I’m a depth chart nerd. There, I admitted it. I will snort these babies until there’s a new one.
Depth charts do matter. Everyone knows when they go out, especially at Iowa, which has done things on the public communication end the same way, basically, for 40 years. When I say “everyone,” yes, of course, that also means players.
They know it’s spring football. It’s time for reps to go to someone and the depth chart is our guide to see what that might look like.
Say it with me, MIGHT LOOK LIKE.
In the football world I’m from, as short-lived as it was, the depth chart was used to keep you motivated. Hey, I’m the No. 1 outside linebacker … coming out of winter track. The message from the coaches was, hey, doing the right stuff, but you’ve got a long way to go.
Internally, the depth chart is the guide for reps and a motivational marker.
But then there’s the case of Jason White. He was a backup RB from the Quad Cities back in the early 2010s. He spent the entire 2011 season listed as the No. 2 RB. When it was time for the No. 2 RB that year, it sure wasn’t Jason White.
I asked him about that at the first Insight Bowl (the good one, you know, where the Hawkeyes beat Missouri).
White called the depth chart the “Unofficial Record of What’s Supposed to Happen” and I immediately chuckled and fell in love with the term. (He wasn’t smiling when he said it, BTW.)
The depth chart is motivational, an achievement of sorts for players and maybe full of shit. It can be all three.
So, let’s check it out.
WR — Get ready for the X spot to look different. Brandon Smith was the quintessential X, standing around 6-3 and weighing in at 220. In a lot of peoples’ minds, he was the first big WR Iowa used as a big WR, with fade routes and opportunities that allowed him to use his athleticism.
I love Tyrone Tracy and absolutely he can and should be able to excel here, but he’s 5-11. It will look different.
Junior Nico Ragaini is your quintessential Iowa slot receiver. He played 87 percent of his snaps there last season and was third on the team in YAC. Senior Charlie Jones led the Big Ten last season with 10.5 yards per punt return.
Beyond Tracy, Ragaini and Jones (who saw a grand total of 32 snaps), there’s a lot of inexperience. It’ll be interesting to see how the group evolves.
TE — Totally expect Sam LaPorta to stay on course. He led the Hawkeyes with 27 receptions last season. He also was Iowa’s most targeted receiver with 46. Love how OC Brian Ferentz moves him around and creates numbers advantages. LaPorta saw 73 snaps in slot/H back.
Lots of promise behind LaPorta, but he and walk-on Bryce Schulte are the only Iowa TEs with a college snap. Luke Lachey (6-6, 237 and a helluva high school dunk tape) is listed No. 2. Good place to start, but I imagine he’s running with fellow freshman Elijah Yelverton and sophomore Josiah Miamen.
OL — Maybe someone will crack open Tyler Linderbaum and find an energy source that powers the world. OK, I don’t want to overdo it for the kid. He has been the “prince who was promised” from when the moment KF said, “We’re gonna make this freshman backup DT the starting center and see what happens.” Knowing KF a little, I think Iowa was in hot pursuit for a center project but that someone picked another school, so KF being KF, “I’ll show those bastards.”
By every objective measure, Linderbaum was Iowa’s best offensive player in 2020.
OK, now do tackle. No, you do tackle. Kidding. Let’s do tackle, which probably is THE hotspot going into spring practice.
Junior Jack Plumb (6-7, 293) has five games and 185 snaps under the belt and is the new LT. He started against Nebraska and gave up a few pressures, but Iowa won and he probably graded in the mid 70s. Long arms, decent feet. I think he can stick, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatic.
Redshirt freshman Mason Richman (6-6, 289) is behind him. No one has seen him play outside of practice.
As I kind of thought, Cody Ince (6-4, 285) has been moved from guard to right tackle. He’s tall enough and moves well. He played 324 snaps in 2020 and held up well. It’ll be a transition. Walk-on Nick DeJong (6-6, 296 and I think he’s still a walk-on) is No. 2.
Guard Kyler Schott will be a three-year starter. His pass blocking was on point last season. He’s a leader and a driver now. It’s good to see Justin Britt rise. As a true freshman in 2019, he was a practice injury from losing his redshirt. Last year, the transfer portal probably kept him landlocked with him seeing just 40 snaps.
RB — Junior Tyler Goodson brings back first-team all-Big Ten status. I want to say Shonn Greene was the last Hawkeye RB to take that home and that was 2008 and Greene is now retired from the NFL.
My point being that first-team all-B1G RB doesn’t happen a lot around here. I don’t get a big charge out of wildcat formation or Iowa’s use of it last season (for the first time in KF’s era). Iowa will eventually do what all of the other offenses do, it’ll just be vintage when Iowa decides to use it.
Senior Ivory Kelly-Martin is listed as the No. 2. Iowa has just two other scholarship running backs in camp right now — Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams. That seems light.
FB — Junior Monte Pottebaum is proving the mullet and the inside zone will never go away. He was used in 23 percent of snaps last season. Maybe that goes up. It all depends on what Iowa’s offense is good at out of the box, which is hellacious with likely ranked Indiana and Iowa State in weeks 1 and 2.
QB — This is the big one, but what is there really to say? KF stuck by Spencer Petras during times of struggle in his first season as a starter, which was unlike any season a first-year QB faced. Remember how locked down things were last spring? That definitely affected QB more than any other position in football. I think Petras took the brunt of that. It showed up the most in his performance, even though who knows what was right or wrong by anyone on a given play.
The biggest fear in my mind is avoiding a QB calamity like 2014. Whatever was going on there, it clearly held the team back. CJB was anointed in January 2015 and the valve seemed to let off any negative steam that was around.
I don’t sense that here. I don’t sense that Petras was pushed for the starting job, but again, how much pushing were coaches going to allow in a pandemic? Probably not much.
Petras comes into 2021 knowing he has to be more consistent and has to make plays. I think he’ll make his share. Maybe you see something like 2010 Ricky Stanzi rising out of 2009 Stanzi.
Sure, declare it an open competition, but is there really competition? Or will Iowa simply never unplug on a QB the staff deemed the starter? You have to go back to 2008 for an example of a QB being pulled because of performance. I’m not sure there’s any room for QB competition at Iowa beyond fall camp.
I don’t see meaningful reps for Deuce Hogan or Alex Padilla in 2021, barring injury. That said, in a regular year post-covid, maybe a coach will have more confidence in the No. 2 to make a switch.
Yeah, I doubt it, too. Can Petras be second-team all-conference? I’d put it at 70-30 against, but you guys already know this is a program that lives off its defense and calls an offense that plays to the defense, so improvement for Petras can look one way to coaches and another way to the rest of the world.
Ends — Juniors John Waggoner and Joe Evans are listed at one end. Maybe that breaks into run/pass rush platoon. Waggoner had 92 snaps last season compared to Evans’ 189. It looked like Waggoner might go the tackle direction last season, but at 6-5, 271, he probably has what Iowa wants in strong technique as a run stopper. Let’s see what happens on third-and-long.
Zach VanValkenburg comes back as a super senior and D-line coach Kelvin Bell is probably happy about that. In 454 snaps last season, ZVV was one of Iowa’s steadiest defenders. He had 3.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss. He reminded me of Drew Ott at times. He’s Iowa’s best get as far as keeping a player goes.
You’d feel better if you saw more pass-rush potential out of this group, but that goes without saying.
Tackles — Young here, but I love the bodies. The trio of Logan Jones (6-3, 267), Yahya Black and Logan Lee are three hellaciously interesting dudes. Assistant DL coach Jay Niemann described Jones as “all rocked up” during recruiting. Jones is exactly that, setting two weight room records for defensive tackles. He can’t be 267 anymore (these weights are old), but he’s probably not much more than 280. Either way, that’s a good thing.
Black (6-5, 279) and Lee (6-5, 267) have the bodies to really do something and I think they can be. (Who are they shitting with these weights?) Noah Shannon has to be a pain-in-the-ass 1 tech. It’s time.
Linebacker — I’ve always like Seth Benson. Always seemed like a kid on the cusp and has excelled in special teams. He got real PT last year and came out with high marks against the run and decent pass coverage grades. Feels like a dude you can trust, but he’s not a huge ass-kicking type at 6-0, 231.
Iowa has a huge ass-kicking type in Jack Campbell (6-5, 243). In five games, Campbell flashed a lot of skill and some yet-to-be-unearthed potential. He’s a closer, he learned how to take on blocks and seemed to build a house at MLB. Moving to the weakside might be a way for Iowa to more speed on the field or maybe a stab at something more flexible, which is where defense is in college football.
I’m with you on Jestin Jacobs (6-4, 235). Let’s see if it’s go time there this season. It’s his third year, he’s going to want to hit the field.
I’m not closing the door on OLB. I think it’s good Iowa keeps that active as a personnel group. I also think it’s smart to recruit fewer LB types for fewer LB spots and they’ve certainly done that.
Secondary — Keep doing what you’re doing. Getting CB Matt Hankins to super senior was a great get. He’s been up and down during his career, but he’s an experienced corner and that is a gold doubloon on the roster.
The rash of transfers you saw out of Iowa’s secondary in the offseason was because no one is beating out senior CB Riley Moss and the transfers likely knew the race was over. Moss has become comfortable out on the island. He was Iowa’s most-targeted secondary player, but he held up. Moss is one of Iowa’s better defenders going into 2021.
When Iowa has multiyear starters at the safety spots, that’s always a good thing. Jack Koerner and Kaevon Merriweather will give Iowa solid coverage. Tackling will be their biggest task. Safeties combined for 24 missed tackles last season. My guess is that Phil Parker brought that number up a time or two this winter.
Dane Belton grew some roots in 2020. The cash safety saw the second-most targets (37) and allowed just 19 completions. In 2021, he’s the kind of player you no longer worry about. You know he’s going to perform. Last year, you saw him become more physical. I expect the same rise in the curve this season.
Kicker — I’m not going to go crazy here except to say it’s super cool Caleb Shudak stuck around for a super senior year. May he enjoy the crown. We can’t begin to comprehend the twists and turns it took for him to enjoy this opportunity.
Punter — Keep doing what you’re doing, Tory Taylor.
Deep snaps — I have to ask Tyler Kluver about this one, but Austin Spiewak seemed to do just fine in 2020.
Highly recommend downloading the spring prospectus.
It’s the great reset document for the 2021 season. Who’s where on the depth chart? Who stuck around? Are you noticing some walk-on names for the second year or so?