The time to postulate on what the on-field product will contain for your Iowa Hawkeyes is upon us, so we’re gonna start with the unit led by Levar Woods.
This year’s version of the group is without Keith Duncan, a guy who scored 187 points for the Hawkeyes the past two years. There’s some good snaps between the guys who fill out the rest of Iowa’s special teams jobs, and overall I expect the company to be a strength this year as long as makeable field goals remain made.
To Iowa’s credit, I can’t recall the team getting bit by the #CollegeKickers snake, at least not recently.
And so with that, let’s bring in the prospective kicker on a pun I’m particularly proud of.
The Shu fits
Caleb Shudak was set up for failure as he trotted out to attempt a 52-yarder as the half expired in Iowa’s loss to Northwestern last year. Two incompletions cleared the way for a 4-yard dump to Tyler Goodson, and then the long kick from Iowa’s No. 2 kicker on the blustering shores of Lake Michigan. That game was so dumb.
Outside that little blip, Shudak performed his other duty—kickoff guy—beautifully. Thirty of his 51 kickoffs led to touchbacks in 2020, compared to 31 of 75 in ‘19. The return rule might’ve changed in 2020, I don’t know and don’t care to look it up. In either case, turning 60 percent of your kickoffs to touchbacks is Very Good.
I have to assume Shudak will hold onto his kickoff role as well as taking field goal duties. We know he’s been hitting a couple long-ish ones in the spring games, but the reality of the situation is we don’t really know how he’s going to do in a real game. But he’ll get his chance!
And if that doesn’t pan out, Aaron Blom and Lucas Amaya are also listed as kickers.
Driving that train
I’m so jazzed about Charlie Jones.
Selfishly, I want him to focus on returning punts, and not kickoffs, in order to build on a year where he averaged 11 yards a return, a peak that only he, Kevonte Martin-Manley, and Desmond King reached the past 12 years.
Now Jones didn’t return any kicks last year, so penciling him as a kick returner too might be greedy by itself. In any case, I love the idea of Jones contributing to the offense as a punt returner and slot guy,
Behind Jones we’ll have Nico Ragaini, who was Iowa’s primary punt return guy in 2019.
Oy oy oy
Tory Taylor was so friggin’ good last year.
The freshman (don’t look up how old he actually is) was first team all-conference, a second team all-American by the Athletic, and a Ray Guy semifinalist. He averaged 44 yards a punt last year, second-best of the Ferentz era to Ryan Donahue’s 44 1⁄2 yards a punt in 2010.
With a taste for American blood back in his mouth, the Aussie will look to become the sports premier punter this season.
Is Iowa’s long snapper. He returns for his sixth season after handling all the deep snaps in 2020. If this is the first time you’re seeing his name, that means he’s done a good job.
I’m not totally certain who’s going to fill Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s shoes at KR. The Minnesota Viking took the lion’s share at the position the past three years, with Ivory Kelly-Martin being the only guy on the roster with serious experience there on the roster (he returned 2 kicks last year and 19 (for an average of 21 yards a pop) in ‘17)))}.
Doc seems to think Jones and true freshman receiver Arland Bruce will duke it out back there, but sticking a speedy 18-year-old on kickoffs doesn’t always cut with the Ferentz jib, or however that turn of phrase goes.
I think sticking IKM back there is an easy decision for this club. It gets a veteran handling kickoffs, while placating a guy who won’t get too many touches when there’s a healthy Tyler Goodson around.
I think we’ll see any combination of guys hanging around after IKM back there, including but not limited to: Jones, Ragaini, Cooper DeJean, Keagan Johnson, one of the Williamses, and Riley Moss.