Iowa Spring “Practice”: What to Watch

Story by Derek Pech

Iowa Hawkeyes fullback Brady Ross (36) and wide receiver Max Cooper (19) against the North Texas Mean Green Saturday, September 16, 2017 at Kinnick Stadium. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

Iowa City, Iowa – Spring football in Iowa City is coming to an end. The Hawkeyes will hold their annual spring practice this evening in Kinnick Stadium. It will be free admission for any fans who would like to attend. Kinnick Stadium will open at 6 p.m. (CT) on Friday. Practice is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. The game, errr I mean practice, will be streamed live on the BTN2Go App.

As with all spring practices, fans and beat writers are scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to get a glimpse of what to expect from the Hawkeyes in the upcoming season. The following keys are what I will be watching for during the scrimmage portion of practice this evening:

Second String QB Battle 

Many people believe Nate Stanley is the key to Iowa having a successful season this coming year. That may be the case, but we all know that a starting QB can go down, and when that happens the next man up had better be ready. In Iowa’s case, we have no idea who that next man will be right now. It appears there’s quite a battle brewing for the #2 spot between redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell (6’2 210 lbs) and true freshman Spencer Petras (6’5 227 lbs).

The fact this is a battle right now is a bit surprising to most considering Petras has only been with the team since the beginning of spring ball. That says a lot about that young man and his potential. Petras fits the same mold as Nate Stanley. He’s a big kid with a strong arm, and a cerebral approach to the QB position. Peyton Mansell is still what most would consider to be a pro style QB, but he has more ability with his legs than either Stanley or Petras.

If history is any indicator, I think the fact this seems to be an even battle right now means that Petras is the favorite to win the job. The same scenario played out a couple years ago when Stanley beat out the more experienced Wiegers for the #2 role. This will be interesting to keep an eye on, and both QB’s will get plenty of looks tonight.

Depth at RB 

Toren Young appears to have earned the starting role as we approach the end of spring ball, but Ivory Kelly-Martin will be seeing plenty of touches as well. The Hawkeyes have a healthy one-two punch with these guys, but behind them they are desperately searching for help. Hawkeye fans know all too well how quickly the top couple RB’s can go down with an injury. At some point this season the chances are pretty high that they’ll need to go deep into the RB stable, and right now we really have no idea what to expect.

Redshirt freshman Camron Harrell (5’10 195 lbs) has changed positions a couple times for the Hawks, but it seems they’ve moved him back to RB out of necessity. RS freshman Kyshaun Bryan (5’10 198 lbs) seems to have recovered from the injury bug, and he’ll be looking to make an impact. Incoming true freshman Henry Geil could also find his way into the mix, but he won’t be with the team until this summer.

Who is This Years’ Breakout WR?

It seems there’s always been a WR sensation who breaks out during the spring game and gives Hawkeye fans hope only to let them down once the actual season arrives. Jay Scheel and Derrick Willies both come to mind. Let’s hope whomever that man is this year can translate that into a successful season.

There’s the steady workmanlike performance of Nick Easley. Brandon Smith has the prototypical size and strength of a dominant receiver. Ihmir Smith-Marsette has rare speed and quickness for an Iowa receiver. Then there are those who fall into the “others” category whom we haven’t seen or heard much of like Devonte Young, Max Cooper, Henry Marchese, Nico Ragaini, Dominique Dafney, and Kyle Groeneweg.

My bet for this years’ spring breakout? Max Cooper. Don’t ask me why… it’s just a hunch.

Battle in the Trenches 

On offense, Keegan Render will be trying to replace James Daniels at the center position, and Ross Reynolds and one of the Paulsen twins will be the two guards (not Levi Paulsen tonight due to injury).

On defense, the Hawkeyes are hoping for a deep rotation in the trenches because they are a little undersized as a group. The defensive end position will be a strength for years to come, but they’ll need some help out of the defensive tackles. It sounds like there has been a healthy rotation at the tackle position this spring. The starters appear to be Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore, but Garret Jansen, Dalles Jacobus, Chauncey Golston, and even Parker Hesse will be rotating in to help out on the interior. If Matt Nelson can stay healthy then he looks to be a part of that rotation as well.

It will be interesting to see how the interior of Iowa’s offensive line performs against the interior of the Hawkeye defensive line. Both position groups have a lot of young talent, but they also have a lot to prove before anyone will be announcing their arrival.

Defense, Defense, Defense 

Iowa’s defense often times gets overlooked this time of year for a couple of different reasons. First, Hawkeye fans are spoiled. Phil Parker has consistently put out a stout defense so it’s reached a point where that is just expected. Second, in the spring everyone wants to see what’s happening on the offensive side of the ball.

However, there are a few key battles going on that will be interesting to see.

  • Who earns the most reps at the defensive tackle position?
  • How do the new starting linebackers look (Aaron Mends, Amani Jones, and Nick Neimann)? What is the depth like behind them? Welch, Hockaday, and Wade all seem ready to contribute as well.
  • I believe Amani Hooker has the strong safety position on lock down, but will Jake Gervase or Geno Stone be the starting free safety? Does Brandon Snyder have a chance to earn his starting role back once he’s cleared to play again? Could a highly recruited incoming freshman like Dallas Craddieth come in and make an instant impact?
  • Who takes the reigns at the CB position? Right now it looks like Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins are the starters, but Manny Rugumba, Josh Turner, and Trey Creamer will all be trying to make a push. Plus the Hawkeyes have some outstanding young recruits coming in like DJ Johnson and Julius Brents who could make a run over the summer for immediate playing time.

Summary

My parting words are this… remember this is nothing more than a glorified spring practice Hawk fans. Try not to get too upset or too excited about anything we see tonight. History shows the outcome of this game, or practice, never correlates to the outcome of the season.

Personally speaking, I’m just going to enjoy watching a little football in April! Oh, and keep an eye on Max Cooper! I’m calling it!

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