Howe: Kids Day Practice Thoughts, Observations

August 10, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa’s annual Kids Day practice at Kinnick Stadium often features the defense dominating the offense. It knows the plays coming its way.

That’s why Saturday’s version of the open workout here served as hope the offense will take a step forward this season. Even though the other side of the ball won out overall, the scrimmage portions were competitive and more balanced than years past.

In particular, Iowa rushed the ball well, an area it’s focused on advancing from its 2018 performance. Toren Young looked especially good toting the pigskin, showing off a nice mix of power and speed.

Here are some other thoughts and observations from Saturday’s practice:

-I know you guys want to know about the punters. Arizona State grad transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton was working with the first team, while incumbent Colton Rastetter was with the second unit. Sleep-Dalton also enjoyed the better day.

-The kicker competition looked tight. Keith Duncan and Caleb Shudak both made every field goal they attempted. The coaches put them in pressure situations. It didn’t matter. They were clearing the crossbar with plenty of room to spare.

-D.J. Johnson performed well as the starting Cash. He delivered a couple of sacks on blitzes and looked good in coverage. Michael Ojemudia, who worked as a first-team corner, also played the hybrid defensive back/linebacker spot as did fellow starting corner, Matt Hankins.

-Ihmir Smith-Marsette lined up as the No. 1 punt returner with Nico Ragaini as No. 2. Terry Roberts was the next man in line. Iowa did not work on kick returns Saturday.

-Tyler Linderbaum looked solid at center in terms of blocking. The Solon product did struggle some with snaps in the shotgun.

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-I really like what I saw from starting receivers Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette as well as No. 1 tight end Nate Wieting. They all caught just about everything thrown their way with some of the grabs far from routine.

-Nico Ragaini looked like the clear leader to fill Nick Easley’s vacated starting slot spot. He seemed to have a strong connection with starting quarterback Nate Stanley. Tyrone Tracy also saw action there with the ones.

-True freshman safety Dane Belton received some run with the ones. Coach Kirk Ferentz said he doesn’t expect the Tampa Jesuit product to start, but he has been impressed with the newcomer.

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-As mentioned, Ojemudia and Hankins lined up as the starting cornerbacks. Riley Moss and Julius Brents backed them up.

-True freshman Logan Lee was recruited as a tight end before being told in the spring Iowa planned on using him at defensive end. He lined up at defensive tackle on Saturday and looked darn good there.

-Iowa showed a lot of variety on defense. When it lined up in the 4-3, Djimon Colbert, Kristian Welch and Nick Niemann were the linebackers. When it went 4-2-5, Niemann left the field.

-As I wrote, coaches shuffled in a lot of players on defense, but the best I could tell, the second unit was comprised of Amani Jones and Zach Van Valkenburg at end, Austin Schulte and Daviyon Nixon at tackle (Noah Shannon also getting work there), Seth Benson, Dillon Doyle and Logan Klemp at linebacker, Moss and Brents at corner, with Belton and Dallas Craddieth at safety. Wes Dvorak also worked in back there.

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-The second-team offensive line consisted of Mark Kallenberger, Cody Ince, Jeff Jenkins, Kyler Schott and Levi Paulsen. Working on the third-team D-Line were Lee, Chris Reames, Jake Karchinski and McCall.

-Those wondering about true freshmen running backs Tyler Goodson and Shadrick Byrd, and tight ends Josiah Miamen and Sam LaPorta, they all were running with the threes and fours and were clearly behind veterans at their positions at this point.

-My standouts from Saturday that I haven’t yet mentioned? Starting D-Ends A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston (no surprise); running back Ivory Kelly-Martin; safety Kaevon Merriweather; linebackers Dillon Doyle and Seth Benson; defensive tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Noah Shannon.

-NFL scouts always have been plentiful on the Iowa campus, but the numbers continue increasing. I saw reps from the Cardinals, Rams and Raiders among others here Saturday.

-Ferentz said he expected injured linebacker Barrington Wade, who sat out Saturday and has missed all of camp so far, to be back this coming week. He envisioned the same for fellow linebacker Monte Pottebaum, who joined sophomore defensive back Jack Koerner in being sidelined Saturday.

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