Five Hawkeye football backups worth watching in 2015

Chad Leistikow
Iowa running back Akrum Wadley is listed behind Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels Jr., but he has the pop to be a breakout threat.

With Iowa's 2015 football team days away from its first public unveiling, it's time to make sure the binoculars are handy and your printed-out Hawkeye roster is in hand.

And while the obvious players to catch at Saturday's open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines include quarterback C.J. Beathard, wide receiver Tevaun Smith and defensive end Drew Ott, this is an opportunity to zero in on some under-the-radar guys.

These are some non-starters-for-now that you might be able to brag to your Kinnick Stadium neighbors this fall and say, "When I saw him in April, I knew he was going to be good."

No. 46 George Kittle, tight end

New tight ends coach LeVar Woods discovered that beneath Kittle's unpolished blocking and last year's unceremonious stat line — one catch for 25 yards — was the potential to be a key weapon in Iowa's passing game.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound son of former Hawkeye captain Bruce Kittle is a converted wide receiver who is getting extended spring reps, with Henry Krieger-Coble (shoulder) being kept from contact. Jake Duzey is the starter.

"George has tremendous athletic ability," Woods said, "and it's just a matter of him focusing, harnessing that in and becoming the player that he wants to be."

No. 31 Aaron Mends, linebacker

Mends (6-0, 212) sneaked into the late-March depth chart, a notable addition to a group of linebackers that experienced mixed results a season ago. Mends, who will be a redshirt freshman, is the co-backup (alongside senior Cole Fisher) to Bo Bower at weakside linebacker.

The Kansas City, Mo., native's impact was apparent with one hit during a recent Saturday practice.

"It was like, 'Oh God, is everybody going to be all right here?' " linebackers coach Jim Reid said. "I mean, he really can hit with really good leverage, fast. This guy is very, very, very quick. He's playing linebacker for us, and he could be a defensive back."

No. 96 Matt Nelson, defensive end

Iowa practices are generally closed to the public, but journalists were given a 30-minute peek last week. One of the 100 or so guys in pads that stood out was No. 96 – worn by Nelson, whose 6-8 frame packs in 270 muscular pounds.

Nelson, who starred at Cedar Rapids Xavier, is listed behind senior Nate Meier at left end. Although he's an untested freshman, he plays a position of great need. Iowa's edge-containment last year was a problem.

No. 37 Brandon Snyder, safety

Snyder (6-1, 210) is listed as the backup to strong safety starter Miles Taylor, but that's one of the position battles worth watching this week. Head coach Kirk Ferentz made a point to identify Snyder, a freshman, as being in the mix in Iowa's defensive backfield.

The Larchwood native brings athleticism and is a proven winner. As a senior, he was a quarterback and defensive back on West Lyon's state championship football team, then won a state basketball title as a point guard.

No. 25 Akrum Wadley, running back

We've heard from Wadley (5-11, 185) before. He burst onto the scene with Iowa's first 100-yard rushing game of 2014 — all coming in relief action during a 48-7 win over Northwestern. But he lost playing time after ball-security issues.

He surprisingly got Iowa's first carry of the TaxSlayer Bowl, but the sophomore-to-be from Newark, N.J., isn't on the spring depth chart.

"He's got some real assets, some things that he does well," Ferentz said. "But there's also a growth process he's got to go through, both physically and then just in terms of responsibility, taking better care of the football."


When, where: Saturday (April 11), 12:30 p.m., at Valley Stadium, 4440 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines.

Admission: Free. No tickets are necessary. Concession stands will be open.

Parking: Valley Church, adjacent to Valley Stadium, will have limited public parking until 4:30 p.m. Additional parking is available at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School, Jordan Creek Elementary, the West Des Moines city hall and library. Fans are encouraged to car pool. Access to most parking is available off of Fuller Drive and/or 39th street. There are paved walking paths on the surrounding campus that fans can take to Valley Stadium.