Linebacker Comes Out As Strongest Position Group
This is about as good of a linebacking group that I've seen at Iowa, especially considering none of them are seniors. It starts in the middle with Josey Jewell, who was the first junior ever in the Kirk Ferentz era to make the trip to Big Ten Media Days not too long ago in Chicago, IL. As a sophomore last season Jewell led the Hawkeyes with 126 total tackles, 7.5 of them being tackles for a loss.
Jewell, along with Desmond King, will be the leaders of the defense as Iowa makes it way through fall camp and into the regular season, which begins on September 3rd. When you look on either side of him you have returning outside linebacker, Ben Niemann who will be entering his junior season, and Aaron Mends, who takes over for the departed Cole Fisher.
Mends, who everyone has raved about in the off-season, is one of the most athletic guys on the team and should have a solid sophomore season as he takes on a role as a starter. Mends appeared in five games last season and racked up just four tackles. He primarily did his work on special teams. But it's what Iowa has after that that excites me most.
Bo Bower will back up Niemann at the OLB spot, Angelo Garbutt backs up Jewell, and Jack Hockaday will be behind Aaron Mends. Bower will bring some experience to the table entering his junior season. He played in just eight games last season and racked up just 15 tackles, but I think Bower has the tools to be a really nice piece when Niemann needs a break.
Garbutt, who is entering his redshirt freshman season, was a three star linebacker out of Texas in 2015 who shows good ability to race sideline to sideline and make plays. He's an athletic linebacker that will help Iowa this season.
Finally, Jack Hockaday, the sophomore out of Illinois that could ultimately challenge Mends for the starting spot. He's been a kid that I've been excited about since he committed to the Hawkeyes back in March of 2014. Like Garbutt, he's an athletic kid that has a nose for the football.
Linebacker is a spot that is full of athletes for Iowa and they should have no shortage of good ones over the course of this season and the next couple. They'll come out of the fall looking like an elite bunch.
Jay Scheel Pushes Jerminic Smith at Split End
Tevaun Smith graduated in May and that leaves the split end spot for the Hawkeyes wide open. Jerminic Smith did start against Illinois when Tevaun was out and caught four passes for 118 yards in the win. Smith, at 6'1" and 180 pounds has the athletic ability to be Iowa's next guy at SE, but so does Jay Scheel.
Scheel does have two years under his belt in Iowa City, whereas Smith only has one. So that could play into this position battle as well seeing as he knows a little bit more being in the system for an additional year. People seem to be getting pretty antsy waiting for Scheel to become what people think he can turn into and I believe he could take a big step forward this fall as we push into the regular season.
Scheel may even challenge Riley McCarron at the other wide receiver spot if McCarron is not performing well and Scheel is standing out in fall practices. Ultimately, I think Scheel finds the field a bunch this fall for the Hawkeyes.
He has the size and the athleticism, he just needs to put it all together.
Noah Fant Becomes the Backup Tight End
Henry Krieger-Coble and George Kittle locked down the tight end spots last season and did it well. Since then, Krieger-Coble has graduated and Kittle takes on the role as number one. That pretty much leaves number two wide open. Right now, the two deeps have Peter Pekar and Jon Wisnieski listed as the backups to Kittle, but Fant is coming fast.
At Big Ten media days in Chicago, our very own Derek Young listened to both C.J. Beathard and Kirk Ferentz praise Fant's work ethic over the course of summer workouts. Fant might be a little undersized at 220 pounds, but is extremely athletic and clearly has the work ethic it'll take to get bigger and stronger.
I think the backup spot at tight end could really be anyones for the taking at this point. If Fant comes in and performs well during fall camp, there is a chance he enters the season as the teams second tight end behind George Kittle.
Iowa opens up it's fall camp today.