Notebook: Spring football kicks off


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Before Iowa kicked off its spring football practice Wednesday, head coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media. There was plenty of other news outside of quarterback Jake Rudock’s release to transfer, so let’s get to it.

Depth issues

Outside of Rudock, one of the most dominant subjects on Wednesday was the team’s depth. Iowa has only five starters returning on offense and seven on defense.

While the number isn’t necessarily astronomical, Iowa is losing big contributors. Of those are likely first-round NFL draft pick Brandon Scherff, right tackle Andrew Donnal, Iowa all-time receptions receiver Kevonte-Martin Manley, as well as touchdown-machine Mark Weisman. On the other side, linebacker Quinton Alston’s vocal leadership and defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat will be missed.

On offense, Ike Boettger is listed as right guard and Boone Meyers at left. Ferentz said both guys benefited tremendously from playing behind the strong athletes they did last season, and he feels very confident in their standing entering the spring.

At wide receiver, Tevaun Smith returns with his 43 grabs and 596 yards, and after that, Jacob Hillyer and Matt VandeBerg are part of Ferentz’s top group.

“Hillyer, to me, is a guy that we probably don’t talk enough about,” Ferentz said. “He has done a lot of really good things and very quietly, I think, has improved with each phase of the way.

“Matt VandeBerg has done a lot of good things. He’s kind of like the running backs; we’ve got to keep him healthy and keep him in there.”

Defensively, Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata are listed as the guys to replace Davis and Trinca-Pasat, respectively. Johnson is listed at 6-4, 310 pounds, while Bazata is 6-2, 284 pounds.

If Ferentz’s thoughts are true, Iowa fans should be excited about the guys on the inside.

“I would argue Bazata is probably more physically ready to play than Louis was two years ago, in 2012,” Ferentz said. “Louis got knocked around a little bit, then he started knocking guys around the next two years, but I think Nathan is probably a little bit better suited to be playing right now, and Jaleel I think would be the same discussion.”

The No. 1 linebacking corps heading into spring consists of Josey Jewell in the middle, flanked by Ben Niemann on the outside and Bo Bower on the weak side.

Clarity on running game

In February, Ferentz announced a number of coaching shuffles, the biggest of which being his son, Brian Ferentz, being promoted to running-game coordinator.

The term “running game coordinator” isn’t one thrown around daily, but the elder Ferentz shed light on the position Wednesday.

“It’s probably more of a title than anything else,” Ferentz said. “It’ll give Brian a little bit more — I don’t know if authority is the right word — but a little bit more responsibility probably to just organize our running game, tweak it a little bit.”

Ferentz joked that his son would have the power to veto some of his bad ideas, but he did give an answer to the most pressing question that comes along with the position.

Will offensive coordinator Greg Davis still signal plays down from the press box? Well, coach?

“No, Greg will call plays, and that won’t change at all.”

In that running game, Iowa has loads of bodies for Brian Ferentz to play with. Although Jordan Canzeri is listed ahead of LeShun Daniels Jr. in the two-deeps, Kirk Ferentz called them “co-starters.”

There are five other backs listed — Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley are the only two with career carries.

Canzeri was seemingly banged up all year and finally showed what he can do when healthy in Iowa’s loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl; he rushed 12 times for 120 yards. Daniels played only five games after an injury sidelined him midseason.

Ferentz said both are healthy going into the spring.

“Both those guys did a good job in [bowl preparation], and I think they’re going to have to play well, and I’m confident they will,” Ferentz said.

Position changes

Ferentz announced a number of position changes Wednesday, the most notable coming at running back. Former defensive back Marcel Joly as well as former wide receiver Derrick Mitchell Jr. are now members of that position group.

Ferentz said Joly proposed the idea, and he approved it, while Mitchell played and impressed coaches in the backfield on the scout team in some practices last season.

While it’s not official on the depth chart, Ferentz also said the team is going to give running back Jonathan Parker some reps at wide receiver. Parker caught 3 passes for 42 yards out of the backfield and in the kickoff-return game. Parker has lined up in the slot and taken jet sweeps before — such as the one he took 60 yards to the house against Indiana in October 2014.

Injury updates

After sitting the entirety of 2014, having undergone knee surgery before the team’s first game, defensive lineman Darian Cooper will not participate in spring practice. Ferentz’s words on the senior defensive lineman sounded somewhat grim.

He said Cooper has a “significant road ahead of him,” and Iowa will likely know more in June.

“[In June, we will know] where he’s really at and if he can make it back.  I’m sure hoping he can,” Ferentz said. “He’s a tremendous guy. He really embodies everything we’re looking for.”

In terms of other injuries, tight end Henry Krieger-Coble will not be cleared for contact and early enrollee and offensive lineman Brett Waechter will not practice full speed.

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.