116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — It’s no secret that Iowa’s special teams play has been one of the best in the country.
ESPN’s Football Power Index has rated Iowa’s special teams unit as one of the six most efficient at the FBS level for three straight seasons.
Here’s an early look at the 2022 unit in the final installment of The Gazette’s winter position breakdown series:
Kicker Caleb Shudak is out of eligibility after spending his sixth year in Iowa City. He earned third-team Associated Press All-America honors after hitting 24 of 28 field goals in 2021.
Other special teams losses include backup punter Ryan Gersonde and backup long-snapper Austin Spiewak. Gersonde also handled the Hawkeyes’ kick-holding duties. Henry Marchese and Ivory Kelly-Martin also were frequent contributors to Iowa’s coverage and return units.
Fan-favorite punter Tory Taylor — there’s a decent chance at least one person reading this is wearing his “Punting is winning” T-shirt — will be back for his junior season.
Taylor had at least one 50-plus-yard punt in 11 of Iowa’s 14 games and averaged 46.1 yards per punt. For every one punt that went into the end zone for a touchback, he had three downed inside the 20-yard-line.
Nick Phelps will likely back up Taylor after Gersonde’s graduation, but Taylor hasn’t missed a snap at punter while at Iowa.
Aaron Blom, who was the second-team kicker in 2021, is expected to return in 2022 and compete for the starting role.
“Aaron Blom has just really been impressive for two years,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in a news conference earlier this month. “This guy is as serious as a heart attack. He makes Shudak look like he's loose.”
At long snapper, Iowa will return Luke Elkin, who beat out Spiewak for the starting duties in 2021 despite being a true freshman.
Charlie Jones, Iowa’s electric punt and kick returner, will be back for another year. Jones returned a punt for a touchdown in 2020 and a kickoff for a touchdown in 2021.
While it doesn’t show up on a depth chart, many major contributors to the coverage and return units are expected to come back — Kyler Fisher, Jay Higgins, Terry Roberts, Monte Pottebaum and Logan Klemp, among others.
Who’s joining the mix
Preferred walk-on kicker Drew Stevens enrolled early this spring, so he already is in the mix for the starting kicker spot.
“We think he's a good prospect, so we're going to let the guys compete,” Ferentz said.
Stevens has worked with the same kicking coach as former Iowa standout Keith Duncan. Videos on Twitter have shown Stevens’ impressive range, including a 54-yarder going into the wind in a practice last month.
Way-too-early two-deep projections
Kicker could change a couple times before now and Iowa’s 2022 opener against South Dakota State. The starter spots at the rest of the special teams positions are far less likely to change.
- Tory Taylor
- Nick Phelps
- Aaron Blom
- Drew Stevens (as a close second)
- Luke Elkin
- Liam Reardon
- Charlie Jones
- Cooper DeJean
Early indicators suggest Iowa should be well-positioned to have another year of special teams play that is among the best in the country.
The return of Taylor — along with some of the gunners who helped him pin opponents inside the 20 so often — means Iowa fans won’t have to fret about punting in 2022.
If Jones continues to return kickoffs and punts, Iowa won’t have to worry much about that either. Gavin Williams was the No. 2 kickoff return guy in 2021, but that’d be hard to do again in 2022 with his increased responsibilities at running back.
Kicker will be the biggest question mark among this group. The edge on this two-deep projection goes to Blom — the guy who has a two-year head start — but all signs point toward Stevens making it an interesting competition.
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