With practice underway and the first game within sight, October 24th at Purdue, it is time to project the depth chart for the 2020 Hawkeye Football team.
Iowa lost 5 starters on offense with quarterback Nate Stanley and right tackle Tristan Wirfs headlining the departures. Collectively, 99 starts were lost between the 5 players.
*Stanley (39), Wirfs (33), La. Paulsen (11), Wieting (11), Ross (5)*
The positive is that outside of breaking in a new quarterback, the players likely to fill in those other spots have played rotational roles in the past.
QB: Spencer Petras (RS-SO) , Alex Padilla (RS-FR)
RB: Tyler Goodson (SO), Mekhi Sargent (SR) / Ivory Kelly-Martin (RS-JR)
FB: Monte Pottenbaum (RS-SO) , Turner Pallissard (RS-SO)
WR: Brandon Smith (SR) , Desmond Hutson (RS-FR)
WR: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (SR) , Tyrone Tracy Jr. (RS-SO)
Slot WR: Nico Ragaini (RS-SO) / Tyrone Tracy Jr. (RS-SO)
TE: Sam LaPorta (SO) , Shaun Beyer (SR)
LT: Alaric Jackson (RS-SR), Jack Plumb (RS-SO)
LG: Cole Banwart (RS-SR) / Mark Kallenberger (RS-JR)
C: Tyler Linderbaum (RS-SO) , Justin Britt (RS-FR)
RG: Justin Britt (RS-FR) / Kyler Schott (RS-JR) , Cody Ince (RS-SO)
RT: Coy Cronk (RS-SR) , Tyler Endres (RS-FR)
While Iowa is replacing a 3-year starter at quarterback, one could argue that Spencer Petras is set up with a nearly ideal supporting cast. He has proven commodities at wide receiver and running back, as well as a rising star in Sam LaPorta at tight end. There is also depth at each of those positions with players capable of rotating in as necessary.
BBQ Chicken Alert @_BSmith12 | #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/iAxbunTJPC— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) October 3, 2020
The offensive line replaces two starters, but Iowa was given a golden ticket with the transfer of Coy Cronk from Indiana. Cronk has 40 Big Ten starts at left tackle and brings excellent size and athleticism. He is likely to replace Tristan Wirfs, who left for the NFL, at right tackle. Iowa returns five players who, at a minimum, have played rotational snaps at guard. I expect rotations early in the season with the hopes of two players locking down their positions by midseason.
With the increased depth and talent at wide receiver, the replacement(s) at fullback will likely see fewer snaps than in previous seasons. Over the final four games of the season, Iowa only averaged a fullback on the field 13 snaps per game. This number is a sharp departure to the averaged 21 snaps per game over the first 8 games.
The defense lost 6 starters to graduation and the NFL as well as another starter, Djimon Colbert, to opt-out. Between those 7 players, Iowa is loosing 124 starts and a whole lot of production from AJ Epenesa in his non-starting seasons.
*Colbert (23), Ojemudia (22), Stone (21), Lattimore (19), Welch (16), Epenesa (13), Reiff (10)*
DE: Chauncey Golston (RS-SR) , Joe Evans (RS-SO)
DT: Daviyon Nixon (RS-JR) , Noah Shannon (RS-SO)
DT: Jack Heflin (Grad SR) , Austin Schulte (RS-SR)
DE: John Waggoner (RS-SO) / Zach VanValkenberg (SR) , Logan Lee (RS-FR)
OLB: Barrington Wade (RS-SR)
ILB: Jack Campbell (SO), Seth Benson (RS-SO)
WLB: Nick Niemann (RS-SR), Jestin Jacobs (RS-FR)
CB: Matt Hankins (RS-SR), Terry Roberts (RS-SO)
FS: Jack Koerner (RS-JR) , Dallas Craddieth (RS-SO)
SS: Kaevon Merriweather (RS-SO) , Sebastian Castro (RS-FR)
Cash: Dane Belton (SO) , Jermari Harris (RS-FR)
CB: Riley Moss (JR) , Julius Brents (RS-SO)
While I like a lot of the new names filling the starting lineup, there are still a lot of question marks for the Hawkeye defense. Like the offense, the defense is getting a major boost with Jack Heflin coming in as a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois.
At defensive end, will one player step into the position left by Epenesa, or does Iowa use a rotation of players in that spot? We know no one is likely to fill his production, but will Iowa be able to scheme their way to pressuring the quarterback?
Pads on and ready to rock, just ask 57. @2live57 | #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/Jo1CKDXhGq— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) October 4, 2020
In the back seven, will Iowa stay with a Cash look, or revert back to having three linebackers? The personnel sits perfectly to stay with Cash, so the new question is does Iowa keep Dane Belton at that spot or slide him back to strong safety where he was recruited to play? My expectation is that Belton, who was improving with each game, stays at Cash, but it could be the case where he is needed at strong safety following the loss of Geno Stone. We will learn a lot about how much Defensive Coordinator Phil Parker values the Cash position by where he slots Belton.
If the back seven plays out with my prediction and Iowa is in Cash personnel, you would see a back seven with the kind of length Fran McCaffery would approve of: 6’5”, 6’4”, 6’2”, 6’1”, 6’1”, 6’0”, 6’0”.
With the depth at corner, I could see Parker testing different combinations to see which group fits together the best. He has not been shy in the past to have a quick hook and look for a replacement.
K: Keith Duncan (RS-SR) , Caleb Shudak (RS-SR)
P: Ryan Gersonde (RS-JR), Tory Taylor (FR)
KR: Ihmir Smith Marsette (SR) , Ivory Kelly-Martin (RS-JR)
PR: Nico Ragaini (RS-SO) , Max Cooper (SR)
Returning the best kicker in the nation and one of the best kick returners in the nation is a great place to start for Iowa’s special teams. Iowa did bring in a freshman punter from Australia, Tory Taylor, but due to COVID-19 restrictions he did not arrive in Iowa City as early as originally planned. I would not be surprised to see him win the job, but early on I wonder if Iowa goes with a known commodity. Because let’s be honest, punting is winning.
Despite the large number of departures, many Hawkeye fans are feeling optimistic heading into the 2020 season. Traditionally Iowa plays in a high number of single score games, so their ability to quickly fill those holes is likely the difference between a season that ends in 4 wins or 7+ wins.
I do not currently have any true freshman listed on the offensive or defensive depth chart, but last year saw 5 of them play in non-blowout situations. Who would be your picks for this year’s impact newcomers?