Big Ten Spring Football Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes
There will be some big holes to fill for Iowa if it wants to return to the summit of the West Division in 2017. And there will be a new play-caller, with offensive line coach Brian Ferentz taking over for the retiring Greg Davis. Add it all up, and 2017 shapes up as interesting season in Iowa City.
There is work to be done, as Kirk Ferentz enters his 19th season on the sideline of Kinnick Stadium. Among other things, depth is needed at cornerback with the losses of Desmond King and Greg Mabin. And keep an eye on special teams play, with the loss of punter Ron Coluzzi and return specialist King.
Here are three key areas to watch this spring.
1. Quarterback. With C.J. Beathard gone, this will be interesting, simply because there will be a fresh set of eyes evaluating the position in new QB coach Ken O’Keefe. Iowa’s former offensive coordinator is back and he hasn’t had any involvement with the main contenders for the spot. Also, Brian Ferentz is the OC, so he may have a different view than former OC Greg Davis did. The odds-on favorite to win the job is probably sophomore Nate Stanley, who was the backup last year for Beathard. But, the staff has indicated that it’s a wide open race heading into the spring, so look for junior Tyler Wiegers and sophomore Drew Cook to get a fair shot. Still, most believe it’s the 6-5 Stanley’s job to lose.
2. Receiver. The search for playmakers at wideout seems perpetual. Senior Matt VandeBerg is back after a medical redshirt. He’s the top guy by a mile. After that? Keep an eye on Jerminic Smith, who kind of had a disappointing sophomore year after flashing at bit as a freshman. Sophomore Devonte Young is probably the third guy right now. After that, there isn’t much proven and there will be a real opportunity for a freshman to come in and play. At tight end, the staff basically started adjusting for the future later in 2016 when George Kittle was banged up. Noah Fant is probably going to be the top pass catching TE. He looked good in limited duty as a true freshman in 2016. Junior Peter Pekar will likely be in the top three. The staff is really high on redshirt freshmen T.J. Hockenson and Shaun Beyer.
3. Defensive tackle. One sure thing looks to be senior Nathan Bazata. After that, it’s somewhat wide open. The best bet to fill another slot is probably sophomore Cedrick Lattimore, who would fill the hole replacing Jaleel Johnson. Physically, he’s the most like Johnson in terms of being a bigger body. But he’s also young, just finishing up his freshman year. And keep an eye on sophomores Brady Reiff and Garret Jansen to be in the mix for snaps, as well.
IOWA SPRING INFO
Record: 8-5 overall; 6-3 Big Ten/T2nd West (lost to Florida in Outback Bowl)
Spring ball starts: March 22
Spring game: April 21 (Friday)
Key players back: DT Nathan Bazata; G Ike Boettger; LB Bo Bower; C James Daniels; K Keith Duncan; DE Parker Hesse; CB Joshua Jackson; LB Josey Jewell; OT Boone Myers; DE Matt Nelson; LB Ben Niemann; WR Jerminic Smith; FS Brandon Snyder; RB Akrum Wadley; G Sean Welsh
Key players gone: QB C.J. Beathard; P Ron Coluzzi; OT Cole Croston; RB LeShun Daniels; DT Faith Ekakitie; SS Anthony Gair; DT Jaleel Johnson; CB Desmond King; TE George Kittle; CB Greg Mabin; WR Riley McCarron
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