Iowa takeaways: Brandon Snyder's return is near, punting questions and redshirts

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa discovered one safety of significance recently in Amani Hooker. It’s close to adding another to the lineup.

Brandon Snyder, just five months removed from surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee, will be in uniform for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Michigan State.

Kirk Ferentz wasn’t planning to play Snyder this week – “he won’t have a helmet,” the head coach said – but noted that last year’s 13-game starter at free safety would likely return this regular season.

Snyder has been practicing with the team and is well ahead of the typical ACL recovery schedule.

Brandon Snyder celebrates an interception in last year's Outback Bowl.

“I don’t know when it’s going to be, but I think it’s fair to say he’ll get out there on the field this season, in the regular season,” Ferentz said. “His rehab’s going really well.

“He seems to have confidence right now. He’ll dress out this weekend; he’s not going to play. He won’t have a helmet, but he’ll go through pregame and stuff like that. One of these days, maybe we’ll get him out there.”

To get Snyder back would be a huge development for the Iowa defense, especially if he’s full strength. His presence would bolster a safety group that has had struggles, which led to sophomore Hooker making his first career start against Penn State.

Last year as a sophomore, Snyder was a physical run-stopper who also had three interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 85 tackles. The free safety is the signal-caller of the defense, and Snyder has been hands-on throughout his rehab as almost another assistant coach.

Special teams, Part I

Former Iowa punter Ron Coluzzi caused a stir during Saturday’s game against Penn State when he twice suggested on Twitter that current Hawkeye punter Colten Rastetter be replaced by true freshman Ryan Gersonde.

“I missed it. I’ll start carrying my phone with me (during games),” Ferentz cracked. “That’s great about America, everybody’s got the right to have an opinion; even our former players.”

In seriousness, Ferentz said it’s “not out of the realm” of possibility that Gersonde would take off his redshirt to punt, acknowledging that Rastetter – a sophomore walk-on – has been “hot and cold” while assembling a 40.3-yard average that ranks 75th out of 99 qualified FBS punters.

Rastetter, so far, has gotten the benefit of favorable forward rolls on many of his punts, and he has been more productive when using rugby-style punts.

“Colten would say something along the lines of, ‘I’m hitting it OK, but I could do better,’” said starting placekicker Miguel Recinos, who spends a lot of time with Rastetter – his holder. “I think Colten has a higher ceiling. He can definitely improve. But that being said, he’s shown he has a great ability to hit rugby punts. If you look at the average of those, it’s got to be somewhere in the high 40s, low 50s.”

Also on the positive side, in part because of those rolls, Iowa has allowed only four punt-return yards all season. The Hawkeyes rank 42nd nationally in net punting.

“Some good, some bad. Overall productivity has been pretty good,” Ferentz said. “I'd like to see more consistency there, for sure.”

Special teams, Part II

Recinos has been fantastic in his first year replacing Coluzzi as Iowa’s kickoff man. He spoke Tuesday about his craft.

His instruction from coaches has mostly been to kick it high and land it near the goal line. He’s done that.

Of his 22 standard kickoffs, 10 have gone for touchbacks (which come out to the 25-yard line), and only one of the other 12 have been returned past the 20-yard line.

That’s good kicking, and good coverage.

“I’ve been getting really good height on them. That’s the big thing,” Recinos said. “We are lucky to play with 10 animals on kickoff coverage. Believe me, animals. I’ve got the greatest seat in the house. Watch them; it’s unbelievable.”

Recinos has a vivid memory of Amani Jones pounding a poor Wyoming return man in the season opener. He says outside "gunners" Wes Dvorak and Dominique Dafney (both walk-ons) have a weekly contest to see which guy can get to the opposing 20-yard line the fastest.

Jones, Kevin Ward, Aaron Mends, Geno Stone and others have made their thumping impact felt on Iowa’s kick coverage.

“We have smaller fast guys that hit deceptively hard like (Matt) Hankins on the back side,” Recinos said. “Honestly, I’m glad I’m not the returner.”

Iowa running back James Butler (20) runs off the field with teammates after an NCAA college football game against North Texas, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Running backs and redshirts

Ferentz didn’t sound too optimistic on the recovery time of senior running back James Butler, who suffered a serious right elbow injury in Week 3 against North Texas. Ferentz initially said Butler would be out at least through the bye week, which comes after the Oct. 7 Homecoming game vs. Illinois.

“He’s still in a brace and still has swelling in there,” Ferentz said. “So we’ll see.”

If Iowa suffers additional running-back injuries, that could change the plan to redshirt Toks Akinribade. The true sophomore hasn’t played this season after seeing limited action as a true freshman. Ideally, with Akrum Wadley and Butler moving on after this season, Iowa needs as many young bodies for the future in the pipeline.

“He hasn’t been on the field yet for a reason,” Ferentz said of Akinribade. “So we’ll be smart about that; we’ll be prudent. Also, with James getting injured, that certainly affects things a little bit. … Toks has to stay ready right now.”

One of the young up-and-comers is Toren Young, a redshirt freshman who Ferentz said – because of Butler’s injury – would play against Penn State. However, Iowa kept Young on the bench while using only Wadley and freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin as the offense ran only 45 plays.

“That’s one of those games that you’ve got to get your best guy out there,” said Young, who rushed 19 times for 78 yards the previous week vs. North Texas. “And Ak, as you saw in the Iowa State game and (Saturday), he gives your team a good chance of winning games. He’s able to extend plays.”

Don’t be surprised to see Young (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) getting a few carries this week in East Lansing, Michigan.

“The coaches will put the players out there they need to make plays,” Young said. “If they call my number, I’ll be ready.”