Iowa takeaways: Myers' injury dilemma, Snyder's comeback, Jackson's punt-return admission
IOWA CITY, Ia. — You have to feel for Boone Myers. The fifth-year senior was supposed to be the Iowa football team’s starting left tackle. But as the season approached, a nagging high-ankle sprain wasn’t going to allow him to play at his full potential in Week 1.
Redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson was named the starter, and Myers became a backup left guard. If multiple injuries hadn’t struck the offensive line, maybe Myers could’ve gotten the rest his ankle needs. But things haven’t worked out that way.
Center James Daniels missed the opener against Wyoming, which shuffled guard Keegan Render to center for a game and moved Myers into the rotation. A week later at Iowa State, senior right tackle Ike Boettger ruptured his Achilles tendon. Myers was back in again.
He’s started at left guard the past three games, but it’s clear he isn’t operating at full physical capacity. Neither is Iowa’s offensive line. The Hawkeyes rank 12th in the Big Ten Conference in rushing.
“We’re just playing a little tight,” Myers said. “We’ve just got to relax and play Iowa football.”
On Tuesday, as he approached reporters, Myers was hobbling down the stairs.
“Life happens. You’ve just got to kind of roll with it,” said Myers, a former walk-on who has 25 career starts — all on the left side of Iowa’s line. “There’s going to be adversity. Things aren’t going to go the way you want them to. You can’t cry and pout about it. You just have to keep attacking, keep going each day.”
Myers said the health of his ankle “depends on the day, how it’s feeling.” Each week, the ankle is thrust into cold tubs and gets extensive treatment from the football team’s medical staff.
A high-ankle sprain needs rest to heal. Maybe the Hawkeyes should keep Myers on the sideline altogether for Saturday’s game against Illinois — perhaps roll with Ross Reynolds full-time or someone such as Levi Paulsen, who started last year’s Illinois game at right guard — and let his ankle take a few weeks off.
With Iowa’s bye on deck, that’d give Myers 21 days between games if he were to try to give the angle some rest before Oct. 21 at Northwestern.
“Coaches are going to be smart with it. I’ve got to be smart with it,” Myers said. “I think yeah, that’s kind of the plan coming up, just stay off it.”
If the Hawkeyes can buy some time with Myers now, perhaps it pays off later.
“Nobody wants to be out there more than Boone, and Boone is one of our best players coming back this year,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He's trying; everybody is trying. It's just not quite there the way it needs to be, and it's tough. It's toughest for him just because he's got so much pride, and he's worked so hard.”
Secondary: One in, one iffy
It was April 7 that the University of Iowa announced that starting safety Brandon Snyder had torn his ACL. Exactly six months later, he could be playing in a Big Ten football game.
Ferentz said the junior is cleared to play for the second straight week.
“He's doing a good job in practice, and I think it's fair to say he may be out there,” Ferentz said. “How much? I don't know yet.”
Snyder’s return would bring experience to a defensive backfield that could again be without cornerback Manny Rugamba.
According to Ferentz, the sophomore was injured sometime during the first half of Iowa’s Sept. 23 game against Penn State but kept playing through it. It wasn’t until the middle of last week that Rugamba’s injury was detected. Rugamba did not play against Michigan State.
Ferentz said the case was similar to the one last year involving Greg Mabin — which, interestingly, made Rugamba the starter. Mabin was diagnosed with a rare fracture of the talus bone in his ankle.
“So now you're starting to think mid-week, OK, has Manny got that same deal?” Ferentz said Tuesday. “Good news is they did the test, everything is fine; so it's just a matter of soft tissue healing.”
Regardless, Michael Ojemudia will start in Rugamba’s place for the third time this season.
Reinforcements for Wadley?
For two weeks, Akrum Wadley has been a virtual one-man show at tailback. He hinted Tuesday that that’s about to change.
“Coach talks about getting other players in, getting more of a rotation,” Wadley told reporters, mentioning freshmen Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin.
Wadley, a senior, is averaging 22 touches per game, a workload that increased after his primary backup, James Butler, suffered an elbow injury in Week 3. Butler is at least two weeks away from returning.
Young carried the ball 19 times against North Texas after Butler’s injury but hasn’t played the past two weeks, both Iowa losses. Kelly-Martin has been used sparingly.
Wadley was limited to 30 yards rushing in Saturday’s 17-10 loss at Michigan State and was unusually curt in his postgame comments.
“I was frustrated because we lost to a team I felt we should beat,” Wadley said Tuesday.
Ferentz indicated again that the plan is to use three tailbacks this week.
“The other backs have to get involved,” Ferentz said, “and more involved as we move forward.”
Eye on punt returns
Joshua Jackson remains Iowa’s No. 1 punt returner, even though he had four fair catches inside the 10-yard line and another forgettable moment late in Saturday’s loss at Michigan State — fielding a punt on the goal line as Iowa desperately needed field position and time on the clock in a 17-10 loss.
“I didn’t know I was that far back until I looked back at the film,” Jackson said. “I’ve just got to be more aware where my alignment was.”
Jackson said when he’s backed up in pooch punting situations, he’s supposed to let go anything over his head. His four fair catches Saturday were at the 9, 8, 8 and 7 yard lines.
He’s also struggled fielding short kicks since replacing Matt VandeBerg as the lead punt returner in Week 2 — letting the ball bounce and roll forward rather than sprinting up field to make the fair catch.
“You have to take account for the gunners,” Jackson said. “You don’t want to run into them and maybe cause a fumble.”
Ferentz has VandeBerg listed as Jackson’s punt-return backup and has mentioned true freshman Max Cooper (who burned his redshirt vs. North Texas) as a possibility. But it sounds like he’s sticking with Jackson, who has three returns for 25 yards in four games.
“I think what you saw (Saturday) was just inexperience there, too, so we're paying for that a little bit,” Ferentz said. “But he's doing a good job back there.”
Odds and ends
Ferentz said punters Colten Rastetter and Ryan Gersonde are competing for the starting job in practice to “see how it goes, and then just kind of push forward.” Rastetter has struggled in his first year as a starter, and Gersonde — a true freshman — has not played. … Less than 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday’s Homecoming game (11 a.m., Big Ten Network), which will make it Iowa’s largest home crowd of the season.
HawkCentral's Mark Emmert contributed to this report.