Iowa coordinator takeaways: Expanded roles for Wadley, Boyle

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Maurice Fleming had been thinking about leaving Iowa for at least three months but apparently kept those intentions mostly to himself.

It was announced Tuesday the fourth-year senior defensive back will use the graduate transfer option to leave the Hawkeye football program.

“Until just recently, he hadn’t told us what was going on,” said defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, who, like Fleming, prepped in the Chicago area and was part of the Hawkeyes’ recruiting class of 2012. “So it was a huge shock to us all.”

Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker wasn’t caught flat-footed. Shortly after the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl, Fleming expressed to Parker his bottom line.

“His goal was to be a starter,” Parker said Wednesday. “That was very important for him to do, to (start) on regular downs.”

Fleming was part of Iowa's "Raider" third-down package last fall and started one game. He would have probably been Iowa’s top backup cornerback going into the fall, but with Desmond King returning for his senior year and Greg Mabin (injured for the spring) going into his third year as a starter, Fleming’s upward mobility was limited. Plus, sophomore Josh Jackson has risen up as an exciting third corner.

“We knew (where Fleming stood) the whole time, and we had opportunities where we were moving him around a little bit, and playing corner and we put him at strong safety a little bit as a backup,” Parker said. “We just sat down and talked. He was very good about it. He saw where he was on the depth chart, and he wasn’t going to break it right now.”

Fleming has only six credit hours this spring. After he graduates in May, he can enroll with another FBS (or FCS) school and be eligible to play immediately.

“He chose to make a decision, and we're happy for him and hope that he finds a place that's comfortable for him,” Parker said. “I'm sure he's going to miss this place, and we're going to miss him.”

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley (25) will likely be deployed more in a pass-catching role, and possibly in short yardage.

Akrum’s upside

Last week, running backs coach Chris White was heaping praise on No. 2 running back Akrum Wadley. Greg Davis took his turn Wednesday.

Iowa’s fifth-year offensive coordinator envisions many new roles opening up for Wadley, a junior who has shown flashes in his first two seasons but has lacked consistency in many areas — including his weight, which the coaches say is now at a steady 189, 190 pounds. That’s what they needed to see.

“I think he's grown up and matured. He's kind of bought into the big picture academically,” Davis said. “I mean, the whole gamut of things that they go through.”

Davis echoed White’s comments, that Wadley “can do the things that you can’t coach” and “gives you the chance to make a big play.”

With LeShun Daniels earmarked as the every-down type back, Wadley will still find plenty of playing time — perhaps in short-yardage situations (“because he very seldom takes a straight-on lick,” Davis said) and also as a receiver. Of Wadley’s seven career receptions, three came in the 45-16 Rose Bowl loss to Stanford.

“He will be out there, and he will be playing,” Davis said. “So I would be really surprised if his catches don't go way up.”

Another (familiar) speedster

Davis identified Wadley, receivers Jerminic Smith and Matt VandeBerg and tight end George Kittle as the leading “playmakers” on offense this spring. He also raved about backup receiver Jay Scheel.

Scheel wants to be more than Iowa's spring sensation

But let’s keep continued tabs on Jonathan Parker, the former running back whose most (least?) memorable Hawkeye moment to date was the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl kick-return gaffe, in which he threw the ball into the field of play while falling out of bounds at the 3-yard line.

Parker changed positions after that, and the light bulb seems to be going on in his second spring at wide receiver. The 5-foot-8, 188-pound junior has been working mostly out of the slot, the area in which VandeBerg excelled last year.

“He's a guy that's grown up,” Davis said, “and he would be right there with Jay Scheel in terms of the spring he's had and where he's at in the overall receivers.”

Boyle in a new role?

Saturday’s 1 p.m. open spring practice, which will include scrimmaging, will be a more extended window into the progress of co-third-team quarterbacks Ryan Boyle and Drew Cook — two Iowa high school stars who are enduring their first spring as Hawkeyes.

Davis didn’t offer clarity on who is ahead of whom. He did raise eyebrows, though, by noting that Boyle, who accounted for 7,609 yards and 97 touchdowns plus a school bench-press record (360 pounds) while at Dowling Catholic, was getting time on special teams. Boyle had loosely worked in no-contact kick-coverage drills in the April 8 open Valley Stadium workout.

“Ryan is a heck of an athlete. We actually worked him some on special teams ... starting in about practice eight or nine (out of 15),” Davis said, “because as Coach (Kirk Ferentz) always does, we're trying to find a way to get our best athletes on the field.”

Position battles

With coordinators speaking, Wednesday was a chance to get caught up on some key position areas.

Fullback: Walk-on Drake Kulick is the clear No. 1 over Brady Ross and Austin Kelly to replace last year’s potent combo of Macon Plewa and Adam Cox. But, Davis said, “how much we play the fullback will be part of their progress.”

Tight end: George Kittle is obviously No. 1 here, but the depth is a big question mark. When referencing tight ends, Davis didn’t mention listed No. 2 Jameer Outsey. He instead pointed to Jon Wisnieski and Peter Pekar as competing for playing time. That dynamic will be interesting to watch Saturday.

Weak-side linebacker: Phil Parker didn’t fully bite on this one, but he did note that “we're excited about where he's going” in reference to listed No. 1 Aaron Mends. But Jack Hockaday is in the mix, too, and so is Bo Bower, who has gotten mostly starter’s outside linebacker reps with Ben Niemann out for the spring. These workouts are times for the core linebackers to learn as much as they can.

“We're not playing a game, so to me, it's about getting better and improving instead of saying who is on the depth chart,” Parker said. “I don't really care.”