Iowa football takeaways: Two-man competition punter and some names to watch in secondary

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The competition to be Iowa’s punter this fall has been reduced to two players.

Sophomore Ryan Gersonde, who redshirted last season, will miss this one after having knee surgery, coach Kirk Ferentz said Friday at the Hawkeyes’ annual media day.

That leaves incumbent Colten Rastetter, a senior, battling with Arizona State transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton.

Special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said Friday that he didn’t bring Sleep-Dalton here with the idea of handing him the job.

Iowa punter Michael Sleep-Dalton runs with a ball during Hawkeyes football media day, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, at the University of Iowa outdoor practice facility in Iowa City, Iowa.

“I told everybody the job’s wide open,” Woods said. “He came here knowing that he’s going to compete and nothing’s going to be given to him.”

Woods expects that competition to last two more weeks. The Hawkeyes’ season opener is Aug. 31 vs. Miami of Ohio.

More from media day:

Rastetter has 109 career punts for a 38.4-yard average Iowa. That’s not good enough, which is why the Hawkeyes went to the graduate transfer market for the second time in four years. Ron Coluzzi was brought in as the punter in 2016.

Sleep-Dalton averaged 41.8 yards on his 121 punts while at Arizona State. That was playing in the Pac-12 Conference, where the weather is generally more favorable.

Woods said Rastetter has been more consistent so far this offseason. He is using more traditional punts as the Hawkeyes de-emphasize the rubgy style of kicking.

Sleep-Dalton is a native of Australia, and that is evident in his approach to punting, Woods said.

“They play Australian rules football, which is passing with your feet,” Woods noted. “I think it’s a little bit more natural for them per se and there’s been plenty of good players that have come out of there.

“If you just watch him warm up, he’s bouncing the ball, dribbling the ball off the ground, where most punters don’t do that.”

Phil Parker raves about three up-and-comers in his secondary

Every year, Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker gets excited about a player or two in fall camp. He’ll drop a morsel of information about him, and the next thing you know, he’s an impact player sooner than anyone predicted.

Parker was very complimentary Friday about true freshman Dane Belton, who is working at both the cash and safety positions. They’ll cut him back to one position soon, Parker said, but he wasn’t sure which one.

Another name to know is redshirt freshman Terry Roberts, who has joined the cornerback competition despite four guys with starting experience in Michael Ojemudia, Matt Hankins, Riley Moss and Julius Brents.

“Didn’t really know much about him the first year,” Parker said, “but the kid can run and he’s done some good things.”

Lastly, keep an eye on a young man named Jack Koerner. The walk-on from Dowling Catholic is tearing it up in the weight room and is pushing Kaevon Merriweather at free safety. Koerner, a redshirt sophomore, was a sponge in soaking up knowledge from last year’s starter, Jake Gervase.

“He’s really starting to understand the game and has done some really, really good things out there,” Parker said.

Iowa defensive lineman John Waggoner (92) is pictured during the final spring football practice, Friday, April 26, 2019, at the University of Iowa outdoor practice facility in Iowa City, Iowa.

Dowling Catholic's Waggoner steadily in the mix to play

It may not seem like high praise, but Iowa defensive line coach Kelvin Bell certainly meant it that way when he said this about redshirt freshman John Waggoner: “He’s extremely detailed and he’s consistent and he knows where he’s supposed to be. And that means something, at least to me as a coach. He doesn’t have the length and speed of an Anthony Nelson. But he’s so detailed and he knows where he fits in the defense. He’s in the right spot.”

Nelson left Iowa a year early and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this spring. He is 6-foot-7.

Waggoner, who played at West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, is 6-5, 270 pounds. He is listed as the backup at left defensive end behind Chauncey Golston.

But Bell pointed out that he sees Waggoner as someone who can provide depth at any spot on the line. And that’s what he’s looking for.

“I can’t find enough guys like that,” Bell said.

That puts the steady Waggoner in competition for a backup spot at defensive end with Zach VanValkenburg, Joe Evans and Amani Jones.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz talks with reporters during Hawkeyes football media day, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, at the Feller Club Room in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Strong competition for starting guard spots

Senior Landon Paulsen and junior Cole Banwart are listed as the starting guards heading into August. But Ferentz indicated those two spots are the most unsettled on the offensive line.

Iowa has potential all-Americans Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs set at tackle, easily one of the best combinations in the nation. Redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum has adapted so well to playing center that it appears he’s a lock to start there.

At guard?

Iowa offensive linemen Levi Paulsen, left, and Landan Paulsen joke around during Hawkeyes football media day, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, at the University of Iowa outdoor practice facility in Iowa City, Iowa.

“I think anybody right now is in contention for the other jobs,” Ferentz said. “It's wide open in my mind right now.”

The listed backups are senior Levi Paulsen, Landan’s twin brother, and redshirt freshman Cody Ince. It’s possible backup tackle Mark Kallenberger could get a look as well.

For a program that values high-caliber offensive line play, and typically gets it, this is a battle to keep an eye on.

Trick plays on special teams? Ferentz says keep them guessing

Ferentz has shown a propensity to try to deceive opponents with trick plays on special teams in recent years. And they’ve often worked. So of course he is open to continuing that.

“If it’s one more way to make somebody have a tougher time preparing for us or keeping them on edge, then yeah, we’ll definitely try to be smart about that,” he said.

Ferentz said his mind was changed in recent years by assistant coaches Seth Wallace (who used to handle the punting game) and Woods.

“I think LeVar has done a really good job of trying to coax me a little bit and move me forward, and Seth when he was involved in the punting game, that was part of the package when we installed the new package. It had a really interesting fake package that came with it,” he said.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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