What Did We Learn About the 2019 Hawks in Spring Ball?

Story by Zach Weigel

Oct 28, 2017; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Nathan Stanley (4) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa won 17-10. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Spring football has come and passed! Last night (Friday 4-26) the Hawks wrapped up their 15 NCAA allotted spring practices with a short scrimmage open to the media only. Usually there’s a spring game/scrimmage open to the public. However, unfortunately due to new turf being installed at Kinnick, there’s no open scrimmage for fans to see this year.

Nonetheless, from my inside knowledge as a former student video assistant for the football team, the coaches’ press conferences, and other press releases, there are some things to report from the spring. Some pre-spring questions have tentative answers while others remain talking points for summer small talk with family and friends.

In no particular order of importance, below you’ll find some key tidbits of information that emerged this spring. Take each with a grain of salt, as there’s still four months until the Hawks kickoff the season against Miami of Ohio in Kinnick. Before diving in though, it may be useful to read my pre-spring depth chart analysis I wrote a couple months ago. It’s a good primer that helps contextualize what we learned from spring ball. Or, you can skip the pre-spring analysis and start reading the post-spring notes and revised depth chart below.

 

What We Learned

  • Former defensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum—out of Solon—looks to have a firm grasp on being the starting Center. Although the 6-3 285lb sophomore has big shoes to fill taking over for senior stalwart Keegan Render, coaches have not been shy heaping praise on Linderbaum. Coach Ferentz stopped just short of appointing Linderbaum the starting center.
  • 6-0 192lb redshirt Freshman WR Nico Ragaini—out of Connecticut—has turned heads with Wide Receivers Coach Kelton Copeland and Offensive Coordinator Brian Ferentz calling out Ragaini as pleasant surprise. With the loss of the dependable Nick Easley at the slot position, perhaps Ragaini can step up and be a key contributor at a pivotal position for the Iowa offense. Then again, wideouts have stood out in past spring practices and never lived up to the hype. Fellow redshirt freshman Tyrone Tracy Jr. has gotten rave reviews too, especially from Coach Copeland. So for the time being it looks like the slot position is in capable hands.
  • The Hawks might be okay at tight end too despite losing the production of first round draft picks TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant. Coach Brian Ferentz has expressed confidence in 6-4 250lb senior Nate Wieting. Deceptively quick junior Shaun Beyer is back from injury too and has the potential to carve out a role in Iowa’s TE heavy offense with his size (6-5 244lbs) and speed. Plus, the Hawks will have three three star tight ends out of Illinois joining the squad in the fall.

AP Photo Steve Helber

AP Photo-Mark Humphrey

  • 5-11 242lb senior Amani Jones has changed positions from MLB to DE. On special teams Jones has already made a name for himself as a hard-hitter. Yet when thrust into the MLB spot last year, he faltered handling coverages. Therefore, it looks like the Hawks are going to try to use Jones in certain personnel packages where he can pin his ears back and get a rush on opposing QBs as a D-lineman.
  • The Hawks will be fine on the D-Line. In fact, the Hawks might be better than fine. 6-5 245lb senior Chauncey Gholston and potential 2020 first round draft pick AJ Epenesa (6-6 280lbs) are near locks at DE. 6-5 267lb redshirt freshman and Des Moines native John Waggoner appears to have earned the confidence of the coaches to spell Epenesa and Gholston too at DE. Meanwhile, blue-chip recruit Daviyon Nixon is finally eligible to play too. The 6-3 306lb sophomore has yet to hit the field in the black and gold, but he’s poised to break onto the scene this season seeing as his name has been mentioned on numerous occasions this spring. 6-0 294lb redshirt freshman Noah Shannon and 6-4 287lb junior Austin Schult–out of Pella, IA–have received kind words from the coaches too signaling that there may be some depth building on the interior of the D-Line. Seniors Brady Reiff (6-3 277lbs) and Cedrick Lattimore (6-3 295lbs) will still be the starters, Iowa loves to rotate D-lineman so it’s great that there’s some depth at the position. Plus,  incoming graduate transfer Zach VanValkenburg will factor into the D-Line rotation this fall as well.
  • 5-10 183lb redshirt freshman DJ Johnson is slated to be the heir apparent at the ‘Cash’ position previously manned by Amani Hooker in the Hawk’s new-look 4-2-5 defense. Prior to the spring speculation was that 6-1 200lb senior Michael Ojemudia might man the cash spot. Now however, all indications are that the job is Johnson’s to lose.
  • 6-0 210lb sophomore Kaevon Merriweather will take over at free safety, moving 5-10 210lb junior Geno Stone to the strong safety position. It sounds like Stone’s switch from free to strong safety isn’t an indictment of his play but rather a reflection of the coaches’ confidence in Merriweather.
  • 6-1 177lb junior Ihmir Smith-Marsette (ISM) and 6-5 288lb sophomore Mark Kallenberger have been put on alert by the coaches. ISM has shown flashes of greatness as a WR and retuner but the coaches want him to step up and be more consistent. On the other hand, Kallenberger—who played some at OT last year—hasn’t impressed the coaches when given the opportunity to slide into the guard spot vacated by the graduation of Ross Reynolds.
  • The coaches think they know how to improve the running game. Both Coach Brian and Kirk Ferentz have been quoted saying, “We need to block better,” in reference to the less than stellar yards-per-rush stats the Hawks have churned out the last couple years. As the cliché goes, blocking is the difference between 6 yards and 6 points. Maybe the Hawks can turn some 6 yard runs into house calls with some improved blocking from not jut the O-Line, but also the WRs.
  • Play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin is good to go as the voice of the Hawkeyes this fall. After being suspended twice during the basketball season for some ill-words, Dolphin was back on the mic for a Hawk-Talk with Coach Ferentz this past week. Barring something bizarre this summer, Dolph will be on the mic when the season starts August 31st too.
  • Tristan Wirfs is a beast in the weight room. The 6-5 320lb junior out of nearby Mt. Vernon went viral when a video surfaced of him eclipsing former Hawkeye great Brandon Scherff’s hang-clean record. 450lbs 4 times! Enough said.
  • It’s early, but Iowa’s 2020 recruiting class is shaping up to be a great one. Historically, the Hawks pull in recruiting classes ranked anywhere from 30th to 50th nationally. Thus far for 2020 though the Hawks have a top 20 class thanks to heralded skill player recruits like Des Moines RB Gavin Williams and the Texas duo of QB Deuce Hogan and TE Elijah Yelverton. Per usual, the Hawks also have some solid lineman commits in Cedar Rapids’ Josh Volk, Illinois’ Tyler Elsbury, and Wisconsin’s Michael Lois.

 

What’s Still Up in The Air

  • Kicker and punter are far from settled. Juniors Keith Duncan (5-10 180lbs) and Caleb Shudak (58 180lbs) are still duking it out to be the placekicker. 6-4 198lb sophomore Ryan Gersonde and 6-1 213lb senior Colten Rastetter–out of Guttenberg, IA–are competing at the punter spot once again. Nonetheless, incoming grad transfer Michael-Sleep Ferguson—from Arizona State—will certainly have a good shot to take the job when he joins the team this fall.
  • Backup QB is yet to be determined. Last year 6-2 210lb Peyton Mansell–now a sophomore–and 6-5 230lb true freshman Spencer Petras traded off when Stanley needed a blow. Through spring ball, everything has suggested that the youngsters will continue to battle for the backup job heading into the fall. Early enrollee and true freshman Alex Padilla (6-1 186lbs) is even getting a shot too, although it’s likely he’ll end up not seriously factoring into the QB2 competition.
  • In the wake of longtime Assistant Coach Reece Morgan’ retirement, the Hawks have yet to replace Morgan. Assistant Defensive Line Coach Kelvin Bell has slid into Morgan’s role leading the D-Line, but there’s a still an open coaching spot.
  • The MLB spot is fluid. 6-3 239lb senior Kristian Welch, 6-1 235lb sophomore Djimon Colbert, and 6-3 233lb redshirt freshman Dillon Doyle—son of Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Doyle—are all still vying for the role. Reading between the lines, the coaches seem to believe in all three; they just haven’t settled on one yet.
  • How much the Hawks will use the ‘Raider’ package, with linebackers creeping down to the line of scrimmage and either rushing the QB or faking the rush to drop back into coverage. The Raider is nothing new as the last few years the Hawks have begun to use this look more and more. But, with a plethora of linebackers and only a few DEs that are ready for the spotlight–Epenesa, Gholston, Waggoner, and maybe Amani Jones–the Hawks might continue to use the Raider more since linebacker is such a deep position group.

 

Tentative Post-Spring Depth Chart *indicates incoming true freshman

QB– Nate Stanley (Sr., 6-4 243lbs), Peyton Mansell (So., 6-2 210lbs) / Spencer Petras (Rf. 6-5 230lb)

RB– Mekhi Sargent (Jr., 5-9, 212lbs)/ Toren Young (Jr., 5-11 223lbs), Ivory Kelly-Martin (Jr., 5-10 203lbs)

FB– Brady Ross (Sr., 6-0 246lbs)

LT- Alaric Jackson (Jr., 6-6 320lbs) Levi Paulsen (Sr., 6-5 305lbs)/ Landan Paulsen (Sr., 6-5 305lbs)

LG– Cole Banwart (Jr., 6-4 300lbs), Levi Paulsen (Sr., 6-5 305lbs),

C– Tyler Linderbaum (So. 6-3 285lbs), Cole Banwart (Jr., 6-4 300lbs)

RG– Landan Paulsen (Sr., 6-5 305lbs), Levi Paulsen (Sr., 6-5 305lbs)

RT– Tristan Wirfs (Jr., 6-5 320lbs), Ezra Miller (Fr.,  6-6 305lbs)*/ Tyler Endres (Fr., 6-6 285lbs)*

SE– Brandon Smith (Jr., 6-2 218lbs), Nico Ragaini (Rf., 6-0 192lbs)

WR– Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Jr., 6-1 177lbs), Tyrone Tracy Jr. (Rf., 5-11 200)

TE– Nate Wieting (Sr., 6-4 250lbs) ,Shaun Beyer (Jr.; 6-5 244lbs)

TE– Logan Lee (Fr., 6-5 239lbs) */ Josiah Miamen (Fr., 6-4 225lbs) */ Sam LaPorta (Fr., 6-4 225lbs)*

K– Keith Duncan (Jr., 5-10 180lbs) / Caleb Shudak (Jr., 5-8 180lbs)

 

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

 

DE– AJ Epenesa (Jr., 6-6 280lbs), Amani Jones (Sr., 5-11 242lbs)

DT– Cedrick Lattimore (Sr. 6-3 295lbs), Daviyon Nixon (So., 6-3 306lbs)

DT– Brady Reiff (Sr. 6-3 277lbs), Austin Schulte (Jr., 6-4 287lbs)/ Noah Shannon (Rf., 6-4 294lbs)

DE– Chauncey Gholston (Sr., 6-5 265lbs), John Waggoner (Rf., 6-5 267lbs)

WLB– Nick Nieman (Jr., 6-4 235lbs), Seth Benson (Rf. 6-0 225lbs)/ Jayden McDonald (Rf., 6-0 227lbs)

MLB– Kristian Welch (Sr., 6-3 239lbs)/ Djimon Colbert (So., 6-1 235lbs)/ Dillon Doyle (Rf., 6-3 233lbs)

CASH– DJ Johnson (Rf., 5-10 183lbs), Terry Roberts (Rf., 5-10 176lbs)

LCB– Matt Hankins (Jr., 6-0 185lbs), Terry Roberts (Rf., 5-10 176lbs)/ Daraun McKinney (Fr. 5-10 185lbs)

RCB– Michael Ojemudia (Sr. 6-1 200lbs), Julius Brents (So., 6-2 200lbs)/ Riley Moss (So., 6-1 191lbs)

FS– Geno Stone (Jr. 5-10 210lbs), Riley Moss (So., 6-1 191lbs)

SS– Kaevon Merriweather (So., 6-0 210lbs), John Milani (Sr., 6-0 204lbs)

P– Michael Sleep-Ferguson (Sr. 6-1 208lbs), Colten Rastetter (Sr. 6-1 213lbs)/ Ryan Gersonde (So., 6-4 198lbs)

Stats and information courtesy of iowa.rivals.com/news…

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