Iowa special teams locked in position battles

After losing Miguel Recinos and acquiring a graduate-transfer at punter, coaches will have to make important about Iowa’s special teams.


Iowa kicker Keith Duncan kicks the game winning field goal with no seconds left of the Iowa-Michigan game at Kinnick on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. The Hawkeyes defeated No. 2 Michigan by a 33-yard field goal with no time left to win, 14-13. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)

Robert Read, Sports Reporter

Iowa football is well aware of the roster turnover it faces on both the offense and defense. But significant changes on the Hawkeye special teams seem to fly under the radar.

The Hawkeyes will trot out a new starting kicker for the 2019-20 season, and thye could possibly do the same at punter.

The third facet of the game proved to be critical for Iowa down the stretch of many games last season, both in a triumphant fashion, such as the game-winning field goal against Nebraska, or in an agonizing one, such as a muffed punt against Wisconsin.

Special teams will no doubt play a large role in any success Iowa has this season. It is just a matter of who will be out on the field.

Former Hawkeye kicker Miguel Recinos will no longer be roaming the Iowa sideline after graduating, and the absence of his cool head and reliable leg leaves Iowa with the task of finding his replacement.

The next starting Iowa kicker will be one of a pair of redshirt juniors in Caleb Shudak and Keith Duncan. The two are locked into a position battle, and while Duncan has not seen any in-game kicking action since 2016, he still has the edge on Shudak (who has 1 point to his name as a Hawkeye).

Duncan was a true freshman in 2016 when he took the main kicking responsibilities. He grabbed hold of the lead on short-distance field goals, while Recinos attempted the kicks from long range.

The Widdington, North Carolina, native converted 9-of-11 field goals and 38-of-39 PATs in that freshman campaign, highlighted by a 33 yard game-ending kick that cemented Iowa’s 14-13 upset victory against then-No. 3 Michigan.

The following season, Recinos beat out Duncan for as full-time kicker, prompting Duncan to take a redshirt year.

Now in another kicking competition, Duncan aims to come out on top this time around.

Moving from a position that has been the source of great production recently to one that has been a source of great frustration, Iowa also has a competition at punter.

RELATED: Smith-Marsette lands on Hornung Award Watch List

Last season, starting punter Colten Rastetter ranked dead last in yards per punt (38.9) among the 13 Big Ten punters who attempted at least 2.5 punts per game.

Rastetter could be see his starting spot disappear with the arrival of graduate transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton. After spending the past two seasons as the starting punter at Arizona State, Sleep-Dalton will suit up in the Black and Gold for his final college season.

The Geelong, Australia, native (who can punt with either foot) averaged 43.8 yards per punt last season, a mark that would have ranked third in the Big Ten.

Both the punting and kicking positions will have questions surrounding them until the regular season is underway Aug. 31 (and perhaps after that), but the person who will return punts and kicks this season is not under debate.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette proved himself to be one of the most electrifying players in the conference last season, and he now has a place on the preseason watch list for the Paul Hornung Award.

The honor goes to the most versatile player in college football, and after ranking second in the nation with 29.5 yards per kick return last season — and the threat he provides in both the passing and running games — Smith-Marsette could certainly stake a claim to that title.

Special-teams coordinator LeVar Woods has the grueling task of completing his depth chart before the season kicks into gear. The kicking, punting, and return units will be imperative in deciding games — so now, it’s just a matter of who will be on the field in those moments.