In recognition of Kirk Ferentz running his 14th spring practice as the Iowa football coach, here are 14 mostly unproven players that could go a long way in shaping next season.
I thought about ranking them in order of importance, but figured they have enough pressure just trying to be student-athletes at a Big Ten school.
So instead, they’re listed in alphabetical order.
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Jordan Canzeri, 5-9, 180, Soph., running back: Whoever is listed as the starting running back automatically makes the list as Iowa moves on without departed workhorse Marcus Coker. Canzeri was slowed by an injury last season, but he took advantage of Coker’s absence from the Insight Bowl and finished with 86 total yards, including 58 rushing yards, in the loss to Oklahoma. It could prove to be a running back by committee with true freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill coming this fall, but Canzeri heads the committee for now.
Darian Cooper, 6-2, 280, Fr., defensive tackle: Defensive line is arguably the biggest concern on the team for the second consecutive season. Cooper, a former star at legendary DeMatha High School in Maryland, is supposedly the kind of physical run stopper that Iowa so desperately needs. The fact that he is one of three redshirt freshmen listed as starters on the defensive line shows the extent of the rebuilding project up front. All three made this list by the way.
Keenan Davis, 6-3, 215, Sr., receiver: Davis is different than everybody else listed because he was major contributor last season, finishing with 50 catches for 713 yards and four touchdowns. However, that was against defenses designed to stop his more celebrated teammate and fellow receiver Marvin McNutt. McNutt has since moved on leaving Davis with the daunting task of trying to become Iowa’s next go-to receiver.
Ray Hamilton, 6-5, 248, Soph., tight end: It remains to be seen if new offensive coordinator Greg Davis will use multiple tight end sets like his predecessor Ken O’Keefe did at Iowa. Hamilton was highly recruited coming out of high school in Ohio, so perhaps he will emerge as a sophomore, as was the case with fellow tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz late last season.
Anthony Hitchens, 6-1, 224, Jr., weakside linebacker: The Lorian, Ohio native saw action in eight games last season and showed an ability to make plays in space. He is the one new starter at linebacker, joining veterans James Morris and Christian Kirksey.
Nico Law, 6-1, 195, Soph., strong safety: The Maryland native played mostly on special teams as a true freshman last season. Law now has a chance replace Jordan Bernstine as the starting strong safety, but he’ll have to beat out seniors Tom Donatell and Collin Sleeper to do it. Sleeper was the starter entering spring practice last year and for the 2011 season opener before giving way to Bernstine.
B.J. Lowery, 5-11, 188, Jr., left cornerback: The Cincinnati native appeared ready to make an impact last season until an arm injury caused him to miss the first five games. Lowery came back and finished with 11 tackles and three pass break-ups. He now replaces former all-Big Ten performer Shaun Prater at left cornerback.
Kevonte Martin-Manley, 6-0, 205, Soph., receiver: Any pro-style quarterback like Iowa’s James Vandenberg needs at least two dependable receivers to bail him out of tough situations. Martin-Manley showed flashes last season, but now has to show more consistency without McNutt to rely on.
Riley McMinn, 6-7, 245, Fr., defensive end: His circumstance is similar to Cooper’s situation in that ready or not, the defense needs McMinn to step up as a redshirt freshman The Rochester, Ill. native has gained about 25 pounds since joining the program last fall. McMinn is at least one or two inches taller than most of the defensive ends that have played at Iowa under Ferentz.
Brad Rogers, 5-10, 230, Jr., fullback: Rogers’ situation is similar to Keenan Davis in that he’s played extensively, but now has a chance to play a more prominent role. Rogers has shown that he can run, block and catch.
Brandon Scherff, 6-5, 310, Soph., left tackle: The Denison native entered spring practice as the starting left tackle, which is an important position to say the least, especially for a team whose starting quarterback throws right handed and has limited mobility as is the case with Vandenberg. Scherff has played tackle and guard at Iowa, but Ferentz said last week that he wants Scherff to focus on one position. Motivation shouldn’t be a problem for Scherff, considering sophomore and fellow 300-pounder Andrew Donnal is listed as the co-starter with him at left tackle. There is also the challenge of trying to carry on Iowa’s tradition at left tackle, which includes producing two NFL first-round picks in Robert Gallery and Bryan Bulaga and likely soon another in Riley Reiff.
Dean Tsopanides, 6-2, 240, Fr., defensive end: What was said about Cooper and McMinn also fits with Tsopanides, who is listed as the other starting defensive end despite only being a redshirt freshman. It starts with all three of them keeping their starting positions this spring.
Brett Van Sloten, 6-7, 292, Jr., right tackle: Markus Zusevics was overshadowed by Reiff during college, but Zusevics was also a fixture in the trenches, starting all 26 games at right tackle as a junior and senior. In other words, Van Sloten or whoever wins the tight tackle position has big shoes to fill.
John Wienke, 6-5, 220, Sr., punter: This goes to whoever ultimately wins the punting job. Wienke’s name is listed simply because he entered spring practice as the No. 1 punter ahead of Australia native Jonny Mullings. Incoming freshman Connor Kornbrath could be in the mix.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or email@example.com
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football
About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.