Iowa takeaways: New kicker Keith Duncan 'unflappable' so far

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa football placekicker cage match has a winner in a 165-pound true freshman.

Walk-on Keith Duncan of Matthews, N.C., emerged as a surprise No. 1 on Friday’s depth-chart release, and head coach Kirk Ferentz affirmed Tuesday that he really did win the job. Seemingly out of nowhere.

Keith Duncan will get the first crack this season at the starting Iowa placekicking job.

“He's just come in and really performed,” Ferentz said in his first game-week news conference of 2016. “Seems pretty unflappable at this stage. I really have to compliment him on that.”

Duncan beat out redshirt sophomores Miguel Recinos and Mick Ellis over the past few weeks of practice and will get 15th-ranked Iowa’s first placement kick in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. season opener against Miami of Ohio. Another true freshman, Caleb Shudak, was competing in a four-way race for the job vacated by Marshall Koehn.

“I said earlier that we'd let the competition go as long as we have to, and right now at this point he's won the job,” Ferentz said. “But if we have to take this month or half the season to determine it, we'll do that. Hopefully that's not the case, but we'll start with Keith and let him go.”

During Iowa’s Kids Day open practice, Duncan showed the biggest leg of the four kickers but also had two attempts blocked. That may be why Ferentz offered this caveat on the kicking situation as he pointed to nearby Kinnick Stadium.

“We haven't been over there yet with a full crowd, so that might be a different story,” Ferentz said. “Hang onto your hat.”

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Depth-chart Q&A

Friday's release showing Sean Welsh at center and James Daniels at right guard was a typo. Those names should be flip-flopped.

Quarterback C.J. Beathard said Daniels, the 18-year-old true sophomore, has taken all the reps at center in fall camp. That means Welsh, the junior, stays where he's most comfortable.

"He's done a great job accepting that task and taking it," Beathard said. "Good snaps, and getting the line on the same page."

One of the biggest stories of August camp is still unfolding. There's no decision yet on whether true freshman Nathan Stanley will unseat No. 2 quarterback Tyler Wiegers.

"It's kind of like any of those slashes right now (on the depth chart)," Ferentz said. "Those are both basically coin tosses at this point."

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During last year’s 12-2 season, team culture was attributed to the unlikely success. Players on Tuesday thought that his year’s culture feels a lot like 2015 again.

Iowa senior left tackle Cole Croston on Tuesday wore an example of that on his Hawkeye strength and conditioning T-shirt. On the right sleeve, “95/5” was emblazoned.

The “95/5” mantra was pulled out of last year’s team book, “The Slight Edge,” by strength coach Chris Doyle. According to author Jeff Olson, “Just one out of 20 people will ever achieve their goals in life.” It’s something Hawkeye players remind each other about inside the Iowa Football Performance Center.

“That’s the 95 percent and the 5 percent,” Croston said. “For us, we strive to be the 5 percent who do the daily disciplines and do things right over and over again. We try to separate ourselves from that 95 percent.”

Position of strength, concern

Fullbacks and tight ends at Iowa are sort of attached at the hip. The majority of the time, they’re blocking instead of getting the ball.

A few days before the opener, Ferentz has comfort levels with one (fullback) and reservations with the other (tight end).

Injuries to Jon Wisnieski and Nate Wieting have hampered progress at finding a backup to starting tight end George Kittle.

“We're a little further behind there,” Ferentz said, while mentioning that listed No. 2 Peter Pekar has done well and that freshman Noah Fant will probably play in Saturday’s opener.

But on the fullback uncertainty after losing fifth-year seniors Adam Cox and Macon Plewa to graduation?

“I don't know if I'm allowed to say feel good about anything, but I do feel pretty good about that,” Ferentz said. “I think Drake Kulick and Brady Ross have really done a good job, and those two guys we lost, Macon and Adam, were two of the best guys on our football team last year.”

Gameday tidbits

Iowa’s four captains, as selected by the team’s leadership group, are Beathard and receiver Matt VandeBerg on offense, and linebacker Josey Jewell and cornerback Desmond King on defense. … If you usually come to Kinnick Stadium via Dubuque Street, change your approach this season. Instead of four lanes of traffic, it’s down to two lanes between Foster Road and Park Road. After games, though, Dubuque Street will convert to a one-way, two-lane road. … Iowa announced that 4,400 tickets were available for Saturday’s game. That means attendance will be at least 66,000 on Saturday — it was 59,450 for last year’s opener vs. Illinois State.

Final word

Generally speaking, Iowa has had a bunch of nagging injuries throughout August, which affects continuity in practice. But overall, the lack of a significant injury entering the opener is a good sign.

“Injury-wise, we're in pretty decent shape,” Ferentz said. “We have a couple guys that may be touch-and-go going into the game, but overall, seems like we're heading the right direction right now. Again, that's always frustrating in camp when you have guys in and out, but we haven't had anything overly major.”