IOWA CITY, Iowa – It happens every year. Guys we might not be expecting to impact the Iowa football team before the season, emerge during it.
Josh Jackson proved to be the extreme case last season. The first-year starting cornerback earned unanimous consensus all-American honors and was drafted in the second round by the Green Bay Packers.
Plenty of others have stepped forward during Kirk Ferentz’s 19 years as head coach. Bradley Fletcher and Cole Fisher come to mind as guys who did it later in their careers. Even Pat Angerer didn’t win the starting middle linebacker spot until a few games into his junior season.
The difficulty in predicting which guys will break out is part of what makes them such good stories. We can’t have the answers before we see the test.
We can speculate, however, and the beginning of June is a good time in which to do that. Here’s five guys I think have a chance of emerging in ’18:
1. Ryan Gersonde, P, Sophomore
In case you missed it, Iowa’s punting was not good last season. It hurt the Hawkeyes in key situations throughout the year.
Gersonde could help the position improve considerably, showing promise in limited time as a true freshman before getting hurt. He looked good during the April scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa brought him in on a scholarship, expecting him to win the job. He’ll be competing with Colten Rastetter, who became better at rugby style punting as last season went along.
The Hawkeyes simply must be better in this phase of special teams.
2. Amani Hooker, Safety, Junior
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The standout of the open spring scrimmage, this Twins Cities product could be the next star of the defense with the exits of Jackson and Josey Jewell. He’s a very good athlete with the physicality to support the run, and the agility and speed to be very good in coverage.
There’s been talk that defensive coordinator Phil Parker might move a safety up into the LEO linebacker spot against some pass-happy offenses. Hooker could fill that role if it happens.
3. Brandon Smith, Receiver, Sophomore
Smith got his feet wet last year and then enjoyed a strong spring. Position coach Kelton Copeland sung his praises before offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz tried to cool off some of the hype.
The Hawkeyes are hoping Smith (6-3, 219) can marry his natural gifts with what’s expected at the position (blocking and carrying out assignments). He also must show he can hang onto the ball after dropping a big pass against Michigan State last season and then a few more in the spring scrimmage.
He could be the perfect complement to Nick Easley’s underneath skills and Smith-Marsette’s field-stretching speed.
4. Cedrick Lattimore, Defensive Tackle, Junior
Lattimore has taken his lumps the last two seasons but he could see that pay off for him this year. He’s gained experience and also developed physically.
He possesses the athleticism and power to be disruptive in the middle. Maybe he emerges as an upperclassmen the way that Jaleel Johnson and Carl Davis did.
Lattimore must up his game or lose time in the middle. Sam Brincks moved inside in the spring and Matt Nelson should be back from injury for camp. Brady Reiff and Chauncey Golston also are pushing for time.
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5. Amani Jones, Linebacker, Junior
Like Hooker, this Amani showed well during the spring scrimmage. He began the session at WLB before showing an aptitude for the middle.
The biggest thing for Jones will be knowing the playbook inside and out, and being able to communicate what the defense is doing from the backend to the front four. He can’t be expected to do it at the level of Jewell right away, but he’ll need to perform well enough to keep things together on that side of the ball.
He runs very well and hits like a truck. Physically, he’s ready.