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IOWA CITY — Blocking drills, run-throughs and uncontested games of catch scattered the turf of Kinnick Stadium early Saturday morning.
At the blow of a horn, players rotated into their respective position group drills before a progression into 7-on-7 and eventually hints of scrimmage play.
There’s still one more open practice to go on Saturday, May 1, but here are some observations from the Iowa football team’s first day back at Kinnick.
Keagan Johnson poised as a regular
With junior Nico Ragaini out of practice, there was room for a regular rotation of receivers in the Nos. 3 and 4 positions.
“We consider Nico a starting-caliber player,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Senior Charlie Jones and true freshman early enrollee Keagan Johnson were consistently in rotation. Johnson was notably in for both junior Spencer Petras and sophomore Alex Padilla at quarterback, emphasized as a strength in the slot position while Tyrone Tracy Jr. took the long balls.
Johnson’s potential is genetic. His dad, Clester Johnson, played wingback for Nebraska’s national championship teams in 1994 and 1995 and his brother, Cade Johnson, is currently projected as a late-round NFL Draft pick out of South Dakota State.
“You never know about a recruit until he gets on campus, he does have more than enough requisite ability,” Ferentz said. “First thing that jumped out is his attitude is really serious and really focused in an unusual way for a younger guy.”
Redshirt freshman Quavon Matthews also caught a long ball from redshirt freshman Deuce Hogan on a three-play drive for a touchdown during scrimmage play. True freshman Arland Bruce IV also played with both Padilla and Hogan.
“It's a land of opportunity for everybody,” Ferentz said.
Joe Evans on the edge
Both Joe Evans and John Waggoner swapped time on the edge, but Evans consistently faced the first-team offense.
Evans, a former walk-on put on scholarship in 2020, moved from linebacker to defensive end in 2019. He’s no stranger to the field, playing in all eight games last year, recording three solo tackles and four assists, including two for loss and one sack.
On Saturday, Evans flanked the right edge with Zach VanValkenburg on the left with Louie Stec and Noah Shannon anchoring the interior against Petras’ offense. Stec was an unfamiliar name, but the 6-foot, 260-pound sophomore from LaGrange Park, Ill., was consistently in rotation on the interior.
“Louie is getting work and has gotten work all spring, he’s an extremely tough guy and he’s taking advantage of the opportunity he’s gotten,” Ferentz said. “He’s not the tallest guy in the world, but he’s got good leverage and very tough to move out there.”
Waggoner replaced VanValkenburg and Logan Jones and Lukas Van Ness also swapped in against Padilla.
“I think I speak for everybody when I say we have total confidence in Joe,” Ferentz said. “We are rotating those three guys with the first group right now (VanValkenburg, Evans, Waggoner). Guys that haven't played but are doing things pretty consistently are John and Noah, just a tier below Zach.”
Quarterbacks have ups and downs
Four quarterbacks: Petras, Padilla, redshirt freshman Deuce Hogan and junior Connor Kapisak were on display at spring practice, but in Ferentz’s eyes, Petras leads the pack because of his experience.
“Spencer still has a real advantage from experience and then after that it's wide open right now,” Ferentz said. “Alex and Deuce are probably the closest to each other at this point. It’s way too early to call, but if one of them can elevate past Spencer then so be it.”
Matt Fagan at backup center
Since sophomore Noah Fenske has entered the transfer portal (he announced his commitment to Colorado on Saturday), there is a search for the No. 2 center behind junior Tyler Linderbaum. Matt Fagan seems to be rotating with the second team. True freshman early enrollee Connor Colby also took snaps at center during drills.
True freshmen Zach Twedt, Justice Sullivan and David Davidkov; redshirt freshman Elijah Yelverton and Yahya Black; sophomores Justin Britt, Logan Lee, and Chris Reames; juniors Cody Ince, Terry Roberts and Nico Ragaini; and seniors Matt Hankins, Jack Koerner and Ivory Kelly-Martin, did not practice Saturday.
Ferentz said that anyone not suited up was sitting out for medical reasons with the exception of Josiah Miamen.
Miamen was arrested on Sunday, but will return to the team Monday.
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