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NCAA Football: NCAA Football: Purdue at Iowa The Des Moines Register-USA TODAY Sports

Today marks the beginning of spring practice for the Iowa football team; and with it usually comes reckless speculation, a fake breakout player who rarely ever sees the field and unfounded evidence that Iowa is tinkering with a spread option offense.

While all of that is nice and fun to wax about in the comments, we should get down to the real business of what we’re looking for in these spring practice sessions. Iowa has a very young team with just six seniors starting on either side of the ball, according to the two-deeps (pictured below) that were released yesterday. It’s worth mentioning Brandon Snyder and Matt Nelson aren’t on those for injury reasons, so that number is closer to eight, but that’s still awfully low.

So, how is Iowa’s offensive line going to look? Are receivers progressing? WHO WILL BACKUP NATHAN STANLEY?!? We’re gonna be looking for all that and more this spring.

Iowa Hawkeyes 2018 Spring Depth Chart - Offense

Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
SE 12 Brandon Smith 6-3 219 So.
92 Kyle Groeneweg 5-10 186 Sr.
TE 87 Noah Fant 6-5 241 Jr.
42 Shaun Beyer 6-5 240 So.
LT 74 Tristan Wirfs 6-5 320 So.
71 Mark Kallenberger 6-6 282 RS Fr.
LG 59 Ross Reynolds 6-4 295 Sr.
72 Coy Kirkpatrick 6-4 290 RS Fr.
C 69 Keegan Render 6-4 307 Sr.
61 Cole Banwart 6-4 296 So.
RG 66 Levi Paulsen 6-5 305 Jr.
68 Landan Paulsen 6-5 305 Jr.
RT 77 Alaric Jackson 6-7 320 So.
76 Dalton Ferguson 6-4 308 Sr.
TE 38 TJ Hockenson 6-5 250 So.
39 Nate Wieting 6-4 250 Jr.
WR 84 Nick Easley 5-11 205 Sr.
6 Ihmir Smith-Marsette 6-1 175 So.
QB 4 Nate Stanley 6-4 242 Jr.
2 Peyton Mansell 6-2 210 RS Fr.
RB 28 Toren Young 5-11 221 So.
21 Ivory Kelly-Martin 5-10 200 So.
FB 36 Brady Ross 6-0 245 Jr.
46 Austin Kelly 5-11 245 Sr.
PK 91 Miguel Recinos 6-1 193 Sr.
94 Caleb Shudak 5-8 179 So.

Iowa Hawkeyes 2018 Spring Depth Chart - Defense

Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
LE 98 Anthony Nelson 6-7 271 Jr.
90 Sam Brincks 6-5 275 Sr.
LT 95 Cedrick Lattimore 6-3 295 Jr.
66 Dalles Jacobus 6-0 280 So.
RT 91 Brady Reiff 6-3 272 Jr.
53 Garret Jansen 6-2 280 Jr.
RE 40 Parker Hesse 6-3 261 Jr.
94 AJ Epenesa 6-5 277 So.
OLB 49 Nick Niemann 6-4 232 So.
35 Barrington Wade 6-1 233 So.
MLB 34 Kristian Welch 6-3 238 Jr.
48 Jack Hockaday 6-1 235 Sr.
WLB 31 Aaron Mends 6-0 228 Sr.
52 Amani Jones 6-0 238 Jr.
LC 8 Matt Hankins 6-1 185 So.
3 Trey Creamer 6-0 190 RS Fr.
SS 27 Amani Hooker 6-0 210 Jr.
18 John Milani 6-0 201 Jr.
FS 30 Jake Gervase 6-1 212 Sr.
9 Geno Stone 5-11 209 So.
RC 11 Michael Ojemudia 6-1 199 Jr.
5 Manny Rugamba 5-11 193 Jr.
P 2 Ryan Gersonde 6-4 198 So.
7 Colten Rastetter 6-1 213 Jr.

How do you replace Josey Jewell? And Ben Niemann. And Bo Bower.

A question as old as time. Iowa was particularly gifted at the linebacker position last year; that’s what usually happens when you play three linebackers who finished their careers with a combined 122 starts, 866 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 55 tackles for a loss, 11 interceptions and 7 forced fumbles over the past four years.

The above depth chart has one guy who’s barely played at all and two guys who have played sparingly, though Mends has shown really good flashes in his time on the field. Welch started the Northwestern game last year with mixed results. And Nick Niemann was mostly a special-teamer a year ago.

The thing about starters with little to no experience is that their backups generally have ... even less experience, so even though guys like Jack Hockaday and Amani Jones have some hype behind them from the recruiting trail, there’s little tangible evidence to go with that hype.

In the offseason it was hinted that a larger safety like Brandon Snyder would move up to a linebacker position, but his absence in the spring due to rehabbing a torn ACL is putting that experiment to rest for now.

I really like what I’ve seen from Mends when he plays and Niemann has his brother’s bloodlines, but even those are big leaps to go on when evaluating Iowa’s linebacker situation. Iowa’s best teams always have great to elite linebacking talent but it’s too early to buy or sell this unit.

Who’s backing up Nate Stanley?

The race to become the most popular player on the team starts now, as true freshman Spencer Petras and redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell duke it out in spring ball. Both quarterbacks have insane high school pedigrees; Mansell a Texas high school phenom who’s been in the program a year, Petras an alumni of the California academy that produced Jared Goff. (Did you know Petras threw 50 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions last year?)

With Tyler Wiegers departing the program in the offseason, there’s no quarterback on the roster who’s seen any game action, so the Petras-Mansell battle starts out relatively neck-and-neck. Because of his credentials and size advantage I expect Petras to takeover for Stanley in the long-term, but Mansell already is a quarter of the way through full Doyle-ization and is a more mobile option than Petras (not that being a mobile quarterback means anything at Iowa).

The only other QB on the roster is walk-on Ryan Schmidt. So yeah, let’s bring on the Petras-Mansell cage match.

Defensive line depth, we hardly knew ye

Incoming sophomore Daviyon Nixon was expected to make an impact immediately on the interior defensive line, but then he wasn’t as Ferentz announced yesterday that Nixon is taking an academic redshirt to get his grades in order.

So then that leaves Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff as your starters on the interior, with something called Dalles Jacobus and Garret Jansen backing them up (again, Matt Nelson is out this spring with an injury sustained in the bowl game). Reiff looked solid last year, but Lattimore and Jansen hardly played at all. Solid defensive line play, especially on the interior, is the most helpful thing for a young linebacking squad and this unit’s ability or lack thereof to keep Iowa’s greenhorned backers free of blockers is a little worrisome.

Of course once Nelson comes back he and Reiff should make up a more than capable starting interior, but beyond them is still enough cause for concern. Let’s see how the rest of the DTs shake out this spring.

Between Anthony Nelson, Parker Hesse and AJ Epenesa, I could not be less worried about our defensive ends.

Iowa’s next all-American cornerback is...

We parlayed Desmond King’s legendary career into a record-setting season for Josh Jackson. Now, who’s the next man up?

Unfortunately, Iowa’s corner play outside Jackson left a little desired. Michael Ojemudia got burned quite a bit and Manny Rugamba couldn’t turn his performance from the 2016 Michigan game into a full season. Matt Hankins worked his way onto the field as a true freshman, which is usually a good sign for these kinds of things.

If I were a betting man, I’d wager Hankins has the best odds to become the shutdown corner out of this group. HOWEVAH, I’m certainly not ready to give up on the others. Iowa has a bevy of talented freshman in the latest recruiting class and Phil Parker plays a true freshman more often than not in the backfield as of late, so I look for the young guys to push some of the more veteran players into a higher level of competition,

3/5 on the offensive line isn’t bad

The offensive line seems to be set at its three most important positions: Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson are manning the bookends as they did a year ago, while Keegan Render, Iowa’s most experienced lineman, is moving from guard to center which is par the course when these kinds of situations happen.

Render started a game at center last year when James Daniels was out so this isn’t a totally new thing for him. The guard positions are up in the air, however, as Levi Paulsen has just three starts under his belt (one of those at right tackle in the Pinstripe Bowl) while Ross Reynolds has just one start, though some solid game action in his time at Iowa.

Having three really solid guys at center and the tackles will certainly help the learning curve for whoever lines up at guard, but the combined starts of these five guys (43 in total with Render getting just under half those starts) seems on the low end for a Kirk Ferentz offensive line.

Year two will be a big one for offensive line coach Tim Polasek. And between him and the two Ferentz’s on staff, I’m not all too worried about this offensive line situation.

That linebacking corps though...