It’s officially Spring so you know what that means for the state of Iowa: catastrophic flooding and Iowa Hawkeye football. The season officially starts this Wednesday, March 27th and will run a full month until April 26th. The offseason went about as expected, with a number of Hawkeyes declaring for the NFL Draft. However, there was some unexpected news, as one of the most influential coaches on Kirk Ferentz’s staff announced his retirement. Let’s talk about the top five stories heading into spring football.
Who will replace Reese Morgan?
Forget replacing a few players, how does Iowa replace one of the most impactful coaches of the past 20 years? Reese Morgan joined Kirk Ferentz’s crew following a successful stint as head coach of Iowa City West. He originally coached tight ends, moved to offensive line and then made the switch to defensive line in 2012, where he remained until he announced his retirement. He coached some of the biggest names to come out of Iowa (Clark, Gallery, Bulaga, Reiff, Scherff) and was extremely talented when it came to identifying raw talent on the recruiting trail.
Kelvin Bell will coach the defensive line this spring and considering Ferentz likes to keep things in-house, he’s a prime candidate to replace Morgan. Bell was a defensive lineman himself, he’s already the assistant defensive line coach and has previous experience coaching on the line. That would be an extremely smooth transition but Bell will have some serious shoes to fill both as a coach and as a recruiter.
On that note, who even plays defensive line for Iowa?
As if losing the defensive line coach wasn’t enough, Iowa has to replace their entire defensive line in 2019. Anthony Nelson declared for the NFL Draft and Sam Brincks, Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse graduated. It’s a lead pipe lock that A.J. Epenesa will be a 2019 starter at defensive end but past him, there are no sure things along the defensive front. That being said, we can probably guess that nearly all of last year’s reserves will become this year’s starters. That means Chauncey Golston will play opposite of Epenesa and Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore will fill out the middle.
Of greater concern is line depth. Ferentz has played reserves a bit more over the past 2-3 seasons, a reason why I think the defensive line has clearly improved in that timeframe. There won’t be the same pool of experience and talent in 2019. Well, there will be talent…just not experience. Veterans like Levi Duwa, Austin Schulte, John Waggoner, Noah Shannon and Daviyon Nixon (maybe) will have a chance to compete for backup spots. Newcomers Jalen Hunt, Jake Karchinski, Chris Reames and Zach VanValkenburg should as well.
Can Iowa find someone who will #PUNT2WIN?
Not going to dedicate too much space to laying out Iowa’s issues with punting as they’re well documented and statistically, Colten Rastetter is one of the weakest punters of the Kirk Ferentz era. Those issues are probably why Iowa added graduate transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton to the mix. Sleep-Dalton spent the last three seasons at Arizona State and will spend his final year of eligibility with the Hawkeyes. Ron Coluzzi was also a graduate transfer, so they’ve had success with grad transfer punters.
Sleep-Dalton will presumably be the front runner in 2019, as he started for Arizona State the past two years and had statistics that are not awful. Rastetter and the ghost that is Ryan Gersonde will likely be propped up by the coaching staff this spring but if you ask me, the job is Sleep-Dalton’s to lose.
Who will be Nate Stanley’s security blanket?
Those three combined for 140 receptions last season. You could add up the receptions of every other player on the team and you’d barely break 100. Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are still on the roster and while they’ve shown improvement over the past two seasons, there continue to be ball control issues. The next-man-in at tight end is Nate Wieting, a glorified offensive lineman. Then there’s Shaun Beyer, a guy who has never caught a pass and who everyone is still mad at because of the Wisconsin game. Does anyone even know where Drew Cook is?
Sam LaPorta, Josiah Miamen and Logan Lee join the Hawkeyes in 2019 and will likely contend for reserve positions. Hell, they might even compete for starting positions because technically, someone has to play tight end for the University of Iowa.
Who fixes the leaks in the defensive backfield?
Amani Hooker’s early departure to the NFL will likely hurt Iowa more than people anticipate. He could essentially play two positions in linebacker and safety. He was the type of player that is becoming more common in college football: a tweener linebacker. The Hawkeyes also have to replace free safety Jake Gervase, a walk-on that (BIG SHOCKER) was named honorable mention All-Big Ten in his final season.
Last year’s reserves at safety were John Milani and Geno Stone. The latter will start, though I question how serious the coaches are about Milani at strong safety. Then again, Gervase was a walk-on and Milani was a walk-on so why not continue the tradition? And if he isn’t working out, hello Dallas Craddieth!