Friday was the annual media availability day in Iowa City for Iowa Football Fall Camp. There is a lot of buzz coming from within the facilities at Iowa. With that comes great anticipation for the upcoming season. Kirk Ferentz spoke with the media, addressing several personnel updates and injury status after day nine of fall practice. He said that compared to this time last season, the team as a whole is a lot more veteran. There have been big strides taken so far at Iowa fall camp by the younger players as well. As the team approaches the halfway point of fall practice, there’s a feeling of optimism in Iowa City.
Out of 130 FBS teams last season, Iowa ranked 90th in overall offensive efficiency. Improvement, even in the slightest, could push this team another step up in the Big Ten. At quarterback, Ferentz said that everyone is in a competition right now. He made it clear that fall camp is 20 practices long, and the coaching staff will have a better indication as camp continues.
Spencer Petras was listed as the starter in the pre-camp two-deep depth chart. However, Alex Padilla has been playing well this Fall and Ferentz noted that he has improved a lot. The battle will be between the two, as the head man also stated that redshirt freshman Joey Labas is “still behind them.”
The Offensive Line
Protecting the signal callers will be pivotal to the success of Iowa’s offense in 2022. Last year, the Hawkeyes were 101st in the nation in overall pass blocking efficiency according to Pro Football Focus. Other than the first-round draft pick Tyler Linderbaum, the group was young and struggled to protect Petras all season. Justin Britt will not play in 2022, as he suffered a season-ending injury that will sideline him for his junior campaign. On a more positive note, Connor Colby is getting reps at tackle and playing very well. He started 11 games as a true freshman last season at guard. Colby is still young but brings a lot of experience to this group up front.
Logan Jones will be taking over at center replacing Linderbaum. He struggled with injury last season, playing in just a few games at defensive line. At spring practice, Jones made the switch to center and has continued to impress the coaching staff at camp with his development. Ferentz mentioned that he is one of the guys leading the way during drills and conditioning. Jones will have big shoes to fill, but the coaches are confident with his strides this fall.
The Wide Receivers
Iowa lost two of its better, more veteran, receivers this offseason. Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Charlie Jones both transferred to Purdue hoping to get a better opportunity at the position in West Lafayette. That leaves the group with young, but very talented pass catchers. Keagan Johnson was a freshman last season, playing in 13 games with nine starts. He has been battling injury since the spring, and Ferentz said on Friday that he is working back and very close to where he needs to be. Nico Ragaini and Arland Bruce IV are the other two receivers who will get the majority of playing time this fall. Junior Jackson Ritter will miss the 2022 season with an injury.
Alec Wick will be a redshirt freshman this season and sprung into the pre-fall camp depth chart at number two at receiver. The former walk on has made huge strides at camp with unusual opportunities for playing time. With the injuries to Johnson and Ritter at receiver, Wick has seen the practice field a lot more than a typical redshirt freshman. Ferentz said that he has made a lot of tough catches and was ready to go given his opportunity.
He compared Wick to Ed Hinkel, former Hawkeye receiver and Wick’s high school coach at Regina Catholic in Iowa City. While Ferentz made clear that Wick is not Hinkel, there is a correlation between their attitude, mental toughness, and overall detail in playing the game. Wick has a more quiet demeanor but has great quality and consistency according to Ferentz. Hinkel was similar in his manner, and would make fantastic plays for the Hawkeyes back in the early 2000’s. Wick has turned heads at camp and has a great chance to see the field this season.
The Running Backs
At running back, the young group will be following in the footsteps of Tyler Goodson’s 1,000-yard season in 2021. Sophomores Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams, who aren’t actually related, have been getting the first-team reps in practice. Gavin has not practiced in about a week, however. He is dealing with an injury sustained during fall camp. He played in 10 games last year before starting the Citrus Bowl. Both of the Williams’ got 26 of the 30 carries in the bowl game last January. They each have had a good dose of game experience heading into this season.
The Hawkeyes brought in two talented true freshmen in their 2022 class at running back. Kaleb Johnson and Jaziun Patterson both played high school football last year and are already turning heads during Iowa fall camp. Ferentz pointed out that both of them arrive at the facilities early before practice and have great maturity about them. Very unusual for guys their age, noted Ferentz. Given the depth at the position, Ferentz also said that the two have a very real opportunity to get playing time this fall. With so much young talent in the group, the running backs will be a difference maker this season.
The Tight Ends
There isn’t much to report from the tight end group other than that they continue to impress. Sam LaPorta was named to the preseason Mackey Award Watch List in July. Luke Lachey had a solid redshirt freshman season in 2021 and continues to show his reliability at the position in camp. Ferentz really likes what he has seen out of the one-two punch at the Y position this fall.
A few of the younger guys have stood out at fall camp as well. Redshirt freshman Johnny Pascuzzi had a great spring showing, and Ferentz pointed out that he has continued to practice well this fall. As a true freshman, Addison Ostrenga has drawn the coaches’ attention. Ferentz said that he “caught our eye” and has done a really good job thus far. The tight end group will continue to be one of the most important positions offensively this season. The top two are clear everyday players, but Ferentz made it known that if the younger guys keep playing well, they may also see the field.
Veteran presence is always important, and this year’s Hawkeye football team has it. The offensive line returns over 67% of its total offensive snaps from last year. The key departure is Linderbaum, but the group will likely see an improvement in protection regardless. There’s almost nowhere to go but up for Iowa’s protection metrics, ranking outside the top 100 in pass protection. In addition, Iowa was 119th nationally in tackles for loss allowed, giving up nearly seven per game. Protection was lacking last season, and the offensive metrics reflected that. Improving in protecting the quarterback will be crucial in Iowa’s ceiling this season. The talent at the skill positions is in place. Getting the ball in their hands will be the task. With improvements all but likely, the Hawkeye offense is well-positioned to take a step forward in 2022.