Special Teams a Priority for Iowa This Year

Iowa is placing a newfound stronger emphasis on the special teams unit, in an effort to redeem the miscues of last season.

Iowa's last season can be described as a huge letdown and disappointment for many of the Hawkeyes' faithful. The special teams unit took a large share of the blame for some of the miscues of last season, particularly in the bowl contest against Tennessee.

It's a unit that has to be better in order for the Hawkeyes to turn the corner this year.

A lot of the criticism toward the special teams group surrounded the mistake of Jonathan Parker as a returner. He's got the playmaking ability and home-run hitting potential to be dangerous with the ball in his hands, but his decision making has held him back.

Due to that, Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa staff are trying out a few other options at returner.

"It's wide open, like every position," the Hawkeyes head coach said about the returning duties. Tevaun (Smith) has expressed an interest in doing it and it starts there. (To be) a good return guy or a good anything, you have to want to do it. He feels like he can help us there, and based off the little we've seen, I think he plays pretty natural back there and pretty good."

Veteran wideouts Matt VandeBerg and Riley McCarron, freshmen wideouts Jerminic Smith and Emmanuel Ogwo, and standout cornerback Desmond King are also in the discussion for some of the returning responsibilities.

Like kick returner, punt returner is a spot they're still trying to figure out who fits best.

"We're open there, too," Ferentz pointed out. "Whoever we feel like the best guy is, we'll let them have that opportunity. (Desmond King) adds to the competition. A guy I didn't mention that I should have mentioned is Riley McCarron. I think he's had a real nice 12 days when we're talking about the wide receiver position. He's done some good things too, and he's in the mix for the punt returner position."

One specific player that has been mentioned as a possible candidate to be on special teams regularly is linebacker Aaron Mends. He's in the mix to provide depth at the linebacker position, but could play a prominent role on the punt team.

"Based on the coaches' decision, I could have a chance playing at linebacker, or I could be making an impact on special teams," Mends noted. "Whatever it may be, I'm ready for it."

"They have me on punt team right now," he added. "Of course we're really adamant about putting our athletes on punt team and on special teams. We're there to make plays. (The coaching staff) really thinks linebackers especially are our core special teams players. On special teams, I'll definitely have an opportunity to see some playing time."

Two seniors could see significant time on special teams as well.

"(Cole Fisher and Travis Perry) are working hard on special teams," Kirk Ferentz revealed. "Talk about leadership, those two seniors are two of our better special teams guys. Going through kickoff return meetings, those guys have been working hard on a very tough assignment. I don't know if they'll start or not, we'll see how that shakes out, but their contributions that they've been making and will continue to make are really important."

It'll be a team effort to redeem the events of last season in this aspect of the game, but progress has been made according to Ferentz. They'll leave no stone unturned when addressing that area of the team.

"I have been pleased with our special teams," Ferentz shared. "I think the guys have been making strides. They've been working hard, and I think we have some newcomers that might emerge, and our specialists for the most part are competing pretty hard, too."

"We're going to do everything we can and that's something we talked about in January," he continued. "Anybody that can help our special teams will be in there. If we have to rest them offensively or defensively, we'll do that. But we're not going to lose any ground on special teams. That just doesn't work. We've paid too big of a price in recent history and we're not going down that road again by any stretch."

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