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IOWA CITY — Fans will get their first glimpse of the 2022 Iowa football roster Saturday with the Hawkeyes’ open practice at 9:45 a.m. at Kinnick Stadium.
A lot can, and probably will, change in the four-plus months between Saturday’s practice and the first week of the regular season.
But still, it’ll be the best opportunity for evaluation until August. Here are five things to particularly keep an eye on:
What happens at quarterback?
Who works with the first team? Who looks good? Who doesn’t?
Iowa’s coaching staff has signaled its desire for a quarterback battle going into 2022 after a 2021 season featured inconsistent quarterback play.
Spencer Petras seems to be the early leader for the starting job, but the open practice will give a better idea of who is getting the most first-team reps.
It’ll also be the first chance to see an extended look at Joe Labas. The Brecksville, Ohio, native — the youngest of the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job — has the disadvantage of spending less time in Iowa’s system as Petras or Alex Padilla, but he has garnered high praise from teammates and coaches from his work on the scout team in 2021.
“He’s definitely done some surprising things that you would be like, ‘Wow,’” safety Kaevon Merriweather said last year. “I’ve seen him throw like a sidearm — like Patrick Mahomes — pass and completed it.”
The offensive line — pretty much everything about it.
The one certainty about Iowa’s offensive line is how much is uncertain at the position group, at least among people outside of the program.
Iowa is replacing starting-caliber players on the offensive line, including unanimous All-American Tyler Linderbaum.
Mason Richman, who’ll be a sophomore in 2022, is the most experienced with 12 career starts going into next season. Fellow sophomore Connor Colby has 11 career starts. No other returning offensive lineman is in double digits.
Offensive line coach George Barnett said this week Logan Jones has been taking some of the first-team reps at center. Before these 15 spring practices, Jones still was playing on the defensive side of the ball.
With Justin Britt and Michael Myslinski out, Saturday’s practice won’t give a full sample of what’s to come on the offensive line. However, it should help give a better idea of what stage of development many younger linemen are at right now.
How does Lukas Van Ness’ skill set at defensive tackle translate now that he’s working at defensive end?
After playing almost entirely in the interior of the defensive line as a redshirt freshman in 2021, Lukas Van Ness has been working at defensive end in spring practice.
Assuming he remains at defensive end Saturday, it’ll be an opportunity to see how his length and athleticism, along with the lessons learned at defensive tackle, are working out on the outside.
Van Ness shared the team lead for sacks in 2021 despite being a redshirt freshman and playing in the interior. If the move to the outside works, he could make a major difference on a defensive front that already is expected to be among the best in the country.
How ready do Xavier Nwankpa and T.J. Hall appear to be competitive on the two-deeps?
Saturday will be fans’ first glimpse of early enrollee defensive backs Xavier Nwankpa and T.J. Hall.
Three of Iowa’s six early enrollees in 2021 started games as true freshmen. Nwankpa and Hall seem to be two of the strongest candidates to be immediate contributors.
Nwankpa came into Iowa City as one of the highest-ranking recruits to sign with the Hawkeyes, and his approach this spring has already impressed defensive coordinator Phil Parker.
Hall, while not quite as highly touted on the recruiting trail as Nwankpa, also has garnered praise from coaches at spring news conferences.
How do the three kickers perform?
Early forecasts suggest it’ll be a windy day Saturday, which could add an interesting wrinkle to the first public exhibition of Iowa’s kicking competition.
Three kickers — Aaron Blom, Drew Stevens and Lucas Amaya — are competing for the starting gig. None of them have taken a kick in a game at the collegiate level before.
Stevens tweeted videos of plenty of impressive kicks while he was a recruit, but that’s far from enough to make conclusive statements about the kicking battle.
Special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said the competition will "probably” go into fall camp, but Saturday’s scrimmage will likely be the first public hint of who has the best chance of winning the job.
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