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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa is looking for a kick returner.
With the departure of Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and return of punt returner Charlie Jones, punter Tory Taylor, kicker Caleb Shudak and other young, but experienced players on special teams, that’s the one void special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said was left to fill back in April.
“We’ve got a deep pool of candidates we feel good about,” Woods said during a news conference this spring. “We have some talented ball carriers: (juniors) Tyrone Tracy and (Tyler) Goodson, (seniors) Charlie Jones, Nico Ragaini and Max Cooper. (Freshmen) Arland Bruce IV and Keagan Johnson are some younger guys who have done a really good job so far.”
Jones, Woods said, has the starting spot returning punts, but he has tested Tracy at the position also. Jones, who stated his interest in contributing more offensively as a wide receiver, was an honorable mention All-American and first-team All-Big Ten return specialist by Phil Steele, and was atop the Big Ten in both total punt return yards (223) and yards per return (10.5 yards), where he ranked No. 5 and No. 11 in the nation respectively.
Cooper and Ragaini also have in-game experience returning punts. Ragaini averaged 10.7 yards on nine returns in 2019. Cooper also returned five punts that year.
A key gunner for the special teams will be junior defensive back Terry Roberts, who was mentioned multiple times this spring by Woods, defensive coordinator Phil Parker and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz as a potentially impactful player on both special teams and defense. Roberts ranked No. 4 in the Big Ten last year in recovered fumbles, which stood at No. 11 nationally.
“The growth and maturity I've seen in him (Terry Roberts) over the last six months, is out of this out of this world,” Woods said. "The other day, we give him a break on some reps, and he's out there coaching. He looks and sounds like a football coach, talking to the younger guys, the freshmen, on some of the things we're doing as a gunner.“
Iowa also returns the Big Ten Punter of the Year in Taylor, who is only looking to get better this offseason by perfecting the spiral punt. Taylor averaged 44.1 yards per punt last season.
But part of his growth was also learning how to play football.
“I'd never really played the game before,” Taylor said this spring. “So I was kind of thinking like: can I do this? I think like the biggest thing for me was now that I know that I can do it, it's more so just about like improving and getting better.”
Shudak, who enters his sixth year on the team, will assume the role as starting place kicker. After the spring game in May, he said that his longest field goal made in fall practice was 58 yards, while this past spring he knocked a 56-yarder for fans to see during the open practice.
He also has kicking genes — his dad, Jeff Shudak, kicked for Iowa State from 1987-1990. Jeff was at the top of the Big 8 during his freshman year, converting all 17 of his field goals attempts. He collected 266 career points on a 73.6% field goal percentage through all four years.
Now it’s Caleb’s turn after years of competition behind Keith Duncan and Miguel Recinos, who have both made their mark on the Big Ten.
“I started on the ground, playing soccer,” Shudak said. "Then it kind of just grew into something where I was like: ‘Well, I'm not too bad at this.’ My dad knew so much about it that it helped me push me to get to a higher level than I ever thought I’d get to.“
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