IOWA CITY, Iowa – We came. We saw. We left with unanswered questions.
Iowa still isn’t ready to name a starting quarterback. Despite Nathan Stanley clearly outshining Tyler Wiegers at Saturday’s Kids Day practice at Kinnick Stadium, coach Kirk Ferentz said the race remained close and would continue. Tight end Noah Fant said he’s glad he doesn’t have to choose because he couldn’t determine who’s been better overall.
Ferentz didn’t give much clarity on any of the position battles and cautioned us not to read too much into Saturday’s practice because it was just one of 12 so far. The coaches planned to use information gathered from all workouts. Made sense.
With that in mind, here’s what I saw Saturday:
QUARTERBACKS – It didn’t really seem close between Stanley and Wiegers. Some folks kept statistics that backed up what I saw but there were so many moving parts on offense it’s hard to put too much weight into them. Both quarterbacks worked with the first and second teams and most of the practice was situationally based.
Stanley received more reps and made the most of them. Wiegers did not.
Wiegers struggled with pretty much everything Saturday. He wasn’t accurate and he held onto the ball far too long. Now, maybe that was inexperienced receivers not getting open but the bottom line was he didn’t move the team.
Stanley still lacked touch on too many balls and struggled at times with accuracy during drills. Still, he moved the team and connected on a few nice deep balls, including a long touchdown to Devonte Young.
When he sets up and shows good footwork, Stanley becomes a more efficient passer. He needs to keep from getting happy feet and settling down. He’s getting it, though. He’s still young.
Ryan Boyle and Peyton Mansell enjoyed some positive moments but are clearly not pushing for playing time right now. Mansell threw a pretty deep ball to fellow freshman Henry Marchese where he showed some serious arm strength.
RECEIVERS – Nick Easley was out with what Ferentz called a minor injury. Matt VandeBerg saw limited reps. That left a lot of time for other guys fighting for time in the rotation.
Of the true freshmen, I thought Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Max Cooper looked the most prepared. The latter caught a touchdown pass. The former showed good hands and speed. The coaches used him on a few end arounds.
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Young looked like the breakout player at this position, however. He was beating the better DBs consistently and caught everything thrown his way. He used his size and speed, but also ran crisp routes.
Adrian Falconer also appeared positioned for playing time. He hauled in a few balls in traffic.
RUNNING BACKS – Starter Akrum Wadley saw a light workload. He did line up in the slot a few times and said afterward that it’s something they’ve been using more.
James Butler looked like a veteran back that’s both slick and tough. Toren Young took plenty of reps and served as a power back. He’ll play.
With Wadley, Butler and Young looking like the top three backs, Toks Akinribade and Ivory Kelly-Martin were splitting reps after that. Kelly-Martin also lined up in the slot and might be too good to keep off the field as a true freshman even though it’s a deep stable. Wadley gushed over the newcomer’s ability.
TIGHT END – We saw a lot of two tight-end sets and some packages with three. What we did not see was many throws their way. Fant caught a few balls as did T.J. Hockenson. Shaun Beyer brought in a deep pass.
OFFENSIVE LINE – In one of the more surprising scenes from the day, there was a lot of movement on the offensive line. Veteran Boone Myers lined up at his normal left tackle spot but also was playing right guard on the second team.
We saw a lot of a lineup with Ike Boettger at left tackle, Sean Welsh at right tackle, Keegan Render and Ross Reynolds at guard, and James Daniels at center. Ferentz said they’ve been moving guys around throughout camp trying to find the best combination.
Reynolds has been mentioned in a positive light by the coaches during the offseason and he may be pushing his way into playing time. Freshman Tristan Wirfs was out with an unspecified injury Saturday. Ferentz said he left Thursday’s practice early and hasn’t returned.
DEFENSIVE LINE – Following the lead of its counterparts on the offensive line, a lot of guys saw first- and second-team reps along the D-Line. Some of it could be attributed to situational work, but not all of it.
True freshman A.J. Epenesa struggled at times but also looked really good at others. He played outside, mostly, but also saw some snaps inside. Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse, who’ve only played end so far in their careers, lined up inside quite a bit on Saturday.
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It was tough to tell because of all the moving parts, but it looked like the No. 1 D-line was Nelson and Nathan Bazata inside with Anthony Nelson and Hesse outside.
LINEBACKER – Perhaps the biggest news to come out of this position was that true freshman Djimon Colbert was moved from safety to weak-side linebacker. He ran with the second team some and looked pretty good. Josey Jewell was very complimentary of the youngster.
Keep an eye on true sophomore Kristian Welch. He’s working behind Jewell at middle linebacker and makes plays. Jack Hockaday is out with an injury.
The starting trio of Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann wreaked some havoc through the early part of practice but gave way to the younger guys later on.
SECONDARY – Starting cornerbacks Manny Rugamba and Josh Jackson have a chance to be really good. They blanketed the receivers most of the day, giving them little room to operate. That played a role in the bevy of sacks registered by the line.
Michael Ojemudia and true freshman Matt Hankins worked with the twos at corner and also made it difficult for receivers to get open. True freshman Geno Stone pushed by Noah Clayberg into the backup strong safety spot and looked the part.
SPECIALISTS – I was kind of surprised when Ferentz said on media day that the kicker job was open. Saturday, I saw why.
Miguel Recinos didn’t miss any of his attempts and showed a much stronger leg than incumbent Keith Duncan. He boomed one through from 51 yards that looked like it would have been good from 60.
I would not be surprised to see Recinos win the job outright but also could see a setup like last year where he takes the longer attempts and Duncan the ones closer in.