IOWA CITY — Let’s throw out the usual caveats for an open scrimmage in the middle of August: 1) It’s August. 2) Yes, the defense is ahead of the offense. 3) No, nothing really interesting has been decided.
With that in mind, the Hawkeyes did their annual Kids Day open practice Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. It’s Iowa’s first football in front of people in 2019. Oh, and one more caveat. This was just the eighth practice. So, no, head coach Kirk Ferentz doesn’t know who the running back/backs is/are yet.
“It’s learning the tempo of a live situation and then being able to sustain that for 3 1/2 hours,” Ferentz said Saturday. “We’re walking along right now, but the guys have had good attitudes over the eight days and we’ll go back at it Monday.”
OK, one more and maybe the most important caveat: Try not to read too much into this. This was practice No. 8 of 29 teams are allowed in fall camp. During media day Friday, Ferentz pointed to Aug. 21 as a potential personnel decision day. On Saturday, he definitely pointed to next week as a “moving week,” like in golf.
So, the players you saw do good things Saturday need to keep it up. Those who didn’t, the light needs to turn on.
Let’s just run through some observations.
— Looks like the veteran running backs have an edge.
Junior Mekhi Sargent probably had the fewest carries, so that means he’s probably No. 1. He did lead the team in rushing in 2018. Last season, he started at Iowa in June. This year, he’s had a full year with Iowa’s strength and conditioning.
Yes, that’s a confidence builder.
“I’m bigger, stronger, faster coming into this year,” Sargent said. “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I’m the smartest I’ve ever been in football.”
Junior Toren Young scored two touchdowns and showed burst and decisiveness.
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“He runs strong, he doesn’t mess around,” Ferentz said. “It’s pretty much north-south and that helps move the ball forward. As elementary as that sounds, it’s important.”
Junior Ivory Kelly-Martin is the back everyone is forgetting about. He was hurt most of 2018, suffering a high-ankle sprain in week 1, but he did win the job out of camp last season and found some room between the tackles on Saturday.
“I think they’re all different, but they’re really good players and practicing well,” Ferentz said. “Chances are, we’ll need all three.
Freshman running backs Shadrick Byrd and Tyler Goodson ran with the second and third teams. They’re not out of it. Goodson is 190 pounds, but showed no fear and was tough to bring down. Byrd showed quick feet on the inside zone.
— Sophomore Peyton Mansell got the first look at No. 2 quarterback, but redshirt freshman Spencer Petras had a few more snaps. He also was allowed to run a two-minute drill to end the scrimmage.
“There’s no tip on that,” Ferentz said. “It was probably just his turn in the rotation. We worked those guys a lot today and we’ll let them continue to compete with each other. They’ve been back and forth a little bit. This week probably will be very important for both guys, quite frankly.”
— Kickers Caleb Shudak and Keith Duncan were perfect. They went 4-for-4 in field goals at the start of practice, including 50-yarders from the left hash.
“That might’ve been the most impressive thing today,” Ferentz said. “No matter what they did and where they did it, and that’s probably indicative of the way they’ve been practicing.”
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— Punters punted. Senior Colten Rastetter got the first look. Senior Michael Sleep-Dalton was next. Both put punts inside the 5. Sleep-Dalton landed one inside the 1 and put enough spin on it for the coverage unit to down it inside the 1.
“We’ll just let that thing go and see where it all goes,” Ferentz said.
— A few true freshmen made some noise.
Logan Lee, 6-5, 251-pounder from Orion, Ill., saw a ton of snaps with the No. 2s at defensive tackle. Defensive back Dane Belton saw a few reps in nickel with the first team.
On true freshmen maybe not taking the redshirt: “I’d say there are probably a couple on each side of the ball,” Ferentz said. “Part of it’s what they’re doing and part of it is our depth.”
— Since spring, wide receiver Nico Ragaini has continued to stand out in open practices. He had a big-gain reception and ran a reverse for positive yards.
“The redshirt year helped him a little bit. He got more comfortable last fall,” Ferentz said. “He’s playing faster. It’s encouraging to see him keep moving, and (fellow slot receiver) Tyrone Tracy is right there.”
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