IOWA CITY, Ia. – The Iowa coaches were planning to shuffle their returners.
They just didn’t expect Mark Weisman to field the season’s opening kickoff and bring it back 50 yards against Northern Iowa.
“When Adam Cox got hurt, they moved me back there,” said Weisman, a 6-foot, 240-pound running back. “I’m not supposed to be running the ball back like that, but if they kick it to me, I will.”
Weisman nearly scored before being tripped up.
Another shocker occurred later in the first quarter when Matt VandeBerg fielded the Panthers’ first punt.
Kevonte Martin-Manley, a senior this season, handled most of the punt return duties in 2013, ranking second in the Big Ten and No. 8 nationally with an average of 15.7 yards.
“It’s not a knock on Kevonte at all,” coach Kirk Ferentz said of the change. “We just felt based on practice and what we had seen that Matt was probably the better guy to be back there.”
VandeBerg netted 21 yards on three punt returns and 32 yards on two kickoffs.
Riley McCarron was competing to be a returner before suffering a broken collarbone.
MARVELOUS MARV: The early success of Bo Bower, a freshman linebacker from West Branch, prompted a reporter to ask Ferentz what he’s looking for in a walk-on player.
“You talk about another guy from West Branch, who was a scholarship guy… Marv Cook,” Ferentz recalled. “I don’t know if Marv had any other offer, but it wasn’t like any one thing about Marv (stood out). I think that’s kind of how we felt about Bo. The rest was history with Marv. I mean, he was a lot better than we thought he was when he got here. Hopefully, it works out that way with Bo, too.”
PROGRESS REPORT: Nobody seemed to notice Jordan Lomax’s play last weekend, and that’s a good thing.
Lomax, who switched from cornerback to safety, made nine tackles against Northern Iowa.
“To me that was huge,” Ferentz said. “Those are the kind of things that coaches worry about … guys playing their first games at really important positions.
“It was a good start for him. The next step for him is just to be more comfortable being vocal and taking a little bit more command back there. It’s kind of like being a linebacker or a center or a quarterback. You have to be involved in the communication aspect, and he’s certainly capable of doing that.”