Takeaways: Doyle is Iowa's 'most important coach,' NFL advice for Wadley

Chad Leistikow, cleistik@dmreg.com

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz admits he’s not the most tech-savvy guy, but he does rely on his iPad to stay up to speed about what folks are saying about Hawkeye football.

So the 18th-year Iowa head coach was well aware how his strength and conditioning coach’s salary made national news over the past few months.

“That was a lightning rod whenever that article came out,” Ferentz said Thursday.

The $625,000 annual pay for Chris Doyle, though, may actually be low when you consider what Ferentz — whose compensation will top $5 million this season — said next.

“His opportunity to be with our players and be with them in critical times is far going to exceed mine or any of our position coaches,” Ferentz said. “So as a result of that, he's probably the most important coach, including me, in my mind.”

Doyle makes more than any strength and conditioning coach in college football, a USA TODAY Sports report recently found. Most who have closely followed, or played for, the Hawkeyes in the last 18 years understand why.

The issue was topical Thursday as Doyle — who is held in such high esteem here that he's also Iowa's “director of football” — met with local reporters in advance of the Hawkeyes' Jan. 2 Outback Bowl matchup against Florida.

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Iowa running back Akrum Wadley rushed for 966 yards this season, led the team in touchdowns and ranked second on the team in receptions.

Doyle spoke with gratitude and passion as he discussed his role in this program over the last 18 years.

“The offseason is an (important) time, especially at Iowa where the development of our players is absolutely critical," Doyle said. "To have a strong personality in that area that has been empowered by the head football coach, I think that benefits the program, that benefits our players.”

Ferentz heaped praise on Doyle, who was recommended to him by the late Joe Moore — Ferentz’s coaching mentor for whom the Hawkeyes’ recently acquired offensive-line award is named.

“I've never met anybody more professionally inquisitive than him,” Ferentz said of Doyle. “He does his homework in all aspects of strength conditioning. He's right on the cutting edge, and has been.”

Pro advice for Wadley

Two Hawkeye juniors had received recent public praise by NFL Draft pundits, with both being discussed as potential mid-round picks in the April draft if they choose to leave school early.

Linebacker Josey Jewell is likely returning for his senior season, though; and Ferentz thinks running back Akrum Wadley should, too.

His advice to the electric runner?

“Put more weight on. Start right there. I'm kind of fixated on that,” Ferentz said. “We had that discussion again, yesterday morning during finals week.”

Getting Wadley to and past 190 pounds remains a struggle. For whatever reason, the New Jersey native just has trouble adding and keeping weight on his 5-foot-11 frame.

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“Akrum's a really talented guy. And I'll tell you, he's improved with every step along the way,” Ferentz said. “I think a year from now, he'll have a really good chance. But he's going to have to get bigger and stronger, because there aren't any 185-pound backs I'm aware of that are playing a lot (in the NFL).”

Jewell told the Register in November that he would likely come back to school for his senior season. The Butkus Award finalist, Ferentz said, did “put a line in the water and got a response back; predictable. But I think he was just gauging it. He wasn't really looking or (doesn't) dislike us that much. I think he's on board for one more year.”

'Go get 'em,' Levi!

Fifth-year offensive line coach Brian Ferentz talked several times about being “humbled” that his position group won the Joe Moore Award.

But in his 20 minutes with reporters Thursday, the head coach’s son also brought the room to laughter.

In talking about redshirt freshman Levi Paulsen’s unlikely rise to starting at right guard at Illinois on Nov. 19, he referenced where the player stood a month earlier.

“We called a timeout in the Purdue game,” Ferentz said, “to keep him out of the game.”

By rule, when Sean Welsh’s helmet came off in game action, he had to leave for a play. So, Paulsen ran onto the field as the next man in. But Brian Ferentz thought it’d be best on that third-down play to spend a timeout to re-insert Welsh, rather than risk the damage Paulsen's shaky pass protection might do to quarterback C.J. Beathard.

Four Saturdays later when Ike Boettger got hurt in the fourth quarter against Michigan, a timeout couldn't save the day. Paulsen had to play.

“He’s the only guy left,” Ferentz said. “Levi, you’re in. Go get ‘em! You’re going to be great. Forget about that timeout we called a couple weeks ago. You’re going to kill these guys!”

Personnel talk

Kirk Ferentz said that freshman Shaun Beyer, a talented athlete (6-5, 210) from Cedar Rapids Kennedy who had been working with the wide-receiver group while redshirting, has been moved inside to tight end.

That should help soften the departure of senior George Kittle. True freshman Noah Fant (6-5, 220) has been playing significant snaps, and Chariton native T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 230) also is redshirting.

Another position of need in 2017 will be defensive tackle, where seniors Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie graduate. Defensive line coach Reese Morgan said Thursday that “it’s been discussed” to move sophomore end Matt Nelson (6-8, 282) inside.

Iowa has a slew of promising upside at defensive end, with regulars Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson coming on strong to end 2016. Plus, Morgan mentioned the speed he's seen from freshmen Chauncey Golston and Brandon Simon. And of course the crown jewel of Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class is A.J. Epenesa, a four-star defensive end.

“You want to put your best four guys out there, and in some cases maybe some guys have to change positions,” Morgan said. “Inside, you’re looking for certain kind of guy. Outside, you’re looking for maybe a little more speed on the edges and so forth. I think (Nelson)’s got the ability to do that. We’ve talked about it. Right now, he’s an end and doing a real good job.”

Junior co-starter Nathan Bazata has one more year left at defensive tackle, and Morgan said true freshman backup Cedrick Lattimore (listed 6-5, 260) has put on 30 pounds since arriving and has “a bright future inside.”

Iowa also has moved redshirt freshmen Jake Newborg (6-5, 290) and Brady Reiff (6-3, 250) to defensive tackle as it looks to fortify depth there.

The injury front

Ferentz classified freshman cornerback Manny Rugamba (right shoulder) as “week-to-week.” If he can’t go, sophomore Josh Jackson will make his first career start opposite Desmond King.

“He's making good progress,” Ferentz said of Rugamba. “We'll just have to see where it is here another week from now and go from there. But we certainly can't count on him.”

The news seems more encouraging for senior offensive tackle Cole Croston, a third-team all-Big Ten choice. Croston has missed five games with a lower-leg injury and will be active when the team returns to practice Friday.

The concern: Whether Croston can be game-ready by Jan. 2.

“I think Pete (McMahon) practiced twice before the Capital One Bowl (after the 2004 season) and went out and competed really well against a really good player,” Ferentz said. “So you just never know. We'll keep our fingers crossed on that.”