Iowa football takeaways: Stanley and Martin get to work, Epenesa prepares for bigger role

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It didn’t take long for Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley to get a feel for the new wide receiver on campus.

Oliver Martin arrived last week after transferring from Michigan. Stanley has already done some passing drills with the Iowa City native, even though he might not be eligible to play this fall.

“Really happy, really excited that he’s here. I know that if he’s eligible to play next year that he can contribute for us,” Stanley told reporters Tuesday. “He’s very personable. He listens. He really wants to be the best that the can be. He’s going to listen to whatever criticism and feedback that’s necessary for him to get there.”

Martin was a big-time recruit out of Iowa City West who disappointed a lot of Hawkeye fans with his initial decision to head to Michigan to play for Jim Harbaugh. He redshirted one year, caught 11 passes last year and then decided to come home. He would have three seasons of eligibility remaining if the NCAA grants him a waiver for this fall. Otherwise, he’ll sit a year and play two with a quarterback other than Stanley, who is a senior.

Iowa senior quarterback Nate Stanley was all smiles during spring football practices. And that was before wide receiver Oliver Martin transferred in from Michigan.

Stanley’s initial impression of Martin was that the newcomer reminds him of his favorite target from the past two seasons, slot receiver Nick Easley, now with the Buffalo Bills. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Martin is fast and has great hands, Stanley said.

Replacing Easley is the biggest task for a wideout corps that returns juniors Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette on the outside.

Second-year players Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy are thought to be the front-runners. Martin could work into that mix, if eligible.

“It’s a big spot in our pass game, especially down the field. It is big for us to be able to find someone who can produce there,” Stanley said.

CHAD LEISTIKOW:Iowa welcomes Oliver Martin, and both parties are thrilled

Building the perfect Epenesa

Iowa junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa will finally get his chance to start this season, and there’s no doubt he’s looking forward to that. But he still took time Tuesday to praise the starters from the past two seasons, Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson.

“If I could create my perfect self, I would take Parker’s effort and want-to,” said Epenesa, a potential all-American. He’d add “Anthony Nelson’s technique and fundamentals.”

“And I’d mix in my athleticism,” said Epenesa. “If I could create that, that would be great. … All those things I’m very capable of doing.”

Epenesa led the Big Ten Conference with 10.5 sacks last season. He has thought about how he’ll need to adjust when opposing teams make it a concerted plan to neutralize his impact as a pass rusher. He anticipates opponents might run plays to the opposite side of the field. Or double-team him.

“I hope they know how good Chauncey (Golston) is on the other side. And then having Brady (Reiff) and Ced (Lattimore) in the middle. If they really want to focus on me, I think they might be making a mistake,” Epenesa said.

As for earning a starting spot, Epenesa said: “I’m excited. I wanted to be on the field more. That’s how every player who wants to be good at the game wants to be. I was waiting for my moment. And my time has come, and it will be here before you know it.”

Future pros tangling in practice, and loving it

Epenesa is considered a potential first-round NFL Draft pick. So is junior offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs. Their matchups in practices would make for compelling viewing.

“We have some crazy battles in one-on-ones,” Wirfs said. “It’s just back and forth. He’ll win one. I’ll win one.”

After the practice rep, Wirfs said the two will compare notes. Epenesa will tell him if he felt him leaning or what he saw in his technique. Wirfs does the same.

“We’re pushing each other as much as we can to get better. It’s exciting. I don’t think we’re going to find that type of competition between (No.) 1s anywhere else,” Wirfs said.

Wirfs also likes what he’s seen from the newest starter on the offensive line — redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum at center. The Solon native was a defensive tackle until December, making his ascension all the more remarkable.

“He’s a freak, honestly. He was like barking out calls already in spring ball. He picked it up so fast,” Wirfs said of Linderbaum. “It’s pretty special to watch how much he’s developed in a short period of time. I think he’s going to be pretty good.”

Mark Emmert covers University of Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen.