Five questions the Iowa football team will work to answer during fall camp, which begins at 6:50 p.m. today, the Hawkeyes’ first practice leading toward a Sept. 1 season opener against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium.
1 Beyond a talent-filled group of tight ends, who is going to catch the passes Nate Stanley is throwing their way?
Iowa’s sophomore quarterback has more-than-reliable options in tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson and will again look to put the ball in the hands of senior Nick Easley after he led the Hawkeyes with 51 receptions last season.
Growth from sophomores Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette is expected and will be critical to Iowa’s chances of improving a passing attack that ranked ninth in the Big Ten last season.
Transfer Kyle Groeneweg, a senior who caught 36 passes for 635 yards at Division II Sioux Falls, adds an intriguing veteran to the mix, with freshmen Samson Evans, Calvin Lockett and Tyrone Tracy also likely being counted on to provide needed depth.
2 Are Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin ready to carry the load at running back?
They better be. Young and Kelly-Martin likely will become the workhorses in the Hawkeye backfield as Iowa works to replace two backs currently in NFL camps, Akrum Wadley and James Butler.
The 5-foot-11, 221-pound Young displayed power and the 5-10, 200-pound Kelly-Martin showed quickness last season while combining for 377 rushing yards and five touchdowns as freshmen.
Much like receiver, Iowa will need to establish additional depth in camp. Junior-college transfer Mekhi Sargent — a 1,499-yard rusher last season as a redshirt freshman at Iowa Western — redshirt freshman Kyshaun Bryan and true freshmen Henry Geil will get the first looks.
3 Will Iowa rely on more than three linebackers this season?
Three seniors, Josey Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann, played nearly every down for Iowa at linebacker last season, but expect the Hawkeyes to turn to more of a rotation in the middle of the defense at the outset of the 2018 season.
Two juniors, Amani Jones at middle linebacker and Kristian Welch at the will position, and sophomore Nick Niemann at outside linebacker fill the top spots on the depth chart as camp begins.
Senior Jack Hockaday and redshirt freshman Djimon Colbert on the inside and sophomore Barrington Wade on the outside remain in the mix of what is likely to evolve into a rotation similar to what the Hawkeyes have used on the front and back end of the defense.
4 With the summer departures of Manny Rugamba and Brandon Snyder, how solid are things on the back end of the Hawkeye defense?
Combined with the early exit of cornerback Josh Jackson for the NFL, the group led by defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker has plenty of work to do in camp.
Senior free safety Jake Gervase is now the Hawkeyes’ most experienced starter in the secondary with 10 career starts. Junior Amani Hooker at strong safety has six career starts, while junior Michael Ojemudia and sophomore Matt Hankins combine for five career starts at corner.
Sophomore Geno Stone at safety and redshirt freshmen Trey Creamer and Josh Turner at corner should factor into a rotation that will also likely include help from a solid group of true freshmen, including Julius Brents, Dallas Craddieth, D.J. Johnson and Kaevon Merriweather.
5 Who will help Iowa’s punting game improve?
Ready or not, last year’s punters remain this year’s punters. The Hawkeyes will be counting on growth in an area where Iowa struggled with consistency from start to finish in 2017, ranking 13th in the Big Ten with an average of 38.6 yards per punt.
Sophomore Ryan Gersonde and junior Colten Rastetter share the top line on the depth chart as camp begins in what is considered an ongoing competition.
Both will be working with a new long snapper. Junior Jackson Subbert tops the current depth chart as Iowa looks to replace the consistent deliveries of four-year starter Tyler Kluver.