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Hawkeyes in the NFL: Preseason Preparations

The NFL preseason starts in earnest this week. Here’s a look at which former Hawkeyes are playing where and what to expect this season.

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NFL Pro Bowl
Can George Kittle make it back to the Pro Bowl? Who could join him? It all starts in training camp for the former Hawkeyes in the NFL.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The first full week of August is upon us, which also means that football season is within our grasp. Meanwhile, the kind-of-sort-of-ish football that is preseason NFL is in full swing with the first full slate of games looming this week.

Thirty-six former Iowa players dot the rosters of 19 different teams, with two squads claiming four Hawkeyes each.

Let’s take roll.

Adrian Clayborn, Atlanta (at Miami Thursday)

The newly minted Super Bowl champion is back for his second tenure with the Falcons after being released in March by New England. Clayborn, who is listed as a second-string defensive end for Thursday’s contest against Miami. can make up to $4 million on his one-year deal in Atlanta. We’ll see if he can replicate the success of his first go-around with the Falcons, which included a six-sack parade in one game against Dallas in 2017.

Adam Gettis, Atlanta (at Miami Thursday)

Another year, another team for the 30-year-old, who is trying to find a way to stick on his sixth NFL team. He’s currently slotted as the Falcons’ backup right guard.

Marshal Yanda, Baltimore (vs. Jacksonville Thursday)

The perennial all-pro candidate is entering his 13th season with the Ravens. He’s been dealing with a nagging foot injury, but coach John Harbaugh described it as minor.

Ike Boettger, Buffalo (vs. Indianapolis Thursday)

Boettger is currently looking like the No. 2 option at center according to reports coming out of Bills camp. However, early injury issues for the squad’s offensive line may create more opportunity.

Nick Easley, Buffalo (vs. Indianapolis Thursday)

The undrafted free agent signing is likely playing for a practice squad spot with the Bills, but has impressed some of those in attendance at camp.

Micah Hyde, Buffalo (vs. Indianapolis Thursday)

Hyde returned to practice Tuesday after nursing a neck injury through camp. Hyde has grown into one of the league’s best defensive backs in relative anonymity, and Pro Football Focus slotted him as the league’s 10th-best safety heading into the season.

James Daniels, Chicago (vs. Carolina Thursday)

Daniels splashed onto the scene as a rookie by taking Eric Kush’s job at guard in 2018. Now he’s switching back to center, where he finished his career as a Hawkeye. Despite the change, Daniels hasn’t missed a beat according to reports.

”It’s always a progression,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “But he’s off on a good track. It’s been fairly seamless. His snaps have been consistent.”

Carl Davis, Cleveland (vs. Washington Thursday)

The fifth-year pro is listed as the second-stringer at left defensive tackle for the Browns.

Christian Kirksey, Cleveland (vs. Washington Thursday)

Kirksey is trying to rebound after injuries kept him from playing all 16 games for the first time in his career in 2018. WKYC conducted a sit-down interview with Kirksey, who certainly isn’t doing his part to dull the hype around the Browns after their splashy offseason. But while most of the attention has focused on the Browns’ potentially high-powered offense, Kirksey said of the defense, “We’re going to be as good as we want to be.”

Noah Fant, Denver (at Seattle Thursday)

The first-round pick got involved almost immediately in the Hall of Fame Game last Thursday, snagging a seven-yard pass from Kevin Hogan for a first down against Atlanta.

However, he also dropped an earlier target and was later called for a holding penalty. One thing’s for sure--going up against the likes of Von Miller in practice figures to help Fant improve his blocking in a hurry.

Josey Jewell, Denver (at Seattle Thursday)

The news out of Broncos camp this week wasn’t great with Jewell sitting out Tuesday after tweaking an oblique Monday. Hopefully it’s just a minor ailment for the second-year pro who is expected to start at inside linebacker in Denver’s 3-4 defense.

Casey Kreiter, Denver (at Seattle Thursday)

Kreiter has already earned what will likely be a season’s worth of headlines for his entry into the Water Bottle Challenge a few weeks ago. Such is the life of a long snapper.

Mike Daniels, Detroit (vs. New England Thursday)

Detroit is suddenly a new hotbed for Iowa players with Daniels becoming the fourth there after being a salary cap casualty in Green Bay. Daniels is one of the guys Lions coach Matt Patricia specifically highlighted when he discussed the culture he’s trying to build.

Andrew Donnal, Detroit (vs. New England Thursday)

Donnal, listed as the Lions’ backup at right tackle, likes to eat deer heart! OK then.

TJ Hockenson, Detroit (vs. New England Thursday)

Lions senior writer Tim Twentyman offered a glowing report of what he’s seen so far in camp from the eighth overall pick.

Hockenson also earned some love on Lions social media for a sharp route and nice grab on Monday.

Matt Nelson, Detroit (vs. New England Thursday)

Nelson is currently listed behind Donnal for the second spot at right tackle, creating quite the interesting battle between Hawkeyes.

Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay (vs. Houston Saturday)

Bulaga has been getting “rest” days regularly in camp, so it appears the Packers are being very cautious with their veteran tackle given his injury history. He missed two games and parts of others last season, his eighth in Green Bay.

Josh Jackson, Green Bay (vs. Houston Saturday)

Jackson is battling a foot ailment and still has yet to practice in training camp. The Packers haven’t provided much information about the second-year pro’s status.

Anthony Hitchens, Kansas City (vs. Cincinnati Saturday)

Hitchens, who finished fifth in the NFL last season with a career-high 135 tackles, is settling in as one of the Chiefs’ leading veterans.

The Kansas City Star’s Brooke Pryor wrote at length about Hitchens’ quiet leadership style.

“Hitch brings great energy, every play, every day,” coach Andy Reid said. “And he’s smart. And so he leads the middle of that defense right there.”

Ben Niemann, Kansas City (vs. Cincinnati Saturday)

Niemann is looking like the Chiefs’ preferred backup at middle linebacker, at least according to their first official depth chart. More importantly, the kids are apparently calling him “Steamin’ Niemann.”

Desmond King, Los Angeles Chargers (at Arizona Thursday)

King did a lot to make a name for himself around the league last year en route to becoming a Pro Bowler. Apparently not yet enough to be rated appropriately high enough in Madden--at least according to the Honey Badger.

Austin Blythe, Los Angeles Rams (at Oakland Saturday)

Blythe Wally Pipp-ed the suspended Jamon Brown at right guard for the Rams all the way to the Super Bowl. He is an unrestricted free agent next year, so Blythe is trying to work toward a big payday.

Jake Gervase, Los Angeles Rams (at Oakland Saturday)

Unlike the established Blythe, Gervase is in the position of having to fight for a roster spot. His primary competition is likely seventh-round pick Nick Scott.

Jaleel Johnson, Minnesota (at New Orleans Friday)

Johnson is getting all the opportunity he can handle in camp with starters Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen still sidelined. A strong impression in the preseason could make his case for increased reps behind the starters.

“Nothing’s ever given, really, so I use this time right now to focus on the things that I can control,” Johnson said. “It’s a long camp, so we’ll see what happens by the end.”

Riley Reiff, Minnesota (at New Orleans Friday)

Reiff had an up-and-down 2018 in his second year as the Vikings’ man at right tackle. He’s part of a previously maligned offensive line that has drawn some praise from coach Mike Zimmer in camp.

James Ferentz, New England (at Detroit Thursday)

Ferentz has had about as eventful a camp thus far as an offensive lineman can have.

Last week, he cost teammates a lap around the field after committing false start penalties on two consecutive plays.

Tuesday, it was some extracurricular activity with Detroit’s PJ Johnson (intersquad) that earned Johnson a timeout from Patricia.

Regardless, Ferentz figures to have a good shot to stick on the Patriots roster once again.

James Butler, Oakland (vs. Los Angeles Rams Saturday)

Butler was picked up by the Raiders on July 28 after spending time on their practice squad last season. It’s going to be a difficult group to emerge from as he competes for work with highly touted rookie Josh Jacobs, as well as veterans Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington.

Keegan Render, Philadelphia (vs. Tennessee Thursday)

The undrafted free agent is going to have to battle for a roster spot with the Eagles. He’s currently listed as the team’s No. 3 center.

C.J. Beathard, San Francisco (vs. Dallas Saturday)

Nick Mullens is seemingly the odds-on favorite to win the 49ers backup job after impressing in the wake of Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury. However, it’s a race that’s just currently too close to call, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.

”It’s still too early,” Shanahan said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in both of those guys. I feel I would be confident for either one of those guys to go in.”

George Kittle, San Francisco (vs. Dallas Saturday)

No one Hawkeye shone brighter in the NFL last season than Kittle, whose 1,377 receiving yards set a tight end record.

As for 2019? He’s already making impressive plays in camp, leaving us to wonder what’s to come in the regular season.

The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones conducted a fun Q&A with Kittle, who talked about building off his breakout 2018, working with Garoppolo, and last but not least, his man bun (subscription required but strongly encouraged).

Greg Mabin, San Francisco (vs. Dallas Saturday)

Mabin is listed as the team’s No. 3 left corner behind Ahkello Witherspoon and Jason Verrett.

Ross Reynolds, San Francisco (vs. Dallas Saturday)

The 49ers sure have learned to feel confident in gambling on under-the-radar ex-Hawkeyes, eh? Reynolds was listed as the third option at left guard in the depth chart released Thursday.

Anthony Nelson, Tampa Bay (at Pittsburgh Friday)

Right now camp has stalled for the fourth-round pick, who has been sidelined from practice for multiple days with a potential knee injury.

Parker Hesse, Tennessee (at Philadelphia Thursday)

Hesse finds himself in a crowded group at his new position of tight end in Nashville, but reports coming out of Titans camp point to him having a real shot to make the roster.

Amani Hooker, Tennessee (at Philadelphia Thursday)

The fourth-round pick is currently battling for the Titans’ backup free safety spot from a traditional defensive standpoint. Regardless of his pecking order in that regard, it sounds like he’s already made enough of an impression on Mike Vrabel and the staff to command playing time in three-safety packages.

Brandon Scherff, Washington (at Cleveland Thursday)

The big story around Scherff right now is his contract situation, even if he’s not talking much about it. The Redskins have yet to offer Scherff on extension to his rookie deal, which expires after this season.

“I’m not going to speak on contracts,” Scherff said. “It’s between my agent and the Redskins. … You know I’m here for another year, and that’s all I care about. I’ve got to do the best I can, and that’ll take care of itself.”

Elsewhere, New England waived offensive tackle Cole Croston last week in a move that was a bit of a surprise, at least according to ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss. Croston had spent his two years in the NFL bouncing between New England’s active roster and practice squad.