Iowa football notebook: Kristian Welch focused on becoming a leader; Akrum Wadley is used to being doubted
By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The linebacker room for the Iowa football team has a different feel this spring after the departure of Ben Niemann, Bo Bower and consensus All-American Josey Jewell.
They combined to start 122 games in college and helped lead Iowa to 28 victories over the past three seasons.
So they leave behind giant shoes to fill, and junior Kristian Welch is eager to fill them at one of the linebacker positions.
The Wisconsin native entered spring practice listed as the starter at middle linebacker, which is the position Jewell played at an extremely high level for the previous three seasons.
Jewell finished his career with 435 career tackles, which ranks fourth on Iowa's all-time list, while Welch enters this season with only nine career tackles.
Welch is focused on carving his own path at middle linebacker more than trying to replace last year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’m not trying to focus on (replacing Jewell) right now, especially with it being the spring,” Welch said. “I’m just trying to focus on the things I can control right now and that’s just going day-to-day and improving, whether that be schematically or technique I’m trying to improve on. That’s just kind of my mentality right now.
“Obviously Josey is a good player to play behind but I’m not trying to be Josey, I’m trying to step into that position at middle linebacker.”
The 6-foot-3, 238-pound Welch has the ability to play all three linebacker positions, but he thinks that his willingness to take on a leadership role on defense played a part in him landing at middle linebacker.
“I can’t say exactly,” Welch said. “But knowing all the vocal stuff you have to know as a middle linebacker, being able to make adjustments on the fly helps. I kind of have – I don’t want to say I have a knack for it – but that’s something that I really take personally because I want to be that leader and step into that role and make those adjustments for our defense as a team is definitely something I take pride in.”
Welch’s versatility is something that stands out to linebackers coach Seth Wallace.
Though Welch is listed at middle linebacker right now, Wallace doesn't rule ruling out switching Welch back to outside linebacker.
“I think with any of our positions we talked about position flexibility,” Wallace said. “And moving forward we certainly need to talk about that because we’re not sure what the actual pieces are right now. We’ve got to be able to move guys around and the beauty of what we do defensively is there is some flexibility there.
“He needs to know how to play Mike, he needs to know how to play Will. I wouldn’t rule out him playing our Leo position, however right now we’ve got him penciled in as an inside guy. You start looking at body types and you start looking at change of direction and spacial awareness, all that sort of stuff I think is important at the position. It’s been more of just a feel for me on these guys on where they end up.”
After having the opportunity to learn from Jewell for three years, Welch looks forward to applying the knowledge he has gained.
“I would say Josey, not a huge talking guy, but I would say once he walks in the room guys are going to listen,” Welch said. “When he says things you really take that seriously and learn as much as you can.
“Being around him, whether it be in drills or things like that, you really have confidence to execute your game plan or whatever is it that we’re doing. I’m just kind of stepping into that and embracing it and trying to get my vocal leadership on defense as well as in the linebacker room. It’s been good stepping into that.”
Stoops sighting: A familiar face walked through Tuesday's press conference.
Former Hawkeye defensive back Bob Stoops was seen walking out of the Iowa football facility during the player interview portion of the press conference.
Stoops was a four-year starter at Iowa from 1979-82 under Hayden Fry and later became a graduate assistant from 1983-84 and an assistant coach from 1985-87.
Stoops coached at Oklahoma for 18 years, compiling a 190-48 record and lead the Sooners to the 2000 national championship.
Stoops retired shortly before last season, making Kirk Ferentz the longest-tenured coach in college football.
Wadley proving himself again: Former Hawkeye running back Akrum Wadley is in familiar territory in his quest to make an NFL roster.
The Newark, N.J., native came to Iowa after having been lightly recruited in high school and then struggled with fumbling and to gain weight before going on to become the fifth-leading rusher in school history.
The grueling NFL draft process is giving Wadley flashbacks to his recruitment out of high school.
“Every day I’ve got to prove myself,” Wadley said. “I’m always doubted. I’m just used to it. I’m used to always being doubted. It’s a good thing, I’ve always got a chip on my shoulder and that makes me work that much harder.”
As far as where he ends up, whether it be on draft day or in free agency, Wadley knows that his destination is out of his hands now.
“I try not to worry about that too much because I know I did everything I can to put myself in the right position to make it possible,” Wadley said. “So I just leave that up to whatever happens happens.
“If it was up to me, I need to go in the first round.”
Center of attention: Senior offensive lineman Keegan Render has big shoes to fill, literally and figuratively, as he replaces former Hawkeye James Daniels at center.
Daniels, who opted to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft, is expected to be picked in the first two rounds of April’s draft.
The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Render is trying to step into a leadership role on an offensive line that has to replace four experienced seniors from last season.
“I think we all realize we need to step up a little bit,” Render said. “But with me making the calls it’s obviously a big deal to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing on the line. I think naturally the center has to be more of a leader, but obviously it’s not just me out there.”
Render does have one start at center under his belt, which came during Iowa’s 2017 season opener against Wyoming.
He started every other game at either right or left guard after injuries to Boone Myers and Ike Boettger.
In order to learn what it takes to be a full-time center, Render sought the advice of former Iowa center James Ferentz during winter workouts.
“We do off field workouts with no pads and stuff during the winter and James came to a couple and gave me a couple pointers as far as how you work your hands in pass protection and how it’s a little different,” Render said. “And I’ve talked to Austin (Blythe) back when he was here and I was here.
“You look at guys that have done it at a high level you just kind of want to pick their brain a little bit and see how they did it and how they adjusted.
“James especially has been helpful because he played it for three or four years here as a starter. Just learning what he did and how he had to change some of the little fundamental stuff at center was helpful.”
Growing up a Hawkeye: Seth Wallace has known freshman linebacker Dillon Doyle for most of his life.
Doyle, who is the son of Iowa strength and conditioning coordinator Chris Doyle, grew up around the Hawkeye program and Wallace enjoys coaching the son of a close friend. He and Dollon Doyle met for the first time in 2006 when Wallace was a graduate assistant for the Hawkeyes.
Dillon Doyle graduated from Iowa City West in January and then enrolled at Iowa for the spring semester in order to participate in spring practice, which started last Wednesday.
“I was here as a graduate assistant 2006-08 and then my wife and I came back going on five years ago,” Wallace said. “Our oldest son spent time on road trips or at home games with Dillon. I used to see Dillon walk in the locker room and celebrate victories with us. Now here he is sitting in the meeting room, and in some cases getting his ass ripped.
“It’s good. The whole room is healthy right now.”
Stanley on the move: Junior quarterback Nate Stanley left little doubt in his first season as a starter that he could make plays with his arm.
The Menomonie, Wis. native threw for 2,437 yards and 26 touchdowns and six interceptions while leading Iowa to an 8-5 record and its first bowl game victory since 2010.
The 6-4, 242-pound Stanley said on Tuesday that he is trying to improve on knowing when to use his legs to gain yards when a pass play breaks down or he is under pressure.
“I think just being able to realize those opportunities when there’s nobody open, instead of throwing the ball away try and get a couple yards if possible,” Stanley said. “It’s kind of hard to simulate in practice but we do our best to make the most of those opportunities.”
Deep on the defensive line: Iowa is so deep at defensive end that sophomore Chauncey Golston has switched to defensive tackle, at least for spring practice.
Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan said a lack of size at defensive tackle is what led the coaching staff to switch the 6-5, 265-pound Golston inside.
"We have some good tackles but we're undersized inside," Morgan said. "All you have to do is look at our depth chart and watch us. We're a little strong on the outside with Matt (Nelson) going down. It gives another opportunity for a young man to move inside. In Chauncey's aspect, the difference between a heavy five technique at defensive end and a heavy three technique as a defensive tackle is you're on a guard instead of a tackle.
"If we can simplify it on our end I think that will help his transition. He's done very well. He showed great improvement during bowl prep."
In an effort to improve its rotation on the defensive line, members of the Iowa coaching staff took a trip to the University of Georgia to gain a different perspective on how to manage the rotation.