Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa program held their open practice last night at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines. It was a fan-friendly event that showed very little but Hawkeye Insider was on hand to dish out the observations that were worth mentioning.
Remember, these are observations and only a small portion size of what has went on so far this Spring.
Derrick Mitchell is still sidelined with a shoulder injury and has it in a sling. James Daniels, Greg Mabin, and Ben Niemann are also out and won't be available in the Spring. Matt Nelson was not available for the spring practice in West Des Moines. He has a minor ankle injury that is keeping him out as of now. Cornerback Josh Jackson was supposed to miss spring football but is participating when they are not in pads.
The rotations were almost identical to what is seen on the depth chart. The running backs are Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels at the top with Marcel Joly and Eric Graham battling for the other carries at this time. George Kittle is the man at tight end. The three main receivers thus far are Matt VandeBerg, Jerminic Smith, and Riley McCarron. The next batch includes Jay Scheel, Jonathan Parker, and Adrian Falconer.
The offensive line from left to right is Cole Croston, Boone Myers, Sean Welsh, Keegan Render, and Ike Boettger. James Daniels will likely re-enter for Render when healthy. Brett Waechter and Dalton Ferguson are the reserve tackles at this time.
The defensive line ones were Parker Hesse, Nathan Bazata, and Jaleel Johnson. The other end was Anthony Nelson with Matt Nelson nursing an injury. The linebackers were Josey Jewell, Aaron Mends, and Bo Bower. Bower is in the lineup because Niemann isn't able to go. Jack Hockaday and Angelo Garbutt make up the second team. The other spot is a battle between Justin Jinning and Nick Wilson. It seemed as if Jinning might have a leg up as of now.
The safeties were Miles Taylor and Brandon Snyder. The corners were Desmond King and Josh Jackson. It'll be Mabin instead of Jackson once he is healthy again.
Kicking duties are being shared right now by Mick Ellis and Miguel Recinos but Ellis has a bit of a lead as of now. Returners have been Josh Jackson, Jerminic Smith, and Desmond King for punts. That's all we saw from the special teams.
Despite their insistence on not naming a third quarterback, Ryan Boyle is always trotted out before Drew Cook. However, it was interesting at the end of the practice that Ryan Boyle was involved in a special teams drill. It was not as a holder but in a coverage unit capacity.
One observation I did make, and it was not with the first team, but it seems as if Iowa is experimenting a little bit with Maurice Fleming at safety. I think he's open to any way to crack any of the starting jobs in the secondary and the Hawkeye staff is probably searching for another alternative to create competition for Brandon Snyder at free safety during Fall camp.
Sean Welsh has been the center for spring football with James Daniels out with an injury. I was told before spring football started that James Daniels was the guy at center once he returned but it seems as if Iowa may be backing away from that. They are beginning to consider the positive of continuity with C.J. Beathard entering the Fall. It may be a permanent deal for Welsh at center. That doesn't keep Daniels out of the lineup as he would likely just be inserted at right guard.
POSSIBLE GUYS EMERGING?
Everyone wants to know who might be making a move or coming into their own. Here's a handful of guys that it appears have had very strong springs and are impressing their peers and coaches, or myself.
Jay Scheel - he caught a long touchdown pass yesterday from C.J. Beathard where he bursted at the end of his route and got behind Josh Jackson. Scheel has been someone on the tip of a few guys' tongues this Spring.
Michael Slater - Phil Parker mentioned his name last year as a young guy that had impressed. He looked very good yesterday at defensive tackle and is very, very strong at the point of attack. Slater has cracked the two-deep.
Faith Ekakitie - I think he's been working hard in the offseason. His body looks a bit better and Reese Morgan was very complimentary of him when he met with the media last week.
Brandon Snyder - This is a guy I like. He played well last year during Fall camp and in limited action during the season. Snyder contributed well on special teams and just seems like a guy that doesn't make mistakes.
Miles Taylor - I mention him because he's gotten bigger and you can notice positive change in his body from the last time we saw him.
Riley McCarron - I thought he may just stay as the fourth wide receiver but he's another guy that doesn't make mistakes and is a vocal leader for the Hawkeyes this year.
Josh Jackson - He hasn't played a whole lot of corner at Iowa yet but he's already near the top of the depth chart and all he does is make plays. I think he has a bright future.
Anthony Nelson - Kirk Ferentz was very complimentary of him last night. He is subbing in right now at defensive end with Matt Nelson injured and has had a very, very good spring by all accounts.
RETURNERS JUMPING OFF THE PAGE
C.J. Beathard - He's showing no signs of lingering issues from the surgery and even with the strong wind gusts last night, his ball was still cutting through the wind. He'll be among the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten this upcoming season, if not the country.
Josey Jewell - He's a monster. He doesn't make mistakes. For a guy that already looked the part, his offseason work is very apparent in his appearance too which is astounding since he already looked impressive on the hoof.
Jaleel Johnson - His body looks even better than it did a year ago and that should help him over the long haul. He's another guy that has kind of taken the reins of being a vocal leader.
Cole Croston - He's even bigger this year and looks much more natural at left tackle now. Croston may contend for all-Big Ten this year.
George Kittle - He's very involved in the offense from the little bit we have seen and we already knew he was a big play guy at tight end. I expect a big year from him.
WALK-ON TO KNOW
There's always a good story at Iowa about a walk-on arriving onto the scene out of nowhere and making an impact. The name I will say is Jonathan Lubanza at cornerback. I mentioned him at the last open practice and he jumped out to me again. He's getting quite a few reps at cornerback right now with Fleming experimenting at safety, Jackson limited, and Mabin out. There's a lot of depth at cornerback so he probably won't get many opportunities but I imagine he becomes a regular on special teams.