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Hawkeyes working to solidify line spots

Hawkeyes working to solidify line spots

IOWA CITY — There are several positions on the Iowa preseason depth chart that are written in pencil.

The guard spots on the Iowa offensive line are among them.

Cole Banwart, a starter up front a year ago, and Landan Paulsen fill spots that coach Kirk Ferentz said Friday at Iowa’s preseason media remain "wide open."

Levi Paulsen, Cody Ince and Bettendorf’s Mark Kallenberger, listed as a back-up tackle behind veterans Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs, have seen reps at guard during the first week of fall camp.

Ferentz said the two tackles and redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum at center appear headed to starting roles, but said "anybody right now is in contention for the other jobs. It’s wide open in my mind right now."

Jackson sees the group coming together.

"I think we’re going to be fine. We’ve got a lot of guys who have been around for a long time now, and that experience, it’s going to help us," Jackson said.

Only seven practices into fall camp, Ferentz hopes for some clarity at the positions by Aug. 21 with nearly three quarters of the team's preseason work complete.

"By then, we're hoping to have some things settled," he said.

Developing depth: Iowa defensive line coach Kelvin Bell likes the depth he sees developing on the Hawkeye defensive front.

Iowa graduated all four of its starters from last season’s 9-4 team but is prepared to elevate four back-ups, who all saw significant time in an eight-player rotation, to starting roles.

"The thing right now is figure out who the back-ups are and figure out what kind of rotation we can have this season," Bell said. "We traveled 11 guys last year, and I’d like to get to the point again. Right now, we're probably at eight, give or take one each way. We’re seeing guys step up."

Home, sweet home: One player looking for time at defensive tackle is Daviyon Nixon, a sophomore who entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal at one point during the past offseason only to stick with the Hawkeyes.

"For a while, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be, but now I’m at where I belong," Nixon said.

Nixon’s journey to sharing a second-team spot on the Iowa depth chart has taken several twists, including a season at Iowa Western Community College before he returned the Iowa program he signed with out of high school.

"I’m good with how it all worked out. There are days where it’s hard, but it’s supposed to be. I’m in the Big Ten playing football," Nixon said. "This is what I’ve wanted all along."

The next step: Defensive end A.J. Epenesa attracted a crowd Friday, not all that unexpected for a returning first-team all-Big Ten selection who is attracting preseason all-American accolades.

One of the most productive players in the Big Ten whose snaps were limited by an eight-player rotation on the Iowa defensive line a year ago, the junior’s challenge as he prepares for his first collegiate start is to maintain his productivity with an expanded role.

"Now the challenge is to play 60, 70 snaps and play them as well as he can," Ferentz said.

Epenesa gets that.

"I’m anxious for that. It’s something I’ve waited for, and now that it’s here, it’s up to me to make the most of it," Epenesa said.

A healthy start: Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin won a starting job during fall camp a year ago but saw his sophomore season impacted by a nagging ankle injury.

He’s back on the field now, ready to return to work at full speed for the first time since fall.

"It’s great being back out there and feeling good and strong again," Kelly-Martin said. "I’m finally back doing what I know I can do to help us."

He also knows he’s not at it alone, joining Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young in battling for snaps in the Hawkeye backfield.

"The one thing coaches have been talking to us about is that it’s going to take all three of us so we all need to be ready," Kelly-Martin said. "We understand that because we lived it last year."

Punter sidelined: The season has ended before it began for punter Ryan Gersonde.

The sophomore who began fall camp sharing the top line on the depth chart with Colten Rastetter and is also Iowa’s back-up holder has underwent surgery to repair a knee injury.

Graduate transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton, a senior who started the past two seasons at Arizona State, is also competing for the punter spot.

Open practice today: The only public practice for the Iowa football team is today when the Hawkeyes host the annual Kids at Kinnick Day.

No admission is charged for the noon practice at Kinnick Stadium, which is preceded by an 11:30 a.m. autograph session designed for kids only.

Entrance to the stadium is at Gates A and E on the south and west side of the stadium. Regular game-day search procedures will be in place, and seating will be available in the west and south grandstand.

Parking will be free in hard-surfaced lots adjacent to Kinnick Stadium and Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but normal hourly rates will be charged in nearby parking ramps.


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