IOWA CITY -- Kirk Ferentz readily acknowledged there were some questions heading into Iowa's fall camp.
Having to fill the holes created by 11 senior departures from last year's team, the Iowa head coach noted some key positions that will need to be addressed — like the offensive line — before the Hawkeyes take the field against Northern Iowa on Aug. 30.
Three of the spots on that line appear to be locked up — Outland Trophy candidate Brandon Scherff at left tackle, Rimington Award candidate Austin Blythe at center and preseason all-Big Ten selection Jordan Walsh at right guard. But the two remaining spots, vacated by Conor Boffeli and Brett Van Sloten, are still up for grabs, though Andrew Donnal appears to be the favorite for the right tackle spot vacated by Van Sloten.
"The big question right now is what do we do after that?" Ferentz said. "What do we do for the final start and then develop some depth at that position."
Redshirt sophomore Mitch Keppy, from Port Byron, Ill., is hoping to take advantage of the openings. Listed as the No. 2 right guard behind Walsh, Keppy continues to grow more as a player since arriving at Iowa from Riverdale High School.
“It’s my third camp so I know how things work,” Keppy said. “I’m still young … I’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of improvement to do and just ready to get back to work.”
Keppy knows from experience not to be comfortable with where he’s at. Last season he was in the same spot on the depth chart but couldn’t take the steps necessary to make his way onto the field.
At 6-foot-5, 298 pounds, it’s not so much about improving his size or strength as it is working on his technique.
“My biggest thing is just learning all the mental stuff and all the technique and everything like that,” he said. “All the little drills, we do it every single day but not everybody masters it until you’re five years into it so just a lot of improvement to go and just work hard.”
Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz sees a possibility for Keppy to fill a role, provided he earns it.
“He’s physically almost there but Mitch still has a lot of work to do and he knows that,” Ferentz said. “We’re a little thin, so some guys that maybe haven’t earned it yet are in that area. It’s not that Mitch hasn’t earned it, but we still expect to see a little more from him as we move through camp and this is a real important camp for him.”
Ferentz said he could see Keppy possibly filling the left guard position, currently occupied by redshirt freshman Sean Welsh, and also entertained the possibility of using six or seven lineman in a rotation, anything that will develop competition and improve the depth of the unit as a whole.
That's what the next few weeks will hopefully sort out.
“We still don’t know who will start for us,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s something we’re looking to find out. We don’t know who our best five are. I think we have a pretty good idea of who some of them are, but there’s spots that are open and things can move, nothing’s set in stone. Every position is open."
Keppy knows he's got a tough road ahead of him, but said he's looking forward to the work ahead and learning as much as he can from those ahead of him on the depth chart.
"I’ve still got a lot of work," he said. "It’s a long race and it’s really good looking up to those older guys, those bigger guys like Scherff and Donnal and Blythe and all them, it’s great having them as leaders on the offensive line and I look up to them and just look to improve."