Iowa CITY, Iowa - Kirk Ferentz conducted his first weekly press conference for the 2014 season on Tuesday here at the Hayden Fry Football Complex. The Iowa coach updated the media on injuries and battles for starting positions, and talked about this week's opponent, Northern Iowa.
Ferentz confirmed that junior defensive tackle Darian Copper will miss this season after undergoing knee surgery on Monday. The injury had been bothering him since the end of the last season, the coach said, and he could no longer play through it.
Wide receiver Riley McCarron will be out of action for at least a few weeks, Ferentz said, and might be sidelined until the team's first bye week in early October. The Dubuque product injured his shoulder after making a catch during Kids Day on Aug. 16.
Ferentz announced that Dillon Kidd beat out two-year starter Connor Kornbrath for the starting punter spot. Marshall Koehn won the place kicker competition with true freshman Mick Ellis, who still could play this season, the coach said.
At the other positions, where players were listed as co-starters, Ferentz didn't name starters, instead saying the guys on the first line of the two-deep all were likely to play. That was Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock at running back, Nate Meier and Mike Hardy at right defensive end, Travis Perry and Bo Bower at LEO linebacker and Reggie Spearman and Josey Jewell at Weak Side Linebacker.
"I'm not sure what we'll do right now, but it's probably fair to say they'll all play," Ferentz said. "The guys that are splitting time, and we've got a group of guys right now. We'll see how it plays out, but we're still probably not sure. I think it's probably going to take some game experience to find out who really rises.
"But I think the competition has been good. The guys have really been attentive. They've worked hard and competed hard, and there again, we're eager to see what they do on the game field and how it plays out."
True freshmen Miles Taylor, a safety, and linebacker Ben Niemann will play this season, Ferentz said. The coach added that first-year player Aaron Mends, who came to campus as a linebacker, was being worked at fullback and could play this week. Iowa lost starter Adam Cox for the season with a knee injury and is not listing a backup to new first-teamer Macon Plewa.
Ferentz said in July that he thought Damond Powell would miss camp and perhaps the first month of the season after sports hernia surgery this summer. The senior receiver returned ahead of schedule, jumping back into practice last week and he's ready to go this Saturday.
"He's ahead of (schedule) and I don't know if (the schedule was) based on people my age or a young athlete who's actually in good shape, but Damond is a pretty resilient guy, and he's really come back quickly from it. His attitude has been great all the way through. I don't think he had contact until the end of the last week, but he's looked good out there in practice and he's got some catching up to do, but at least he'll be with us and helping us out," Ferentz said.
The Iowa coaches talked during the offseason of red shirting true sophomore running back LeShun Daniels this season with Weisman, Bullock and junior Jordan Canzeri ahead of him on the depth chart. They decided against it after his strong play this month.
"He and Henry Krieger Coble, are guys that really elevated from a year ago offensively. Yeah, he's right in the mix right now. The big thing we have to do right now is just try to use him intelligently," Ferentz said.
Sean Welsh, Iowa's starting left guard as a redshirt freshman, could end up at tackle down the road, Ferentz said.
"I think he's capable of playing out there, but he might be better suited to be a guard, but Yanda was kind of that circumstance, but we needed him at tackle. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. I hope we don't need him out there this year. Next year but hopefully not this year," the coach said.
Iowa Sports Information Director Steve Roe announced before Tuesday's press conference that more than 5,000 tickets remained for Saturday's game. Many of those were in the student section.
"I mean, yeah, in a perfect world I wish -- you'd hope every student would want to come, but it's not a perfect world, and that's what makes our country great. But I'd hope they'd come support the team and all of our sports. It's a good part of campus life, and hopefully that'll pick itself up," Ferentz said.
"That competition is pretty close, too, kind of like the kicking and punting. Reese has done a good job there, Sean Draper has done a good job, and I think it's wide open right now," the coach said.
"I think we're still thinking about that. I don't know when, where or how, but yeah, we're still considering it, and yeah, we feel good about him," Ferentz said.
Four walk-ons were awarded scholarships this month. Plewa and Cox picked them up at the beginning of camp. Bower and offensive lineman Boone Myers went on in the last week.
"The first thing I tell them is they're not in trouble because they're up in my office and they think they got called to the principal's office, and that part is good, and it's a short conversation but it's a pretty happy one usually. That's one thing we tell guys on the front end in recruiting is they're going to be treated fairly and they're going to get opportunity. No matter how they get here, it doesn't matter, but if they're in the program we're going to judge them like we do everybody else and then try to reward them as fairly as we can. It's four guys that have really worked hard and earned them," Ferentz said.
"You might see me heading to the locker room if this happens," Ferentz said of the scenario of losing his top two guys. "No, in all seriousness, Tyler Wiegers is our third guy, and that's the way it goes. We'd sure like to red shirt him. That's our goal. But we're playing to win, and he is clearly our third guy."