Iowa practice observations: No Paulsen and Groeneweg, but wideouts and linebackers aplenty
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa football team was without one projected starting guard and thin in the offensive backfield during a hard-hitting 30 minutes of practice Wednesday that was open to the media.
Levi Paulsen, who sits atop the depth chart at right guard, was among the players not participating, along with backup wide receiver Kyle Groeneweg and second-string fullback Austin Kelly.
The rest of the team was in full pads for just the second time this spring, with 11 practice sessions remaining before the April 20 open scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium.
A few quick observations from the snapshot of practice that reporters witnessed Wednesday morning:
Wideouts show out
Groeneweg, a senior transfer from Division II Sioux Falls, was a surprise second-stringer at split end when Iowa released its initial depth chart this spring. But there were plenty of receiving options on display for the Hawkeyes during passing drills.
Senior Nick Easley was foremost among them. He was either accompanied by Brandon Smith or Ihmir Smith-Marsette as "starters" in the open portion of practice. Smith-Marsette showed exceptional speed.
Other receivers who featured prominently were Devonte Young, Max Cooper, Dominique Dafney and, for the first time, true freshman Nico Ragaini. Ragaini, a Connecticut native, has been on campus for two months and appeared to be in the mix for playing time.
The Hawkeyes always seem to be in need of elite wideouts. Easley is the known commodity in the group after catching 51 passes a year ago. Smith-Marsette showed that he has unique talent. But others will need to emerge. Wednesday showed, at a minimum, that there are plenty of options.
Running backs in short supply
The first glimpse of new running backs coach Derrick Foster in action revealed that he is vocal during drills. His challenge is a lack of bodies, not a lack of energy.
Sophomore Toren Young looked to be the starter in Wednesday's action, with sophomore Ivory Kelly-Martin in lockstep. Both looked good, with Kelly-Martin showing some elusiveness that would make Akrum Wadley proud.
Only two players were able to suit up behind them, though — redshirt freshman Kyshaun Bryan and converted defensive back Cam Harrell. Toks Akinribade was present, but is out this spring with an injury.
The situation wasn't much better at fullback, where only juniors Brady Ross and Lane Akre were going through drills.
At quarterback, the pecking order among the quartet available was unsurprising — junior starter Nate Stanley, followed by redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell, junior walk-on Ryan Schmidt and true freshman Spencer Petras, who arrived in January.
Long line at linebacker
For an Iowa team that needs to replace three starting linebackers, the good news is that there were 13 hopefuls getting repetitions Wednesday. They sometimes had to be split into two groups. And it was a particularly intensely competitive position group.
Aaron Mends, Nick Niemann and Kristian Welch are the listed starters entering spring. But it was clear Wednesday that that's no guarantee the trio will emerge from spring and summer practices atop the depth chart. Nothing motivates an athlete like a chance for playing time, and those guys were going at it.
The only roster change for Iowa was the absence of defensive lineman Will Anthony. The redshirt freshman walk-on from Pleasantville has left the program, Iowa confirmed.