Iowa freshmen could provide unexpected early impact

Chad Leistikow
Members of the Iowa Hawkeye football program gather to talk things over with coach Kirk Ferentz following the Iowa Hawkeyes football practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in Iowa City.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Kirk Ferentz says the closer you are to the football, the harder it is to play as a true freshman. But James Daniels could be about to buck that trend.

Daniels, who won't turn 18 until after Iowa's second game of the 2015 season, was working with the second-team offensive line at Saturday's open practice as a left guard — and even got a few series with the No. 1 unit in relief of Sean Welsh.

"He might be in the mix," Ferentz said. "We'll see how that plays out."

The 6-foot-4, 285-pound native of Warren, Ohio — and younger brother of No. 1 Iowa running back LeShun — was rated the top recruit in Iowa's 2015 class. He enrolled for the spring semester, so he got a head start in learning the Hawkeye system and working with strength coach Chris Doyle.

When discussing Daniels on Saturday, Ferentz recalled a moment from his third year as Iowa's head coach from 2001, involving lineman Eric Steinbach and then-line-coach Joe Philbin, who now leads the Miami Dolphins.

Steinbach had a "hitch" in his technique, Ferentz recalled.

"He had this little deficiency that we were having a hard time getting him corrected on. Once he got through and broke the ice, I looked at Joe Philbin … and we saw the same thing," Ferentz said. "And he took off after that. I think that's where we're at with some of the linemen. I'm not putting James quite in that category, but once he gets his techniques cleaned up, he's got a chance."

Steinbach, of course, became a great Iowa lineman and started 124 games as a guard in eight NFL seasons.

Daniels might not be the only true freshman to get thrust into action this fall. Jerminic Smith appears to be leading the way among the three new wide receivers. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound native of Garland, Texas, ran some reps with the No. 2 unit and had four receptions Saturday for 28 yards. Fellow rookies Adrian Falconer and Emmanuel Ogwo did not have a catch.

"Today was one of the first days (Smith) was with the second team," starting wideout Tevaun Smith said. "They're all playing a significant role in our offense. That's the first time I've seen so many freshmen in the rotation, so it's going to be fun."

MORE: Iowa D-line bucks trend, manhandles offense at open practice

Two more true freshmen of note were prominently displayed, quarterbacks Ryan Boyle and Drew Cook. One of them will have to emerge as the No. 3 option behind C.J. Beathard and Tyler Wiegers.

Cook threw three passes, two of which were intercepted (one each by Isaiah Kramme and freshman Michael Ojemudia). Boyle went 2-for-3 for seven yards.

"Their heads are both spinning, I'm sure," Ferentz said. "If we let you talk to them, that's what they'd tell you if they told the truth. Those are two big ifs. They're both doing a good job. They're both quality guys."

A big week is ahead in personnel decisions. After Sunday off, Iowa will practice seven times in five days, capped by a key, Friday-night (closed) scrimmage.

"Our minds are wide open on the receiver position," Ferentz said. "This is valuable work, certainly, and this is going to be a big week certainly, not on the receiver position, but all of our positions, really delving in a little further with what guys might be able to contribute and help."