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IOWA CITY — Iowa fans got a glimpse of what the 2022 Hawkeyes could look like Saturday. Well, sort of.
Injuries kept several key players off the field during Iowa’s Kids’ Day open practice.
Wide receiver Keagan Johnson, running back Gavin Williams, offensive lineman Mason Richman, cornerback Jermari Harris and defensive end Joe Evans were listed as first-teamers on the preseason depth chart, but they all were not in uniform for Saturday’s practice.
Along with the absences, one practice is a small sample size, and a lot can change in the three weeks leading up to Iowa’s season opener against South Dakota State.
But it’s also the only sample of practice available to the public before Sept. 3.
Here are five takeaways from the practice:
1. The consistency at kicker is there.
It’s too early to know who will be Iowa’s starting kicker, but Aaron Blom and Drew Stevens looked drastically better in Saturday’s open practice than in the spring open practice.
Both kickers — the sophomore Blom and the true freshman Stevens — were perfect during Saturday’s practice while hitting field goals as far out as 53 yards. There were some misses in pre-practice warmups, though.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Ferentz said. “I’m not pronouncing us ready to go, but at least that's encouraging.”
Special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said Friday that Blom and Stevens splitting duties during the season is “on the table.”
2. Iowa could have some true freshmen contribute right away.
Stevens was not the only true freshman to show the potential to be contributors in their first year in Iowa City.
Defensive back Xavier Nwankpa, the former five-star recruit from Southeast Polk High School, made some big plays Saturday.
He deflected a pass from quarterback Joe Labas that then led to a Karson Sharar interception that would’ve likely been a pick-6 if it hadn’t been whistled dead.
Then later in the practice, Nwankpa picked off Labas.
With Evans and fellow defensive end Deontae Craig out for Saturday’s practice, true freshman Aaron Graves showed he’s already capable of being a formidable defensive end.
“It’d be crazy to say, ‘We’re going to redshirt him,’” Ferentz said. “It'd be stupid on our part right now. … He belongs on the field with the older guys. He goes hard and makes them work, which makes us have better practices.”
Much of the conversation at tight end has revolved around Sam LaPorta, Luke Lachey, Steven Stilianos and Johnny Pascuzzi, but Addison Ostrenga also played well Saturday.
The Sun Prairie, Wis., native muscled through a couple defenders and into the end zone on a catch during the 11-on-11 portion of practice although Ferentz also noticed a mistake Saturday that was a “little bit of a focus thing.”
“Injuries create opportunity — or lack of depth, either one,” Ferentz said. “He’s handled things pretty well. He didn’t seem overwhelmed. So yeah, he’s in the mix.”
True freshman running backs Kaleb Johnson and Jaziun Patterson also saw significant snaps Saturday behind Leshon Williams.
“They’ve been practicing really well since they got here,” Ferentz said.
3. No crazy surprises at quarterback.
The apparent pecking order of Iowa’s top three quarterbacks going into the open practice — Spencer Petras at No. 1, Alex Padilla at No. 2 and Labas at No. 3 — played out as expected.
The 7-on-7 portion of practice was not a good showing in the air, but it also didn’t help that the wide receiver position has been hit hard with injuries. Many walk-ons in their first or second years on campus had prominent roles.
The 11-on-11 portion was better, though.
Padilla had a 20-yard completion to Nico Ragaini on the first drive that helped the Hawkeyes end the first series with a touchdown. Had it not been for a drop on third down, Petras would’ve completed four of his last five passes.
Labas’ footwork showed what he can eventually do at the quarterback position, but the two aforementioned interceptions were a sign that the redshirt freshman probably isn’t ready to take the reins as QB1 in 2022.
“Joe’s still got a little ways to go,” Ferentz said.
Petras had a relatively small workload Saturday, with Padilla and Labas taking the bulk of the 11-on-11 snaps, and that wasn’t by accident.
“We feel like he’s got a lot of good reps in camp already,” Ferentz said. “We know more about him, like what we’ve seen, like what we saw today.”
When he did play, it was often while working on third-down scenarios — “that’s a real important period,” Ferentz said.
4. Depending on how the offensive line does, Leshon Williams could be a potent weapon in the backfield.
Gavin Williams, the No. 1 running back on the preseason depth chart, was out with an injury, so Leshon Williams was in the No. 1 role for the afternoon.
Leshon Williams had a pair of 3-yard touchdown runs in practice. On the second touchdown, defensive end Ethan Hurkett and linebacker Jestin Jacobs were ready to tackle Williams for a loss.
But the sophomore from Chicago danced around Hurkett and Jacobs with ease en route to a touchdown.
It showed the potential he has at running back, but what he — or any other running back can do in 2022 — will partly depend on what a young offensive line can accomplish.
5. It’s too early to evaluate the 2022 offensive line.
The offensive line was a question mark for the Hawkeyes going into Saturday’s practice, and it remains one after the practice.
Many players at the position group were out, including Mason Richman, Nick DeJong and David Davidkov.
With a limited group available, it’s hard to accurately make definitive conclusions about the position group’s 2022 outlook from Saturday’s practice.
The offensive line had some false starts and allowed some pressure, but it also did enough to give Iowa’s running backs a chance to have some decent gains.
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