Coordinator takeaways: Freshmen, position battles, ticket sales
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tuesday marked the last chance at organized Iowa football interviews before the Week 1 routines kick in.
It was a nice opportunity for reporters to talk to coordinators Greg Davis and Phil Parker, and Kirk Ferentz stuck around to answer questions for 10 minutes, too.
There was a lot of information shared as the battle for depth-chart movement among 100-plus athletes enters the last week of — as Ferentz calls it — the “Us vs. Us” stage.
Iowa likes to pit 1s vs. 1s through most of fall camp, “just to really get a better gauge on how guys can compete against really good competition,” Ferentz said. “It’s the way we do it every year; we just do very little on our first opponent until we get into the game week.”
On Sunday, Iowa’s full attention will shift to the Sept. 3 home (and season) opener vs. Miami of Ohio.
But on Tuesday, the talk was all about the Hawkeyes. What we learned:
Probably six to 10 true freshmen play
Ferentz gave that ballpark range, with the addendum that the number could be as low as five but definitely more than the four true freshmen that played last year.
The (almost) definites:
Linebacker Amani Jones is in. Parker said Jones will play special teams for sure and has been alternating between weak-side and middle linebacker. Look for him to appear on Friday’s Week 1 depth chart. “He has a way of getting to the football, and that’s important for a defensive player,” Ferentz said.
Defensive back Manny Rugamba is in. He’d probably be the No. 5 corner (behind Desmond King, Greg Mabin, Josh Jackson and Michael Ojemudia), and Iowa needs to manufacture experience at that position for 2017.
Defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore is in. The media guide lists him at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds. Parker said he’s now 285. Lattimore is probably a backup on Friday’s depth chart with Jake Hulett (leg fracture; out another two to four weeks) sidelined. “We wanted to redshirt him if we could, but it might not happen,” Parker said of Lattimore. “He still has a ways to go yet.”
Wide receiver Devonte Young is “in the mix” for now, Davis said in listing him as the No. 5 receiver behind Matt VandeBerg, Riley McCarron, and Jay Scheel/Jerminic Smith. Position coach Bobby Kennedy likes to have a rotation of five to six guys, but the best three will get most of the field time.
If quarterback Nathan Stanley wins the backup job, he’ll almost certainly play.
Tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson also have a chance, with Jon Wisnieski (MCL sprain; out another two to four weeks) still out. Pick at least one.
Same deal with running backs Toks Akinribade and Toren Young. “Pass protection, they’re way behind on that,” Davis said. “But in terms of carrying the football and assignment-wise, we’re excited about that group.”
Other freshmen being considered for special-teams roles include safety Amani Hooker and linebackers Kyle Taylor, Barrington Wade and Kristian Welch. There may be more.
Defensive end Chauncey Golston might be able to provide some much-needed speed off the edge.
Walk-on Keith Duncan is in a three-way battle to be Iowa’s placekicker (more on that later).
No decision at Will linebacker
Junior Bo Bower, who started 13 games as a freshman but lost his job last year to Ben Niemann and then Cole Fisher, is hungry. The former walk-on from West Branch and sophomore Aaron Mends are in a tight battle to start at weak-side linebacker. It’s not settled yet, Ferentz said, but “if we were playing tomorrow, (Bower) might be that guy.”
Parker was leaning that way, too.
“He’s been here for a while. He understands the defense,” Parker said. “It’s a lot easier going in there and playing and understanding the calls and making plays faster.”
Order restored up front
Davis said that “if we started tomorrow,” James Daniels would be the starting center, and Sean Welsh will be the right guard — just like the depth chart said in January, but not at all how it was in the spring when Welsh moved to center with Daniels out after knee surgery.
If that’s how it ends up, those are the positions each guy prefers, which is probably a bonus.
“James will be (our) first big center (6-4, 295), at least in the five years I’ve been here,” Davis said of the true sophomore who is still 18 years old. “Sean would still be an emergency guy (at center). … But yeah, (that alignment) has worked out well.”
More kickers talk
True freshman walk-on Caleb Shudak has fallen out of the four-man race to be Iowa’s placekicker. As reported last week, there’s a good chance Ferentz takes at least two kickers into the season — with the competition now between Duncan and redshirt sophomores Miguel Recinos and Mick Ellis.
Ferentz said grad-transfer Ron Coluzzi will probably handle kickoffs. The door isn’t closed on the punting competition. Coluzzi has the lead, but redshirt freshman Colten Rastetter has surged.
“His body of work has been the best,” Ferentz said of Coluzzi, who came here in June from Central Michigan. “But Colten’s a guy we thought was a really good prospect, and the last few days he’s been starting to look like we hoped he would. That’s encouraging.”
Ticket sales stay brisk
Ferentz’s opening statement included a thank-you to fans, who have been gobbling up Kinnick Stadium tickets for Iowa’s 2016 home schedule.
Sales were a struggle last year (with average attendance at 63,142), but last week the university announced the student season tickets (8,200 per game) were sold out.
The Iowa State (Sept. 10) and Michigan (Nov. 12) night games are sellouts. Additionally, the university told the Register on Tuesday that about 1,000 tickets are left for the Sept. 17 game against North Dakota State and 2,000 remain for Oct. 22 vs. Wisconsin.
The school has stopped selling season tickets and three-game ticket packages.
“Really great to see the students sell out their allotment. I encourage them to come early and stay late,” Ferentz said. “I know the ‘Fans First’ theme that the administration has adopted, there’s a lot of effort going into improving the atmosphere in Kinnick — inside, outside, that type of thing. So, just want to commend everybody involved in that whole thing.”
And lastly …
Ferentz threw some more shade at the NCAA for its handling of the Drew Ott medical-redshirt situation, which dragged on for five months and ended up in a denial.
We’ll talk more about that on Wednesday’s Hawk Central radio show (6 p.m. on 1460 AM in Des Moines).