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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — After more than a week of practices, Iowa football will be more in the public eye.
Friday is Iowa’s local media day, and Saturday is its Kids at Kinnick open practice.
Both occasions will shed some light on the Hawkeyes’ preseason question marks, although some of the answers won’t become entirely clear until the season is underway.
1. What happens at quarterback?
Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla are back.
Kirk Ferentz signaled Petras was the No. 1 quarterback going into fall camp, but he didn’t totally rule out Padilla in the competition.
Friday’s interview sessions and Saturday’s open practice will give media a chance to hear and then see how the quarterback competition is going. It also will be interesting to see how redshirt freshman Joe Labas is progressing.
Regardless of who is the Week 1 starter, an improvement from 2021 is almost a necessity for the Hawkeyes to return to Indianapolis as Big Ten West champions again in December.
2. Who steps up on the offensive line?
As young as Iowa’s offensive line seemed in 2021, it’s even younger in 2022.
The starters on the preseason depth chart are four sophomores and one senior. The second-teamers are three redshirt freshmen, a junior and a senior.
Two of the sophomores — Mason Richman and Connor Colby — had prominent roles in last year’s offense. But Tyler Elsbury only played in 22 snaps last year, per Pro Football Focus, and Logan Jones was a reserve on the defensive line.
Iowa will need more production from some of those younger players to give running backs Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams ample opportunities on the ground.
3. How special will Iowa’s special teams be?
Iowa’s special teams units have been among the best in the country in recent years, but a few questions linger in this area of the game.
The most pressing one is kicker. Neither Aaron Blom nor Drew Stevens instilled much confidence in Hawkeye fans with their performances in Iowa’s one open spring practice.
Of course, it’s a small sample size with an asterisk. Stevens, a true freshman, was kicking in front of fans at Kinnick for the first time.
Iowa traditionally hasn’t had an offense with high red-zone efficiency, so consistent play at kicker is a must in 2022.
Several players have expressed interest in taking over the punt/kick return duties, but replacing the Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year is no easy feat.
Which of the players who volunteered earn the return reps — and how they do in those reps — will be another key thing to watch in Saturday’s practice.
4. Who emerges as Iowa’s fourth wide receiver?
Iowa has three wide receivers who have proved themselves in the Black and Gold — Nico Ragaini, Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV.
After that, there’s a drop-off. No other wideout has caught a pass in an Iowa uniform going into this season.
Iowa’s surplus of capable tight ends will partially mask the lack of depth at wide receiver, but life would be a lot easier for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz if a fourth wide receiver emerges as a capable weapon.
Diante Vines, Brody Brecht, Alec Wick and Kaden Wetjen are candidates to make that jump.
5. How healthy can the Hawkeyes stay between now and October?
The Hawkeyes’ first four games aren’t necessarily cakewalks, but a 4-0 start would not be a surprise. They face an FCS team, an Iowa State team with many new faces, a Mountain West team in clear rebuilding mode and Big Ten cellar-dwelling Rutgers.
October, on the other hand, has some opponents who could be much more challenging. A Michigan team that beat Iowa last year, 42-3, will return several key players when it visits the Hawkeyes on Oct. 1. Later in the month, Iowa will visit perennial College Football Playoff contender Ohio State.
Having as healthy a team as possible is paramount for that stretch.
Some positions have a little more margin for error for injuries than others.
Iowa can ill afford another injury at wide receiver, for instance. Offensive line already is a young group as well.
Defensive line, on the other hand, has more depth and could probably withstand an injury to a key player and still be in good shape.
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