116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — With third-team AP All-American Caleb Shudak out of eligibility, Iowa’s biggest special teams question is surely at kicker, and it’s not something likely to be resolved soon.
“I don't see anyone leading or trailing right now,” special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said. “I see the competition coming into the summer and probably into fall camp.”
Aaron Blom was the starter on the depth chart released at the beginning of spring practices, but freshman Drew Stevens comes in as the 10th-best kicker in Kohl’s Kicking Camps’ 2022 rankings. Lucas Amaya also could be in the mix.
The competition for a less glamorous role, although vital on the special teams unit, also is on the line. Starting holder.
“It's a position most people don't think about,” Woods said Wednesday. “Everyone blames the kicker for a missed kick. Well, if you go and you watch and you really look closely, a lot of times he’s either off the spot, the tilt is not what the kicker wants or what he expected when he’s striking the ball.”
Woods is looking for three things from the next holder — “spot, tilt, strings.”
All three aspects of what Woods describes as a “fine little art” have a major impact on a kicker’s success.
“Each kicker is different,” Woods said. “They all prefer a different type of tilt. Do they want forward or to the side?”
The sooner the Hawkeyes decide on starters at holder and kicker, the sooner they can develop a much-needed rapport.
“It takes constant communication, and it takes chemistry,” Woods said.
Choosing a starting holder isn’t necessarily a fast process.
“I wish it was done yesterday, but that’s not going to happen,” Woods said.
The job is open following the graduation of Ryan Gersonde, who “kind of went unheralded” in his role.
“We lost a really good holder in Ryan Gersonde,” Woods said. “Ryan was very good at it. He had his role and understood the role, and he was sort of the glue within the room quietly.”
Tory Taylor is “trying to be” the next No. 1 holder, Woods said, as well as backup punter Nick Phelps.
Woods also mentioned defensive back Cooper DeJean as an option at holder. DeJean played quarterback and defensive back in high school and would add a level of athleticism usually not seen at the position.
“Cooper is an exceptional athlete,” Woods said. “We all saw what he did in high school with the ball in his hands.”
Woods isn’t just talking about DeJean’s experience at quarterback. He was a holder in high school, too.
“I promise none of you guys paid attention to him as a holder in high school,” DeJean told reporters Wednesday. “I barely did.”
The idea of DeJean being a holder faces some logistical challenges, though. DeJean’s schedule as a defensive player limits how much time he could spend working with Iowa’s kickers.
“Cooper’s off busy getting yelled at by Coach (Phil) Parker, and he’s trying to make tackles and interceptions and all that stuff,” Woods said. “And then, ‘Oh by the way, field goal period, you’re up.’”
As much as DeJean brings a “different dimension,” Woods made the top priority for the holder clear.
“It's going to come down to who's going to help us put the ball through the uprights first,” Woods said.
Comments: (319) 398-8394; firstname.lastname@example.org