Hawkeye football narrowing down starting positions

Iowa’s running-back job is starting to fall into place, while the third linebacker spot, punter, and return jobs are still yet to be solidified.

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Hawkeye football narrowing down starting positions

Iowa's Ivory Kelly-Martin takes the handoff during the game between Iowa and North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday Sept. 16, 2017. Iowa won 31-14. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa's Ivory Kelly-Martin takes the handoff during the game between Iowa and North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday Sept. 16, 2017. Iowa won 31-14. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa's Ivory Kelly-Martin takes the handoff during the game between Iowa and North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday Sept. 16, 2017. Iowa won 31-14. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa's Ivory Kelly-Martin takes the handoff during the game between Iowa and North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday Sept. 16, 2017. Iowa won 31-14. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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Starting positions are starting to line up for Hawkeye football with the season kicking off in just 10 days. While some starters (such as quarterback) are obviously clear, a few are still up for grabs.

Iowa had listed Toren Young as its starting running back on its spring depth charts, but offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said another name would take the first carries of 2018.

Ivory Kelly-Martin, a sophomore who flashed dynamic potential at times during his true-freshman season in 2017, has moved ahead of Young for that coveted No. 1 job.

“If we opened the season, he’s going to be behind center carrying the football,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz also noted that Kelly-Martin has three-down ability; he’s not a tailback that can only be used on one or two plays in a series, and his efforts in the passing game certainly help make his case.

“Obviously, he’s got some wiggle, he’s got some power, he’s got really good balance,” Ferentz said. “One thing he does a nice job of is catching the ball out of the backfield. So that gives him a third-down element.”

But Kelly-Martin likely won’t be the featured back. Ferentz compared this season’s trio of Kelly-Martin, Young, and Mekhi Sargent to 2015’s corps of Jordan Canzeri, LeShun Daniels Jr., and Akrum Wadley — all three have the potential to split carries and see plenty of on-field action in 2018.

Linebackers

Arguably the biggest question mark on defense going into the season-opener against Northern Illinois on Sept. 1 lies with the linebackers. The coaches have made one thing clear: Amani Jones and Nick Niemann have solidified their spots as two of the three starters, but that third spot is wide open.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker touched on that on Tuesday, highlighting Barrington Wade and Seth Benson as two players who have caught his eye for that coveted third spot. Regardless, the three linebackers on the field are subject to change, especially depending on what sort of offensive scheme Parker is working against, and he said the Hawkeyes “definitely have some sub packages” to work with.

He also noted Niemann’s name as someone who could also rotate inside if need be.

“He’s been working at both spots,” Parker said. “It’s a little bit different way of looking at things, but I think he has the capability of playing inside, also the ability to play outside. It all depends on how Barrington Wade comes along, and we feel comfortable about that … Seth Benson is a guy that’s been working outside. We’re really pleased with how he’s doing.”

Special teams

Much like a solid punt with ideal hang time, the battle for the punting job between Ryan Gersonde and Colten Rastetter is up in the air.

“I still think it’s too close to call,” special-team coordinator LeVar Woods said. “Both those guys have been incredibly competitive in camp. I like the direction both guys are going. Right now, I think they’ve drastically improved from last year to this year.”

Woods didn’t rule out a punter rotation, saying that it might vary depending on the game plan for certain teams.

In the return game, Woods said that Kyle Groeneweg, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Amani Hooker are the three Hawkeyes fighting for the starting punt-return job.

As far as kickoff return goes, Woods listed Groeneweg, Smith-Marsette, and Kelly-Martin as the front-runners.

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