Iowa Football

Iowa football begins 2019 journey with the opening of spring practice

Defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon is a full-go; Iowa staff sorts through 'star' and 'slot' options

IOWA CITY — The Hawkeyes start spring football Wednesday. Head coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media on Tuesday.

Let’s get right to it.

— It’s been a journey, but sophomore defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon has been cleared to play.

Recap: The 6-3, 306-pounder from Kenosha, Wis., committed to the Hawkeyes in the 2017 class. He wasn’t admitted to Iowa and spent a season at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. He came back to Iowa City in 2018 and was academically ineligible to play in 2018. He also wasn’t able to practice for most of last season.

He entered his name in the transfer portal to cover his base and to be able to play somewhere in 2019.

“Daviyon is back full speed with us today and it’s great having him back with us,” Ferentz said during a news conference Tuesday.

Nixon is cleared and it’s a big deal for Iowa’s defensive line. At the very least, Nixon likely will rotate with tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff. But there’s also this: During his time at Iowa Western, Nixon received an offer from Alabama.

So, maybe there’s really something here.

“We’ve been through quite a road here with Daviyon,” Ferentz said. “I can tell you this, my interfaces with him, and I think it’s true with all of us, have been nothing but positive. I was super impressed with him last year. He was on the scout team and redshirting. The guy just likes football. He likes his teammates. He likes being out there. He has good enthusiasm to him, good vibe. That’s not always the case for everyone on the scout team.”

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— Assistant coach Kelvin Bell will become the defensive line coach, replacing Reese Morgan, who retired earlier this month.

Bell, a former Iowa D-lineman, joined the Iowa staff as defensive ends coach/recruiting coordinator in February 2016.

Ferentz said the opening for the 10th assistant likely will be a defensive line assistant. He didn’t throw recruiting coordinator duties in there. He said Iowa’s recruiting staff is undergoing a rethink and more will be announced when it’s fully formed.

“We’ll probably shift some responsibilities around a little bit and diffuse them a little more,” Ferentz said.

— Iowa won’t host a spring even at Kinnick Stadium for the public this year. The UI is having new turf installed at Kinnick after a drainage problem flooded the field the week before the 2018 home opener.

Spring games/events are fading away on a national basis. Ferentz said Iowa will have one next season and this was just the pinch from changing the turf.

— Did you like that 4-2-5 defense Iowa put on the field against spread teams last fall? This was where we all learned about the “star” hybrid safety/linebacker position. Amani Hooker, the player who maybe allowed this change to happen, is headed to the NFL.

Doesn’t matter. This isn’t going anywhere.

“That’s part of our DNA now moving forward, for sure,” Ferentz said. “Just how we put it together is going to be the big question.”

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Senior corner Michael Ojemudia is in that mix, but Ferentz said there are multiple options on who does what and the options shift daily right now.

“That is one position (corner) where I don’t think we have a bona fide all-Big Ten candidate yet,” Ferentz said. “We have a lot of guys who have played. When I look at that, I’m looking at all kinds of growth potential.”

— Don’t sleep on the importance of the slot receiver position.

It’s not officially on the spring depth chart Iowa released, but it is where the Hawkeyes leading wide receiver has lined up the last four seasons (Matt VandeBerg, Riley McCarron and Nick Easley the last two years).

Right now, the staff likes redshirt freshman Nico Ragaini.

“It’s a very important position,” Ferentz said. “ ... Nico Ragaini is one of the guys, you talk about what we thought we were getting when we recruited him, he’s proven to be that. Once he got his feet on the ground and got comfortable, you started to really see him get better and be more decisive. ... If we were handicapping it right now, he’d be the first guy in, but that’s going to be fun to watch this spring.”

Redshirt freshman Tyrone Tracy also is in this race.

— You’re wondering about tight end. The Hawkeyes are losing two potential/maybe probable first-round draft picks in Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Junior Shaun Beyer (nearly 100 percent after an injury ended his 2018) and senior Drew Cook are the “split out” TE candidates. Senior Nate Wieting is the main blocking tight end.

Ferentz answered the tight end question with a quick reference to junior wide receivers Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who, yeah, were thrown into the caldron as true freshmen.

“I guess the good news is we don’t have high school kids out there playing wide receiver right now,” Ferentz said. “We did two years ago. Now, we’ve got guys who have actually played in college games.”

— Junior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin is dealing with an undisclosed injury. Per Ferentz, he’ll be slowed for the first few weeks of spring practice.

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True freshman linebacker Jestin Jacobs did have a surgery after arriving on campus. “The good news is he’ll be full speed when we get going this summer,” Ferentz said.

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

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