Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods says punt returner has 'It' factor
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa special-teams units aren’t ready to unveil any trick plays yet, but they may have identified a tricky player.
That was the word from Hawkeye special-teams coordinator LeVar Woods during an interview Wednesday on the "Hawk Central" radio show on KxNO.
“It hasn’t been something that’s been high on our priority list,” Woods said at the outset when it was pointed out that Iowa hasn’t run any fake punts or field goals through three games. “We’ve just been trying to get better at the basic things we do.”
Last season, the Hawkeyes nearly scored a touchdown against Ohio State on a fake field goal and completed a pass to defensive end A.J. Epenesa on a fake punt at Michigan State, among other hijinks. This is Woods’ first season running the special-teams units, however, so perhaps the trickery is still on the way.
One area of marked improvement already for the Hawkeyes is in the punt-return game. Senior Kyle Groeneweg, who hails from the same hometown as Woods (Inwood), has shown a knack for fielding punts before they can take adverse bounces and also the shiftiness to potentially break one for a touchdown. Officially, he has only 41 yards to show for eight punt returns. But he did have a 38-yarder against Northern Iowa on Saturday called back by a holding penalty.
“He’s got sort of the ‘It’ factor. He’s confident back there. He’s comfortable fielding the ball. He’ll take some chances, and we do need to do a better job with the rest of the 10 blocking for him and doing it legally,” Woods said of Groeneweg. “I think he’s a weapon for us.”
Other highlights from the Woods interview, which can be heard in podcast form at HawkCentral.com:
Improvement in punt game, but more strides needed
Junior Colten Rastetter has won the punting job again and is averaging a sturdy 45.4 yards on his 10 attempts this season. That’s up from 37.8 yards per punt a year ago.
Of course, he also saw his first try this season blocked by Northern Illinois, although that was more of an issue with poor blocking.
“It wasn’t panic at all,” Woods said of his reaction to seeing his first play from scrimmage as special-teams coordinator go awry. “We just wanted to find the problem and get a solution to it right way. And we did that.”
As for Rastetter, Woods said: “Colten was humbled a little bit in how things went down for him and how he performed (last season). And I think he’s taken a very workman-like approach. … His attitude and his view on things has been different, more so from a mental standpoint. He’s still not where he can be, not where he needs to be. But I think he’s on the right track.”
Sophomore Ryan Gersonde has not been called on to punt this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Hawkeyes are thinking about redshirting him. Woods said Gersonde continues to practice each week as if he’ll be needed.
Woods said when he was coaching linebackers or tight ends, he would occasionally mention to a young player that a redshirt season was a likelihood. He doesn’t want to do that at punter, since there are only two on the roster.
“As soon as you take the claws off a guy at that time, a lot of guys tend to back off and I don’t want that,” Woods said. “I want our guys to be competitive. I want them to visualize themselves being put into the game.”
Kicker has missed three field goals but still has Woods' faith
Miguel Recinos has already missed more field-goal attempts this season (three) than all of his junior year (two). Two of this year’s failures have come from inside 40 yards and wind has not been a factor. One was blocked last week by Northern Iowa.
Woods said is not concerned because Recinos is so devoted to his craft that he can pinpoint exactly what went wrong in each instance. That means Woods is confident it will get fixed.
“He can tell you where he missed and why he missed. And that’s stuff that he works on,” Woods said.
Coach Kirk Ferentz showing more emotion this season
Woods played for coach Kirk Ferentz when he arrived at Iowa in 1999. He’s been on Ferentz’s coaching staff for the past 11 seasons. So when he tells you that Ferentz is showing a little more emotion this season, it carries some weight.
Television cameras have shown Ferentz appearing to choke up a little toward the end of all three Hawkeye victories this season. The first one gave him the school’s all-time wins record at 144.
“I think Coach has been in that mindset the entire year and that’s what makes coach Ferentz special. That’s what makes him great. The layperson that’s not around coach on a daily basis sometimes doesn’t see that,” Woods said. “But the kids that are around here and around him all the time, they know what it means when coach gets emotional or there’s a crack in his voice. I think that’s something that our team feeds off of.”
Woods said there’s no mystery as to why Ferentz isn’t always completely stoic as the clock winds down on a victory.
“He’s a guy that works incredibly hard. He’s incredibly proud of the guys on this team and how they work,” Woods said. “When you look at our team, we’re a group of guys that tend not to give up and we work really hard to try to fight and win every game that we can.
“And I think when you’re in this long enough, you realize how hard wins are to come by. At the end of the game, when everything that you‘ve put in throughout the week in your game plan and practice, and you see it come to fruition, not always the easiest or the cleanest, but you come out with a win. I think a lot of emotions get let out.”