IOWA CITY — Of the 12 redshirt freshmen who landed spots on the Iowa two-deep roster for next Saturday’s season opener against Miami (Ohio), seven have already taken the field for the Hawkeyes.
Benefiting from a rule change in 2018 that allowed true freshmen to play in up to four games while retaining a redshirt season, they’ve positioned themselves for bigger roles now because of the experience they gained last season.
“I feel like it helped put me in a better position going into the spring and now in fall camp,’’ receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. said. “All of those first-time things, they’re out of the way and now I can just go out and compete.’’
Tracy played in four games last season, catching one pass for 22 yards, and he feels the biggest thing he took from the experience was the feel of coming into and out of games as needed and the readiness that entails.
“In high school, you’re out there all the time. This is something different and having a chance to get out there just a few times, it motivated me to want more and it gave a clear idea on what it’s like at this level, the speed of the game,’’ Tracy said. “I understand that so much more.’’
The depth chart Iowa released on Friday for the 6:30 p.m. opener at Kinnick Stadium against the Redhawks includes eight first-time starters on offense and defense.
That group on offense includes Nate Wieting at tight end, center Tyler Linderbaum and left guard Landan Paulsen while on defense, ends Chauncey Golston and A.J. Epenesa, tackle Brady Reiff, linebacker Barrington Wade and free safety Kaevon Merriweather are positioned to make their starting debuts.
On special teams, Caleb Shudak shares the top line at placekicker with Keith Duncan while graduate transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton is listed as the Hawkeyes’ starting punter, earning an edge on returning starter Colten Rastetter.
Linderbaum is the only redshirt freshman among Iowa’s starters, seeing action in two games a year ago before shifting from defense to offense.
However, defensive back D.J. Johnson, linebacker Dillon Doyle, receiver Nico Ragaini, offensive lineman Jack Plumb and quarterback Spencer Petras join Tracy in working their way into second-team spots after seeing playing time in four or fewer games last season.
Petras, who played in two games in 2018, moved up a notch in fall camp and now shares the backup quarterback role with Peyton Mansell.
Four of the other five redshirt freshmen to crack the depth chart are linemen: Jeff Jenkins at center, Cody Ince at guard on offense and John Waggoner at end and Noah Shannon on defense. The fifth is Turner Pallissard, a walk-on fullback.
Johnson, who played in three games last season, has positioned himself to take the field in the cash position whenever Iowa utilizes the hybrid linebacker/safety alignment. He also is listed as the backup to Michael Ojemudia at left cornerback.
“Playing in those games last year, I’m glad I had that chance. It’s a good rule. It let me do something that I might not have been able to do,’’ Johnson said. “I learned a lot just from being out there in a couple game, getting a feel for what kind of energy it takes, how fast things are and move. You can’t learn that in practice. It has me ready for this.’’
Coaches sense that as well.
Discussions at this point are ongoing about which true freshmen in this year’s class may see action this season and when that action might take place.
“Some are ready for a taste — and a chance to show if they might be able to go beyond those four games — but for some guys, it might be better to hold off initially,’’ defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “The adjustment for some guys at this level takes some time and they might be able to help us later on in the season. It’s an individual thing.’’
Parker likes being able to give a player a chance without losing the individual a year of eligibility.
“Some guys might look ready in practice but aren’t so ready in games, so you can pull back a bit,’’ he said. “It’s given us some flexibility, too, which I think is a good thing for the players, too.’’