Iowa football's offensive line, wide receivers are navigating early injuries
IOWA CITY − At the midway point of Iowa football's spring practice schedule, much of the attention is on the offense and what changes and improvements are being made ahead of the 2023 season.
Two positions of interest are the offensive line and wide receiver units, both of which endured tough 2022 campaigns. It's difficult to get a fair assessment because the early talk around both groups this spring is injury troubles.
The Hawkeyes are without sophomore receivers Seth Anderson and Jacob Bostick for the entirety of spring. A few weeks ago, sophomore Brody Brecht announced that he was leaving the football program to focus solely on his baseball career. It's left an already thin position group (four players on scholarship: Anderson, Bostick, senior Nico Ragaini and junior Diante Vines) even thinner. As of late, the majority of the reps have gone to Vines and several walk-on players.
"It's tough because you're taking a lot more reps," Vines said. "You're trying to make the practice around the people that aren't there, so the guys that are in have to take more reps. But we like the work, we need the work, so you can't complain about it."
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Injuries shrink Iowa offense's practice roster
On the offensive line, starting center Logan Jones estimated that about six players were healthy at the start of practice. Over time several players have returned to practice, such as starting guard Connor Colby, but the group is still without a few key pieces, including projected starting tackles Mason Richman and Daijon Parker. The limited numbers have affected practice schedules, including more 7-on-7 periods (skill players vs. skill players) instead of full team sessions.
"This spring has been a little bit different than others," Jones said. "We're in pads two days a week and shells (helmets) one day just so we're not getting anyone hurt again. It's been interesting but we're getting a lot more reps, which is good for us because we're a young offensive line and I think that's what we need."
Depth at both positions is arriving this summer via incoming high school recruits. It's also likely that Iowa will seek more depth via the transfer portal during the post-spring practice window in May. In the meantime, the voids left by projected rotation players in both position groups have opened up opportunities for players lower on the depth chart to impress. On the offensive line, players have pointed to redshirt freshman Jack Dotzler, who is filling in for Richman at tackle, and sophomore interior lineman Griffin Liddle. On the veteran side, senior Nick DeJong has impressed the coaching staff since January.
"He's had injury issues since he's been here," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You can see him right now ... just the confidence. Just seems like a different guy right now because he feels confident, he knows he's trained and is ready to go."
A few receivers are taking advantages of opportunities as well.
"(Junior Kaden Wetjen and redshirt freshman Reese Osgood) are two guys that I think have stepped up," Vines said. "Kaden had a crazy touchdown (on Wednesday) that went for about 70 yards, he's one of the fastest guys on the team. Reese is just getting smarter every day and understanding how he fits in on the field."
The next public showing for Iowa's offense will be at the final spring scrimmage on April 22 at Kinnick Stadium. That will provide more clarity on where Iowa's offense is at, but for now the offensive line and receiver units can only be described as works in progress, at best.
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Transfer QB Cade McNamara in full pads recovering from injury
There is some good injury news, however. Quarterback Cade McNamara was pictured in full pads this week as he continues to recover from a knee injury. And tight end, which will likely be the strength of Iowa's offense, is operating at full tilt, including transfer Erick All who said on Wednesday that he feels "great."
As for the players who are thrust into new rules as a result of injury, Vines is offering simple advice.
"I've been there, just trying to get on the field to earn a role," Vines said. "I just tell them to keep their head down and keep working. You're young and haven't taken this many reps before, and sometimes young guys get into their heads and lose confidence. I tell them to keep their confidence up because that's big in this game."