Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz looks at his 2018 team before spring ball begins. Chad Leistikow
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa football is back. Spring practice starts Wednesday.
And with its return comes the first depth chart since before the Pinstripe Bowl.
Some of the notable sightings on this release:
The starting linebackers are sophomore Nick Niemann (outside), junior Kristian Welch (middle) and senior Aaron Mends (weak-side) as that group replaces three starting seniors. Is Welch ready to be the next Josey Jewell? Of course not. But this will be a competition all spring and summer, of course, as listed backups Barrington Wade, Jack Hockaday and Amani Jones will have something to say about that.
On Iowa's offensive line, senior Keegan Render has slid one spot to his right. Last year's starting left guard is the new starting center as he replaces departed-early-to-the-NFL James Daniels. This isn't a stopgap, it appears to be the plan.
Also, Iowa has flipped Tristan Wirfs to No. 1 left tackle, while moving last year's starter at that position, Alaric Jackson, to the right side. That was not a surprise; Wirfs (6-5, 320) is a prototypical left tackle and should take a big jump as a true sophomore protecting Nate Stanley's blind side. Kirk Ferentz says both guys will play both sides this spring, but Wirfs seems like the perfect fit there. Senior Ross Reynolds (6-5, 295) and junior Levi Paulsen are the starting guards.
Speaking of Stanley, he was listed at a hefty 242 pounds (and down an inch, to 6-foot-4) and he only had two scholarship backups on the roster. For now, redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell gets the backup nod over true freshman Spencer Petras.
At receiver, there was a surprise in sophomore Brandon Smith (at 6-3 and a robust 219 pounds) listed atop the depth chart, with University of Sioux Falls transfer Kyle Groeneweg (5-10, 186) as his backup; Ferentz called him "nifty." Could he be this year's Nick Easley? Speading of, Easley (last year's leading receiver) is the other starter. Ihmir Smith-Marsette was electric at times as a freshman, but he's got to spend less time on his cell phone, Ferentz said.
A few fifth-year seniors are missing from the two-deeps: defensive tackle Matt Nelson and safety Brandon Snyder. Snyder is recovering from a second tear of his ACL; Ferentz said Nelson was out for the spring with an unspecified injury. With Snyder's absence, that keeps Jake Gervase as the starting free safety — meaning the floated idea of moving Gervase or Amani Hooker (the starting strong safety) to outside linebacker is tabled until at least August.
At kicker, 2016 starter Keith Duncan is not on the depth chart. Miguel Recinos (who won the job last year as Duncan redshirted) is No. 1 again, with sophomore walk-on Caleb Shudak backing him up. It's also notable that Ryan Gersonde, not Colten Rastetter, is the starting punter.
Here's a detailed look at the Hawkeyes' spring-opening two-deeps:
Split end: Brandon Smith (6-3, 219, Soph.), Kyle Groeneweg (5-10, 186, Sr.)
Tight end: Noah Fant (6-5, 241, Jr.), Shaun Beyer (6-5, 240, Soph.)
Left tackle: Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 320, Soph.), Mark Kallenberger (6-6, 282, Fr.)
Left guard: Ross Reynolds (6-4, 295, Sr.), Coy Kirkpatrick (6-4, 290, Fr.)
Center: Keegan Render (6-4, 307, Sr.), Cole Banwart (6-4, 296, Soph.)
Right guard: Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305, Jr.), Landan Paulsen (6-5, 305, Jr.)
Right tackle: Alaric Jackson (6-7, 320, Soph.), Dalton Ferguson (6-4, 308, Sr.)
Tight end: T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 250, Soph.), Nate Wieting (6-4, 250, Jr.)
Wide receiver: Nick Easley (5-11, 205, Sr.), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6-1, 175, Soph.)
Quarterback: Nate Stanley (6-4, 242, Jr.), Peyton Mansell (6-2, 210, Fr.)
Running back: Toren Young (5-11, 221, Soph.), Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-10, 200, Soph.)
Fullback: Brady Ross (6-0, 245, Jr.), Austin Kelly (5-11, 245, Sr.)
Placekicker: Miguel Recinos (6-1, 193, Sr.), Caleb Shudak (5-8, 179, Soph.)
Left end: Anthony Nelson (6-7, 271, Jr.), Sam Brincks (6-5, 275, Sr.)
Left tackle: Cedrick Lattimore (6-3, 295, Jr.), Dallas Jacobus (6-0, 280, Soph.)
Right tackle: Brady Reiff (6-3, 272, Jr.), Garret Jansen (6-2, 280, Jr.)
Right end: Parker Hesse (6-3, 261, Sr.), A.J. Epenesa (6-5, 277, Soph.)
Outside linebacker: Nick Niemann (6-4, 232, Soph.), Barrington Wade (6-1, 233, Soph.)
Middle linebacker: Kristian Welch (6-3, 238, Jr.), Jack Hockaday (6-1, 235, Sr.)
Weak-side linebacker: Aaron Mends (6-0, 228, Sr.), Amani Jones (6-0, 238, Jr.)
Left cornerback: Matt Hankins (6-1, 185, Soph.), Trey Creamer (6-0, 190, Fr.)
Strong safety: Amani Hooker (6-0, 210, Jr.), John Milani (6-0, 201, Jr.)
Free safety: Jake Gervase (6-1, 212, Sr.), Geno Stone (5-11, 209, Soph.)
Right cornerback: Michael Ojemudia (6-1, 199, Jr.), Manny Rugamba (5-11, 193, Jr.)
Punter: Ryan Gersonde (6-4, 198, Soph.), Colten Rastetter (6-1, 213, Jr.)