By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The future is now for at least four true freshmen on the Iowa football team, including two with local ties.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters on Tuesday that four true freshmen, including defensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum and linebacker Dillion Doyle, would play in Saturday’s season opener against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium.
Ferentz also said that defensive backs Julius Brents and Riley Moss would play in Saturday’s season opener, at least on special teams.
Linderbaum is a graduate of Solon High School, while Doyle attended Iowa City West and is the son of Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
“Julius Brents and Riley Moss have both done a good job, and we expect them to be in our two deep and playing on special teams,” Ferentz said. “Same to be said about Dillon Doyle, linebacker, and then Tyler Linderbaum up front as a defensive tackle.”
The NCAA has implemented a new rule that allows a true freshman to play in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility. That could create some opportunities for other true freshmen to play, but the four who already have cracked the depth chart are now in a position it would seem to play a bigger role.
Ferentz also said that receiver Nico Ragaini and running back Mekhi Sargent also will make their debuts for Iowa on Saturday.
Ragaini enrolled at Iowa in January after attending prep school last fall, while Sargent transferred to Iowa this summer after playing for Iowa Western Community College the past two seasons.
“He's done a really nice job, and he certainly will help us in the running back position,” Ferentz said of Sargent. “I feel good about that.”
Ferentz surprised reporters when he said that junior Colten Rastetter was the No. 1 punter despite being listed behind sophomore Ryan Gersonde on the depth chart.
“Boy, I've got to check that depth chart,” Ferentz said. “Have you got a copy of one of those? Right now Colten will be our starter. That shows you how into depth charts I am. Anyway, but yeah, right now Colten will be our starter.
“But I see that thing being fairly even, also. I mean, as we get on with the season, we're going to let guys compete. Not much written in permanent ink right now, but it's that way every year. The good guys gotta hold on to their jobs and other guys gotta fight for them, and hopefully that will make us a better football team.”
Ferentz also was reluctant to say that sophomore Ivory Kelly-Martin was without question the starting running back. Kelly-Martin is expected to start on Saturday after moving ahead of sophomore Toren Young on the depth chart. But Ferentz expects Kelly-Martin, Young and Sargent all to contribute on Saturday.
“I want to be careful on that one just in the context that we look at all three of those guys — kind of like I talked about our tackles a minute ago, I think all three of those guys, if they're in the game, we're going to feel okay about it, based on what we've seen,” Ferentz said. “With Ivory and Toren, obviously, we've had a better exposure over a year, Toren with two years and now Ivory with one, Mekhi not quite as long of an exposure, but really like what he's done the last two weeks in particular. He's an older guy.
“But I think Ivory has got a really diverse skill set, if you will. He can run the football, run inside, run outside, catch it, runs good routes, those type of things. He's done a nice job. I can't tell you we have a specific amount of carries designed for all guys, but I think you're going to see all three of those guys play a role in the offense for sure.”
Iowa will be without its two starting offensive tackles on Saturday with sophomore Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson both serving one-game suspensions. Ferentz plans to rotate three players at the two tackle positions, including fifth-year senior and Solon native Dalton Ferguson, who was recently among four players put on scholarship, along with receiver senior Kyle Groeneweg, senior fullback Austin Kelly and junior tight end Nate Wieting.
Junior Levi Paulsen and redshirt freshman Mark Kallenberger also will rotate at the two tackle positions, according to Ferentz.
“Any time you go in shorthanded at any position, it's a concern,” Ferentz said. “To have two guys out at one position is not ideal. The good news is right now we have three guys that I think have practiced well.
“We consider all three of them, I kind of look at them all the same way, and they'll probably rotate through a little bit, be it Dalton, and be Levi Paulsen or Mark Kallenberger. Those guys have practiced well."