Leistikow's thoughts on Iowa football's latest 2021 depth chart, which includes eight freshmen
INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa's session at the Big Ten Conference's media days at Lucas Oil Stadium doesn't begin until Friday, but the Hawkeyes have already made some news this week.
First, it was revealed in an Associated Press report that the field at Kinnick Stadium will be named for former Hawkeye All-American Duke Slater, who was the first Black lineman in the NFL. There has been no official announcement yet on that front, but it's an overdue and good move by the university.
Then on Thursday morning, Iowa revealed its preseason depth chart ... a fresh indication of what coaches think of their roster heading into fall camp with the Sept. 4 season opener against Indiana coming fast.
Some observations ... and the depth chart itself:
True freshmen Keagan Johnson and Connor Colby have cracked the two-deep.
That’s a Hawkeye rarity in the summer, but it’s also a sign of the times. More early-enrollees in January mean more on-field time in the spring, more time for strength and conditioning, and more time to get acclimated to Iowa’s system and to earn coaches’ trust.
There was little doubt just a few practices into the spring that Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 197-pound rookie from Bellevue, Nebraska, was making an impact. Johnson has taken over the backup spot to Tyrone Tracy Jr. that was previously held on the depth chart by Max Cooper. The other two receivers listed are Nico Ragaini and Charlie Jones. Johnson has been learning the "X" position primarily and will branch out to other spots as he gets more comfortable.
More:Leistikow: A window into the Xs, Zs and Fs of Iowa football's wide-receiver position
Iowa likes to rotate four to five receivers on game days, so that quartet certainly seems to have the inside track entering fall camp. Tracy’s ability to play all of Iowa’s receiver positions gives receivers coach Kelton Copeland ultimate flexibility, and could allow Johnson to eventually be a No. 1 "X" receiver.
Colby’s emergence as the backup right tackle to Nick DeJong is notable. The Cedar Rapids Kennedy product (already 6-6, 298) was also an early enrollee and was one of Iowa’s top signees in the Class of 2021.
In total, Iowa has eight freshmen on the two-deep — five on offense, three on defense. Johnson is certainly poised to be an impact player this fall.
Cody Ince, who was injured all spring, is the No. 1 left guard.
Ince has the rare ability to play all five offensive line positions. His appearance on the depth chart was interesting on two levels. One, that means he’s deemed healthy by the Hawkeyes’ coaching staff. Two, he was previously listed as the No. 1 right tackle. His slotting at guard is at least an early indication that DeJong has impressed coaches enough to be in the tackle rotation along with listed left tackle starter Jack Plumb.
'We got a lot of guys:Iowa's offensive line still a work in progress in summer
Ince could certainly flex out to right tackle at some point as Iowa always implements a “best five” approach on the offensive line. Center Tyler Linderbaum was named one of the Big Ten’s top 10 preseason players to be honored Thursday morning at Big Ten Media Days and is a rock-solid building block in the middle. For now, Iowa's "best five" appears to be (left to right) Plumb, Ince, Linderbaum, Kyler Schott and DeJong.
Just seven weeks before opening day, Spencer Petras is QB1. What else would you expect?
There was no surprise “or” designation between Petras and redshirt sophomore Alex Padilla, the listed No. 2 who closed the gap on the starting job with a strong finish to spring practices. Petras has been praised by teammates and worked with outside quarterbacks coach Tony Racioppi in New Jersey for two sessions, one in May and one earlier this month.
Countdown to kickoff:What to know about the Iowa Hawkeyes' 2021 football schedule
The quarterback battle will continue in fall camp, which begins in early August. It's almost certain that these will be the top two come Week 1, but freshman (and No. 3) Deuce Hogan certainly will do all he can in fall camp to make a push.
Iowa’s defensive-tackle position is a big question mark. Here are the early answers.
Another player who missed a lot of time in the spring was Yahya Black, yet he is still firmly on the No. 1 line — the only redshirt freshman on either side of the ball to carry that distinction. Black may be raw, but he’s impressed coaches to head into fall camp with a starting role alongside Noah Shannon.
Iowa’s two backup defensive tackles are redshirt sophomore Logan Lee and redshirt freshman Lukas Van Ness; Van Ness was impressive in the two open spring practices with his ability to get pressure on the quarterback.
More:Leistikow: The 10 players Iowa football can least afford to lose in 2021
Redshirt freshman Logan Jones was on the spring depth chart at tackle, but he suffered a left-leg injury in an April 17 practice, and head coach Kirk Ferentz told the Register in June that it was unlikely Jones would be available by August.
At defensive end, redshirt freshman Deontae Craig made his first appearance, with Chris Reames falling out of the two-deep. Craig has bulked up to 263 pounds on his 6-3 frame, up from 249 last season. He was a top Class of 2020 recruit and is someone to watch as Iowa seeks some pass-rush help.
What will Iowa do with Jestin Jacobs?
In the spring, Iowa listed Jacobs as a backup weak-side linebacker. Now, the Hawkeyes have the imposing linebacker from Ohio as the top outside linebacker when Iowa uses a 4-3 defensive alignment. Linebackers coach Seth Wallace said earlier this month on the Hawk Central radio show that he has a clear top three in Jack Campbell, Seth Benson and Jacobs — and that he would look for ways to get them on the field at the same time. Benson and Campbell are the starters at the two inside linebacker spots when Iowa goes with its base 4-2-5 defense.
Related:Versatile Iowa linebacker group ready to be foundation of Hawkeyes' 2021 defense
Jacobs (6-4, 236) was a big recruiting get in the Class of 2019, as Iowa held off an Ohio State offer down the stretch of his recruitment.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
Iowa's 2021 preseason depth chart
Two-deep was posted Thursday morning by the UI.
WR: Tyrone Tracy Jr. (5-11, 201), RS junior; Keagan Johnson (6-1, 197), freshman
TE: Sam LaPorta (6-4, 249), junior; Luke Lachey (6-6, 248), RS freshman
LT: Jack Plumb (6-7, 296), RS junior; Mason Richman (6-6, 296), RS freshman
LG: Cody Ince (6-4, 282), RS junior; Tyler Elsbury (6-5, 301), RS freshman
C: Tyler Linderbaum (6-3, 290), RS junior; Matt Fagan (6-5, 287), RS junior
RG: Kyler Schott (6-2, 294), RS senior; Justin Britt (6-4, 302), RS sophomore
RT: Nick DeJong (6-6, 292), RS sophomore; Connor Colby (6-6, 298), freshman
WR: Nico Ragaini (6-0, 191), RS junior; Charlie Jones (6-0, 188), RS senior
QB: Spencer Petras (6-5, 233), RS junior; Alex Padilla (6-1, 197), RS sophomore
RB: Tyler Goodson (5-10, 199), junior; Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-10, 200), RS senior
FB: Monte Pottebaum (6-1, 246), RS junior; Turner Pallisard (6-0, 245), RS junior
PK: Caleb Shudak (5-8, 178), sixth-year senior
LE: John Waggoner (6-5, 266), RS junior; Joe Evans (6-2, 248), RS junior
LT: Noah Shannon (6-0, 289), RS junior; Lukas Van Ness (6-5, 264), RS freshman
RT: Yahya Black (6-5, 287), RS freshman; Logan Lee (6-5, 277), RS sophomore
RE: Zach VanValkenburg (6-4, 267), sixth-year senior, Deontae Craig (6-3, 263), RS freshman
MLB: Seth Benson (6-1, 229), RS junior; Mike Timm (6-0, 233), RS junior
WLB: Jack Campbell (6-5, 243), junior; Jay Higgins (6-2, 227), RS freshman
Cash/OLB: Dane Belton (6-1, 205), junior; Jestin Jacobs (6-4, 236), RS sophomore
LCB: Matt Hankins (6-0, 185), RS senior, Jermari Harris (6-1, 185), RS sophomore
SS: Kaevon Merriweather (6-0, 211), RS junior; Sebastian Castro (5-11, 204), RS sophomore
FS: Jack Koerner (6-0, 204), RS senior; Quinn Schulte (6-1, 201), RS sophomore
RCB: Riley Moss (6-1, 194), senior; Terry Roberts (5-10, 180), RS junior
P: Tory Taylor (6-4, 231), sophomore
Long snapper: Austin Spiewak (6-1, 237), sixth-year senior