IOWA CITY, Iowa – One of the big topics discussed this time of year is what true freshmen might see the field. For Iowa, that often means helping with special teams but can include contributions on offense and defense.
Last season, the Hawkeyes utilized 10 first-year players for an eight-win team. Cornerback Manny Rugamba, Noah Fant, a tight end, and kicker Keith Duncan impacted the squad the most.
Kirk Ferentz hasn’t tipped his hand on who could crack the lineup in ’17. The head coach did say that receiver and the secondary were two areas of opportunity.
It’s unlikely that Iowa hits double digits again after playing so many freshmen last year, but you never know. This group boasts talent.
Let’s take a look at the Top 10 guys who have a chance after seeing Saturday’s Kids Day practice:
10. Ryan Gersonde, Punter – It’s tough to get a read on this one because we didn’t see the punters. Iowa did put Gersonde on scholarship and he’s remained in the race with Colton Rastetter, so he deserves a place on the list.
9. Ivory Kelly-Martin, Running Back – Talent wise, Kelly-Martin probably should be higher on here. His rushing and receiving abilities make him look ready to contribute. That said, he plays at one of the deepest positions on the team.
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8. Djimon Colbert, Linebacker – The Kansas City product played cornerback then safety in high school. He’s grown into a linebacker, the coaches moving him there this month. I could see Colbert contributing on special teams but a redshirt also might come into play with veterans ahead of him.
7. Tristan Wirfs, Offensive Line – I think the top seven on this list will play so now we’re just talking odds. I would have had the Mount Vernon product higher on here were it not for him missing critical camp time with injury. It’s also a position deep with talent and experience.
6. Brandon Smith, Receiver – The performance of the true freshmen receivers fluctuates, which you would expect with it being their first time through a college training camp. Smith should play and will be a big target over the middle. His placement here isn’t a negative just a function of two others being more consistent to this point.
5. Geno Stone, Safety – The Pennsylvania product appeared to be running as the second-team strong safety already and looked physically ready for action. He might not be able to supplant two-year starter Miles Taylor but he should help on special teams with designs on the No. 1 gig in ’18.
4. Matt Hankins, Cornerback – Michigan tried flipping Hankins from his Hawkeye commitment last summer and Iowa fans should be glad he stuck with the Black and Gold. He stood out on Saturday, running with the second team. He’s fast and physical.
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3. Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Receiver – Once Smith-Marsette put behind him a promising high school track career to focus on football, his stock has continued rising. He blends good size with tremendous speed along with dependable hands and developing route running.
2. Max Cooper, Receiver – The Hawkeyes flipped Cooper from his Central Michigan commitment in January and the three-sport athlete from Wisconsin has hit the ground running in Iowa City. He’s not the biggest or fastest guy, but he’s big and fast enough to maximize his strong fundamentals as a deft route runner with excellent hands.
1. A.J. Epenesa, Defensive Line – If you’re surprised by him being the top player on this list, you’ve not been paying attention. Epenesa showed why he was considered one of the top prospects nationally with a performance Saturday that stole the show. He might not start but he’ll be a key contributor this season.