Things to keep an eye on as Kirk Ferentz's team progresses through spring camp.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Spring is commonly associated with youth and growth, and that certainly will be true when the 2017 Iowa football team takes the practice field for the first time Wednesday.
Some key seniors will be sitting out or at least taking a back seat, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said at his initial news conference Monday.
- Wide receiver Matt VandeBerg, expected to be the leader of an untested position group, is out until June after reinjuring his foot this winter. VandeBerg missed the final nine games of last season after breaking his foot, but still finished fifth on the team with 19 catches for 284 yards.
- Fullback Drake Kulick is still out after breaking his leg in the regular-season finale against Nebraska.
- Tailback Akrum Wadley, who opted to forego the NFL draft this spring after gaining 1,396 yards from scrimmage in 2016, will be kept away from contact drills in order to preserve his health.
“Those three are seniors. We've seen them play. We have a pretty good indication of where they're at,” Ferentz said. “If there's a positive thing in this, that's it.”
With VandeBerg out, junior Jerminic Smith and sophomore Devonte Young are listed as starting wide receivers this spring. It’s a thin position group until VandeBerg returns and four freshmen join the program in August.
Ferentz didn’t say when or how VandeBerg hurt his foot again, indicating he was nearly healthy enough to play in Iowa’s Jan. 2 Outback Bowl loss to Florida.
“That thing was well-healed when he got back in January. It's just one of those things that happens occasionally. Not much that we can do about it,” Ferentz said.
He said he wasn’t worried that the injury would be a problem during the upcoming season.
“Nothing I'm aware of. You're always concerned any time a guy reinjures himself in any particular case. There's nothing they're going to do out of the ordinary or anything like that,” Ferentz said.
“His rehab was actually on the conservative side. Wasn't really tied into that. We'll let it play out.”
Wadley split time with senior LeShun Daniels Jr. last season but will enter this one the clear go-to player out of Iowa’s backfield. Ferentz was happy to report that Wadley’s weight is above the magical 190-pound figure that coaches want him at (he’s listed at 195)
“He's actually starting to get a little bit bigger and more robust. That's going to enable him to play more. That's the reason we've been trying to encourage him to really take his training seriously — to make sure he can get himself to a point where he can play more reps,” Ferentz said.
“He does a pretty good job making yards per carry. If we can get him more carries, that's a good thing for us — more chance for making a good play.”
But as for spring drills: “We're not going to let Akrum get hit. He's not fully healthy. He's pretty healthy. He'll be doing everything but live contact.”
Wadley’s spring absence will mean coaches can get a longer look at sophomore Toks Akinribade and redshirt freshman Toren Young, one of whom figures to become Wadley’s chief backup.
“We'll let them both go. We liked what we saw last August and last fall with both of them,” Ferentz said.
“We typically don't let guys get tackled anyway — guys that played a lot. Akrum will not be tackled. Give those guys a chance to get a lot of good quality work.”
Freshman Noah Clayberg also will factor into the running back mix, Ferentz said. The Pella native is listed as a defensive back, but Ferentz said coaches gave him the option of deciding which position to pursue.
“I think it's good to get a good look at him. We'll see from there. We'll let him start there,” Ferentz said. “That's what he's excited about.”
Even defensive captain Josey Jewell will have his workload decreased so that Iowa coaches can explore backup options at middle linebacker. The senior has led Iowa in tackles the past two years and has nothing to prove.
“Not every snap in spring, no,” Ferentz said of Jewell’s duties during the 15 practices that culminate with an April 21 open scrimmage. “Hopefully, we'll be smart about it. We have a pretty good idea about what he and Ben (Niemann) — even Bo (Bower) — all three of those guys, returning starters. We need to see who else is going to step in there if something happens.
“If Josey's helmet breaks or something like that, who is going to go in and take control of that middle linebacker spot? That type of thing. Forget about heir-apparent.”