SPORTS

A Closer Look: Iowa specialists

Iowa's special teams depth chart

Iowa's Marshall Koehn kicks the ball during an open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines on Saturday, April 11,
Iowa’s Marshall Koehn kicks the ball during an open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines on Saturday, April 11, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

THE DEPTH CHART

PUNTER

1. Dillon Kidd, sr., 6-2, 215 OR Marshall Koehn, sr., 6-0, 200

KICKER

1. Koehn; 2. Mick Ellis, soph., 5-10, 180; 3. Miguel Recinos, fr., 6-1, 180

LONG SNAPPER

1. Tyler Kluever, soph., 6-0, 220; 2. Jackson Subbert, fr., 6-3, 205

HOLDER

1. Kidd; 2. Tyler Wiegers, fr., 6-4, 222

PUNT RETURN

1. Desmond King, jr., 5-11, 190 OR Matt VandeBerg, jr., 6-1, 185 OR Riley McCarron, so., 5-9, 185

KICKOFF RETURN

1. Jordan Canzeri, sr., 5-9, 192 OR Tevaun Smith, sr., 6-2, 205 OR Jonathan Parker, soph., 5-8, 185 OR Akrum Wadley, soph., 5-11, 185 OR VandeBerg OR McCarron

THE GUY

Senior Marshall Koehn shifted from an on-field question mark early last season to an exclamation point by season’s end. Koehn missed three of his first four field goals and was the verge of being replaced. Then in a wave of sideline confusion, Koehn rushed on the field against Iowa State and connected on a 44-yard field goal. That propelled Koehn to boot 11 field goals in his final 12 attempts.

Special teams coach Chris White said Koehn’s confidence waned before that kick. Now, White compares Koehn to Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh.

“There was nothing to back it up,” White said. “Then all the sudden he hits one and he’s like, ‘Damn, I can do this.’ All the sudden he hits another one and the confidence builds from there. Right now he’s extremely confident. He’s really had a great spring and summer.

“We need him to be a little bit more consistent and he can be a special guy for us. He really can. I haven’t seen a guy with that leg strength in college in a long time.”

Koehn drilled 43 of 68 kickoffs for touchbacks, the nation’s eighth-best percentage. On the rare occasions the ball didn’t reach the end zone, Koehn often kicked it too hard. Both he and White compared the motion to striking a golf ball. A consistent swing helps more with distance than a powerful attempt.

“There’s too many times when I was kicking squib kickoffs that were meant to be really deep kicks,” Koehn said. “It’s just something I’ve been trying to work on I guess, is just being more consistent as a kickoff guy and putting them through the end zone and not having to worry about squibbing the ball and you don’t really know where it’s going.”

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“He’s got a linebacker mentality playing kicker and a lot of times that is outstanding,” White said. “But if you watched all of our kickoffs, the only ones that were returned were the ones that he tried to overkick and he missed them and he mishit them and they looked like a liner. Those weren’t on purpose. We wanted him to kick them out of the end zone every time. He has that ability, but he gets a little amped up, he overkicks.”

Koehn’s leg strength has vaulted him into a competition with Dillon Kidd as the team’s punter. Kidd ranked 10th among Big Ten punters with a 38.5-yard average. Iowa’s inconsistent punting over the last three seasons makes Koehn a strong candidate.

“I think he’d be the first to admit he’s not an expert at punting,” White said. “It’s a completely different deal as you know. Every day he gets a little better, and when he gets a hold of one, it’s a pretty sight.”

If Koehn wins the punting job, Iowa might temper his kicking to prevent leg burnout. But Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said that shouldn’t become a problem.

“He’s just a good all-around athlete, and he is used to competing,” Ferentz said. “He played 70-80 snaps in high school. That’s what he’s used to. I don’t think it will be a big factor, but it’s something we will talk about.”

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Iowa used six different kick returners in an open practice on Aug. 15, and more might be in competition. Incumbent Jonathan Parker finished eighth among Big Ten kick returners at 22.1 yards per return last year. But he was the league leader for three weeks as late as Nov. 10 with 25.6 yards per return. He struggled mightily toward the end, returning 15 kickoffs for just 239 yards (a 15.9 yard-per-return average).

Among the contenders in play at kick returner include Parker, senior Tevaun Smith, junior Matt VandeBerg, junior Riley McCarron, running back Jordan Canzeri and sophomore Akrum Wadley.

Punt return also remains open. Working at the position last week included cornerback Desmond King and wide receivers Emmanuel Ogwo, Jerminic Smith and VandeBerg.

l Comments: (319) 339-3169; scott.dochterman@thegazette.com

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