Wide open at linebacker

Wide+open+at+linebacker

Iowa is now at the halfway point of its spring practice period, and plenty of positions are still mostly up for grabs — especially at linebacker.

After losing do-everything outside linebacker Cole Fisher to graduation and with Ben Niemann out for the spring with an injury, a lot of shuffling has taken place. The only starter who can be penciled in at this point is middle linebacker Josey Jewell.

Bo Bower (outside) and Aaron Mends (will) round out the first-stringers.

However, it’s not a deep group to begin with and with Niemann out, it gets slimmer.

“If you’re able to spend time at our practice, you’ll find we give reps to the ones, twos, and threes,” linebacker coach Seth Wallace said during Wednesday’s media availability. “I go into every staff meeting every day saying, Coach, I don’t have any threes. My threes are my twos.”

Replacing Fisher — who led the team in snaps and had the second-most tackles — will be one of the biggest holes to fill on a defense that was one of the best in the nation last season.

Mends and Jack Hockaday are battling for Fisher’s spot, and the competition has apparently been back and forth.

“I’d like to say it’s real close,” Wallace said. “There are days where you walk off the field, one may have had a better day than the other. That’s going to be the case at that position.”

A mix of receivers

While Iowa will have to replace wide receiver Tevaun Smith, it will bring back one of quarterback C.J. Beathard’s favorite targets.

Matt VandeBerg had 65 catches (tied for fifth in the Big Ten) for 703 yards and 4 touchdowns. Perhaps most importantly, he was one of Beathard’s favorite targets on third down and tallied 17 first-down catches in a truly impressive season.

“Not only does he have the ability to make the wild catch, consistent plays, be a consistent player, gives good effort on the perimeter blocking,” Iowa wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. “But he’s a guy that this game, doing well, is really important to him.”

However, VandeBerg is listed at wide receiver, while Jerminic Smith — who flashed against Illinois last year — as the starting split end. Jay Scheel is currently his backup, while Riley McCarron is at the other wide-receiver position.

It remains to be seen just how much playing time any of them will get, but Kennedy was happy with their progress as a unit.

“We have a young group coming back. But I’m excited about this group,” Kennedy said. “I think if we continue to work hard and improve daily, we’ll have a chance to be a good group. But like I always say, we’re not a finished product right now. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Off to Des Moines

Iowa will host an open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines at 6 p.m. Friday.

Doors will open at 4:30 p.m. with autograph session preceding the practice. After the practice, a 45-minute youth clinic will take place, open to the first 275 children aged 7-12.

“We certainly look forward to seeing everybody in Des Moines this Friday. It’s a big event. We’ve made some changes to it,” Wallace said. “We’re looking forward to see the youth up there, be able to see our fans up there, kind of reconnect with that area of the state here mid-spring.”

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