Five things to keep an eye on this spring as the Iowa football team works through its 15 spring practices culminating in a public practice under the lights at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, April 21:
With a new offensive coordinator and new quarterbacks coach in Brian Ferentz and Ken O’Keefe, performance this spring and into fall camp will dictate who emerges as the replacement for C.J. Beathard behind center in 2017.
Sophomore Nathan Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers are the only quarterbacks in the program with game experience, albeit limited action. Stanley completed 5-of-9 passes for 62 yards in seven games last fall as the back up while Wiegers went 3-for-4 for 32 yards in four games while No. 2 on the depth chart in 2015.
Drew Cook and Ryan Boyle, returning to the position after spending last fall as a receiver, are the only other scholarship quarterbacks in camp this spring.
“Clearly at this point, Tyler Wiegers and Nate Stanley have the most experience working with the twos and ones. Those two guys will be at the front of the group, then we’ll let it work from there,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Who’s catching on?
Matt VandeBerg’s absence this spring because of a foot injury will provide new receivers coach Kelton Copeland with a chance to get to know a collection of largely unproven underclassmen.
Junior Jerminic Smith caught 23 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns last season and is the most experienced of the group.
Sophomore Devonte Young and junior Adrian Falconer both lettered last season but neither caught a pass.
Junior college transfer Nick Easley, a 5-foot-11, 203-pound Newton, Iowa native from Iowa Western Community College, and Ronald Nash, a junior from Sioux City who also started his college career at Iowa Western, also figure to be in the mix.
“With Matt being out, it’s wide open right now for everybody to have a chance,’’ Ferentz said. “Basically, the goal is to demonstrate that they can play and help us win, then we’ll figure out where they belong afterwards.’’
Iowa is also looking to replace starter George Kittle at tight end. Senior Peter Pekar, sophomore Noah Fant, who caught nine passes a year ago, senior Jon Wisnieski and redshirt freshmen Shaun Beyer and T.J. Hockenson top a list of seven candidates at the position.
The biggest questions Phil Parker is dealing with in the secondary this season are at cornerback, where the Hawkeyes must find replacements for consensus all-American Desmond King and Greg Mabin.
King started a school-record 51 games over the last four seasons and Mabin has been a lineup regular for the past three seasons, leaving a green, but growing group of potential replacements.
Sophomore Manny Rugamba intercepted two passes as a true freshman and started three games last season after Mabin suffered an injury, but experienced depth remains in short supply.
Sophomore Michael Ojemudia, junior Joshua Jackson and redshirt freshman Cedric Boswell figure to be in the mix initially. Jackson started in the Outback Bowl in place of an injured Rugamba.
Iowa’s defensive front has thrived with a healthy rotation in recent seasons and development of a rotation at the interior tackle spots to work in front of a group of three returning starters at linebacker will be important this spring.
Nathan Bazata is back for his senior season at defensive tackle, but the loss of first-team all-Big Ten pick Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie creates openings Reese Morgan will be looking to fill.
Bazata has 24 games of starting experience and is joined at the start of spring ball in the lineup by sophomore Cedrick Lattimore, who saw action in six games last fall as a true freshman.
Senior Jake Hulett and two sophomores, Garret Jansen and Brady Reiff, figure heavily into the mix of tackle options that will get a look this spring.
Getting a leg up
Ron Coluzzi provided Iowa’s punting game with welcomed consistency as a graduate transfer a year ago, averaging 41.1 yards per punt, but the same preseason questions that existed in 2016 are back.
Colten Rastetter is the only punter in the program who has seen game action, punting once for 42 yards.
“It’s really pretty simple for Colten right now. He’s our punter. All he has to do is go out and play well, play well consistently. If he does that, get out in front,’’ Ferentz said. “… It’s a great opportunity for Colten right now. His biggest challenge is consistency.’’
Walk-on Ben Canby is the only other punter on the roster until freshman Ryan Gersonde arrives in the fall.