The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

5 Hawks to keep an eye on

The Iowa spirit squad runs before the team before the Iowa-Minnesota game at Kinnick on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2013. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers, 40-35 to stay perfect on the season. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)

The quarterback is back, the star cornerback decided to stay, three of the top four running backs returned, and the linebackers are young and talented.

The Hawkeyes seem to have a lot of pieces in place. That being said, as it is with any other year, Kirk Ferentz and the rest of the coaching staff will need to get breakout performances from guys who have not yet contributed.

Last year, it was Matt VandeBurg on offense and Parker Hesse on defense. There are several players this season who seek breakout performances and a chance to show their stuff.

Safety Brandon Snyder

Snyder saw snaps in all 14 games last season but recorded only 11 tackles in limited playing time.

He certainly looks the part at free safety at 6-1 and 210 pounds, and he even wears the same number as former Hawkeye safety John Lowdermilk.

The Larchwood, Iowa, native was an elite athlete in high school, excelling in football, basketball, baseball, golf, and track.

“[Snyder] has really progressed in the last 13 days of practice, and I’m really excited to see where he can go,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “He’s not there yet, obviously, but he’s starting to understand it.”

Receiver Jay Scheel

Scheel, now a sophomore, was highly touted out of high school. He redshirted his first year on campus and did not record a catch in 2015.

A high-school quarterback, Scheel has been learning the receiver position the past two years and seems to be catching on this spring.

Scheel made the play of the night when the Hawkeyes traveled to West Des Moines for practice on April 8, running under a C.J. Beathard deep ball for a big gain.

“It’s really the first spring we’ve seen him where he knew what to do and he was well,” offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. “He made a catch and run the other day, I guess Saturday, that was really impressive.”

Linebacker Aaron Mends

Mends is another elite athlete trying to learn a new position at Iowa. At 6-0 and 212 pounds, Mends is on the smaller side for a Big Ten linebacker, but his speed has the Hawkeye coaching staff excited.

“[Mends] is very athletic,” linebacker coach Seth Wallace said. “He moves extremely well, he’s very explosive, he’s very powerful. What Aaron needs to do right now is he just needs to hone in on a position that’s not easy to play.”

Defensive end Matt Nelson

More than a few experts out there have pegged Nelson as a breakout player. He is a towering defensive end at 6-8, and the coaches have raved about him this spring.

With the loss of Drew Ott and Nate Meier to graduation, Nelson is sure to get plenty of repetitions during the fall.

“Matt is really starting to come on,” defensive-line coach Reese Morgan said. “You saw him in the bowl game and in the Big Ten Championship. He played some valuable reps and provided us with depth.”

Receiver Jerminic Smith

Yes, this makes two receivers on this list. Smith showed flashes as a true freshman last year that he can be a special player at Iowa. He had 118 yards receiving against Illinois last season, becoming the first true freshman under Ferentz to gain 100 yards receiving in a single game.

But there is still a long way to go in his development, as receiver coach Bobby Kennedy has pointed out.

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