As the Iowa football team begins fall camp, the Hawkeyes are still seeking answers to these five questions that figure to be among the keys to a season which kicks off in 29 days:
1. Who will emerge and thrive as Iowa’s defense evolves?
Iowa won’t abandon its traditional 4-3 look on the defensive side of the ball, but the Hawkeyes have tweaked their approach to deal with a changing offensive game.
Amani Hooker, now collecting a paycheck from the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, thrived in the “cash’’ position Iowa unveiled one-third of the way into its 9-4 season a year ago.
His skill set was perfect for the blend of speed and strength for the hybrid defensive back/linebacker position.
Redshirt freshman D.J. Johnson and senior Michael Ojemudia bring different traits to the table but begin camp as leading candidates to move into the spot that led Hooker to earning Big Ten defensive back of the year honors.
Iowa spent time in the spring exploring a three-man defensive front, shifting senior Amani Jones into the mix in a stand-up role beside three linemen to create another look to deal with the growing number of spread attacks the Hawkeyes face.
2. Will the numbers add up for Nate Stanley?
It’s been a while since a returning starting quarterback for Iowa has combined his best individual numbers with his greatest team success as a senior under center.
Arguably, Matt Rodgers may have been the last to accomplish both as he orchestrated an offense which led the Hawkeyes to a 10-1-1 record in 1991.
Nate Stanley showed progress between his first and second seasons as a starter, capping eight- and nine-win seasons the past two seasons with back-to-back bowl victories.
He has thrown 26 touchdown passes in each of the past two seasons, growing his completion percentage and yardage total, but Stanley is quick to point out he needs more consistent performances if Iowa hopes to contend in the Big Ten West.
The Hawkeyes are 9-9 in league play over the past two seasons and to move beyond that, Stanley must move beyond struggle-filled performances like the ones he had against Penn State and Northwestern last season.
With a schedule that includes road trips to Iowa State, Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska, Iowa needs to create a level of offensive consistency in its performance.
3. How much depth does Iowa have on its lines?
Some of the Hawkeyes’ top talent – defensive end A.J. Epenesa and offensive tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs – fill roles at the point of attack for Iowa but they will need help.
Developing depth on both the defensive and offensive lines remains a work in progress as fall camp begins.
Epenesa, a first-team all-Big Ten pick who hasn’t started a college game, figures to be among the nation’s top ends. He joins end Chauncey Golston and tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Riley Reiff in moving from reserve roles to starting situations on the defensive front.
Jackson, Wirfs and guard Cole Banwart bring experience to an offensive line where the rapid development of redshirt freshman center Tyler Linderbaum will be critical.
On both sides of the ball and particularly on defense where Iowa hopes to maintain a seven- or eight-player rotation, development of depth on the lines will be important as Iowa works toward its Aug. 31 opener against Miami (Ohio).
4. Who is going to replace T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant's contribution?
No tight end tandem in the country brought more to the field than what Hockenson and Fant did a year ago, combining for 88 receptions and delivering their share of key blocks before being selected in the first round of the NFL draft in April.
Senior Nate Wieting tops the tight end depth chart as camp opens, but Iowa needs growth at the receiver position complemented by an improved rushing attack if it hopes to grow offensively.
At receiver, how things play out may not be settled until the status of wide receiver transfer Oliver Martin from Michigan is determined.
Seeking a waiver from the NCAA that would clear him to compete this fall, Martin has the skill to join Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette in making a difference in a passing game that also must replace Nick Easley’s 52 receptions.
Now juniors, Smith and Smith-Marsette are being counted on to grow their consistency as redshirt freshmen Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy Jr. factor into plans as well.
5. Among newcomers, who will be the most-needed contributor?
If Martin is not granted a waiver, Arizona State graduate transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton may fill that definition.
The senior punter will be looking to build off of his average of 43.8 yards on 59 punts in 2018 as a second-year starter for the Sun Devils and it is an area where Iowa has plenty of room to grow.
The Hawkeyes ranked 12th in the Big Ten and 107th in the nation in net punting last season at 35.54 yards, Iowa’s worst statistical effort in an area of the game.