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Spring questions remain unanswered for Hawkeyes

Spring questions remain unanswered for Hawkeyes

Iowa Northwestern Football

Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston intercepts a pass as Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater tackles him during the first half of the Hawkeyes' 20-0 win at Ryan Field last fall. Golston will be the lone returning starter on Iowa's defensive front next season.

Wednesday was the day Iowa football players hoped to begin answering some questions.

Spring practices were originally scheduled to begin that morning at the Hawkeye football complex, the first of 15 sessions and the start of the next phase of work leading toward the 2020 season.

Focused on strength and conditioning since January, spring practices at Iowa have traditionally provided young players with opportunities and have given coaches a chance to experiment.

Spring experimentation took on even more importance when a short turnaround prior to last season’s Holiday Bowl game limited developmental time that is usually part of bowl preparations for the Hawkeyes.

Understandably, all of that is now on hold following the Big Ten-mandated suspension of all team-oriented activities because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Hawkeyes, the situation delays solutions in a handful of areas that were to be among the focus of attention during spring work this year.

Iowa returns 13 starters from the lineup it put on the field when it completed a 10-3 season with a 49-24 victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl, eight on offense and five on defense.

It is on the defensive side of the ball where the bulk of the Hawkeyes’ work would have started beginning today.

Iowa’s defensive line is undergoing its second major overhaul in as many years.

The Hawkeyes replaced all four starters on its defensive front a year ago but overcame that in part because of a deep rotation that had been used during the 2018 season.

Defensive line coach Kelvin Bell finds himself in a similar position again, looking for players who filled limited roles in a rotation last season to compensate for the loss of all-American defensive end A.J. Epenesa and starting tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff.

Starting end Chauncey Golston does return and tackle Daviyon Nixon gained valuable experience last season, but the Hawkeyes are largely inexperienced beyond that.

There are additional lineup spots available throughout the rest of the defense as well.

At linebacker, the middle spot filled primarily by Kristian Welch last season is open while starters Djimon Colbert and Nick Niemann return.

Dillon Doyle and Jack Campbell both started inside when Welch missed three games because of injury and will factor into things once work does begin.

On the back end, Iowa has to replace 13-game starting strong safety Geno Stone and cornerback Michael Ojemudia.

Matt Hankins, Jack Koerner and Dane Belton, a four-game starter at the "cash" position, return and will face experienced competition from four other players with previous starts on their resumes: Julius Brents, D.J. Johnson, Kaevon Merriweather and Riley Moss.

On offense, the biggest storyline heading into spring would have been at a position that hasn’t been open for three years, although Spencer Petras appears positioned to be Iowa’s next starting quarterback.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound redshirt sophomore from California was Stanley’s back-up last season and was preparing to be part of Iowa’s spring practices for a third year after enrolling early in 2018.

With incoming freshman Deuce Hogan arriving on campus this summer, redshirt freshman Alex Padilla is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster currently.

Whoever starts at quarterback will be surrounded by returning skill players.

Holiday Bowl MVP Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith return at receiver positions, while Tyler Goodson last fall became the first true freshman to ever lead Iowa in rushing and Sam LaPorta demonstrated his potential by catching six passes for 44 yards in the Holiday Bowl.

After dealing with injuries last season, senior tackle Alaric Jackson anchors an offensive front five which will work to replace an all-American tackle on the other end, Tristan Wirfs.

Including 13-game starting center Tyler Linderbaum, the Hawkeyes will eventually begin searching for their strongest line combination with Cole Banwart, Mark Kallenberger and Kyler Schott providing additional returning starting experience.

Iowa returns a senior in kicker Keith Duncan, and awaits the summer arrival of freshman punter Tory Taylor from Australia to begin offseason competition in that area.


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