IOWA CITY, Iowa – The following 10 observations are based on watching the Iowa football team practice for 2 ½ hours on what was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium.
It’s hard to get a true read on any player except for maybe a physical freak like Randy Moss or current Louisiana State running back Leonard Fournette based on watching just on practice.
So these are just 10 observations about mostly young and unproven players who stood out to me during the annual Kids Day Practice on Saturday for their execution, their effort or both.
They are listed in no particular order.
1. True freshman running back Toks Akrinibade looked capable of helping Iowa this season based on his performance Saturday. The Brownsburg, Ind., native showed a nice burst between the tackles, along with some wiggle and power.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Akrinibade has decent size and speed. He also runs hard and doesn’t seem intimidated by contact at this level.
A willingness to absorb contact is something you can’t learn about a recruit until he starts facing college competition.
“Toks has looked good,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after Saturday’s practice. “So the question with backs is what’s it going to be like when they get tackled?
“Today, was the first day he got tackled, and I thought he handled that real well.”
Ferentz made a point to include fellow freshman running back Toren Young in the discussion. Young doesn’t have the same burst as Akrinibade, but the 5-11, 220-pound Young ran with a purpose on Saturday.
“Toren is one of those players, the more contact involved, probably the better it is for him,” Ferentz said of the Wisconsin native. “He’s not necessarily a combine guy, but I thought he ran good today and did some positive things, too.”
The problem for both freshmen running backs will be finding playing time in Iowa’s crowded backfield where three of the top four rushers from last season return.
2. Sophomore free safety Brandon Snyder plays nasty, which is meant to be a compliment.
The heir apparent to Jordan Lomax at free safety, Snyder delivered several hits on Saturday that stood out for their violence.
He and starting strong safety Miles Taylor give Iowa two players at the back of the defense who pride themselves on being physical.
“Brandon is a hitter and he’s a cover guy,” Taylor said. “He’s smart. He knows everything about the game and he’s passionate.”
3. Detroit true freshmen defensive linemen Cedrick Lattimore and Chauncey Golston both look and act like they belong at this level.
The two former high school teammates showed Saturday that they can be physical in the trenches. They also both showed a motor that never stops.
One of the more telling moments in Saturday’s practice came when Ferentz praised the 6-5, 227-pound Golston for making a tackle about 25 yards down field. Golston could’ve easily given up on the play, but he kept pursuing the ball carrier until finally making the tackle near the sideline.
The 6-5, 260-pound Lattimore is listed as a defensive end in the media guide. But he played tackle during Saturday’s practice and looked pretty good doing it.
The fact that junior defensive tackle Jake Hulett is out with a leg injury helped convince the coaches to move Lattimore inside.
“The way things are shaking out right now with our group watching them, and our needs, we’re a little bit thin in there with Jake being out,” Ferentz said.
4. All four of Iowa’s kickers had their moments on Saturday, but none were spectacular. Sophomore Miguel Recinos entered practice as the No. 1 kicker and probably did nothing to lose the job on Saturday.
Recinos made 6-of-8 field-goal attempts on Saturday, including one from 44 yards and another from 46 yards against the wind.
Fellow sophomore Mick Ellis, who is the only kicker on scholarship, made 7-of-8 field-goal attempts on Saturday, but missed a 44-yarder against the wind.
5. Redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Cook (6-5, 230) and true freshman quarterback Nathan Stanley (6-5, 212) both have good size and are athletic. Each had their moments on Saturday and should only get better with more reps in practice.
6. Sophomore offensive lineman James Daniels looks like the real deal with Saturday’s practice the latest proof. Daniels is listed as a starting guard, but he played center during Saturday’s practice. Either way, he is a force and a lock to start somewhere.
Sean Welsh is listed as the starting center, but he has been slowed recently in practice by an undisclosed injury. Welsh also has started at guard and tackle for the Hawkeyes.
“I could’ve made a real good argument in the spring for Sean,” Ferentz said in regard to who should be the starting center. “Now I could make one for James. Both will start.”
7. All three of Iowa’s true freshmen tight ends – Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson and Shaun Beyer – could figure in the mix for playing time this season. Especially since junior tight end Jon Wisnieski is out for at least four to six weeks with a knee injury. Wisnieski missed the entire 2014 season because of a knee injury.
The three freshmen tight ends all showed good hands on Saturday and they’re all listed at 6-5 and from 210 to 230 pounds.
Fant made a nifty catch in a 7-on-7 drill in which he showed soft hands and the ability to gain yards after the catch.
Beyer is talented enough to where he is also getting a look at receiver, while Hockenson had over 1,000 yards receiving as a junior and senior in high school.
8. True freshman receiver Devonte Young appears on course to play this season. The Maryland native worked with the second-team offense on Saturday, showing a nice burst off the line of scrimmage and the ability to stretch defenses.
Young has gained valuable experience in practice this week with sophomore Jay Scheel nursing a hamstring injury. Scheel did not practice Saturday, but is expected back on Monday.
“I think it’s realistic that he’ll be in the mix,” Ferentz said of Young, who is the only receiver in Iowa’s 2016 recruiting class. “We may have to move some guys around. That’s a discussion that we’re going to have to have here right now. But I can see him certainly playing in a couple weeks when we get started.”
9. True freshman linebacker Amani Jones wears the same jersey No. 52 that former Iowa all-Big Ten Abdul Hodge wore as a Hawkeye.
Jones also plays with the same energy and passion that Hodge played with at Iowa.
Jones is undersized at 6-0 and 215 pounds, but he compensated on Saturday with toughness, quickness and the willingness to compete.
“The more we learned about him, the more interested we got,” Ferentz said of Jones, who is from Chicago. “He’s just kind of our kind of guy.”
10. True freshmen defensive backs Amani Hooker and Cedric Boswell both were active on Saturday, especially in coverage. It’s reasonable to think one or both of them could help on special teams. Hooker might be ready to play sooner, considering he weighs over 200 pounds, while Boswell is listed at 175 pounds.