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Des Moines Register's Chad Leistikow and Rick Brown preview Saturday's game versus Illinois State after speaking to players and coaches.

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IOWA CITY, Ia. – There have been a lot of changes made by Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff since the end of a disappointing 2014 season. Some are small, some significant.

Changes from afternoon to morning practices, for one. And a change in starting quarterback, for another. Of all those offseason changes, C.J. Beathard has clearly benefited the most. He replaced Jake Rudock, now at Michigan, as the starter the second week of January.

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C.J. Beathard will make his first career Kinnick start on Saturday Rick Brown | HawkCentral.com

It was a win-win situation, Ferentz said. And Beathard has cashed in, according to his coach.“Part of our motivation back in January was just to bring some clarity to the situation that we feel we needed to address,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “I think it was probably a good thing for both players.”

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“I think it allowed C.J. to ascend into a leadership role,” Ferentz said. “He’s done a great job of running with it and embracing it.”

Captains for each game are voted on by players on the 16-member Iowa Leadership Group. Beathard was named one of four captains for Saturday’s opener, along with center Austin Blythe, defensive end Drew Ott and safety Jordan Lomax.

NO INJURY BUG: Ferentz said that his team has made it through fall camp without any significant injuries.

“We’ve been pretty clean there,” Ferentz said. “Nobody in the two-deeps are expected to miss any time. Hopefully we’ll get through (Wednesday).”

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The starting running back talks about true freshman James Daniels. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com

TRUE FRESHMEN: Ferentz said that the staff has decided that offensive  guard James Daniels and wide receiver Jerminic Smith will play this season. Others could join that list if they distinguish themselves.

Daniels enrolled in January and had 15 days of spring camp to get acclimated to college football. Smith, from Garland, Texas, didn’t have that advantage.

“He’s really handled the transition with ease,” Ferentz said. “Not that he knows everything right now, and he’s going to make mistakes certainly if he gets in there. But he’s handled the adjustment pretty well from high school  to college. He seems to compete well out there. We’re really excited about his potential.”

Tevaun Smith, a senior and Iowa’s top receiver, is high on Jerminic as well.

“I’ve been trying to lead him and show him everything he needs to know,” Tevaun said. “He’s making a lot of plays, and I’m excited to see him play.”

KING OF KICK RETURNERS: Cornerback Desmond King will be the chief kick returner for both punts and kickoffs, Ferentz said. Riley McCarron will be in the No. 2 role.

Ferentz said Jonathan Parker, Tevaun Smith and Canzeri have also seen time on kick return teams.

REMEMBER ME? Reggie Spearman started at linebacker for Iowa in  last season’s opener against Northern Iowa.

He returns to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday as a linebacker at Illinois State, where he transferred. Spearman started seven games for the Hawkeyes last season. He was listed as a backup weakside linebacker on the Redbirds’ latest depth chart.

“He’s doing a good job,” Illinois State coach Brock Spack said Tuesday. “He’s getting better. We’ll play him at several positions, a little different than he did at Iowa. We’re cross-training him as a pass-rusher as well. He has nice length and is a good athlete and is a smart guy.”

RUNNING BACK ROTATION: LeShun Daniels will be the starting running back Saturday, with Jordan Canzeri backing him up.  The game will determine how many snaps both them them get.

“We’ll just kind of play it by ear and see how it goes,” Ferentz said. “I don’t know if we’ll go with a hot-hand guy, maybe use Jordan more on third down. I think we have a nice opportunity to mix it up a little bit.”

Ferentz said that Derrick Mitchell, a converted wide receiver, is the No. 3 back.

“He’s clearly our third back right now,” Ferentz said.

Akrum Wadley is also in the picture. He and Mark Weisman were the only Iowa players to rush for 100 yards in a game in the regular season in 2014. Wadley had 15 carries for 106 yards in a 48-7 victory over Northwestern in early November.

“We haven’t forgotten about him,” Ferentz said. “It’s really fluid, the process, during the course of the year. My guess is we’re going to need a lot of guys.”

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