CHICAGO — Brandon Snyder is back in the starting mix at safety. The linebacker corps has gained clarity. And five more scholarship players are gone from the roster.
Those were some of the notable revelations in the 2018 Iowa football media guide, which was released Monday in conjunction with the Big Ten Conference’s media days here at the Downtown Marriott on the Magnificent Mile.
Snyder, who started all 13 games for Iowa at free safety in 2016, had two ACL surgeries last year and missed all but one game in 2017. His appearance as a co-starter with fellow senior Jake Gervase signals he’s on track to return — as he had said in an interview with the Register earlier this summer. Both players are proven contributors at safety, so there's no doubt Iowa coaches will aim to get each of them on the field. (Talented junior Amani Hooker is the starting strong safety, as he should be.)
"It's a good problem to have," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Monday afternoon, in a session with Hawkeye media. "If it ends up being a problem, we'll just play it by ear. All of those guys are pretty versatile, quite frankly."
Some other stuff worth noting Monday:
Iowa’s starting linebackers are Nick Niemann (outside), Amani Jones (middle) and Kristian Welch (weak-side). That is consistent with what linebacker coach Seth Wallace told Hawk Central radio this summer.
But perhaps most notable is that Djimon Colbert, a red-shirt freshman from Shawnee Mission, Kansas, is in the two-deeps. Colbert (6-foot-1, 234 pounds) is a converted safety and is listed as Welch’s backup on the weak side. That position figures to be the most dramatic linebacker position battle in fall camp; Niemann and Jones seem to have a firm hold on their jobs as Iowa looks to replace its top four linebackers from 2017.
Cole Banwart is, for the first time, listed as a starting offensive lineman. The sophomore was named the No. 1 right guard, ahead of junior Levi Paulsen, who was banged up in the spring and isn't fully recovered, Ferentz said.
From left to right, Iowa’s starting line entering fall camp (which starts next week) is sophomore Alaric Jackson, senior Ross Reynolds, senior Keegan Render, Banwart and sophomore Tristan Wirfs (he and Jackson have flip-flopped sides since the last depth chart, prior to spring practice).
Gone from the roster are five previously unannounced departures. Running back Toks Akinribade, linebacker Kyle Taylor and offensive lineman Spencer Williams have had their football careers end for medical reasons; they will stay on scholarship but won't count against Iowa's limit of 85. Running back Cam Harrell and linebacker Nate Wieland, Ferentz said, "have transitioned" elsewhere.
Akinribade has dealt with a medical scare over the past year. Harrell had converted from defensive back to provide running-back depth in the spring. Taylor is the younger brother of former Iowa safety Miles Taylor but hadn't contended for playing time. Wieland was an Iowa City High product who had just completed his first season. And Williams, a Cedar Falls native, had been competing for work as a backup center but told HawkeyeNation.com he was "disqualified," medically, because of concussion issues.
All told, those five players — who joined cornerbacks Cedric Boswell and Manny Rugamba, tight end Jacob Coons and defensive end Romeo McKnight as post-spring departures — cleared the deck for perhaps some walk-on promotions (tight end Nate Wieting is probably at the front of the line) and expansion of the recruiting Class of 2019.
"We've got a little room right now," Ferentz said. "We have a couple guys that are in prime position to earn those scholarships. We'll see how (fall) camp pans out. What we don't use, we'll carry over into recruiting."
Even though the media guide did list 11-game starter Rugamba as a backup cornerback, he isn't on the team. He announced his departure from the program earlier this month.
"We just came to a mutual conclusion that it was probably the best thing for him to get a fresh start somewhere else," Ferentz said. "It's as simple as that."
Cornerback will be one of the preseason's most interesting storylines, with only five combined starts returning and a slew of acclaimed incoming freshmen.
Ferentz made a point to note the rise of redshirt freshmen Trey Creamer and Josh Turner.
Turner isn't on the depth chart, but probably would be if Iowa could replace Rugamba.
"He's had a really good summer," Ferentz said. "The guys ran on Friday, and he ran like a champ. That's real encouraging, because he was young back in the spring. He's starting to show signs of maybe being the guy we thought we recruited.
"And we have an open mind toward the first-year guys, too. We'll let those guys come in and compete."
Iowa's 2018 preseason depth chart:
The Hawkeyes' two-deep released Monday by the school via its media guide:
Split end: Brandon Smith (6-3, 219, Soph.), Kyle Groeneweg (5-10, 186, Sr.)
Tight end: Noah Fant (6-5, 241, Jr.), Shaun Beyer (6-5, 240, Soph.)
Left tackle: Alaric Jackson (6-7, 320, Soph.), Mark Kallenberger (6-6, 282, Fr.)
Left guard: Ross Reynolds (6-4, 295, Sr.), Landan Paulsen (6-5, 305, Jr.)
Center: Keegan Render (6-4, 307, Sr.), Levi Duwa (6-3, 270, Fr.)
Right guard: Cole Banwart (6-4, 296, Soph.), Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305, Jr.)
Right tackle: Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 320, Soph.), Dalton Ferguson (6-4, 308, Sr.)
Tight end: T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 250, Soph.), Nate Wieting (6-4, 250, Jr.)
Wide receiver: Nick Easley (5-11, 205, Sr.), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6-1, 175, Soph.)
Quarterback: Nate Stanley (6-4, 242, Jr.), Peyton Mansell (6-2, 210, Fr.)
Running back: Toren Young (5-11, 221, Soph.), Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-10, 200, Soph.)
Fullback: Brady Ross (6-0, 245, Jr.), Austin Kelly (5-11, 245, Sr.)
Placekicker: Miguel Recinos (6-1, 193, Sr.), Keith Duncan (5-11, 180, Soph.)
Left end: Anthony Nelson (6-7, 271, Jr.), Sam Brincks (6-5, 275, Sr.)
Left tackle: Cedrick Lattimore (6-3, 295, Jr.), Chauncey Golston (6-5, 265, Soph.)
Right tackle: Matt Nelson (6-8, 295, Sr.), Brady Reiff (6-3, 272, Jr.)
Right end: Parker Hesse (6-3, 261, Sr.), A.J. Epenesa (6-5, 277, Soph.)
Outside linebacker: Nick Niemann (6-4, 232, Soph.), Barrington Wade (6-1, 233, Soph.)
Middle linebacker: Amani Jones (6-0, 238, Jr.), Jack Hockaday (6-1, 235, Sr.)
Weak-side linebacker: Kristian Welch (6-3, 238, Jr..), Djimon Colbert (6-1, 234, Fr.)
Left cornerback: Matt Hankins (6-1, 185, Soph.), Trey Creamer (6-0, 190, Fr.)
Strong safety: Amani Hooker (6-0, 210, Jr.), Geno Stone (5-11, 209, Soph.)
Free safety: Brandon Snyder (6-1, 214, Sr.) *OR* Jake Gervase (6-1, 212, Sr.),
Right cornerback: Michael Ojemudia (6-1, 199, Jr.)*
Punter: Ryan Gersonde (6-4, 198, Soph.), Colten Rastetter (6-1, 213, Jr.)
*Manny Rugamba was listed as a second-team corner but he is no longer on the team.