question that will probably hang into the first week of the season.
-- Safety Anthony Gair and running back Akrum Wadley have wrist injuries, but should be available this spring.
-- Sophomore running back Michael Malloy has left the team, Ferentz said. Still, Iowa could have nine scholarship running backs in camp this fall (Weisman, Daniels, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock, Wadley, Jonathan Parker, Markel Smith and C.J. Hilliard).
-- Iowa now has two junior punters on scholarship. Connor Kornbrath is the incumbent (he averaged 39.97 yards on 65 punts last season). Dillon Kidd, a junior college transfer, is the challenger.
Kidd was basically a street free agent in January. Out of El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif., he accepted a scholarship offer from Iowa after an extremely short courtship. Kidd was ready to enroll at Florida International. FIU's special teams coach left to become defensive line coach at Connecticut.
Kidd looked at his options. He contacted Chris Sailer, a renowned kicking coach. Sailer told him White contacted Sailer and was looking for a punter.
"Every one of our guys on the roster, basically, is in competition," Ferentz said. ". . . Basically, everybody has competition. I think that's a good thing. I think players want that. Players want to compete."