Iowa Football

Iowa football spring observations: Hawkeyes are sort of Nate Stanley's mustache right now

Things just aren't fully formed in the spring, but Kirk Ferentz likes the competition he's seeing

IOWA CITY — College is the best time to experiment with facial hair. It helps, however, if you can grow it.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley showed up to Friday’s post-practice interviews with a mustache. Kind of a mustache. It’ll be a mustache someday, if he waters it and keeps it in the sun.

“The quarterbacks decided to do it for our last spring practice,” Stanley said. “It was something we all decided to do and have fun with it.”

With Kinnick Stadium having the FieldTurf replaced, the Hawkeyes closed out spring practice Friday night with a scrimmage before family and media at the practice field.

No one can definitively say any of the contested starting spots — cash defensive back, running back, linebacker — were won. That part happens during fall camp in August.

This is where Stanley’s mustache does kind of work as a metaphor.

It’s early. The Hawkeyes look team-like, but Stanley’s mustache is more of a shadow and looks like it could simply blow away at any moment.

That’s spring football.

“Tonight was not the showcase of spring ball by any stretch,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “There were some good efforts out there individually, but to think we’ll win any of our 12 games next year with that energy level is probably not going to be cutting the mustard.”

Some observations:

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— The spring hype train made a stop and picked up Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy, the two contenders for the slot wide receiver position. Someone will win that job and the other likely will have a spot in the rotation.

Ragaini was the most targeted receiver Friday night, because he was the most open. He showed the kind of short-area quickness that creates space.

“He’s open more times than not,” Stanley said. “He’s very quick. Maybe he doesn’t have the speed Nick has, but he’s quicker than Nick. And just that threat of him breaking in or out, that puts defenses on their toes and makes them sit and wait. If they sit and wait, he’s liable to break open any which way. I think he’s a big mismatch problem.”

Iowa runs a lot of routes through the slot receiver. The position has led the Hawkeyes in receptions each of the last four years. Nick Easley caught 103 passes from the slot in the last two seasons.

“Whether it’s going deep down the field or running crossing routes, we do a lot of stuff with them,” Stanley said. There were a ton of shallow crossing routes targeted for Ragaini and Tracy on Friday night.

Stanley gave Tracy a similar review.

“He’s got a lot of speed and quickness and runs great routes, too,” Stanley said. “That combination is hard to stop.”

— From the “absolutely no one is surprised” news desk, Ferentz named redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum the starting center.

Center is a premium O-line position for the Hawkeyes. Linderbaum was moved from defensive tackle shortly after the end of last season and really has parachuted into it.

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“I wish we had three of them right now, because we’d have three of them starting,” Ferentz said. “He’s that good of a player. He’s really doing a good job. It’s going to be tough to beat him out.”

Offensive tackle Alaric Jackson took that a step further.

“He’s fast. He’s strong. He’s a very smart kid,” Jackson said. “He can take us to the next level.”

— The only stat that was obvious enough to track during the scripted live portion of practice was interceptions. Freshmen D.J. Johnson and Daraun McKinney and sophomore Riley Moss all came up with picks.

With starting corners Matt Hankins and Michael Ojemudia and top reserve Julius Brents also out, those three took advantage, and that’s how it goes with Iowa’s secondary. Defensive coordinator/secondary coach Phil Parker has stacked his position with his kind of tall, rangy defensive backs. It’s the most competitive position group Iowa has and has been the last few seasons.

Johnson is one of the leading contenders for the cash defensive back position.

“He’s got good footwork and he’s got decent speed and he sees things pretty well. I think he’s a tough kid,” Parker said last week. “He has a lot of things to work on, but I think he’s the best fit right now for us inside.”

Lightning Round

— Kicker is open and the competition between Caleb Shudak and Keith Duncan is wide open.

“I’d call it a draw at this point,” Ferentz said. “Like I told our guys this morning, anything we might put out depth chart-wise between now and the first ballgame is really irrelevant. I anticipate a lot of really good competition and that’s one position that’s pretty much a coin toss.”

— Ferentz pretty much repeated that for backup quarterback. Sophomore Peyton Mansell has the experience edge and has some quick feet to his game. Redshirt freshman Spencer Petras has the prostyle arm. It’s too early to know a whole lot about true freshman Alex Padilla, but he showed nice accuracy Friday night.

“That’s one of the positions that’s totally up for grabs,” Ferentz said. “If they beat Nate out, I’d do some soul searching there if I were Nate. Someone is a snap away from being in the game. We wanted to keep it really open.”

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— Ferentz will not completely chuck the spring “open house” opportunity for fans. He used the word “open house” and not “game,” but he wants some sort of touchpoint for fans in the spring and plans to keep a spring game.

As far the spring game being an ad or recruiting tool, maybe having four players picked in the NFL Draft for a total of around $20 million in signing bonuses (tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant went Thursday; defensive end Anthony Nelson and defensive back Amani Hooker were drafted Saturday) is a better ad.

“Whether we get 10,000 or 80,000 ... I guess we can’t get 80 ... that’s not that big of a deal to me,” Ferentz said. “It’s kind of like spring ball. The team looking great in the spring isn’t that big of a deal. I’d rather have it in the fall. I do think it’s important to let the fans see the team and do autographs. That’s all good stuff.”

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

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