The Big Ten officially kicked off the 2021 media days on Thursday and while the Iowa Hawkeyes didn’t have anyone taking the podium, the day didn’t go without some news. In lieu of live interviews, the program put out their official media guide on Thursday. That includes all sorts of historical tidbits, stats and stories, but of most interest at this point in the year for Hawkeye fans, it also includes a pre-season depth chart.
Given that no games have been played since the last time we got a depth chart this spring, there aren’t a ton of changes. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting movements, however.
Some of those are due to injuries that we’ve seen during the offseason while others are due to guys coming off of injury. Still others are just the result of players making the most out of their practice reps.
Here’s a look at the fresh depth on the offensive side of the ball:
The first thing that stands out is there isn’t much that stands out. The only place we see any change in starters is on the offensive line and the impact here is on three total positions. Let’s break it down.
In the spring, Iowa listed senior Kyler Schott as the starter at left guard with sophomore Justin Britt starting opposite him. That left junior Cody Ince as the starter at right tackle with sophomore Nick DeJong, who got some run at RT last fall, as his backup. Fast forward to July and Ince has shifted back inside to left guard, which pushes Schott to the right side (where we saw him a year ago). With Ince inside, DeJong is back into the starting lineup at right tackle. That leaves Justin Britt as the odd man out and listed as the backup at RG.
The biggest thing here is that Britt spent a good portion spring ball battling injury. As such, the Hawkeyes have adapted and the end result is simply that there is some more positional flexibility. It will be interesting to follow this fall as Britt is healthy to see if Ince remains inside with DeJong starting at tackle or if Ince moves back outside to get Britt into the starting lineup.
Outside the shuffling in the starting lineup, there are two other changes to the offensive depth chart here. The first is also on the offensive line where sophomore Noah Fenske is no longer the backup to Tyler Linderbaum. As noted back in April, Fenske entered the transfer portal and has since moved on to Colorado. That leaves junior Matt Fagan as the primary backup to Iowa’s superstar center.
The only update as compared to the spring depth chart not involving the offensive line comes at wide receiver. There we see true freshman Keagan Johnson make his debut as the backup behind starter Tyrone Tracy Jr. on the outside. He replaces senior Max Cooper in that spot.
This is one to keep an eye on. With the departure of Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, there are lots of opportunities available at receiver in 2021 and the Hawkeyes sold that to a trio of prospects in this class. Johnson appears to have taken the lead early and may well see the field opposite Tracy with Nico Ragaini historically playing in the slot. He’s got the pedigree and the talent to be a good one for a long time.
Now, on to the defense:
Perhaps the biggest takeaway on the defensive side of the ball is that there is no change to the starters listed compared to the spring depth chart. Given what the Hawkeyes have coming back, particularly in the back end, from a defense that finished last season sixth nationally and second in the Big Ten in scoring defense, the lack of shuffling around is a net positive.
Outside the starting lineup, however, there was a decent amount of movement and it came at all three levels.
Up front, Lukas Van Ness steps into the backup role at left tackle after Logan Jones suffered a knee injury in the spring. On the other side of the ball, redshirt freshman Deontae Craig jumps in front of sophomore Chris Reames for the primary backup to All-Big Ten defensive end Zach VanValkenburg. That may be a battle to monitor this fall.
This seems to be about the development of Craig. He came to Iowa on the lighter side but has added bulk to go with his explosion. Like Joe Evans on the other side, Craig could prove a very good pass rusher even if just situationally. Having bodies to rotate on the defensive line is a recipe for success.
At linebacker, we see some movement behind starters Seth Benson and Jack Campbell. Former 4-star Ohio State target Jestin Jacobs slides over to LEO from WLB and becomes the “backup” to Belton on the depth chart. That’s clearly deceiving as the real implication there is Jacobs will be the third player on the field when Iowa runs a 4-3 defense. He supplants Logan Klemp, who had been manning that spot. With Jacobs moving over, Jay Higgins steps into the backup spot at WLB.
Phil Parker has built himself a war chest with an embarrassment of riches. With Jacobs, one of the most physically gifted linebacker recruits of the Parker era, slotted as the 3rd linebacker and only playing part time, it’s easy to see that group is incredibly talented. Higgins has the potential to be really good as well while Klemp showed some promise early. There just isn’t enough playing time right now for all the bodies in that group, which is a great spot to be.
In the back end, there’s really only one change. That’s Sebastian Castro supplanted Reggie Bracy as the backup to Kaevon Merriweather at strong safety. Castro, as you’ll recall, has long been a favorite of this establishment for his absurd prep highlights where he looks superhuman shooting out of a canon and obliterating offensive players, only to turn up in the next highlight as a quarterback throwing a bomb or taking off and running past everyone for a 50-yard touchdown run.
While this could be a case where Castro has simply proven himself as a superior strong safety, this could also be related to the cash position. There are some rumors that Bracy may be the backup to Dane Belton at Cash with Castro getting more reps at SS because of that. That would be an interesting development as yours truly has long viewed Castro as an excellent replacement to Belton if/when he makes the leap to the next level.
The final thing to note on the secondary is the names that are missing. The big one is UNI transfer Xavior Williams. The former All-American was dinged up in the spring so it’s likely that’s the cause for not making the two deeps. What will be interesting to see if whether he is able to push for a starting role by season’s end after getting a late start due to those injuries. If not, does he consider taking an extra covid year?
Beyond Williams, there are some other upper classmen, such as former 4-star safety Dallas Craddieth, who aren’t listed anywhere. As with the linebackers, that should speak to the absurd depth Parker has built in the back end and Iowa’s general impartiality for recruiting rankings.