IOWA CITY — The Hawkeyes are 11 days from the first game. Some personnel decisions have been made, and some will remain a mystery until next Tuesday, when head coach Kirk Ferentz has his next news conference, or when Miami (Ohio) shows up in Kinnick Stadium two Saturday nights from now.
Iowa’s defensive coordinator Phil Parker and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz discussed those topics Tuesday. There were a few reveals.
At running back, Ferentz said juniors Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young have separated from the pack. Sargent led the Hawkeyes with 745 yards and nine TDs last season. Young rushed for 637 yards and five TDs.
“I think both guys bring an individual and unique skill set in some ways,” Ferentz said. “Toren Young has run the ball as well as he ever has. He’s a tempo setter. Mekhi is a jack of all trades, kind of the utility knife.
“What we have to do is do a good job of a balancing act there. Those are two of our best players. ... To me, when I look at it, there’s a clear No. 1 and No. 2.”
Running back is crowded with the addition of freshmen Tyler Goodson and Shadrick Byrd. It’s also under the microscope after two seasons of relative struggles.
“If you’re going to win football games, you need a consistent running game, period,” Ferentz said. “We’re trying to win more than nine games. We’re definitely going to need a consistent running game. I don’t think anyone would tell you we didn’t feel like we fell short of that the last two years.”
Free safety has been hotly contested, Parker said.
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Sophomore Kaevon Merriweather has been pushed by sophomore walk-on Jack Koerner. Neither player has started, so this position is raw. Koerner, a Des Moines native, is the one who’s made a move. Parker pointed to Merriweather’s lack of experience.
“I think he has some growing to do, a little bit,” Parker said. “I’m concerned with it. I think Jack has really helped push the situation there. So, there’s good competition there. (Merriweather) did a great job in the spring. Sometimes guys get to where they’ve got to keep pushing themselves and keep on getting better.”
The first player Parker mentioned when asked who’s made some noise in camp was sophomore defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon.
“His effort, his hustle, the way he moves around,” Parker said. “He’s done a good job with his leadership. It’s really exciting to get more guys with that energy that you need. It brings juice to the defense.”
No official news with wide receiver Oliver Martin. He is in the midst of a waiver for immediate eligibility. Ferentz said he feels “really good” about the top four wide receivers and Martin would fit right in.
“He’s much more versatile and you don’t want to pigeonhole him,” Ferentz said. “He can play outside, he can play inside. He’s a good short-area quickness guy. He’s more of a utility guy.”
Tyler Linderbaum has — kind of incredibly — continued his “so far, so good” tour at center. The redshirt freshman from Solon was moved to the position after playing 2018 at defensive tackle. Brian Ferentz was happy not to get a Linderbaum question until maybe 10 minutes into his interview Tuesday.
“He’s continued to grow, but just like anyone else, he’s a first-year player,” Ferentz said. “There are things happening every day where he’s learning and growing. There’s only one way for growth to occur and that’s usually with some hard knocks and adversity.”
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Parker mentioned a few true freshmen. Linebacker Jack Campbell, a Cedar Falls native, has seen time at inside linebacker. Safety Dane Belton and tackle Logan Lee saw time with the No. 2s at Kids Day on Aug. 10.
Parker said the four-game redshirt rule for true freshmen will be spinning this year. He pointed mostly to depth and special teams help.
“There are multiple things going on as far as your management of it and it’s not as easy,” Parker said. “It was easy last year, but I don’t know it will be as easy this year.”
Brian Ferentz left a few of the “reveal” questions for Kirk Ferentz — backup quarterback was one of those. He didn’t want to get into the true freshmen question, but did cover the topic with this:
“I’ll say this for the whole freshman class, we’re very pleased,” Ferentz said. “It’s not so much about performance for first-year players, it’s how they acclimate and adjust to college football. ... All indications and returns right now say we recruited the right people, and that’s a good start.”
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