As we count down the days to the return of college football, last week provided a much needed respite from the depths for the summer doldrums. Monday and Tuesday brought the Big Ten media days and with that we got a slew of information and tidbits to get us through these information-dry weeks.
You can catch the full break down of takeaways from Ben’s links update last week, but here are some things I found interesting.
That defensive line is going to be nasty. The defensive ends are an enormous plus and I don’t know many other defenses that would have AJ Epenesa as a backup. That should tell you all you need to know about the potential pass rush this group can bring.
I have some questions about defensive tackle. I really thought Daviyon Nixon was going to bring something different to this group, but with his academic situation, we’ll be waiting another year. In his stead, Reese Morgan is planning to cycle a number of guys, including a few who look to be playing out of position. Chauncey Golston is a prime example. Golston is a kid I think would’ve had a really good shot at a defensive end spot on a lot of Iowa rosters of past, but with this collection of talent he’s slid inside to tackle. He has some potential there as well, but at 265 he’s slight and if he bulks up he may lose some of what makes him great.
The secondary looks similar to the defensive line. There’s an embarrassment of riches at safety. Amani Hooker is a budding star and his backup, Geno Stone, showed flashes last year of being the next great Iowa safety. Beside Hooker and Stone will be Brandon Snyder week one. That’s a bit of a surprise to me given the way Jake Gervase played in Snyder’s absense last season, but the flexbility afforded by having four starting quality players at safety is exciting.
The biggest question mark on the whole roster has to be at linebacker. There is no replacing Josey Jewell. That much we know, but beyond that i’s a lot of unknowns. I feel solid about Amani Jones at MLB mostly because that kid looks like a Mack truck. There will be mistakes no doubt, but he’s physically gifted.
Nick Niemann at OLB isn’t a big surprise as I think we all just assumed he would follow in his brother’s footsteps. I like Barrington Wade behind him and seeing Niemann beat out the natural gifts of Wade gives me reassurance. Dito with Welch at WLB. The reports thus far have been that Welch has been biding his time since he arrived on campus and now he’s ready to rip someone’s head off. I love what Djimon Colbert brings as a converted safety behind him and seeing Welch firmly in the starting spot gives me some confidence this group could be OK.
That offensive two deep looks pretty solid. There are some questions along the offensive line behind the starters, but I think the starting 5 are solid and the Paulsens as well as Kallenberger look like they would be just fine stepping in if they needed. I trust the Ferentzi + Tim Polasek to get the OL in a good place by September 1.
If they can do that, I feel really good about this offense. We saw a season ago what Nate Stanley can do and if he can figure out the deep ball, the offense should really open up. The rest of the world has awoken to what Hawkeye fans have known for some time to see how special Noah Fant is. He’s been named to just about every watch list you can think of (and a handful you can’t) and the kid will almost certainly be preparing for his rookie season in the NFL this time next year.
But beyond him, TJ Hockenson is another NFL tight end in waiting. Those two weapons create a safety blanket for Stanley while also keeping the defense honest with the ability to get open deep. They should take the pressure off a WR group that has had some question marks.
The biggest one is on the outside with Brandon Smith. He’s as physically gifted as any WR I can remember in an Iowa uniform, but for all the hype my lone memory of his freshman season was a fumble. Not ideal. The Hawkeyes need him to step into the Marvin McNutt role he’s capable of playing to really open up things for Brian Ferentz.
Sliding inside, I think Nick Easley is perfect in the slot, even if he starts the season opposite Smith on the outside. And we all saw a season ago what Ihmir Smith-Marsette is capable of. The dark horse there is Kyle Groenewg. It’s a name most are likely hearing for the first time, but he’s a guy you can look for in the return game and as another Nick Easley underneath.
In the running game, there have been questions about replacing Akrum Wadley, and I get it, Wadley was as dynamic a player as we may see, but the combination of Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. The thunder and lightning combo look really solid to me.
Behind them is now Mekhi Sargent. He’s a new name we haven’t seen much on, but for anyone that’s seen any of the new season of Last Chance U, we know he could be pretty good. No spoilers, but episode 1 of season 3 features Iowa Western CC, home to not only Sargent, but the aforementioned Nixon at DT and a pair of walk on LB who joined the fold in this class, against the show’s focus, Independence CC. Sargent delivered.
Speaking of Last Chance U, I’ve gotten sucked in during my month’s long quest to find something to watch, and if nothing else it makes me want to take a few moments to appreciate what we have at Iowa with Kirk Ferentz.
For those who haven’t seen it, let’s just say that Independence’s head coach, Jason Brown, is incredibly colorful. He may, in fact, be the anti-Kirk Ferentz in literally every way imaginable. For as much as Iowa fans like to rag on ol’ KF, I think we need to thank our lucky stars we have a guy leading the program that represents the school, the team and our fanbase in a way that we can be proud of. He wins games (they can always win more) and he doesn’t cut corners or put up with some of the stuff we see in Independence.
It’s a good reminder in a time like these last few weeks when we’ve actually seen some legal issues with the team for the first time in a while. It started a week ago with the now infamous arrest of Brady Reiff for mistaking an unmarked police car for an Uber after partaking in some of Iowa City’s greatest past times. While that may not quite live up to the legacy left by Brady’s older brother Riley, it’s pretty impressive in its own right.
Things took a significant turn for the worst yesterday when we learned that starting right tackle Tristan Wirfs was the second Hawkeye in as many weeks to run into trouble with the law. Unfortunately, this time was the polar opposite of Reiff as Wirfs was not looking for a ride home, but was instead arrested for operating while under the influence. Not. Good.
History tells us Wirfs is likely to miss a game for the run in, but worse yet is the decision making. We’re now right at a month from the first game week and a starter is out on the town. Worse yet, he’s putting his and others’ lives at risk by getting behind the wheel.
Don’t drink and drive, folks. It’s just not worth it. Even if a week ago your buddy got arrested for trying not to drink and drive, you can’t do it. Period.. It’s just
But at the end of the day, these are two alcohol-related offenses in a long offseason. Things could be much worse. I, for one, am thankful we have KF running the program the way he does. Especially knowing now what we learned at media days.
No, I’m not talking about anything on the field or coaching-related. I am, of course, talking about the fantastic mullet we learned KF once sported.
Happy Monday ya’ll. Next time you’re considering driving after you’ve had a drink, please mullet over.