IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa’s 2014 football team was on display at media day Aug. 4. That’s the last time we’ve seen them.
The Hawkeyes had their first practice of fall camp that night, and every workout since has been held in privacy. That changes at 11:45 a.m. Saturday, when coach Kirk Ferentz conducts an open practice as part of “Kids at Kinnick” Day.
This will be the last time anyone outside the Hawkeye bubble will see them until they take the field Aug. 30 for the 11 a.m. season opener against Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. So Saturday is a rare opportunity to see if any progress has been made in some key positions. Here’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on:
Kicking game: Placekicking hasn’t been this unsettled since Mike Meyer emerged from a three-man competition to win the job over Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker in 2010. Marshall Koehn, a junior, appears the leading candidate to replace Meyer. Freshman Mick Ellis was also brought in on scholarship. Another freshman, Miguel Recinos, is a walk-on.
The long snapper job was in good hands the past three seasons with Casey Kreiter, who also graduated. Tyler Kluver, a redshirt freshman from Marshalltown, looks to be the successor. The holder is usually the punter, but that’s another position up for grabs between incumbent Connor Kornbrath and Dillon Kidd.
Secondary: Two positions bear watching. There’s free safety, where junior Jordan Lomax has made the switch from cornerback, and left corner, where sophomore Maurice Fleming and junior Sean Draper are in a neck-and-neck race for the starting position. Depth in the secondary is another question mark. It will be interesting to see the rotations coach Phil Parker uses here, and if any true freshmen are included.
Linebackers: I think Quinton Alston is underrated and a strong starting point when discussing how the coaching staff works in three new starters at what was a position of strength last season. Reggie Spearman got by on athleticism in his limited action as a true freshman. I want to see if he’s added the necessary strength to take on blockers and make things happen.
I’ll be interested to see how Travis Perry is used. I don’t think he can cover downfield like Christian Kirksey did, which means Parker might have to go to a nickel package he rarely used last season. Two of the three backups at linebacker – Chad Gilson and Josey Jewell – have never lettered. Neither has John Kenny, who is sharing the backup weakside linebacker spot with Cole Fisher.
Defensive line: The strength of this team rests in the front four, but I want to see if guys such as Darian Cooper, Faith Ekakitie, Jaleel Johnson, Nathan Bazata and Nate Meier have made progress as the constant development of depth continues.
Offensive line: I’ll be paying special attention to left guard, where Sean Welsh is running No. 1. I’ll also be watching two other redshirt freshmen – Boone Myers at left guard and Ike Boettger at left tackle. Offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said they don’t play or act like freshmen.
Wide receiver: I want to see if split end Derrick Willies was a spring-game sensation or the real thing. And I want to see if wide receivers Andre Harris and Derrick Mitchell Jr. do more than pass the eye test.
I think Tevaun Smith can emerge as a big-time receiver after getting a prime-time taste last season. And it will be interesting to see if Matt VandeBerg emerges as the glue-fingered possession receiver (see Bill Happel, Ed Hinkel) this offense really needs.
“KIDS AT KINNICK” DAY
Admission: Free. Enter Kinnick Stadium at Gates A (south end zone) and E (west side).
Gates open: 10:45 a.m. (Free schedule posters, cards, magnets, keytags and rosters available).
Autograph session: 11:15 a.m. (in front of west, south stands).
Open practice: 11:45 a.m.
Parking: All hard surface lots (normal ramp fees will be charged).
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football