Iowa Football

Kirk Ferentz deals with Iowa's NFL early departures and the NCAA transfer portal

Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon's status remains up in the air

Defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54) listens as a coach sets up a play at an Iowa Hawkeyes football practice at the Indoor Practice Facility in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54) listens as a coach sets up a play at an Iowa Hawkeyes football practice at the Indoor Practice Facility in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Obviously, Kirk Ferentz is happy for the four players who’ll leave his program early for a shot at the NFL.

Noah Fant, Amani Hooker, Anthony Nelson and T.J. Hockenson said their goodbyes last week. That’s six Hawkeyes who’ve left Iowa football early in the last two seasons.

Ferentz said Tuesday that he thought the two who left after 2017 (offensive lineman James Daniels and cornerback Josh Jackson) was a lot for the Iowa program to endure.

ICYMI

In the last month, the Hawkeyes have had four underclassmen declare for the NFL draft.

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That makes four “a lot a lot.”

“That’s a high number for us, no doubt about it,” the Iowa head coach said Thursday. “I don’t know if it’s the right number. What I didn’t mention was the expansion of the numbers probably won’t take place for jobs available that are available next August in a fall camp. That’s a reality there. That’ll work itself out.”

The full list of underclassmen who made the decision to leave school early will be available on Jan. 18. Last year, a record 106 made the jump. This year, the number could reach 130.

And, no, it just feels to you like all 130 of them are Iowa D-linemen and tight ends.

You knew tight end was going to be different. Fant and Hockenson truck out of Iowa City with 142 catches for 2,093 yards and 27 TDs in the last two seasons.

Junior Shaun Beyer is next at tight end. He suffered a leg injury and missed December and the bowl game, but Ferentz said Thursday, Beyer is close to a cautious return (meaning it’s winter conditioning, there’s no clock on a return).

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The defensive line also was going to be different. Parker Hesse, Matt Nelson and Sam Brincks were senior starters. Nelson leaves a huge hole in the pass rush, which still should be a strength next year with A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston.

But then there’s redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum moving from defensive tackle to center (Ferentz said Linderbaum isn’t moving back). Austin Schulte also made a move from D-line to O-line, but is now officially back to defense. Sophomore Daviyon Nixon’s status with the team is up in the air. After failing to qualify before 2017, Nixon went to Iowa Western Community College. He returned last fall and sat out the season to concentrate on academics.

Tuesday night, 247Sports reported that Nixon’s name showed up in the NCAA transfer portal. Ferentz confirmed that.

“Daviyon is in class and he’s considering his options right now,” Ferentz said. “We’ll see where that all goes.”

Nixon practiced some this fall, but didn’t practice in December during Outback Bowl prep. The UI spring semester started Monday, so there could be some resolution relatively soon.

“He came in with some conditions, as you know, and wasn’t able to dress out (for games) and those types of things,” Ferentz said. “I’ll just say this with Daviyon, my exposure to him has been extremely positive. We’ve liked what we’ve seen of him on the field, he’s a tremendous young guy. Right now, he’s working through some options and we’ll see where it all goes.”

UI privacy laws limit discussion on academics and university issues.

At 6-3, 306, Nixon would provide a needed body at defensive tackle. In his season at Iowa Western, he made 44 tackles, including nine for loss with five sacks. Alabama ended up offering Nixon, but he had already signed his national letter of intent with Iowa.

Iowa has two other defensive linemen in the transfer portal right now — tackle Garret Jansen and end Brandon Simon.

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In the last three seasons, Iowa has rotated as many as eight defensive linemen into games. Ferentz said that number, as it stands with the roster right now, might be unrealistic for 2019.

“Last year, we had the luxury of playing eight guys, I don’t foresee that right now,” Ferentz said. “I think we have four pretty good front line guys. Can we develop the depth to get a six-man rotation going? That’d be a great starting point as opposed to thinking we’re going to have eight. I don’t see that happening at this point.”

Players don’t have to ask for permission to put their names in the portal. Ferentz compared what that move would mean to recruiting. Iowa has a case-by-case “no visit” policy for prospects who commit to the Hawkeyes. If a name shows up in the portal, it’ll be handled case-by-case. Once a player enters his name, the school can rescind his scholarship at the end of the semester. Walk-on wide receiver Dominique Dafney also in the portal.

“I don’t know if we’ve had a surprise yet,” Ferentz said. “I think there’s rational reasons for all of them. It really hasn’t been a big thing to us, other than it’s not real confidential, obviously.”

Iowa needs some D-linemen. Ferentz said the February signing pool of players isn’t nearly as deep as the December signing day, which has become “the” signing day. So, teams are finding out their needs and scholarships are flying at a smaller number of athletes.

Ferentz said he does have staffers monitoring the portal, but he said it won’t be the first “store” Iowa will go to for prospects. Maybe the portal goes into the “necessary evil” category for Iowa and Ferentz. Ferentz, and most coaches presumably, want to know the reason for the transfer. Ferentz said the Iowa staff doesn’t want to make a quick move and then realize the prospect isn’t a fit.

“We want to make sure if we bring somebody in, we realistically have a good picture of what their whole story is,” Ferentz said. “We make a calculated decision that they might be a good fit in the program, not only fit a need or help us fill a need, but also have a chance to be a good fit in the program. I think that’s especially true with an older guy. It’s a pretty short window.”

The Iowa staff has dipped into graduate transfers. Punter Ron Coluzzi handled the job for Iowa in 2016 after moving in as a grad transfer from Central Michigan. Iowa also had running back James Butler as a graduate transfer in 2017. Last June, the Hawkeyes signed running back Mekhi Sargent after his first year at Iowa Western.

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Don’t expect a major infusion, though. The Hawkeyes have five scholarships open, a half dozen if Nixon leaves, when the national signing period reopens Feb. 6.

“There’s a distinct possibility something could materialize in the next four months,” Ferentz said. “It might look different in May. We’ll just keep an open ear.

“... If we can fortify our overall roster, that’s great, but we can’t bank on a wish and a prayer right now.”

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

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