It’s time to break down the Hawkeye football team.
This week I’ll talk about the offense, including the line, tight ends, wide receivers and fullbacks.
The more I look at the offensive line, the more I like it.
First of all, you have seven players that started at least one game last year.
There is no better experience than starting a game. It’s different than going in for a few plays because when you start, you get all the reps with the first team during the week.
Also Eric Simmons (6-2, 295) and Ryan Ward (6-5, 290) red shirted so they will add depth.
Finally, Brian Ferentz was in his first year of offensive line coach and you know he will be a better coach in year two.
The pre-camp depth chart had one change from the spring game.
Junior Andrew Donnal (6-7, 305), was replaced by sophomore Jordan Walsh (6-4, 270), at right guard in the starting lineup. Andrew switched over to left tackle to back up junior Brandon Scherff.
Brandon, (6-5, 310) and senior Brett Van Sloten (6-7, 292) are listed at tackles. Both could be all-Big Ten picks.
Brandon was having a good year before he was lost for the season with an injury against Penn State, while Brett started every game.
“We feel good about our tackles in Brandon an Brett,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. “They are experienced older players who are strong leaders.”
Senior Conor Boffeli (6-5, 290) and Jordan Walsh are the starting guards with sophomore Austin Blythe (6-3, 300) moving over to center. Austin started nine games at guard last fall and was named freshman All-American.
“We were pleased with Austin’s transition to center,” said coach Ferentz. “It was good to see him take a big step and he looked a lot more comfortable and in control in the spring.”
Conor started the final three games of the season at left guard.
Backups include senior Nolan MacMillan (6-6, 294) and Andrew Donnal at left tackle, red shirt freshman Mitch Keppy (6-5, 295) at right guard and red shirt freshman Ryan Ward (6-5, 290) at right tackle.
“I think we try to help each other as much as possible,” said Nolan, who has fought through injuries during his career. “Especially the older guys. We know, we’ve been through this before. It’s a little tougher for the freshmen since it’s their first time.”
Eric Simmons was listed as the second team center.
Cole Croston (6-5, 260) and Reid Sealby (6-5, 275) both red shirted as freshmen and will add more depth.
Iowa’s tight ends have talent, depth and experience.
When you start with C.J. Fiedorowicz (6-7, 265) you have an All-American candidate in the mix.
C.J. caught 45 passes last year for 433 yards and one touchdown. The receiving yards and touchdown catches have to go up if Iowa is to have a winning year.
“C.J. showed signs this spring of being on the right path,” said coach Ferentz. “He’s a big, physical player who just needs to continue to hone his skills.”
The Hawks run a lot of two-tight end sets, so junior Ray Hamilton (6-5, 252) should get a lot of playing time.
Sophomores Jake Duzey (6-4, 245) and Henry Krieger Coble (6-4, 245) both played last year. Redshirt freshman George Kittle (6-4, 225) is also in the mix.
George’s dad, Bruce, was captain of the 1981 Hawkeye Rose Bowl team.
Iowa also used an H-back in the spring with Jake and Henry.
“We’re all coming out here competing, hoping all of us are going to get on the field,” said Jake. “We’re doing a lot of two-tight end sets.”
The three backup tight ends combined for nine receptions, 66 yards and one touchdown catch.
Those numbers need to increase substantially for Iowa to be successful.
Senior Kevonte Martin-Manley leads the receiving corps.
Kevonte led the Hawks with 52 catches for 571 yards and two touchdowns.
Jordan Cotton (6-1, 192) who is also a senior, had 12 receptions for 172 yards and backs up Kevonte.
On the other side, sophomore Tevaun Smith (6-2, 190) is listed number one. Tevaun has really good speed, but he caught only three passes for 31 yards.
Backups include senior Don Shumpert (6-3, 200) and sophomore Jacob Hillyer (6-4, 205). Both have good size and speed, and both caught passes last year.
Redshirt freshman Riley McCarron (5-9, 182) and junior Blake Haluska (6-4, 210) had good spring practices.
The Hawks signed five wide receivers last winter and a couple of them, especially junior college transfer Damond Powell (5-11, 180) will get a shot for some playing time.
Damond caught 41 passes for 1,231 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the nation in yards per reception (30.0) and his 14 touchdown catches were twice as many as Iowa’s receivers caught last fall.
“This is a position that younger players can play effectively,” said coach Ferentz. “It’s realistic to think one or two of the newcomers may help us. We’ll try to identify which guys are most capable as early as possible and get them integrated.”
The top two fullbacks are both sophomores. Adam Cox (5-11, 215) and Macon Plewa (6-2, 235) are listed one and two.
“Adam Cox did a great job this spring,” said coach Ferentz. “He was really a pleasant surprise. He gives everything he’s got out there and he did a lot of things really well.
Macon made the transition from linebacker and made a good showing for himself as well.
Mark Weisman will also get some looks at fullback.
“Mark is as good a fullback as we’ve had,” said the coach. “He’s shown the ability to run the ball so we were able to move him to running back. We certainly have more flexibility in the depth and skills of the players at this spot.”
This is the first part of a three part series on Iowa football.
Next week I’ll look at the quarterback, running backs and defensive line… and I’ll pick who I think will be the starting quarterback for the Hawkeyes in their first game against Northern Illinois Saturday, Aug. 31.
Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. I’m ready, and I think Iowa will be.