It’s finally game week in Iowa City.
Ahead of Kirk Ferentz opening his 20th season as Iowa head coach with Saturday’s 2:40 p.m. home game against Northern Illinois (TV: BTN), here are a few quick takeaways from Tuesday’s press conference.
With anticipated starters Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson suspended for Week 1, Iowa expects to rotate three players at offensive tackle.
Redshirt freshman Mark Kallenberger (6-foot-6, 282 pounds) and senior Dalton Ferguson (6-4, 308) are listed as starters, but junior Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305) will also work in.
They have no easy task against this Mid-American Conference foe. Defensive end Sutton Smith is a returning All-American for the Huskies who racked up 29.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks last season.
Ivory Kelly-Martin ascended to the No. 1 line in camp and was praised by offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz last week. Kirk Ferentz spoke confidently about Kelly-Martin on Tuesday, but was sure to mention that three running backs will play.
So, expect to see plenty of Toren Young and Iowa Western transfer Mekhi Sergeant along with Kelly-Martin.
Smith-Marsette is returner
Iowa will send out sophomore wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette at both punt returner and kick returner.
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Smith-Marsette returned four kicks for 134 yards last season with a long of 74. He showed inconsistency in the final regular-season game at Nebarska, stepping out of bounds at Iowa’s 1 on one return, before appearing to return another for a touchdown that was wiped out by a penalty.
Rastetter is starting punter
Sophomore Ryan Gersonde was listed as Iowa’s starting punter on Monday’s depth chart, but Ferentz said Tuesday that was an error. Junior Colten Rastetter will get the nod.
“I see that thing being farily even also.” said Ferentz, who noted both punters could get an opportunity Saturday. “Not much written in permanent ink right now.”
Both punters struggled last year. Rastetter averaged 37.8 yards on 55 punts, while Gersonde’s 13 boots netted an average of 42.5 yards.
Ferentz said true freshmen likely to see the field Saturday on defense are defensive back Julius Brents and defensive tackle Tyler Linderbaum.
Both were listed as backups on Monday’s depth chart. Iowa is a little lighter up front this week with Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore suspended.
Riley Moss and Dillon Doyle are expected to contribute on special teams.
On offense, expect to see receiver Nico Ragaini.
Nick Niemann (OLB), Amani Jones (MLB) and Kristian Welch (WLB) were listed as starters on Monday’s depth chart, but that doesn’t mean they’re set in stone.
Ferentz said Tuesday that there still is competition among four to five players to replace 2017 starters Josey Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann.
Barrington Wade, Jack Hockaday and Djimon Colbert also cracked the depth chart.
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Ferentz said redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell is the current No. 2 to established starter Nate Stanley under center. That makes true freshman Spencer Petras, who enrolled early in January, the No. 3.
Senior defensive lineman Parker Hesse, senior safety Jake Gervase, junior quarterback Nate Stanley and junior fullback Brady Ross are Saturday’s captains for Iowa, Ferentz said.
Iowa has awarded scholarships to four former walk-ons, including a pair of local products: tight end Nate Wieting (Iowa City High), offensive tackle Dalton Ferguson (Solon), fullback Austin Kelly, and receiver Kyle Groeneweg, a transfer from Division II Sioux Falls.
Iowa said there are still 2,500 tickets remaining for Saturday’s game.
Iowa’s next victory will make Ferentz the school’s all-time winningest head coach. He’s tied with Hayden Fry with 143 career wins.