IOWA CITY — This spring, as in the 20 which preceded it, one simple philosophy guides Kirk Ferentz.
“There are no incumbents in football,’’ the Iowa coach said Tuesday as the Hawkeyes prepared to take the field for the first of their 15 spring practice sessions today.
Seasoned veterans and green-behind-the-ears rookies will start at the same point as Iowa moves from a winter filled with strength and conditioning work toward the start of the 2019 season.
“One constant is always the anticipation to get on the field and also some trepidation with a lot of unknowns,’’ Ferentz said. “This will be our first time on the field since we lost the seniors and the four players that left early for the NFL Draft. It will be a different team.’’
This spring, Iowa will begin the process of replacing all four starting defensive linemen, its two starting safeties, one linebacker, two interior offensive linemen, its leading receiver, two all-American tight ends as well as its starting kicker.
And for the first time in 19 seasons, Reese Morgan won’t be there to help the Hawkeyes put it all together.
The Iowa defensive line coach announced his retirement last month and Ferentz called Morgan’s departure “a big loss for our program,’’ labeling the long-time assistant a great mentor, leader and teacher.
Ferentz said his loss will be felt “everywhere’’ in the program and he cited Morgan’s meticulous work in recruiting.
“I was with the Hockensons in January and they said when Reese would go to their school while recruiting T.J., he would stop by and talk to T.J.’s sister, every single time. No one else did that, but that’s just the way he is. He checked every single box and was so thorough,’’ Ferentz said.
“Then whatever you asked him to coach, he always did an incredible job. He could coach any spot, including mine.’’
On the field, Ferentz announced Tuesday that Kelvin Bell has been hired as Iowa’s new defensive line coach.
A six-year member of the Iowa staff, Bell has spent the past three years as the assistant defensive line coach under Morgan in addition to serving as the program’s recruiting coordinator.
Ferentz said Bell’s role now will be to coach Iowa’s defensive linemen.
“We’ll redistribute the recruiting coordinator responsibilities and then will be seeking a 10th assistant coach,’’ Ferentz said, adding the latter hire will likely take place after spring ball concludes and will likely be an assistant who will work on the defensive side of the ball, most likely assisting Bell with the line.
Bell steps in to his new role at a time when Iowa has experience, but not starting experience returning from an eight-player rotation on the defensive front last season.
Ends A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston saw considerable time as reserves last season and Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff have playing experience at the two tackle spots.
Iowa lists three redshirt freshmen – ends John Waggoner and Nathan Nelson and tackle Noah Shannon – and junior tackle Austin Schulte in reserve roles on its current defensive line depth chart.
“Ideally, we’d like to rotate eight again, maybe six, but I’m not certain we are at four yet,’’ Ferentz said.
That’s reflective of where things are as spring ball begins, although Ferentz said the on-again, off-again Hawkeye career of defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon is on again.
“Back full speed with us today and it’s great to have him back with us,’’ Ferentz said. “… He was on the scout team last year when he redshirted and he likes football, likes being on the team. When he was on the field it was great.’’
Iowa will use the spring to begin to identify candidates to replace Amani Hooker in the hybrid safety/linebacker role he played last season. Ferentz said the 4-2-5 look on defense is “part of our DNA now’’ and will continue to be used to deal with spread-type attacks.
On offense, Iowa has an open guard and center position to fill and the conversion of redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum to center from the defensive line that started during practices prior to the Outback Bowl will continue.
Senior Nate Wieting and junior Shaun Beyer are currently listed at the top of the depth chart at the tight end spots and Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith top the list of targets for third-year starting quarterback Nate Stanley at the receiver positions.
“We’re counting on every guy on our team to improve. We expect Nate Stanley to be better than he was last season and it’s the same for every returning guy at every position,’’ Ferentz said. “That’s important in the spring, too.’’