IOWA CITY — Two Iowa linebacker positions remain in flux as the team nears its opener against Northern Iowa.
Entering fall camp, true sophomore Reggie Spearman was listed as the starter at weakside linebacker and junior Travis Perry was slated to open at outside linebacker. But the regular season’s first depth chart lists Spearman as a co-starter with red-shirt freshman Josey Jewell at weakside linebacker. Perry, who has played in 24 games with one start, is joined by red-shirt freshman Bo Bower as a co-starter at outside linebacker.
Spearman played on special teams and on third-down situations as a pass rusher last year. Bower and Jewell both sat out. But all three have one year in the program,
“They’re all kind of the same, they’re all kind of different,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “In Reggie’s case, he was the furthest ahead last August, so we made the decision thinking ahead that — kind of like the A.J. Edds story — that we thought he’d be in the mix, and if he could help us on special teams, play on third down, that might be a way to get his feet wet and help move him along further.
“Josey emerged more so in the spring. He did a good job on the scout team and Bo did the same. But in the spring they really started to emerge and it started looking like they could maybe fit in somewhere, somehow, some way.”
Middle linebacker Quinton Alston is the only bona fide starting linebacker entering the regular season. He said he’s comfortable with whomever lines up beside him.
“At some time during camp, if it’s in a regular defense or some type of sub packages, we’ve all practiced together before so we’ve all been on the field at the same time,” Alston said. “We’ve all had to communicate on and off the field as well so I feel like we’re all comfortable together.”
It’s likely several linebackers see plenty of action in Iowa’s first few games before the depth chart settles.
“I think it’s probably going to take some game experience to find out who really rises,” Ferentz said.
Extra special teams
Iowa’s kicking situation has come down to the wire, and it’s still not quite over.
Juniors Connor Kornbrath and Dillon Kidd remain locked in a battle at punter. Junior Marshall Koehn and true freshmen Mick Ellis and Miguel Recinos still are competitive at place-kicker.
“If we were playing tomorrow — which we’re not — but if we were playing tomorrow, Dillon Kidd would start out as our punter and Marshall Koehn would start out as the place-kicker,” Ferentz said. “The good news is it wasn’t so good a year ago, or at least in the spring it wasn’t good the way we finished up. But I think all four of our guys have really competed.
“The two punters, Connor and Dillon, have done a nice job, and really it’s a very close competition. The same thing with Marshall and Mick, and Miguel is just a little bit behind them. But I think despite the open scrimmage where we didn’t placekick very well, we’ve gained ground there. We’re eager to see those guys compete in game situations.”
Kidd, the son of former NFL punter John Kidd, averaged 38.2 yards a punt last year at El Camino Community College. Kornbrath punted 65 times last year for Iowa with a 40.0 average.
Koehn, who hails from Solon, converted one extra-point attempt and kicked off once last year behind Mike Meyer.
Ferentz confirmed defensive tackle Darian Cooper had knee surgery on Monday and likely will miss the rest of the season.
Cooper, a junior, red-shirted in 2011 and will be a senior next fall. The 6-2, 282-pound junior has played in the last 25 games and started twice in 2012. He has 52 career tackles and one sack.
“He’s had some knee issues for the past year, and he was able to play in the bowl game despite some of those issues and just hasn’t been able to push forward,” Ferentz said. “We don’t expect him to play this year. He’s a tremendous young guy, and it’s hard any time anybody loses time for an injury.”
Cooper joins fullback Adam Cox (ACL) and wide receiver Riley McCarron (shoulder) on this season’s injury report. Cox won’t play this year, while McCarron might return around early October.
Wide receiver Damond Powell (hernia surgery) returned to practice early last week, which surprised Ferentz. Powell is listed as a second-team wide receiver this week.
“He’s ahead of the charts and I don’t know if those charts were based on people my age or a young athlete who’s actually in good shape, but Damond is a pretty resilient guy,” Ferentz said. “He’s really come back quickly from it. His attitude has been great all the way through.
“I don’t think he had contact until the end of the last week, but he’s looked good out there in practice and he’s got some catching up to do. But at least he’ll be with us and helping us out.”
It appears Iowa will play at least three true freshmen this week and possibly more. They include defensive back Miles Taylor and linebacker Ben Niemann. Linebacker Aaron Mends was converted to fullback to help replace Cox and also may see some action.
“I think it’s fair to say we’ll play Miles Taylor, we’ll push him ahead,” Ferentz said. “Ben Niemann certainly is going to be pushed ahead, and we’re toying around with Aaron Mends over on the offensive side. We actually have fooled around with him at fullback with Adam being out just so we don’t get knocked out of fullback packages. So he’s done a good job there. And then Mick Ellis is a good possibility, too. Hopefully we don’t get there, but he’s a possibility.”
Ferentz opened his news conference by offering his condolences to the family of Susan Denk, who spent 15 years covering Iowa football for The Hawk Eye in Burlington. Denk, 39, died last week from a heart attack.
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