By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Ten thoughts/observations from watching the Iowa football team’s annual Kids Day practice on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
1. The best part of the Kids Day practice is watching Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and his players interact with the kids. It’s what the event is all about, helping and recognizing those less fortunate.
To see the looks on the kids’ faces as Ferentz and his players interacted with them was priceless.
“To me it’s one of those two-way streets where I think our guys benefit more from it than maybe the Kid Captains themselves,” Ferentz said. “It’s something we talk about with our players all of the time.
“We all choose to do this. Nobody is forcing anybody to be involved in our football program.”
2. The Kids Days practice is usually the first chance to see the true freshmen play and three of them stood out on Saturday, including Solon defensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum.
Cornerback Julius Brents and linebacker Seth Benson also performed well on Saturday, and they all seem capable of helping right away.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Brents is long, athletic and has good instincts. He had several pass break-ups on Saturday in which he showed good timing and anticipation. The Indianapolis native also moves his hips well, is quick with his back pedal and showed a willingness to get physical when the situation called for it.
As for Linderbaum and Benson, they both showed a knack for being around the football and for making big plays.
It doesn’t appear that Saturday’s practice was an outlier, either, because all three of them worked with the second-team defense.
3. Iowa appears headed for a running back by committee with sophomores Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin and junior-college transfer Mekhi Sargent all in the mix for significant playing time.
Kelly-Martin and Sargent both had some impressive runs on Saturday in which they used both power and finesse to gain yards.
It took Sargent some time to adjust to the speed of big-time college football, but Ferentz is encouraged by what he has seen lately.
“He flashed a little bit yesterday morning in particular, and then today continued that on,” Ferentz said of Sargent, who rushed for over 1,400 yards at Iowa Western Community College last season. “So it’s catching up with the speed of the game and that type of thing.
“But he really shows like he’s got a little bit of a feel for things and he can do some things. He’s been really impressive thus far. He's just got a nice demeanor and a nice attitude, too. So it's encouraging to see him come along like that."
4. Neither of the backup quarterbacks did much to distinguish themselves on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell and true freshman Spencer Petras are competing for the backup spot behind junior starter Nate Stanley.
5. Defensive tackle Matt Nelson batted down at least three passes on Saturday and seems poised for a big senior season. The 6-8, 295-pound Nelson is healthy after missing spring practice because of a shoulder injury, and that was obvious on Saturday with how he repeatedly disrupted things in the trenches.
6. Iowa’s receivers didn’t do much to inspire confidence on Saturday, but it was just one practice. Senior Nick Easley, who led Iowa with 50 catches last season, is the most reliable receiver on the team, but sophomore Ihmir Smith-Marsette probably has the highest ceiling due to his speed and quickness.
The biggest challenge for Smith-Marsette is being more consistent as a route runner, as a blocker and with the catching the ball.
But he has that one thing you can’t coach, which is blazing speed.
7. Iowa fans already know what they have at tight end with junior Noah Fant and sophomore T.J. Hockenson coming off a season in which they combined for 54 catches, 814 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, including 11 by Fant.
But the depth at tight end hardly stops with them.
Juniors Nate Wieting and Drew Cook and sophomore Shaun Beyer all could be in the mix for playing time. Cook and Beyer both showed flashes on Saturday.
8. Sophomore defensive lineman Chauncey Golston, at 6-5 and 265 pounds, certainly looks the part in his uniform, but now the Detroit native is showing signs of being able to play a part on defense. He has moved inside to defensive tackle and showed the ability to shed blocks and pressure the quarterback on Saturday.
9. Fourth-year junior Michael Ojemudia appears ready to make a solid contribution at cornerback after playing mostly on special teams last season. The 6-1, 199-pound Michigan native showed solid coverage skills on Saturday and was aggressive against the run.
It would be silly to think that Ojemudia could pick up where unanimous All-American Josh Jackson left off last season. However, the same would've been said about Jackson replacing Desmond King last season because Jackson also had played mostly on special teams up to that point.
10. I probably should have included linebacker Dillon Doyle with the the freshmen who stood out on Saturday because the former West High star certainly had his moments. The son of Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle made several impressive tackles on Saturday and rarely seemed out of position.
A role on special teams would seem well within Dillion Doyle's reach for this season.