IOWA CITY — Peter Pekar has watched and learned from plenty of talented tight ends while working his way up the Iowa depth chart.
Saturday, the walk-on from Greendale, Wisconsin, may get a chance to put that knowledge to use.
Pekar and true freshman Noah Fant are positioned to receive additional snaps if senior starter George Kittle is unable to play in the Hawkeyes’ 11 a.m. game against Wisconsin because of the foot sprain he suffered during the first half of last weekend’s win at Purdue.
“None of us are sure how it is all going to play out this week, but all you can do is put yourself in a position to be ready when your number is called,’’ Pekar said. “I feel like I’m ready.’’
Kittle is one of three offensive starters who are attempting to work their way back this week from foot and ankle sprains, joining offensive tackles Cole Croston and Boone Myers as questionable to take the field against the 10th-rated Badgers.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday none of the three have been medically ruled out of this week’s game.
He indicated that Croston, who sat out the Purdue game with an ankle sprain, has a chance to play, while Myers and Kittle have more ground to cover before reaching that point.
Ferentz lists Kittle, Iowa’s third-leading receiver with 17 catches for 280 yards, as “a longshot,’’ with a return dependent on how much progress he can make in the next couple of days.
“We’re not going to rule him out, but anytime a guy gets hurt you’ve got to prepare like he’s not going to be there,’’ Ferentz said. “If he can play, we’ll play him. We’ve done that before, but he has got to be able to play effectively.’’
If not, Pekar and Fant are working to fill the void.
Strong blocking abilities moved the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Pekar into the second spot on the Iowa depth chart at tight end last spring, while last weekend Fant became the first true freshman to catch a touchdown pass for the Hawkeyes since Jordan Canzeri caught one in the 2011 Insight Bowl.
“Pete’s doing a great job in the run game. He had a big block that broke Akrum (Wadley) free for his 75-yard run the other day and he runs good routes, too,’’ quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “Noah’s coming along, and I have confidence in both those guys.’’
Both have seen time this season at a position where Kittle was the only experienced player returning.
Pekar, the son of former Hawkeye James Pekar, has methodically worked his way into an expanded role.
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“We’ve had a lot of really good tight ends here and those guys have done a good job of teaching us all the ropes,’’ Pekar said. “It feels good to finally get some experience and some playing time. It’s what you work every day to be ready for, to get the chance.’’
Pekar earned first-team all-state honors in Wisconsin as a high school senior in the suburbs of Milwaukee and the Iowa junior competed for the same high school program as the Badgers’ starting right tackle, third-year sophomore Jacob Maxwell.
“I know a few defensive guys on their team from an all-star game in high school, so I know I need to be ready,’’ Pekar said. “Wisconsin always has a strong, physical team and it will be a dogfight. It always is when Iowa and Wisconsin get together.’’
Pekar welcomes the chance to be a participant in that.
He turned down a scholarship opportunity from Western Illinois to follow in his father’s footsteps at Iowa.
“You hear about how walk-ons are treated the same as any other player here and that’s proven to be the case,’’ Pekar said. “I feel like I’ve been given a fair chance to work and develop. It has led me to this point.’’
And if Kittle cannot go, Pekar plans to be ready to give the Hawkeyes all he has.
“It’s a big-time opportunity and it’s a game on our side of the conference, which makes it an extremely important game for us,’’ Pekar said. “I’ll be ready.’’