Leistikow's thoughts on Iowa's Week 1 depth chart vs. Northern Illinois

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Iowa will dispatch three first-time starters on its offensive line against Northern Illinois, which brings into Kinnick Stadium one of the nation's most potent pass rushes.

That was the top takeaway from the Hawkeyes’ news-filled, latest depth chart — which was released Monday in advance of Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. football season opener.

On one side of the line, it’ll be a raw rookie. Redshirt freshman Mark Kallenberger, a native of Bettendorf, is listed as the No. 1 left tackle. He takes over for Alaric Jackson, who is suspended for violating team policy. Kallenberger is listed at 6-foot-6, 282 pounds — a 38-pound reduction from Jackson's girth (6-7, 320).

Freshman Mark Kallenberger (71) is getting the call at left tackle against Northern Illinois with starter Alaric Jackson suspended.

On the other side, it’ll be a program veteran getting his first chance to shine. Redshirt senior Dalton Ferguson, a product of Solon, is on the No. 1 line at right tackle while Tristan Wirfs serves a one-game suspension for a July OWI arrest. Ferguson (6-4, 308) is a walk-on who has paid his dues and struggled through injuries, so this is a nice reward for him.

It's an all-Iowa-native offensive line, with fifth-year senior Ross Reynolds (Waukee) at left guard, fifth-year senior Keegan Render (Indianola) at center and redshirt sophomore Cole Banwart (Ottosen) at right guard. Banwart is making his first career start after a strong offseason. He's taking over for program stalwart Sean Welsh.

Northern Illinois tied for first in the nation (with Michigan and Ohio State) a year ago with 114 tackles for loss, and it returns all four starters on its defensive line.

“We’re most certainly not looking for excuses. We’re most certainly not look for opportunities to run and hide. The game’s going to be played,” offensive line coach Tim Polasek said on Iowa’s media day. “So the silver lining in all this stuff, with the challenges of the suspensions, is there’s going to be opportunity for other guys.”

How will the Hawkeye line hold up? Well, by Saturday, they’ll have had four full weeks of training camp to prepare with the knowledge that giants Jackson and Wirfs would be out. It’s certainly one of the top curiosities entering Saturday’s game.

Iowa’s three starting linebackers are …

For all the position-battle stories we wrote in the past month — even last week — it panned out exactly as it was listed entering Big Ten Conference media days: Sophomore Nick Niemann at outside linebacker, junior Amani Jones at middle, junior Kristian Welch at weak-side.

All three will be making their first career starts.

Beyond their performance Saturday, it’ll be interesting to see if a fourth linebacker gets a look — and who that would be. Redshirt freshman Djimon Colbert (weak-side) and redshirt sophomore Barrington Wade (outside) made spirited charges for a starting role during fall camp.

Peyton Mansell holds the No. 2 quarterback spot — for now.

The redshirt freshman from Belton, Texas, has apparently won the backup job behind unquestioned No. 1 Nate Stanley. This has been a quietly important camp position race. The fact that there was no “or” added to the No. 2 line seems definitive that Mansell has beaten out true freshman Spencer Petras and would be "next man in" if Stanley goes down.

However, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has expressed interest in getting Petras some game action this year under the NCAA’s new redshirt rule. So Petras certainly can’t be discounted for a minor role in 2018.

As Brian Ferentz forecasted, there is a clear No. 1 running back.

Iowa’s offensive coordinator last week teased that Ivory Kelly-Martin would be the top running back, and that played out on the Monday depth chart.

The sophomore from Oswego, Illinois, was the listed No. 2 in the pre-camp depth chart. But Iowa coaches love his blend of speed, power and ability to catch passes at 5-11, 200.

Previous No. 1 Toren Young (5-11, 221) and junior-college transfer Mekhi Sargent (5-10, 210) share the No. 2 line, the only instance on the depth chart with an “or” distinction. Expect Iowa to go three-deep at running back against Northern Illinois, but with Kelly-Martin as the lead guy.

A true freshman will play on Iowa’s defensive line.

Solon native Tyler Linderbaum is on the No. 2 line at defensive tackle, meaning he’ll likely be in Reese Morgan’s rotation for Week 1.

Iowa is forced to throw new bodies into the fold with two defensive tackles (Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff) serving one-game suspensions. Linderbaum (6-2, 270) was a revelation in Iowa’s Kids Day scrimmage. He was a U.S. Army All-American out of high school, so his quick rise is hardly a surprise.

That said, Iowa could still redshirt Linderbaum if it likes its tackle depth once Lattimore and Reiff return.

The “or” is gone at punter.

Ryan Gersonde, a true sophomore who inconsistently flashed a big leg in his three games last fall, is the No. 1 punter. Colten Rastetter, who handled the majority of Iowa’s punts a year ago, is the listed backup.

This position battle has been an important one for special-teams coordinator LeVar Woods to monitor during fall camp.

That doesn’t mean Rastetter is out of the mix, though. He was effective as a rugby punter, at times, a year ago — and he’s also the primary holder for No. 1 placekicker Miguel Recinos. By the way, sophomore Caleb Shudak — not Keith Duncan — was listed as Recinos’ backup. Notable.

Other things of note …

  • It also looks like Ihmir Smith-Marsette will be Iowa’s primary return man. The electric sophomore was listed ahead of fifth-year Kyle Groeneweg at both punt and kickoff return spots Monday. Iowa views this as an important role that requires high trust from coaches, so it’s a good sign for Smith-Marsette to hold them down.
  • Julius Brents joins Linderbaum as the only true freshmen on the depth chart; he's the backup to Matt Hankins at left cornerback. This is no longer a surprise, with defensive coordinator Phil Parker saying last week that Brents — a rookie from Indianapolis — was already the team’s nickel corner. This is an exciting development to watch at a depth-starved position.

Iowa's Week 1 depth chart vs. Northern Illinois

The Hawkeyes' two-deep released Monday by the school:


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: Mark Kallenberger (6-6, 282, Fr.), Dalton Ferguson (6-4, 308, Sr.)

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: Dalton Ferguson (6-4, 308, Sr.), Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305, Jr.)

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: Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-10, 200, Soph.), Toren Young (5-11, 221, Soph.), *OR* Mekhi Sargent (5-10, 210, Soph.)

Fullback: Brady Ross (6-0, 245, Jr.), Austin Kelly (5-11, 245, Sr.)

Placekicker: Miguel Recinos (6-1, 193, Sr.), Caleb Shudak (5-8, 179, Soph.)

Kickoff and punt returns: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6-1, 175, Soph.), Kyle Groeneweg (5-10, 186, Sr.)


Left end: Anthony Nelson (6-7, 271, Jr.), Chauncey Golston (6-5, 265, Soph.)

Left tackle: Sam Brincks (6-5, 275, Sr.),Tyler Linderbaum (6-2, 270, Fr.)

Right tackle: Matt Nelson (6-8, 295, Sr.), Garret Jansen (6-2, 280, 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.), Julius Brents (6-2, 180, Fr.)

Strong safety: Amani Hooker (6-0, 210, Jr.), John Milani (6-0, 201, Jr.)

Free safety: Jake Gervase (6-1, 212, Sr.), Geno Stone (5-11, 209, Soph.)

Right cornerback: Michael Ojemudia (6-1, 199, Jr.), Josh Turner (5-11, 188, Fr.)

Punter: Ryan Gersonde (6-4, 198, Soph.), Colten Rastetter (6-1, 213, Jr.)

Long snapper: Jackson Subbert (6-3, 240, Jr.), Nate Vejvoda (6-5, 250, Jr.)