By Pete Ruden
It’s football season again. Well, kind of. The Iowa football team will kick off its spring season today in preparation for its season opener against Northern Illinois on Sept. 1.
A new depth chart was released just before head coach Kirk Ferentz’s press conference on Tuesday, and there are quite a few noticeable differences from last year’s depth chart. Many of the conspicuous changes come on the defensive side of the ball.
At cornerback, Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins are listed as the starters over veteran Manny Rugamba, who was inconsistent last year after a solid freshman campaign.
Another impressive freshman last year along with Hankins is defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who is listed as the second-string right end behind Parker Hesse.
But perhaps the biggest difference is the change in the linebacker corps. With Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann, and Bo Bower all graduating, there are three open spots occupied by players without significant game experience.
Right now, Kristian Welch mans the mike linebacker position, while Nick Niemann and Aaron Mends roam on the outside.
However, the depth chart isn’t set in stone. There is still a lot of work to be done until the first game rolls around.
“I say it to our players every year, the depth chart right now is pretty meaningless,” Ferentz said. “We have guys that are experienced that probably shouldn’t be beat out, but they still have to go and do it on the field. That’s their job. Their job is not only to practice but practice well and improve.”
Nixon to academic redshirt
Sticking with the defense, Ferentz also announced that three-star defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, a transfer from Iowa Western, is going to academic redshirt this year, meaning he will not see the field.
While Nixon can still practice with the team and develop as a player, he won’t make an impact in games as he could have before he was tagged. Nixon has been on campus since January and is transitioning well, Ferentz said.
Ferentz said the coaching staff knew the academic redshirt was a possibility, and he thinks it will be good for Nixon.
“The good news is he’s been on campus a couple months now,” Ferentz said. “We know a lot more about him now than we did back in December. He’s been great. He just has a great attitude. He works hard, and he’s got a positive attitude. He’s significantly talented on top of that, so it’s going to be good for him.”
Captain Nate Stanley
Stanley had an impressive season in his first full year under center, tossing 26 touchdown passes (one shy of the Iowa season record) to just 6 interceptions.
That performance, along with the leadership he has displayed, earned him a spot as a captain for the 2018 season.
While he certainly grew in numerous aspects throughout the season, there are still things he can improve on that could help his stats go up even more, which Ferentz hopes for.
“Probably being a little more decisive, a little quicker in everything he does,” Ferentz said. “He grew tremendously in all areas, but one area I’ll point out is leadership. I don’t know how many votes for captain he would have gotten, and same with Josh [Jackson], I don’t know how many votes they would have gotten for captain in August.
“Plus he’s got a great attitude, and he’s really improvement-driven. So those two things are a good combination.”