Leistikow: Thoughts on Iowa football's latest 2019 depth chart
CHICAGO — Big Ten Media Days have arrived, which means Iowa’s football season is just around the corner. And with the conference's annual two-day event comes the release of the Hawkeyes’ media guide, which includes the always-anticipated preseason depth chart.
There are always changes from the spring, and there are always some new names that get people excited or at least intrigued.
Let’s unpack what we see in Thursday’s release …
My first observation is that the Hawkeyes are listing more wide receivers, fewer tight ends.
There are three starting receivers, compared with two a year ago. The Hawkeyes’ were predominantly a two-tight end team in 2018 with T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, who both became first-team all-Big Ten players and first-round NFL Draft picks.
Brandon Smith, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Nico Ragaini are the first-team wide receivers, with Tyrone Tracy Jr. listed as the top backup to Marsette and Ragaini. Redshirt freshman Calvin Lockett has emerged as Smith’s backup. There's your first new name.
None of this is a really a surprise. It basically updates what we already knew: that the Hawkeyes like their receivers this year, and they’ll be more of a three-wideout, single-tight end team.
Nate Wieting is the first-team tight end, with Shaun Beyer as the backup; however, I expect both to play significant roles.
There’s no backup quarterback controversy.
What was billed as a close battle to back up senior Nate Stanley (one of three Hawkeye player representatives here at the Hilton Chicago) seems to be slightly in Peyton Mansell’s favor for now.
I thought he looked far more ready to take a game snap than Spencer Petras did during Iowa’s final spring practice, but coaches have said this battle is neck-and-neck. Alex Padilla is running fourth. I’m sure this situation will continue, but the backup quarterback is always an underrated storyline. Stanley has remained upright in all 26 games he’s started, never missing a snap to an injury. But that kind of health run isn’t always possible.
For now, Mansell is your next man in.
There’s also no center controversy.
The job is Tyler Linderbaum’s. And yes, that was quick.
The redshirt freshman from Solon was listed as the backup in the spring to Cole Banwart, but head coach Kirk Ferentz has consistently indicated that Linderbaum was thriving in his transition from defensive tackle. Now, the job is clearly his, with his name atop the first line and Jeff Jenkins as his backup.
Banwart looks like he’s free to settle in at right guard, where he started seven games a year ago. Senior Landan Paulsen is the leader at left guard.
With two potential all-Big Ten tackles in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs, Iowa’s offensive line looks pretty stout.
There aren’t a lot of position battles on offense, but there will be on defense and special teams as fall camp arrives.
The first “or” on the depth chart was actually at place-kicker, where Caleb Shudak and Keith Duncan are listed as co-starters. That battle should rage throughout August; I wouldn't be surprised if both play in September.
Another “or” comes behind the name of Daviyon Nixon. He is listed as a co-backup (with Austin Schulte) to defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore. Nixon's first depth-chart appearance is notable, because he’s got immense upside. Remember, he got an Alabama offer while playing one season at Iowa Western Community College. It also shows he's doing the right things behind the scenes, both academically and otherwise, after being away from the team while redshirting last season.
Kristian Welch (middle) and Djimon Colbert (weak-side) are your starting inside linebackers.
For now, there's no "or” here. But the competition is by no means over.
Dillon Doyle is Welch’s leading backup at middle, and Nick Niemann has gone from starting outside linebacker to backup on the weak side. Niemann is too good to keep off the field, so it’ll be interesting to see how he gets utilized or if he emerges as a starter.
By the way, Iowa has finally acknowledged its 4-2-5 scheme in a depth chart.
Barrington Wade would be the starting outside linebacker in a 4-3, and D.J. Johnson would be the starting “cash” player in the 4-2-5. That Johnson could be in line to replace Big Ten defensive back of the year Amani Hooker speaks highly to what he has done in just one year on campus. Iowa probably will use the 4-2-5 in every game this season, except maybe at Wisconsin.
Geno Stone is back at strong safety.
He played strong along side Jake Gervase at free safety a year ago, but then was switched to free in the spring. Now, he's back to his familiar role, where the hard-hitter has thrived. That's a good sign for the development of Kaevon Merriweather, a true sophomore who is on the top line at free.
Seniors Amani Jones and Devonte Young seem to be finding new homes.
Jones, a former linebacker, is a backup defensive end to A.J. Epenesa. Linebackers coach Seth Wallace has said he would like to use Jones to give Iowa a 3-4 look on occasion.
Young, a former receiver, is the top backup to Stone at strong safety. At minimum, Young will be a core special-teamer. Those guys are valuable. It's good to see Young stick it out and be in line for contributions in his final year.
We aren’t seeing the transfers on the depth chart yet.
Expect grad transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton to eventually jump to the top of the line at punter, and junior Zach VanValkenburg to be an impact contributor at defensive end at some point. Iowa could have a defensive line rotation that's nine- or 10-deep.
There isn’t any news on wide receiver Oliver Martin to share, as he awaits a ruling from the NCAA on whether he'll get immediate eligibility after transferring from Michigan. Ferentz will be asked for updates when he meets the media Friday.
Martin, the former four-star recruit from Iowa City West, is listed in the media guide, though, at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and with jersey No. 5.
The last takeaway? It was a quiet summer for the Hawkeyes.
No surprising roster departures in the media guide. No unexpected drama. A year ago, we arrived here on the heels of four summer arrests of Hawkeyes players.
This year? Nothing much at all. Just how Ferentz would want it.
Iowa football depth chart, summer 2019
As released July 18:
WR: Brandon Smith (6-2, 218, Jr.), Calvin Lockett (6-2, 182, RS Fr.)
TE: Nate Wieting (6-4, 250, RS Sr.), Shaun Beyer (6-5, 244, RS Jr.)
LT: Alaric Jackson (6-6, 320, RS Jr.), Mark Kallenberger (6-5, 291, RS Soph.)
LG: Landan Paulsen (6-5, 305, RS Sr.), Cody Ince (6-4, 287, RS Fr.)
C: Tyler Linderbaum (6-3, 286, RS Fr.) Jeff Jenkins (6-3, 266, RS Fr.)
RG: Cole Banwart (6-4, 300, RS Jr.), Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305, RS Sr.)
RT: Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 322, Jr.), Jack Plumb (6-7, 272, RS Fr.)
WR: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6-1, 183, Jr.), Tyrone Tracy Jr. (5-11, 200, RS Fr.)
WR: Nico Ragaini (6-0, 192, RS Fr.), Tyrone Tracy Jr. (5-11, 200, RS Fr.)
QB: Nate Stanley (6-4, 243, Sr.), Peyton Mansell (6-2, 208, RS Soph.)
RB: Mekhi Sargent (5-9, 212, RS Jr.), Toren Young (5-11, 223, RS Jr.)
FB: Brady Ross (6-0, 246, RS Sr.), Joe Ludwig (6-0, 241, RS Soph.)
PK: Caleb Shudak (5-8, 180, RS Jr.) *or* Keith Duncan (5-10, 180, RS Jr.)
LE: Chauncey Golston (6-5, 270, RS Jr.), John Waggoner (6-5, 270, RS Fr.)
LT: Cedrick Lattimore (6-3, 295, Sr.), Daviyon Nixon (6-3, 309, RS Soph.) *or* Austin Schulte (6-4, 287, RS Jr.)
RT: Brady Reiff (6-3, 277, RS Sr.), Noah Shannon (6-0, 294, RS Fr.)
RE: A.J. Epenesa (6-6, 280, Jr.), Amani Jones (5-11, 244, Sr.)
OLB/Cash: Barrington Wade (6-1, 236, RS Jr.) *or* D.J. Johnson (5-10, 183, RS Fr.)
MLB: Kristian Welch (6-3, 239, Sr.), Dillon Doyle (6-3, 235, RS Fr.)
WLB: Djimon Colbert (6-1, 235, RS Soph.), Nick Niemann (6-4, 235, RS Jr.)
LC: Michael Ojemudia (6-1, 200, RS Sr.), Julius Brents (6-3, 203, Soph.)
SS: Geno Stone (5-10, 210, Jr.), Devonte Young (6-0, 203, Sr.)
FS: Kaevon Merriweather (6-0, 210, Soph.), Jack Koerner (6-0, 204, RS Soph.)
RC: Matt Hankins (6-0, 185, Jr.), Riley Moss (6-1, 191, Soph.)
P: Colten Rastetter (6-1, 213, RS Sr.) *or* Ryan Gersonde (6-4, 198, RS Soph.)