IOWA CITY, Iowa — Despite one of the worst punting seasons in recent years, Iowa coaches have no plans to shake up the position after last season. At least that’s what special teams coach LeVar Woods said publicly on Friday.
The Hawkeyes are a developmental program that nudges players continuously forward with a goal of playing their best football late in their careers. It’s also a program that eyes maturity as a way for players to erase youthful, bone-headed plays.
Junior punter Colten Rastetter got away with an unscripted fake punt last season against Ohio State at his own 15-yard line. Rastetter decided to run, which he did for 7 yards, but was tackled 2 yards shy of a first down at his own 22. The Buckeyes scored on the next play.
Ultimately, the play had little impact on the outcome of the game, which was a surprising 55-24 Iowa win. But the play drew some questions about the punting game and how the players are accepting coaching.
“Our mantra is always to develop people. That’s first and foremost,” said Woods, who said he still trusts Rastetter. “The guy if you went back and you watched all of his punts, and I’m going to ask you do that, watch all of his punts, which the exception of one other punt, the guy punted pretty well in that game. Enough to where on the big stage in front of a lot of people that to just blow the guy up or blow up the position doesn’t make any sense to me or to us. That’s not our philosophy.
“Again we’re trying to develop people first and then develop the players and see what we have. If we have to bring someone else in we bring someone else in.”
Rastetter had a rough season overall as the Hawkeyes punter. He shifted primarily to a rugby-style punter and had just enough roll to average 37.8 yards per attempt. That number failed to crack the nation’s top 100 or the Big Ten’s top 12.
This spring, sophomore Ryan Gersonde is slated as the No. 1 punter ahead of Rastetter. Gersonde pulled off his redshirt midseason last year but punted just 13 times for a 42.5-yard average. He would have ranked 46th nationally in that category.
“Both of them, I thought, were inconsistent throughout the year, some good, some bad,” Woods said. “I think they’ve been working very diligently. They’ve been making progress in both of their areas. They both bring a different skill set. But I think they’ve been working hard.”
Gersonde, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 198 pounds, is a traditional, left-footed punter. Among his most important goals this offseason is perfecting his footwork.
“I think Ryan has good upside,” Woods said. “I think Ryan is inconsistent, but he’s also young. He’s been working through what style of punter he wants to be because he’s got a couple of different styles. Just settle in at the one and being effective at it. I like his upside. I think he’s been working hard, like with all players, he’s a freshman so there are some freshman things you have to work through with guys. I think he’s been doing well.
“Does he want to be a two-step punter? Does he want to be a jab-step punter? All of the mechanics that go into it, it’s no different than being a quarterback or any other position.”
Rastetter’s rugby punts helped limit return yardage by Iowa’s opponents, but that was perhaps the only benefit from the punting game last season. Iowa ranked 25th nationally in yards allowed per punt at 4.65.
Woods said doesn’t have a style preference, just merely that the punter is effective.
“Colten showed last year he can be a pretty decent rugby punter. He also, when he’s consistent, can be a traditional punter,” Woods said. “Ryan is a very good traditional punter and also has the capability of being an excellent plus-50 punter.”
The Hawkeyes managed 15 punts inside the 20-yard line (117th nationally), while their opponents parked 31 punts inside the 20. Iowa ranked 114th nationally by averaging 38.6 yards per punt.
It’s an area in which Iowa needs to get better, especially with its style of play. In 2016 with Ron Coluzzi, Iowa ranked 66th nationally. That was Iowa’s highest ranking since 2011. Gersonde gives the Hawkeyes the best chance of making dramatic strides — if he becomes more steady.
“I think he has a strong leg,” Woods sad, “but it’s just being consistent over and over.”