IOWA CITY, Ia. — Some observations from Iowa's open practice at Kids Day:
Stanley vs. Wiegers
For most of the open practice, Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers split first-team reps. They did so for all of the early passing drills and for most of the 11-on-11 work to close practice.
But the team finished 11-on-11 with two-minute drills. Stanley ran his against the first-team defense with first-team receivers; Wiegers ran his against the second-team defense with second-team receivers.
That’s just one clue that suggests Stanley might be Iowa’s signal-caller come Sept. 2 against Wyoming.
The other clue? Stanley just played better than Wiegers on Saturday. Unofficially, he went 13-for-23 for 153 yards and three touchdowns (about 50 yards and 22 yards to Devonte Young; 4 yards to Max Cooper). Wiegers went 6-for-14 for 31 yards and no touchdowns.
Nathan Stanley throws 22-yard TD to Devonte Young at Iowa's Kids Day open practice. Matt Bain/HawkCentral
"They’ve had 12 good days," Ferentz said of Stanley and Wiegers. "It’s gone back and forth a little bit. They’re the first level, and then Ryan (Boyle) is right behind those guys.
"We’ll see what happens this week. We’ve got another scrimmage Friday night, which is a big night for us. Hopefully we’ll make a lot of strides the next 5-6 days here. Maybe the thing will be a little more clear then. But we’d like to let this thing run out a little bit."
Yes, Saturday was just one practice, but the difference was noticeable between Iowa's two frontrunners. Early on, Wiegers struggled to even get a pass off, throwing into defensive linemen’s arms three times in his first couple drives.
Another example: Stanley threw his 22-yard touchdown against the first-team defense in one of his final possessions before his two-minute drill. Wiegers then played against the first-team defense and didn’t score — while getting sacked a couple times.
This isn’t to say Stanley looked like a stellar quarterback all day. He certainly had some great moments. For the the most part, though, he simply looked like the better option. He had bad moments, too. He turned it over on downs during his two-minute drill, for instance.
Epenesa, Hankins shine on defense
A.J. Epenesa got most of his reps with the second team, but he played a few downs with the first-team defense, too. Second, first — it didn’t matter. The five-star freshman defensive end routinely found his way to the pocket and recorded four “sacks” (touching the quarterback). He sacked Stanley three times and Wiegers once.
A.J. Epenesa flashes speed for 4th sack at Iowa's Kids Day open practice. Main Bain/HawkCentral
Cornerback Matt Hankins, who defensive coordinator Phil Parker has singled out as a freshman to watch, also impressed. He lined up with Michael Ojemudia as the No. 2 CBs behind Manny Rugamba and Josh Jackson. Hankins had a nice pass breakup against Brandon Smith during passing drills.
Then, with the second-team defense in 11-on-11 work, he quickly identified an Izmir Smith-Marsette reverse attempt, took a great angle to Smith-Marsette, forced a fumble and recovered it. That was probably the defensive highlight of the day.
Recinos looked like the guy
Like he did with the quarterbacks, Ferentz gave no huge clues as to who his No. 1 kicker was based on who kicked when, with what unit, etc. But by performance, junior Miguel Recinos looked like the starter.
He and sophomore Keith Duncan combined to go 11-for-11 on field goal attempts during drills.
Both made about a PAT-length attempt to start 11-on-11 action. Then Recinos made all the rest of his field goals — 53 yards, 51 yards, 36 yards, 32 yards and 30 yards. Duncan made just one — 36 yards — and missed the rest.
Akrum Wadley was the first player to return kicks during kickoffs drills, so it looks like he’s the No. 1 guy right now. Young was back with him. Fellow running backs James Butler, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin also returned kicks. Rugamba and Smith-Marsette also got looks returning kicks.
Ferentz was asked after practice how the punting competition was going between sophomore Colton Rastetter and freshman Ryan Gersonde, who weren't featured during Saturday's 11-on-11 work.
Iowa's head coach didn't give much away in his answer (surprise): "It looks better than it did in the spring. One, because Colten’s punting better. And then Gersonde’s a good prospect. So, I think we’re a better team at that position than we were last April. That’s good."
Nathan Stanley 13-23, 153 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs (sacked 5 times); Tyler Wiegers 6-14, 31 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs (sacked 7 times); Ryan Boyle 4-6, 61 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs (sacked 2 times); Peyton Mansell 1-3, 47 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs (sacked 1 time)
Toren Young 9-74; Ivory Kelly-Martin 11-57; James Butler 11-56; Marcel Joly 8-34 (1 fumble); Akrum Wadley 4-21; Toks Akinribade 2-6; Kyshaun Bryan 2-0; Ihmir Smith-Marsette 2-(-4) (1 fumble)
Brandon Smith 4-22; Noah Fant 3-25; James Butler 3-8; Devonte Young 2-74, 2 TDs; Shaun Beyer 2-52; T.J. Hockenson 2-32; Adrian Falconer 2-15; Henry Marchese 1-47; Dominique Dafney 1-10; Ihmir Smith-Marsette 1-5; Max Cooper 1-4, 1 TD; Toren Young 1-(-1); Akrum Wadley 1-(-2).
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBain_.