IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa relied little on true freshmen last fall. Only three newcomers saw the field.
That number will drop by one this season unless something changes. The Hawkeyes only plan on using receiver Jerminic Smith and offensive lineman James Daniels as of now, coach Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday.
Ben Niemann, Miles Taylor and Mick Ellis played last season, their first on campus. The first two guys were used mostly on special teams but have won starting jobs on defense heading into ’15. Ellis didn’t see the field in the season’s final 10 games after losing the starting kicker competition to Marshall Koehn.
The door remains open for other first-year players to join Daniels and Smith, however, Ferentz said.
"Those are the only two we’ve made a decision on. We’ve got a handful of other guys. We’ll wait to see what happens in terms of their development and how things materialize with our guys," he said.
If the Hawkeyes were to utilize only two true freshmen in ’15, it would mark the third year in a row where they’ve played fewer of them than the previous year. Matt Vandeberg, LeShun Daniels, Desmond King and Reggie Spearman saw action in ’13 while Drew Ott, Nate Meier and Tevaun Smith were among seven used the campaign before.
Ferentz shied away from using true freshmen early in his 16-year run leading the program. He’s become more accepting of bypassing redshirts if the athlete can help on special teams, fill a need on offense or defense, or plays a position at which the team will be hit by graduation in the near future.
Daniels paved the way to his playing time by enrolling in January after graduating early from his Ohio high school. The younger brother of starting running back, LeShun Daniels, was listed as the back-up left guard on the most recent two deep.
"I didn’t have any doubt in him but I know it’s tough (to play as a true freshman), especially as an offensive lineman," LeShun said. "He’s done real good things both on and off the field. It doesn’t surprise me, not one bit."
Baby brother might be opening holes for his older sibling.
"That would be pretty cool. Obviously, I wouldn’t be thinking about it at the time. I’d just be thinking about the play or whatever. But maybe after the game, if I’m just looking at tape, I might be like ‘wow, that’s pretty cool having my brother blocking for me,’" LeShun said.
True freshmen are prohibited from meeting with the media, per team rules. That could leave LeShun answering a lot of questions about his brother if he impacts the team.
Ferentz, offensive coordinator Greg Davis and receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said throughout the offseason that at least one of their three incoming wideouts stood a strong chance of playing in ’15. Jerminic Smith, a Texas product, rose above classmates Adrian Falconer and Emmanuel Ogwo.
"He’s really just kind of handled the transition with ease, if you will," Ferentz said. "Not that he knows everything right now and he’s going to make mistakes certainly if he gets in there, but he’s handled the adjustment pretty well from high school to college and seems to compete well out there, and we’re really excited about his potential."
Said Tevaun Smith: "You can tell that he’s real developed and he learned a lot in high school. Just coming out of high school and playing, you’ve got to be pretty good. He knows the basics that some guys might need coaching in. He’s definitely one guy who is showing glimpses of big play ability."
Ferentz mentioned on his radio show Wednesday night that Falconer was among a group of receivers pushing for playing time behind the top five. He said last month that defensive back Michael Ojemudia and a few of the linebackers could play as true freshmen, most likely on special teams.