IOWA CITY, Ia. – Now it gets interesting. Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff have a lot of important decisions to make with the August 30 opener against Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium rapidly approaching.
They'll review tape of Saturday's public practice and scrimmage today, then comes a 24-hour window where they'll decide on their playing rotations. Adding to that challenge Ferentz said, are injuries that have significantly impeded the progress of his team.
"Seems like we've had a few more than we need," Ferentz said.
Tight ends Ray Hamilton and Jake Duzey, linebacker Chad Gilson, wide receiver Derrick Willies and cornerback Greg Mabin were among the players sitting out Saturday. Starting fullback Adam Cox tore his ACL and is lost for the season after surgery Thursday. Receiver Riley McCarron took a hard fall after a catch Saturday and could also be out.
Saturday was the 16th practice of fall camp, and the first before public eyes. Expectations are high for this season. But several key questions remain unanswered. If they remain questions, expectations will not be met.
Kicking game – The placekicking display Saturday was abymsal. The job appears between Marshall Koehn and Mick Ellis. Ferenz is also giving true freshman walk-on Miguel Recinos a shot.
Koehn has the strongest leg, but missed field goals of 32 and 37 yards in the scrimmage. He also missed two of three attempts during a practice segment.
"Today was not a good day placekicking wise," Ferentz said. "Ironically, that's probably been one of the highlights of camp."
The punting job is between incumbent Connor Kornbrath and Dillon Kidd, a junior college transfer. Kidd was the more impressive of the two Saturday, turning over two long punts in the scrimmage.
Secondary – Mabin has emerged at left corner, in a competition with Sean Draper and Maurice Fleming. He's expected back at practice by Monday at the latest. Draper also got some looks at right corner behind Desmond King. Depth at safety is also a question, but it looks like true freshman Miles Taylor will get some time at strong safety. Anthonty Gair and Solomon Warfield also played back there a lot Saturday.
"Miles brings energy to the table," free safety Jordan Lomax said. "He runs to the ball, and he doesn't stop. You really need that from a guy back there."
Linebacker – Don't cement Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry into the starting lineup quite yet. With the exception of middle linebacker Quinton Alston, Ferentz said the other two positions are still up for grabs.
"I feel really good about Q," Ferentz said.
Redshirt freshman Josey Jewell played a lot at outside linebacker Saturday, a spot where Perry is listed as the starter.
"Josey is a very aggressive guy," Alston said.
Bo Bower also played some snaps with the No. 1's. But with Gilson, listed as the No.2 middle linebacker, out with an injury, it's hard to tell how Bower fits in.
Fullback – With Cox done for the season, Macon Plewa moves into the No. 1 spot. Two linebackers – Drake Kulick and Steve Manders – have been moved to fullback. Kulick is running No. 2 and delivered the loudest pad-popping block of the day. Ferentz said Mark Weisman, a fullback turned running back, is probably not an option there.
Two-minute drill – George Kittle, the fastest of the tight ends, should be a downfield option this season. He had one 39-yard catch on a wheel route. Ferentz mentioned another tight end, Henry Krieger-Coble, and defensive end Nate Meier as two players who have shown significant improvement…Ferentz said no true freshmen will start, but some could see action as backups or on special teams. The three leading candidates there would appear to be Taylor, linebacker Ben Niemann and defensive end Matt Nelson… wide receiver Matt VandeBerg caught several passes and carried the ball once on an end-around. "He'll play a lot," Ferentz said. …The coach is still concerned with depth in the offensive line. "We've made progress, but we're not there," Ferentz said… Nathan Bazata looks to have played his way into the rotation at defensive tackle.