Football tour notebook: Fun takes from Iowa fall practice
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The day started dark and rainy, but the skies cleared in Iowa City for what turned out to be a glorious Monday.
Here are some fun takes from an intense and hard-hitting practice.
Most impressive player: LB Josey Jewell. The guy is the ultimate leader and the face of the 2017 Hawkeyes. The former walk-on is in top condition and was all over the indoor complex today. Very impressive. Jewell anchors a linebacking unit that will be the strength of the defense, as fellow seniors Ben Niemann and Bo Bower start alongside him.
Top specimen: C James Daniels. He is listed at 6-4, 295, and he carries it well. He is uber-athletic for a center. In fact, he could be the top center in the Big Ten. He moves so well. And he may be the best ever under Kirk Ferentz.
Loudest coach: Tim Polasek. He was OC at North Dakota State but has taken over the Iowa offensive line with lots of fire and brimstone. The guy is ultra-intense and cut from the same cloth as Brian Ferentz, who has moved from offensive line coach to OC.
Impressive newcomer: DE A.J. Epenesa. He arrived in Iowa City amid much fanfare. And he already had created a buzz before the BTN bus arrived. The 6-5, 270-pound Epenesa is a man-child who at the least will help as a pass rusher, but he may find a more substantial role before it’s all said and done. Have to throw a shout out to true frosh OL Tristan Wirfs, an Iowa native who sat out today. Many feel this kid has a huge future that could include the NFL. I know, he’s just a true freshman, but the 6-5, 315-pound casts an imposing figure.
On the rise: RB James Butler. The Nevada grad transfer is a nifty 5-9, 210-pound slasher who can pound between the tackles, too. Butler is tough and shifty, giving the Hawkeyes a complement to Akrum Wadley. Look for the RBs to be thrown passes in space, where they can get in one-on-one situations and use their shiftiness and speed.
Nagging question: Who will be the QB? Sophomore Nathan Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers look the part. And each has a nice arm. Early camp reviews seem to indicate Stanley has an edge, but stay tuned. This is far from over.
Under the radar: WR Devonte Young. The 6-0, 200-pound sophomore had a good day to day to add to what has been a solid camp thus far. This is a spot with a lot to prove. Matt VandeBerg is a steady vet, but this offense needs a field stretcher. Junior Adrian Falconer is looking good. I love freshmen Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith and Max Cooper. I wish we could have seen New Mexico grad transfer Matt Quarells, but he wasn’t in full pads.
Kirk Ferentz told me this Friday’s scrimmage will go a long way in shaping the QB race between Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers. Sounds like he’d like to make a decision soon as game week gets closer and closer.
Iowa had a lot of staff changes for a school that didn’t change head coaches. Tim Polasek is the new o-line coach; Brian Ferentz is the new OC; Ken O’Keefe is back to coach QBs; Kelton Copeland is the WR coach.
Scouts for the Bills and Lions were on hand.
Look for the tight ends to be thrown to more often down field, headed by Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, an exciting redshirt freshman.
Ex-Hawkeye LB great A.J. Edds was in the house. He is still in playing shape.
This, by far, was the most physical practice we had seen. But, that’s usually the case, as Iowa always has a lot of pads popping.
Colten Rastetter and Ryan Gersonde continue to battle at punter.
No real word on if star S Brandon Snyder will play this year after hurting a knee in the spring. Jake Gervase has his spot next to fellow S Miles Taylor. Geno Stone also is a factor. I like corners Michael Ojemudia, Joshua Jackson and Manny Rugamba. Keep an eye on true freshman Matt Hankins.
Kirk Ferentz reminisced a bit with me about his 1-10 debut in 1999. He said Ladell Betts may have been the toughest back he ever has had. “The guy got hit all the time,” Ferentz said.