The Iowa coach likes the Iowa Western walk-on's weight-room work and on-field production. Chad Leistikow / The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz reads enough media coverage to know that when his football program makes a depth-chart change, it doesn’t take long to get noticed.
And so began the speculation about Nick Easley, a junior college walk-on who just stepped onto campus but is already listed as a No. 2 wide receiver on the spring prospectus that was distributed Monday.
“We threw a little curve ball in there — we put Nick Easley's name on the depth chart,” Ferentz quipped. “Get something going there; stir it up a little bit.”
Consider it stirred.
It’s a fresh name at a significant position of need, as Iowa's spring practice gets ready to start Wednesday.
So why not delve into it a little bit?
By all accounts, Easley is a self-made football player who works hard.
Two years after catching 36 balls as a senior at Newton High School, he piled up an NJCAA-best 72 receptions for 954 yards and seven touchdowns and earned first-team all-America honors.
“He’ll do anything you ask him to do,” Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier told the Omaha World-Herald in December. “Works his tail off. Just a great program kid and … a pretty darn good football player.”
No question, part of the reason Easley is on the depth chart is by default. There are only four scholarship receivers on the spring roster: senior Matt VandeBerg, juniors Jerminic Smith and Adrian Falconer and sophomore Devonte Young.
But a combination of VandeBerg being withheld from spring practice after re-injuring his foot over the winter and Easley's weight-room work with Chris Doyle, the transfer has caught the attention of the coaching staff.
“His (strength and conditioning) numbers are really good,” Ferentz said. “The guy came in and went to work. He really impressed us that way. He's got a really good attitude. … Doesn't talk a lot, but he just shows up every day and goes hard.
“I'm not saying numbers mean football, but he fits on our football team that way. I would be embarrassed by my numbers. He can feel pretty good about his.”
Easley originally committed to Iowa State as a walk-on, but two weeks later tweeted that he was instead walking on at Iowa — turning down FCS scholarship offers from Robert Morris, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois.
Easley is listed at 5-foot-11, 203 pounds. He joins No. 1s Smith and Young and No. 2 Falconer on the depth chart for now. Iowa loaded up on wide receivers in its most recent recruiting class, with Max Cooper, Trey Creamer, Henry Marchese, Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette arriving in June to compete for immediate playing time.
A simpler offense?
One of the big curiosities among fans this offseason: What will a Brian Ferentz offense look like?
The buzz word that Kirk Ferentz used Monday was “simple.”
Simplified terminology. Simplified concepts.
If you want to read between the lines there, it might mean things were a little too complex during the five-year tenure of Greg Davis.
Simplifying also might mean making sure that listed No. 1 quarterback Nathan Stanley, a rising sophomore, can be as ready as possible come the Sept. 2 opener vs. Wyoming.
It also helps to start from scratch with three new hires in offensive line coach Tim Polasek, quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe and receivers coach Kelton Copeland.
“As you can imagine, when Greg came in, we pretty much rolled with his lingo and dialect,” Ferentz said. “That's usually what you want to do. You want to try to make sure the play-caller is comfortable with what terminology you're using, whether it's for personnel groups, plays, protections … routes.
“I think the big thing was everybody getting an understanding of what we wanted to feature, how we were going to name those things, talk about those things. Getting even on the same page that way has been a little bit of a process. It's been fun. A great exchange. A lot of guys contributing in the process.”
By the way, Ferentz said the quarterback race is open. Stanley and redshirt junior Tyler Wiegers “will be at the front of the group, then we'll let it work from there.”
Kirk Ferentz discusses the benefits of being the No. 2 QB instead of on the scout team. Chad Leistikow / The Register
New special-teams coach has 1 punter
New special-teams coordinator LeVar Woods won’t have to worry much about a punting competition this spring. Redshirt sophomore Colten Rastetter is the lone punter on the depth chart.
Iowa did give a scholarship to punter Ryan Gersonde in the Class of 2017, but he won’t be here until the summer.
"It's really pretty simple for Colten right now. He's our punter," Ferentz said. "All he has to do is go out and play, play well, consistently. If he does that, get out front. It's better to be out front, better to be on the inside lane.
"It's a great opportunity for Colten right now. His biggest challenge is consistency. I'm not comparing him to Jason Baker (who holds school records for punts and punt yardage), but I would have said the same thing about Jason in 1999. The guy has potential, has a good leg. But (not) consistency."
Rastetter takes over for Ron Coluzzi, who was so impactful as a graduate-transfer punter last season that he was named permanent special-teams captain.
He’ll not only be missed on the field, but by the media; Coluzzi was one of the most quotable players on the team.
Woods, by the way, will continue to coach tight ends for now. Ferentz said he has a hierarchy plan in place whether the NCAA approves a 10th full-time assistant coach this spring or not.
Ferentz for the first time confirmed the departures of wide receiver Jay Scheel and defensive tackle Michael Slater from the program.
Slater didn’t make the Outback Bowl trip, and Ferentz said he has left school. And Scheel, a four-star recruit who arrived at Iowa with so much promise, could never stay healthy. He posted on Instagram in January that after multiple knee operations and “now finding another problem, I’ve decided to stop playing. This was the most difficult decision in my life up to this point, but it’s what’s best for my health.”
“We were really counting on him,” Ferentz said. “He can't play. It's unfortunate.”
One player injured in the regular-season finale against Nebraska is ready for Wednesday’s first of 15 spring practices, and one isn’t.
Cornerback Manny Rugamba (shoulder) is listed as a No. 1 cornerback and healthy, Ferentz said. Fullback Drake Kulick (broken leg) remains sidelined.
Iowa's Spring Depth Chart
SE: Devonte Young (6-0, 200, Soph.), Adrian Falconer (6-1, 192, Jr.)
LT: Boone Myers (6-5, 310, Sr.), Alaric Jackson (6-7, 320, Fr.)
LG: Keegan Render (6-4, 310, Jr.), Ross Reynolds (6-4, 300, Jr.)
C: James Daniels (6-4, 295, Jr.), Lucas LeGrand (6-5, 295, Jr.), Cole Banwart (6-4, 295, Fr.)
RG: Sean Welsh (6-3, 295, Sr.), Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305, Soph.)
RT: Ike Boettger (6-6, 307, Sr.), Dalton Ferguson (6-4, 312, Jr.)
TE: Peter Pekar (6-4, 252, Sr.), Noah Fant (6-5, 232, Soph.)
WR: Jerminic Smith (6-1, 192, Jr.), Nick Easley (5-11, 203, Jr.)
QB: Nathan Stanley (6-5, 235, Soph.), Tyler Wiegers (6-4, 225, Jr.), Drew Cook (6-5, 235, Soph.)
RB: Akrum Wadley (5-11, 195, Sr.), Toks Akinribade (6-0, 208, Soph.)
FB: Brady Ross (6-1, 245, Soph.), Austin Kelly (5-11, 245, Jr.)
LE: Anthony Nelson (6-7, 260, Soph.), Matt Nelson (6-8, 285, Jr.)
LT: Cedrick Lattimore (6-5, 295, Soph.), Brady Reiff (6-3, 260, Soph.)
RT: Nathan Bazata (6-2, 287, Sr.), Jake Hulett (6-3, 289, Sr.)
RE: Parker Hesse (6-3, 257, Jr.), Sam Brincks (6-5, 275, Jr.)
OLB: Ben Niemann (6-3, 233, Sr.), Kevin Ward (6-1, 217, Sr.), Kristian Welch (6-3, 232, Soph.)
MLB: Josey Jewell (6-2, 236, Sr.), Jack Hockaday (6-1, 232, Jr.), Angelo Garbutt (6-2, 233, Soph.)
WLB: Bo Bower (6-1, 235, Sr.), Amani Jones (6-0, 235, Soph.), Aaron Mends (6-0, 227, Jr.)
LCB: Joshua Jackson (6-1, 192, Jr.), Michael Ojemudia (6-2, 200, Soph.)
SS: Miles Taylor (5-10, 203, Sr.), Amani Hooker (6-0, 210, Soph.)
FS: Brandon Snyder (6-1, 214, Jr.), Jake Gervase (6-1, 210, Jr.)
RCB: Manny Rugamba (6-0, 185, Soph.), Cedric Boswell (5-11, 187, Fr.)
PK: Keith Duncan (5-11, 173, Soph.)
P: Colten Rastetter (6-2, 210, Soph.)
Returns: Devonte Young (6-0, 200, Soph.), Matt VandeBerg (6-1, 195, Sr.)
LS: Tyler Kluver (6-0, 220, Sr.)
Holder: Colten Rastetter (6-2, 210, Soph.)