IOWA CITY, Iowa — Now that the ongoing and sometimes overwhelming recruiting season has slumbered a bit for the Iowa Hawkeyes, we all can turn our eyes toward the game on the field.
On offense, Iowa lost four every-down starters from the majority of its season plus a handful of players who contributed or made other starts in 2017. Muting any pessimism starts with Iowa bringing back several key starters from its 2017 offense.
Here’s a projection of Iowa’s 2018 offense entering spring practice and which newcomers could impact the depth chart.
Who returns: The Hawkeyes bring back starting quarterback Nate Stanley, who will be a junior this season. Stanley had one of the best debuts for any Iowa quarterback, completing 196 of 351 passes for 2,437 yards and 26 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions last season. Stanley’s 26 touchdown passes were one shy of tying the school’s single-season record set by Chuck Long in 1985. Vying for backup responsibilities is freshman Peyton Mansell, who redshirted last fall. Also, walk-on junior Ryan Schmidt is a trusted backup.
Who left: Iowa loses its top two backups from last season, both of whom leave as graduate transfers. Tyler Wiegers battled Stanley throughout training camp for the starting nod. Wiegers graduated in December and enrolled at Eastern Michigan. Ryan Boyle, who was the third-team quarterback, will graduate in May.
Newcomers: Freshman Spencer Petras enrolled early after signing with the Hawkeyes in December. Petras will compete alongside Mansell for second-team repetitions in spring practice. Barring an injury to Stanley, it seems likely Petras will redshirt.
Depth chart projection: Stanley’s terrific sophomore season has solidified his starting status entering the spring. While Petras should redshirt, if he clearly is the second-best quarterback this spring, that could make the backup race interesting this fall.
|First team||Nate Stanley, jr., 6-5, 235|
|Second team||Peyton Mansell, fr., 6-3, 210|
|Third team||Ryan Schmidt, jr., 6-5, 235/Spencer Petras, fr., 6-5, 225|
Iowa running back
Who returns: Sophomores Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin both posted nearly 200 yards in spot duty last season. Young, a physical, bruising back, rushed for 196 yards on 45 carries and scored twice. Kelly-Martin is smaller and quicker and gained 186 yards on 20 carries and scored 3 touchdowns. Kelly-Martin picked up 25 yards and a score through the air, while Young caught 1 pass for 23 yards. Kyshaun Bryan, a freshman, redshirted last year; sophomore Toks Akinribade also redshirted and faced a non-football medical issue last fall that may prevent him from playing.
At fullback, veterans Brady Ross and Austin Kelly come back. Neither carried the ball last year — Ross had 1 catch for 5 yards — but both have plenty of experience blocking.
Who left: Iowa’s top two running backs exit, including all-time great Akrum Wadley, who became only the fourth running back in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Wadley also scored 35 career touchdowns, one shy of the school record. Backup James Butler, who played last season as a graduate transfer from Nevada, ran for 396 yards and a touchdown. Marcel Joly left as a graduate transfer. Starting fullback Drake Kulick exits after scoring twice, one on a run and one on a pass.
Newcomers: Iowa signed one pure running back in the 2018 class in Henry Geil from Green Bay, Wis. All-purpose back Samson Evans could shift to running back if needed.
Depth chart projection: Iowa usually needs at least three, if not four, running backs to make it through a season. Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin form a solid backfield combination despite their limited experience. After Young and Kelly-Martin, the depth is sparse. Could Bryan emerge? What about Geil? Last year, Iowa picked up Butler in the summer as a graduate transfer. Will another graduate transfer emerge?
|First team||Toren Young, soph., 5-11, 220||Brady Ross, jr., 6-1, 245|
|Second team||Ivory Kelly-Martin, soph., 5-11, 195||Austin Kelly, sr., 5-11, 245|
|Third team||Kyshaun Bryan, fr., 5-10, 210||Lane Akre, jr., 6-0, 240|
Iowa wide receiver
Who returns: Senior Nick Easley came to Iowa last spring as a walk-on and ended the year as the Hawkeyes’ leading receiver with 51 catches for 530 yards and 4 touchdowns. Sophomore Ihmir Smith-Marsette was inconsistent but flashed potential with 18 catches for 187 and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Brandon Smith played in 10 games and caught 3 passes for 15 yards. Junior Devonte Young and sophomore Max Cooper saw limited snaps on special teams or in offensive subpackages. Freshman Henry Marchese redshirted last year.
Who left: Matt VandeBerg, who played in the most games in Iowa history (54), caught passes in 32 consecutive games and finished with 134 catches overall, 10th most in Iowa history. Junior Adrian Falconer decided to transfer. Matt Quarells, who arrived last summer as a graduate transfer, left for Southern Illinois.
Newcomers: Iowa signed three receivers and one athlete who might end up there. Nico Ragaini has enrolled and will compete in spring drills. Tyrone Tracy of Indianapolis and Calvin Lockett of Largo, Fla., will join the battle in June. Samson Evans could play receiver or running back.
Depth chart projection: Iowa generally likes to play at least five receivers with regularity and so far about four players should see time in the rotation. Nick Easley and Ihmir Smith-Marsette played in nearly all three-receiver sets last season and should do the same in 2018. Smith has the perfect frame to play as a split end and is a likely starter. Sophomore Max Cooper saw his snaps increase late in the season and also could see action. Among incoming players, Tyrone Tracy has the best chance to play right away, while Nico Ragaini has an opportunity to compete in spring drills.
|First team||Second team|
|Split end-X||Brandon Smith, soph., 6-3, 215||Henry Marchese, fr., 6-3, 190|
|Flanker-Z||Nick Easley, sr., 5-11, 203||Max Cooper, soph., 6-0, 175|
|Slot-Y||Ihmir Smith-Marsette, soph., 6-2, 175||Devonte Young, jr., 6-0, 200|
Iowa tight end
Who returns: Iowa brings back perhaps the incoming preseason All-American in junior Noah Fant, who scored 11 touchdowns and averaged 16.5 yards per catch, both of which were highs nationally among tight ends. Sophomore T.J. Hockenson caught 24 passes for 320 yards and 3 touchdowns. Junior blocking tight end Nate Wieting also comes back, as do junior Drew Cook and sophomore Shaun Beyer.
Who left: Tenacious blocker Pete Pekar, who caught 1 pass for 9 yards last year, graduated, as did Jon Wisnieski.
Newcomers: Iowa opted not to sign a tight end in this recruiting cycle but has six under scholarship.
Depth chart projection: Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson formed a tremendous duo last year and both return. The talent behind them is solid, too. Shaun Beyer is a former wide receiver who is an athletic mismatch as a tight end. Nate Wieting blocks like an offensive lineman. Drew Cook, son of former All-American and NFL All-Pro tight end Marv Cook, switched to tight end last spring and could become a contributor this year. Overall, this is Iowa’s healthiest offensive position.
|First team||Second team|
|Tight end||Noah Fant, jr., 6-5, 232||Shaun Beyer, soph., 6-5, 222|
|Tight end||T.J. Hockenson, soph., 6-5, 243||Nate Wieting, jr., 6-4, 250/Drew Cook, jr., 6-5, 235|
Iowa offensive line
Who returns: Senior Keegan Render is the most veteran player up front with 20 career starts at three positions. Sophomore Alaric Jackson started 12 games at left tackle and earned freshman All-American honors after the 2017 season. Sophomore Tristan Wirfs became the first true freshman to start at tackle under Kirk Ferentz and opened eight games last year. Junior Levi Paulsen has two starts and senior Ross Reynolds has one.
Who left: Mainstay Sean Welsh graduated after 48 starts, mostly at guard. Center James Daniels declared for the NFL draft after his junior year and is a potential first-round pick. Boone Myers and Ike Boettger, each of whom started more than 20 games, suffered season-ending injuries early in their senior years. Lucas LeGrand, who started two games at Iowa, opted to leave the program and finish his degree rather than play his senior season.
Newcomers: Iowa signed three offensive linemen — Cody Ince and Jack Plumb from Wisconsin and Jeff Jenkins from Crystal Lake, Ill. All three are likely redshirt candidates.
Depth chart projections: Look for Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs to lock down their tackle slots. Keegan Render started every game but one at guard last year but started the season opener at center. Ross Reynolds alternated series with Render at left guard last year and appears a likely starter. Levi Paulsen started one game at guard in 2016 and at right tackle in the Pinstripe Bowl. Freshman Mark Kallenberger has a chance to slide into the starting lineup or become a versatile backup.
|First team||Second team|
|LT||Alaric Jackson, soph., 6-7, 320||Mark Kallenberger, fr., 6-6, 260|
|LG||Ross Reynolds, sr., 6-4, 300||Landan Paulsen, jr., 6-5, 305|
|C||Keegan Render, sr., 6-4, 310||Cole Banwart, soph., 6-4, 295|
|RG||Levi Paulsen, jr., 6-5, 305||Coy Kirkpatrick, fr., 6-5, 275|
|RT||Tristan Wirfs, soph., 6-5, 315||Dalton Ferguson, sr., 6-4, 312|