Iowa punter Colten Rastetter punts the ball away during the season opener against Wyoming on Saturday, Sep. 2, 2017. The Hawkeyes went on to defeat the Cowboys, 24-3. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Special teams play big role as spring game approaches

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Iowa has some work to do on special teams and at defensive tackle if it wants to reach its full potential.

By Pete Ruden

peter-ruden@uiowa.edu

Snow isn’t exactly a sign of spring, but nevertheless, Iowa football’s spring game will take place in 10 days.

With the season inching closer, there is no question Iowa could improve on the special-team front — especially in the punting realm.

Colten Rastetter and Ryan Gersonde were both inconsistent in their chances last year, leaving a noticeable void after Ron Coluzzi graduated in 2017.

The Hawkeyes also have four players vying for the long snapper spot with Tyler Kluver graduating and hoping to make an NFL roster.

Without a serious punting threat and long snapper receiving consistent reps, Iowa has some issues to work through.

Special-team coordinator LeVar Woods said Rastetter showed some bright moments as a rugby-style punter last season and can be a traditional punter when consistent, while Gersonde is trying to find the style that best suits him.

“It is very critical we improve in that area,” Woods said. “I think both of the guys have the potential to do the job. It’s just a matter of buckling down, and doing it, and see where we shake out.”

Tackling depth at defensive tackle

Iowa returns its top four defensive ends this season, and while most of the defensive line is back for another go-around, there is one noticeable exception: Nathan Bazata.

Bazata played in every game since 2014, so his presence will be missed by the Hawkeyes. With Matt Nelson — who played some tackle last season — recovering from surgery, Iowa currently has Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff slotted as its starters.

Behind those two are Dalles Jacobus and Garret Jansen. Without much experience behind the first stringers, there is room to provide more depth.

Assistant defensive-line coach Kelvin Bell said Iowa’s scrimmage on April 6 was important in determining a defensive-tackle rotation. The available spots could also be filled by more than one player.

“Right now, it’s open for everybody,” Bell said. “We’re looking for guys to step forward at that defensive tackle spot. When Iowa’s defense has been really good, we’ve had a couple really good guys in there, but I think this year, it’s going to be more by committee, which is not a bad thing because there are a lot of guys that want to get an opportunity to play.”

Riley the role model

These days, Riley McCarron is a practice-squad wide receiver for the AFC Champion New England Patriots in the NFL.

His 42 receptions for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns in his senior season certainly helped prepare him to play at the next level, but he wasn’t a star receiver for the majority of his time at Iowa.

In his first three seasons, McCarron snagged a total of 8 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. His role on special teams as a returner and gunner put him on the field consistently and prepared him for his future as a playmaker on offense.

Now seeing the success McCarron is having, Woods uses the 5-9 speedster to motivate his squad of special-teamers.

“One of the guys that I’ve been trying to hammer home with our players right now is a guy named Riley McCarron, and I have a lot of reverence for Riley McCarron,” Woods said. “I think Riley bought into special teams at that time. He bought into coverage, bought into being a returner, trying to find a way to get into the game. He took it to heart every day in practice.”

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