By Pat Harty
CHICAGO – One of the most exciting things about the annual Big Ten football media day event, besides Jim Delany’s always-riveting state of the union address, is the release of the Iowa media guide.
That moment came on Thursday and here are 10 things that stood out to me.
1. No IKM: Junior Ivory Kelly-Martin started last year’s season opener at running back, and six games overall, but he isn’t listed on the current depth chart.
Fellow juniors Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young are the only running backs listed. Sargent came on strong at the end of the last season and led Iowa with 745 rushing yards, while Young has apparently made a strong impression during the offseason. Young was the only non-senior to be named to Iowa’s 19-player Leadership Group. He was also one of three players chosen to represent Iowa at Big Ten Media Day, along with senior quarterback Nate Stanley and senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia.
There is speculation about Kelly-Martin’s status with the team since he wasn’t present when Iowa running backs coach Derrick Foster recently posted a tweet that showed Foster eating and hanging out with the running backs.
But there could be a simple explanation, especially since Kelly-Martin has been hampered by injuries.
And it also is worth noting that offensive linemen Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs weren't in the photograph that was recently posted on Twitter by Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polaskek that showed Polasek and the offensive linemen on a golf outing.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz should provide some clarification when he meets with the Iowa media on Friday morning.
2. Nixon cracks the depth chart: Sophomore defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon is listed as the backup at left tackle behind senior Cedrick Lattimore.
Iowa fans have been eagerly waiting for Nixon to contribute and the wait will soon be over.
The Wisconsin native spent one semester at Iowa Western Community College before transferring to Iowa.
Nixon also reportedly received a scholarship offer from Alabama while in junior college and that has helped to fuel the hype surrounding him.
3. Young’s perseverance: Senior Devonte Young isn’t listed as the starter at strong safety. But the fact that Young even made the preseason depth is a tribute to his perseverance and resolve.
The Maryland native came to Iowa as a receiver, but was buried on the depth chart and saw his only action on special teams.
Young switched to defensive back last season and is now listed as the backup to Geno Stone at strong safety.
4. Youth at center: There is a youth movement at the center position, led by redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum from Solon.
He is listed as the starter ahead of fellow redshirt freshman Jeff Jenkins.
Linderbaum came to Iowa as a defensive tackle, but switched to center late last season.
Keegan Render started every game at center last season as a fifth-year senior.
There could be some growing pains for the new centers, but Iowa has a good track record with players that switch positions early in their career. Some examples include tight end Dallas Clark, receiver Marvin McNutt and defensive back Josh Jackson.
5. No change at punter, at least for now: Senior Colten Rastetter still is listed as the starting punter ahead of junior Ryan Gersonde.
However, that could soon change with the addition of graduate transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton from Arizona State.
It seems unlikely that Sleep-Dalton would transfer to Iowa if he didn’t think he had a good chance to start. And it’s fair to say that Rastetter has struggled in his two seasons as the starter. He has averaged less than 40 yards per attempt in each of the past two seasons.
6. Growth spurt: Sophomore Julius Brents started five games at cornerback as a true freshman last season and is now listed as the backup to senior Michael Ojemudia at left cornerback.
Brentzs is also listed at 6-foot-3, which makes him one of the tallest cornerbacks that I can remember playing for Iowa. Brents was listed at 6-2 as recently as this past spring.
7. Epenesa finally a starter: It is easy to forget with all of his success that junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa still hasn't started a game for the Hawkeyes.
That will change this season now that Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson have moved on to the NFL.
Epenesa is listed as the starter at right end, ahead of senior Amani Jones, who switched from linebacker in the spring.
Epenesa made first-team All-Big Ten last season, and led the conference with 10.5 sacks despite not being a starter.
8. Nico and Tyrone: Redshirt freshman Nico Ragaini is listed as the starter at one of the three receiver positions, while fellow redshirt freshman Tyrone Tracy is listed as the backup at two of the receiver positions.
Both players performed well during spring practice and should be key contributors this season.
9. Life after Amani Hooker: Redshirt freshman D.J. Johnson appears to be the leading candidate to replace Amani Hooker at the cash position in Iowa's new 4-2-5 defensive alignment.
Hooker thrived in that role last season and was named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year. He also skipped his senior season to enter the 2019 NFL Draft and was selected in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans.
Johnson is listed behind junior linebacker Barrington Wade on the depth chart.
Their playing time likely will depend largely on what defensive alignment Iowa chooses to use.
Kirk Ferentz said the 4-2-5 is now part of Iowa's DNA on defense. But how much of the success with that alignment was due to Hooker playing the position?
We'll probably soon find out.
10. New faces on defense: D.J. Johnson is one of four redshirt freshmen listed as a backup on defense. The others are defensive tackle Noah Shannon, defensvie end John Waggoner and linebacker Dillon Doyle, who graduated from Iowa City West High School and is the son of Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.