IOWA CITY — Eight practices into fall camp, there is some competition taking place within Iowa’s linebacker corps.
Amani Jones at middle linebacker and Nick Niemann on the outside appear to be settling into starting roles, but the will position seems to remain contested.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said following Saturday’s Kids Day public scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium that Kristian Welch, Djimon Colbert and true freshman Seth Benson are battling for the opportunity to start in the Hawkeyes’ Sept. 1 season opener against Northern Illinois.
All three spent time working with the first and second teams on Saturday, and Ferentz said Barrington Wade, who did not participate Saturday but is expected back on the practice field early this week, factors into the equation as well.
"There’s some good competition taking place," Ferentz said.
Benson, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native who initially planned to sign with South Dakota State before Iowa offered, was one of a handful of true freshmen who performed well in Saturday’s scrimmage, which provided a one-day first impression of first-year Hawkeyes.
Defensive back Julius Brents, defensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum and linebacker Dillon Doyle also turned in solid performances.
Brents provides some size on the back end of the defense and his range has positioned him to contend for a role on this team with continued progress.
Linderbaum, who juggled 6 a.m. conditioning work and a summer class with playing for a Solon baseball team that made a deep run in the Iowa Class 3A postseason tournament, drew praise from Ferentz.
"He’s had a very busy summer, but he came to camp ready to work," Ferentz said. "In every sport he competed in, he added a little something extra to the team. That’s part of what we like about him."
Back-up battle: Nate Stanley ran the starting offense on a pair of lengthy drives early in Saturday’s scrimmage, but the competition for who will be the Hawkeyes’ back-up quarterback continues.
Redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell and true freshman Spencer Petras, received a fairly even number of reps Saturday while working with the second and third teams.
Ferentz said there has been little separation between the two so far.
"Both guys have made strides since April," Ferentz said.
The defense is typically ahead of the offense at this point in camp, and that was the case Saturday, but Ferentz did like a couple of drives he saw from the Stanley-led first offense.
"There were a couple of 10-, 12-play drives where we looked like we knew what we were doing. That was encouraging," Ferentz said. "… We do need to pick up the pace a bit on offense. It’s still early, but we’re also a week and a half away from starting to get ready to play a game."
Filling in: Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson, starting offensive tackles who are both suspended for the season opener, worked with the first unit on the offensive line Saturday.
Levi Paulsen on the right side and Mark Kallenberger on the left side worked with the second team.
On defense, where starting tackle Cedrick Lattimore and back-up Brady Reiff are also suspended for the opener, Sam Brincks shifted inside from an end spot to start with Matt Nelson at tackle while Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse opened at the end positions.
"Sam is really starting to blossom," Ferentz said. "Over the past eight months, his confidence has grown."
Catching on: Iowa’s first play of Saturday’s scrimmage was very Iowa like — an 11-yard pass to fullback Brady Ross.
The Hawkeyes utilized their running backs and their most veteran fullback in the passing game frequently during the opening segments of the practice, and in addition to Ross, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin showed solid hands while receiving the ball.
Competitive approach: Ferentz said competition to determine who will be the Hawkeyes’ starting punter — the only "or" listed on the first line of the Iowa depth chart — will continue.
Ryan Gersonde and Colten Rastetter are battling for the starting opportunity, and Ferentz said consistency remains the issue.
"I’ll probably reserve judgment until the next time we talk. I think we’ve seen improvement," Ferentz said, adding that both can expect a competition-filled week on the practice field as the Hawkeyes seek to move beyond last season’s struggles in that area.
For the kids: Prior to Saturday’s practice session, Iowa players spent nearly 30 minutes signing autographs for youths who lined the grandstand rail at Kinnick Stadium.
This year’s 13 Kids Captains — part of a partnership between the Hawkeyes and University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital — were escorted onto the field by Iowa seniors and, along with their families, had a chance to meet players and collect their own autographs.
"I think our players get as much out of it as the kids and their families do," Ferentz said of the program, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.