Iowa Football

Coordinator says Hawkeye punt returning can be dangerous ... for Iowa's opponents

Special teams coach LeVar Woods says that unit has good potential

Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards (53) signals it’s the Badgers’ ball after Iowa fumbled the football on a punt-return during Wisconsin’s 28-17 win at Kinnick Stadium last Saturday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards (53) signals it’s the Badgers’ ball after Iowa fumbled the football on a punt-return during Wisconsin’s 28-17 win at Kinnick Stadium last Saturday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa football special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said Wednesday that the Hawkeyes were very close to being “a dangerous (punt) return unit.”

Hecklers in the audience might chirp that it already is dangerous, given how things played out last Saturday in Iowa’s 28-17 home loss to Wisconsin.

Punt returner Kyle Groeneweg fumbled away a return near midfield and Shaun Beyer touched a rolling Badgers punt at the Iowa 10, which the Badgers recovered, leading to a 10-yard Wisconsin touchdown drive in the third quarter.

But Woods meant something 180 degrees different. He likes Groeneweg, a senior transfer from the University of Sioux Falls, and he likes his punt-return unit, which is a modest 90th nationally with 6.9 yards per return.

“Bad ball security,” was what Woods said Groeneweg had on his fumble. “He’ll be the first to tell you that. You should always have the ball on the outside arm. He’ll be the first to tell you that.

“It’s a deal where he had a really good return, had a really good thing going, and boom, the ball pops out. I know he’s sick about it today as we all are.”

But Groeneweg, averaging 7.6 yards on 10 punt returns, is “always out there fighting for his teammates,” Woods said. “I think the guys out there like blocking for him, because they know he could be a force back there for them and for this team.”

Which led to Woods’ bigger-picture proclamation.

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“If you’ve watched and studied us close,” he said, “we’re very, very close to being a dangerous return unit. A couple things, we’re talking about turnovers from the other night, you also go back a game or two that there are some opportunities that we gave up from a penalty standpoint. We negated a 30-yard return or negated a 23-yard return. Those are hard to come by punt return-wise.

“And you have a returner back there that can do that.”

As for Beyer, he made a mistake and neither Woods nor Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz hung him out to dry about it. They and defensive coordinator Phil Parker took questions Wednesday at Iowa’s football building.

“There was a miscommunication,” Ferentz said. “Shaun Beyer was hustling, doing the best he could to help his football team. Something unfortunate happened. He’s responded the way you’d expect anybody to respond. He came back to work and he’s working to improve and get better and help the football team.”

Communication on punt returns, Woods said, is “a team deal on our part. All of us involved in communication, all 11 guys on the field, and all of us on the sideline are involved in communication, and that’s something we’re working on.”

“I think Shaun was working, hustling, knowing he had a good returner back there, and kind of got knocked into (the ball).”

On the news front, it didn’t sound like Iowa has determined precisely how it will shuffle linebackers for the next couple games while outside linebacker Nick Niemann recovers from a leg injury.

“(Sophomore) Barrington Wade has been playing out there, and he’s been doing a good job in practice,” Parker said. “So we’re pleased to see where he’s going.

“We’ll probably move (starting weakside linebacker) Kristian (Welch) and he’ll be taking some reps there at outside backer. He played there early in camp, and he has flexibility, so we’re confident we can move him out there too. So he’ll be taking reps at both places.

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True freshman Julius Brents of Indianapolis is a first-team cornerback for now. He replaced starter Matt Hankins during the Wisconsin game after Hankins was hurt.

“Matt’s got a couple issues right now,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said during Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches’ teleconference. “We’ll see how that goes this week.”

“(Brents) does have a lot of skill, but doesn’t have a lot of experience yet,” Parker said.

"But we’re happy in the progress that he’s making. He’s a very smart, intelligent kid, and the more he goes, he’s going to be a really good player.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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