IOWA CITY | Running back isn’t the only place where the youngest Iowa football team Kirk Ferentz has coached has questions.
Four days into fall camp, the Hawkeyes have demonstrated youthful enthusiasm, a willingness to work and plenty of room to grow.
There are multiple starting spots and roles to be determined on the defensive line, in the receiving corps, on the offensive line and even at punter.
“We’ve looked like a young football team the first few days and that’s okay, because that’s what we are,’’ senior quarterback James Vandenberg said Monday at Iowa’s annual media day. “We’ve made some mistakes, but we’re learning from them and everybody is working through them together.’’
Iowa has pockets of experience on both sides of the ball, but enough newcomers will factor into things that Ferentz said the Hawkeyes’ preseason depth chart will likely be suitable for a recycling bin long before the team kicks off its season Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois.
“I think this is the kind of football team that’s going to look very different in the weeks ahead and that certainly may go through September and even into October,’’ Ferentz said. “What we’re doing on the field right now is a very, very important phase of this team’s development.’’
With new coordinators on both sides of the ball, new assignments for all but two assistant coaches and just 11 returning starters from last season’s 7-6 team, starting assignments are anything but determined on the youngest Hawkeye team Ferentz has led in his 14 seasons at Iowa.
“Everything will sort itself out over time, but for now all you can do is work hard, compete as hard as you can and keep trying to get better from one day to the next,’’ defensive lineman Louis Trinca-Pasat said. “Nothing has been settled, but we’re all hungry.’’
Last week’s dismissal of back-up running back De’Andre Johnson has left sophomore Damon Bullock and junior Brad Rogers on the top line of the depth chart at tailback, where true freshmen Barkley Hill and Greg Garmon have also made a solid early impression.
“The freshmen have potential. You can see that,’’ said Bullock, who with 10 carries for 20 yards is the most experienced running back in the Iowa camp. “They’re like the rest of us, working to get better.’’
New offensive coordinator Greg Davis said he would have no problem putting the ball in a freshman’s hands, pointing to Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles as two true freshmen who carried the ball for Texas during his 13 seasons as a coordinator there.
Ferentz isn’t second-guessing his decision to dismiss Johnson after the sophomore had been charged twice in three days on separate charges by Iowa City area police.
“We’re going to coach the guys on the field. We’ve always done that regardless of if it's an injury, discipline issue, anything like that,’’ Ferentz said. “We’ve got guys out there that are capable. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out over the next couple of months, but we’ll see how it goes. The guys are working hard.’’
On the defensive front, new line coach Reese Morgan said somewhere between six and eight players could find themselves in a rotation when the Hawkeyes face the Huskies at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
“Realistically, that’s how many guys could be out there,’’ Morgan said. “I like the potential I see, but it’s way too early to say this guy is going to line up here or that guy is going to line up there. Physically, I like where we are at and these guys have the tools to compete.’’
The same can be said of redshirt freshmen Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh on the offensive line, where they are competing for time at right guard in a front five that will include at least three new starters.
At the receiver spot, Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley provide experience but Iowa continues to search for consistent contributors in a retooled offense that promises more opportunities for receivers.
“In a lot of ways, we’re competing for time with each other and even with tight ends right now,’’ Martin-Manley said. “They’ve said they’ll play whoever can give us the consistency we need to move the football. Things are pretty open right now, at nearly every position.’’
The Hawkeyes even have a battle going on at punter, where converted quarterback John Wienke, sophomore Jonny Mullings and true freshman Connor Kornbrath are all in the mix. As is the case elsewhere, Ferentz expects a few bumps along the way.
“When you’re inexperienced, things are going to happen,’’ Ferentz said. “You just have to work through it. That’s where we’re at right now.’’