Iowa Football

Iowa football 2020 depth chart projections

You're going to wonder about the defensive line, but you might really like the offense, special teams

Iowa Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson (15) celebrates on the sideline as time expires in their 2019 Holiday Bowl win
Iowa Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson (15) celebrates on the sideline as time expires in their 2019 Holiday Bowl win over the USC Trojans at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019. Iowa won 49-24. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

I think there will be some football. Don’t ask me when. I don’t know what the game might look like. During last week’s teleconference, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said he thought teams that traditionally recruit well (blue bloods that don’t so much recruit but vet) will have an advantage.

Why? Part of what makes Iowa teams good is practice, the unending conveyor belt of reps and “Run it agains” that make a satisfying reach block muscle memory. When football returns, each program likely will have eight weeks to figure out who can do what. Half of that will be summer conditioning with strength and conditioning and the other half will be some sort of fall camp.

Losing time for those precious reps will zap programs that recruit more than vet.

But let’s try not to get all twisted about that. I think we’d all kiss football on the mouth right now if we knew 1) it wouldn’t kill us and 2) if we knew a “when” or had an idea of the “when.”

We have no idea on a “when.” Our friend football isn’t returning texts right now.

Under the guise of a 2020 football season being a possibility, here’s my shot at Iowa’s 2020 depth chart.

This is something I started in January. Things come up. Recruiting (which will be a front-and-center topic here for the next few weeks) happened. At least the part where the Hawkeyes landed an Australian punter. The NFL combine came up. That, by the way, is a week in Indianapolis. No, it’s not at Lucas Oil Stadium, it’s in the Indiana Convention Center. Well, my part is, anyway. That’s where the interviews happen.

I’ve been thinking “I was in a convention center with at least two other large gatherings and, oh yeah, everyone in the NFL, and I didn’t get exposed to the coronavirus?”

And I’ve been thinking how lucky I am.

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So, because I started this deal shortly after getting back from San Diego and the Holiday Bowl — does that not seem like 100 years ago? — I’m putting together a links post.

Lots of information. The biggest offseason move probably right now is offensive tackle Coy Cronk. All of the big personnel changes are reflected here. I didn’t put too many if any true freshmen into the two deeps. Basically, lots can change between now and June/July (or whenever), so the two deeps still could add a viable body or two. Iowa has been effective in the offseason/portal recruiting.

Quarterback

Spencer Petras has a chance, but it has to be earned — Sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras is a huge Tyler Childers fan. I love that fact. I love Tyler Childers. I was supposed to see him twice this summer, Madison, Wis., with Sturgill Simpson and Hinterland.

But this is where the cleats meet the rubber bits in the FieldTurf. Petras will have to fill in the blanks with his own chords.

Just a few 10,000-foot observations: Petras has been all-in since day one. Why do I say that? He’s from San Rafael, Calif. His recruitment was quick, maybe a week, maybe not even that long. When we spoke with Ferentz last week, he said Petras still is in Iowa City, one of 20-ish, can’t remember the exact number.

And, oh yeah, Ferentz let us know that Petras’ dad, Adam, is a retired physician and his mom, Sarah, also is in the medical field. They probably have some connections to our current struggles.

“Spencer felt he would be better off here, given the circumstances,” Ferentz said.

No, they’re not doing drills. Ferentz believes there’s not a ton to be gained as far as X and O in the next six weeks. The focus is on staying in shape, however the players can, wherever the players are.

“Hopefully, we’ll get to the football whenever it’s time,” Ferentz said. “Whatever we do know wouldn’t be a substitute for what we’re missing. ... To think we’re going to move forward as a team, I’m not that worried about it.”

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Running back

The runway is clear for Tyler Goodson’s takeoff — On one hand, it’s easy for us to make the conclusion that Tyler Goodson should’ve carried the ball 70 to 100 times more than he did last year. With some distance between the Holiday Bowl and wherever we stand now, we’ve not only reached that conclusion, it’s set in.

That is a thing with Ferentz football. That break-in period for new skill players, usually true freshmen, is variable. We’re not in the personnel meetings nor are we in practice. We are left to fill in the blanks on what we actually see on the field.

 

And then there’s the trust factor. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker told us in San Diego where trust fit with him. It was No. 1. I think we can fold that into the entire Iowa staff. How do we measure that? The players who play tell us that.

Maybe the trust dropped or maybe Iowa wanted to pull out all the stops against No. 10 Minnesota last fall, but Goodson got the start. He carried 13 times for 94 yards with a 10-yard TD run. From there, his carries went 21, 13 and 18 the rest of the way. There was just one 100-yard game in there (116 at Nebraska), but the takeaway was the job was officially handed over to Goodson.

So, if you follow Goodson’s mom on Twitter, Felicia (met her and husband Maurice at a tailgate, pleasant folks who are very proud of their son), you’ve seen countless videos of Tyler working out. He hit the ground running in the offseason and has kept right on going. So, it wasn’t so much the production for Goodson late last season, it was putting this kind of ownership into him. What a motivator for the offseason.

Wide receiver and tight end

Where the playmakers live — Iowa hasn’t had a better foursome of wide receivers since I’ve been doing this. That’s a really long time, everyone.

On wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette: Kirk Ferentz called last January a “train wreck” for Smith-Marsette. Then, after fall camp, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, noting positive gains in the weight room, said this: “He has been as impressive as any guy on our roster right now. Skill set, not an issue. Good guy, good player, good teammate, all of those things. ... He’s taken on a leadership role with some of our younger players and that’s really encouraging.”

That’s exactly what we saw in 2019.

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On wide receiver Brandon Smith: His 2019 — yes, cut into by the ankle injury — showed how much the little things at WR matter. The difference between his junior year and his first two was how he used his body, how he dictated physical play to defenders. All of the sudden, Iowa had a WR who was a threat on a fade route. That’s a huge deal.

On wide receivers Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini — I think you will see Iowa explore using Tracy in space as much as possible. Maybe like the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel, who had 800-plus receiving yards and nearly 150 rushing yards last season. Ragaini showed that the Iowa staff has a touch when it comes to picking the right receiver for the slot.

On one hand, Sam LaPorta reminds me of T.J. Hockenson (love the way he cradles the ball and takes a hit, just like Hockenson). On the other hand, he’s a true sophomore with 15 career receptions (all of which came in the last six games and many of which helped the offense and had some clutchness to them).

Offensive line

Welcome back, Alaric Jackson — As far as newsworthiness coming out of the Holiday Bowl for the 2020 season, senior offensive tackle Alaric Jackson was it. He stood in the interview room at that stadium in San Diego (who knows what it’s called and who cares) and said, yeah, the knee injury he suffered in the opener kept him at around 70 percent health all season and see everyone next year.

So, that was a good start for 2020 O-line.

 

So, Jackson announced in San Diego and that was a good thing. Also a good thing was center Tyler Linderbaum introducing himself to the world in 2019. How often do you walk away from a game noticing the center’s physical presence? You did last year.

Guard Kyler Schott played his best football after he recovered from a foot injury. He did some damage against Nebraska and USC. His continued improvement would be one of the little things that would add up to a lot.

Coy Cronk and Mark Kallenberger are probably in line for the last two spots. If another name rises, that’s a good thing.

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Defensive line

That is the work in front of them — You know it, they know it, the defensive line is the hot spot going into 2020.

You lose A.J. Epenesa a year early, you’re going to have problems. But it wasn’t just Epenesa. Tackles Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore did their jobs against the run.

Yeah, the Iowa staff probably would prefer traditional DL bodies doing traditional DL jobs, but when DL coach Kelvin Bell introduced the concept of the stand-up DE last season, the door opened for players like Joe Evans, who could become a regular and not just a pass-rush specialist.

 

Logan Lee might be the best example of this. His last weight the UI released was 251. That was before the beginning of last season. He’s probably closer to 270. He’ll probably play DE, but he could also play DT.

One thing to keep in the front of your mind, especially with the 2020 defense, is that the Iowa staff won’t ask players to do things they’re not capable of. If Lee still is 251 pounds and isn’t strong enough to hold up inside, he won’t play inside. Same for a defensive end who can’t affect a zone read.

One of the grad transfers Iowa did reach out to was Stanford’s Jovan Swann. He ended up at Indiana. Maybe there’s another body out there, maybe not. This post stuck to the players who are Hawkeyes. Consider a late arrival a bonus.

Linebackers

It’ll be interesting to see who ends up doing what — Yes, I know you’ll roll your eyes if I write too much about the cash safety and the 4-2-5 and what that’s done to the LB corps, so I’ll keep it brief.

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The 4-2-5 allows Iowa’s defense to be flexible with scheme and personnel. Is it perfect? No, you saw the Penn State game and you saw wide receiver K.J. Hamler beat outside linebacker Nick Niemann in space. Hamler beat a ton of Big Ten defenders in space. This goes back to “coaches not asking players to do things they can’t do.” This probably is where that shows up the most.

 

I think middle linebacker will be a contest. I might be getting ahead of myself with Jack Campbell, but I also can’t walk away from the idea of having a 6-4 linebacker who can close like Campbell showed he could last fall.

Defensive backs

The putting together of the uneven pieces — Safety could use a little more depth. Beyond that, it’s a race for trust at the corner spot opposite senior Matt Hankins.

Epenesa's herding of B1G QBs the last two years has helped make the secondary look good. Oh yes, there have been a ton of coverage sacks, too. It’ll be interesting to see how much rush there is and how much coverage there needs to be. It probably swings the other way in 2020.

 

Also, the Hawkeyes will have one of the nation’s more difficult schedules in 2020. The quarterbacks this defense will face include: Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Penn State’s Sean Clifford, Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez (I think the Huskers are in for a QB controversy) and Iowa State’s Brock Purdy.

The Hawkeyes are built around defense. That will be tested in 2020.

Special teams

Iowa came right at foes in 2019 and will again in 2020 — During his time at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz has been more generous with punter scholarships than schollies for kickers. Does that surprise you? Me neither.

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Iowa does have two scholarship punters for 2020. Nothing is set in stone there, but the staff did go to Australia to find Tory Taylor. Ryan Gersonde still is around and will have the chance to compete.

Iowa will begin with kicker Keith Duncan and Smith-Marsette on kick return. They’ve gotten it done and so you can count on them. Punt return is probably a cautious year.

But really, punter will be a storyline, one way or the other.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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