IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa football isn’t back just yet, but the Hawkeyes returned to campus this week. Summer workouts are set to begin, and now is as vital a time for player development and growth as any period on the calendar.
Here is a look at five returning players Iowa needs big summers from to maximize its potential for 2017.
1. QBs Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers
Yes it’s two players, but it’s one position. The Hawkeyes need growth at quarterback. The offense will be limited without it.
Both were inconsistent in public workouts and scrimmages this spring. It reaffirmed the need for improvement as the team tries to replace C.J. Beathard. Stanley, a sophomore, and Wiegers, a junior, enter the summer in a dead heat.
Ideally, one of them creates separation early in camp and shows the ability to lead the offense. Either could do it, but the work to ensure it happens begins now.
2. DT Nathan Bazata
An injury to his right leg limited Bazata’s effectiveness late in the season. An ankle injury kept him out during spring practice.
Iowa is young and inexperienced at defensive tackle. Bazata isn’t just the only returning starter. The senior is the only one familiar with the rigors of the Big Ten. Sophomores Cedric Lattimore and Brady Reiff are intriguing options, but the Hawkeyes need a stabilizing force.
Can Bazata be that player? He needs to be healthy to have a chance.
3. WR Devonte Young
Wide receiver was Iowa’s biggest problem last season. If the Hawkeyes are to fix it, they’ll need players to step up.
If healthy, senior Matt VandeBerg is a true No. 1 receiving option. Junior college transfer Nick Easley, a junior, all but wrote his name in pen in the starting lineup during spring practice.
At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Young brings the skill set to be an intermediate and deep threat in the passing game. Coaches raved about his potential as a true freshman last season.
Iowa needs more than one or two threats at receiver. Young appears to be the team’s best shot at developing one from the returning talent pool.
4. TE Noah Fant
Iowa is looking to break in a new starter at tight end. There is plenty of depth and potential options for the Hawkeyes to get everything they need out of the position.
But there isn’t a player capable of doing everything Iowa wants. Sophomore Noah Fant appears to be the player with the best chance to become the all-around contributor the Hawkeyes need.
He already possesses the receiving skills, but his blocking needs work. If he does, he could be the next in a long line of standout tight ends under coach Kirk Ferentz.
5. S Amani Hooker
Depth and experience is a concern at safety. Hooker took reps at both free and strong safety during the spring. At a minimum, the 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore enters summer as the top backup option at both positions. At best, he turns into a viable starting option at free safety.
Either way, Iowa needs Hooker to contribute to alleviate depth issues.