Howe: Top 5 Questions Following Hawkeye Spring Ball

May 10, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – As a developmental program, it’s rare, if ever, that Iowa heads into a season without areas of concern. This year is no different.

It’s important to note that we all view it differently. The coaches and players own the most insight. And even they are sometimes surprised by the unexpected emergence of athletes . There also are variables like injuries we can’t yet factor in.

Spring football did provide us with our first real peek behind the curtain at the 2019 Hawkeyes, and, to be sure, it was only a peek. Media saw one workout and the fans were shut out.

Be that as it may, I’m sharing my thoughts on questions I have going into summer workouts. I rank them from 5-1, with one being the most concerning:

5. Tight End – I’m sure this sits higher up for other people and that makes sense. Replacing two players at the same position taken within the top 20 picks of last month’s NFL Draft is historic, as in it never happened before.

While I don’t see that production being match by the replacements of T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, I have confidence that talent remains on the roster here. Shaun Beyer and Nate Wieting can be really good tight ends.

4. Receiver – I’ve always got an eye on this spot. Doesn’t everybody?

“When are we going to get some top receivers around here?!”

The position is improving under Kelton Copeland, who’s heading into his third season coaching it. As he likes to say, it hasn’t arrived. Will it?

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Brandon Smith could be ready to arrive. Ihmir Smith-Marsette might finally be the deep threat that’s been missing. Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy could man the slot, but have big shoes to fill in that of the departing Nick Easley.

3. Free Safety – This one isn’t being talked about much this offseason, but it’s on my mind. I remember struggles at safety just a a few years ago.

Jake Gervase matured into a reliable player at a key position in Phil Parker’s defense but exhausted his eligibility. True sophomore Kaevon Merriweather stepped into the vacancy this spring. He’s a really good athlete.

I trust Parker, but it’s a lot to put on a second-year player.

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2. Linebacker & Cash – Amani Hooker’s proficient play at Cash allowed an inexperienced linebacker group time to grow. Iowa’s new alignment also caught opponents off guard.

Teams will prepare for the 4-2-5 this offseason and better know how to attack it. Can the Hawkeyes find the personnel to make it work with Hooker off to the NFL?

It looks like true sophomore D.J. Johnson is leading the competition at Cash. Djimon Colbert gives Parker a reliable WIL. The search for a MIKE continues.

It could be Nick Niemann sliding inside from the LEO. Maybe Kristian Welch replaces the graduated Jack Hockaday there. Perhaps it’s Dillon Doyle or Seth Benson or Jayden McDonald.

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Right now, it’s unsettled and unproven.

1. Interior Offensive Line – Two years ago, Iowa lost James Daniels and Sean Welsh from the inside. After last season, Ross Reynolds and Keegan Render moved on. All were productive.

The attrition leaves Iowa inexperienced in there. Redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum is projected to be the third starting center in as many years.

I like the Solon product a lot and think his ceiling is very high. That’s still a lot to ask of a young player who just switched over from defensive tackle in December.

Cole Banwart returns as the starting right guard but finding Reynold’s replacement at left guard could not be done during spring ball. It might be Mark Kallenberger, Landan or Levi Paulsen, or someone else, but nobody has seized it yet.

Iowa’s running game sputtered too much last year. It must be able to rush between the tackles consistently. It’s the key to success in ’19.

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