IOWA CITY, Iowa – LeVar Woods has worn many hats during his 10 seasons with the Iowa coaching staff. He started as an administrative assistant then tutored linebackers and tight ends.
His latest assignment might be his most important. He’s in charge of special teams, the first time in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 20 years that he’s dedicated one person full time to that phase.
It’s important in every program. It’s especially vital for the Hawkeyes, who play ball control and field position football.
A former Iowa linebacker, LeVar Woods spent seven seasons in the NFL largely because he stood out on special teams. He’s assisted in coaching them with the Hawkeyes the last few years and now will put all of his attention on them.
Iowa ranked 6th nationally in kick return coverage last year, allowing just 17.08 yards per attempt. It rated 25th in punt coverage (4.65). It finished 15th in yards per kick return (24.44) but sat way down at 88th in punt returns (6.15).
Returning punts was an adventure. And the coverage average doesn’t tell the story about how bad the Hawkeyes punted.
Colten Rastetter, a walk-on in his first year as a starter, ranked 106 of 107 punters listed on the official NCAA statistics with a 37.8 average. True freshman Ryan Gersonde, who came in on scholarship, punted 13 times for a 42.5-yard average before getting hurt.
“I thought both of them were inconsistent throughout the year, some good, some bad,” Woods said. “They’ve been working very diligently. They’ve been making progress.”
Gersonde is listed as the starter on the most recent depth chart with Rastetter showing up as his backup. Whomever wins the job needs to show significant process this season. Woods is tasked with helping it happen.
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“It is very critical we improve in that area. Will (the competition) go into the season? I’m not sure. Right now we’re working to get through spring and see where we’re at. Both of the guys have the potential to do the job. It’s just a matter of buckling down and doing it,” Woods said.
Woods said the competition to replace stalwart long snapper Tyler Kluver is neck and neck. The candidates are Jackson Subbert, Auston Spiewak, Marshall Coluzzi and Nate Vejvoda.
Miguel Recinos and Keith Duncan each has a season of place kicking experience. Caleb Shudak also is receiving reps at the position after overcoming an injury.
Shudak was listed as Recinos’ backup on the most recent two-deep. Woods said he has put together his own depth chart separate from that one and wouldn’t read much into Duncan being omitted.
“We have three guys that I feel very good about. All three of those guys are making progress. The task for them is to see how far and how how fast they can improve,” Woods said.
Receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette is practicing a lot in the return game this spring.
“As the year went on last year, he showed some flashes as a returner. He did a very good job of that in high school and he’s progressing well as both a punt returner and kick returner. He’s turning a couple of heads so far in spring,” Woods said.
Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin, who returned kicks last season, is working on his candidacy this spring.
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“He had some good experience and had some good returns. He’s only getting better going forward,” Woods said.
Receiver Kyle Groeneweg, who didn’t play last season after transferring from the University of Sioux Falls, showed up on the depth chart at his position. He’s also been practicing returns.
“He spent all last year on the scout team taking his lumps. I think the guy has a chance to be a pretty good returner for us,” Woods said.
Iowa is replacing special teams’ captain Kevin Ward, who graduated. It will need new guys to step up into the core group with key contributors from last year moving into bigger roles on offense and defense.
You can see more of what Woods had to say about special teams in this HN TV video: