On the Beat: Iowa spring depth charts have contained some surprises

IOWA CITY, Iowa — As spring depth charts go, Iowa’s unveiling on Tuesday produced only slight eyebrow elevation rather double takes and stares.

Perhaps senior walk-on Kyle Groeneweg’s elevation to second-team wide receiver qualifies as a bit of a surprise, but plenty of worker types like Groeneweg move up following the winter building period.  Maybe  Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson flipping starting tackle positions also is worth a head shake.  Perhaps Michael Ojemudia opening the spring over Manny Rugamba at cornerback is worth a second glance but not more than a shrug. Both started games last year and played about an equal number of snaps.

As for shockers, none were as eye-popping as what we saw in the spring of 2009. Marvin McNutt switched from quarterback to wide receiver halfway through the previous season and barely appeared on anyone’s fantasy depth chart. Then McNutt was listed as the No. 1 split end ahead of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who led the team in catches in 2008.

“One of the things that will help you be successful and compete is discipline,” then-Iowa offensive coordinator and current quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said that spring. “Guys have to be disciplined to play their positions and be able to improve at their positions. That’s something that Marvin has been able to show us.”

At the time it was considered as a motivational ploy directed at the mercurial Johnson-Koulianos. There’s probably some truth in that. But McNutt also could play. Johnson-Koulianos did reclaim his starting role but both receivers became two of the most prolific in school history. McNutt has the most receiving yards (2,861) and touchdown catches (28) at Iowa. Johnson-Koulianos ranks second in yards (2,616) and catches (173). McNutt is third in catches (170) while Johnson-Koulianos is fourth in touchdown catches (17). The depth chart was a head turner in 2009 but nine years later, it hardly appears out of line.

The following season, in 2010, there was another depth chart surprise. Cornerback Jordan Bernstine, who was a 4-star recruit, redshirted in 2009 after an ankle injury. He appeared an obvious first-team player that spring, but the depth chart said something else. Sophomore Micah Hyde, a 2-star recruit who played mostly special teams behind Amari Spievey and Shaun Prater in 2009, was tabbed the top choice.

“You know, with every opportunity, [Hyde has] really just kind of taken it and run with it, including spring practice,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said at the time. “But that was a year-long progression. We just liked what we saw, liked his maturity level. He loves being out there, he’s a good team member, and you know, credit to him on that. Now it’s his job to keep improving, and it was good competition for that position.”

Hyde quickly proved he was right for the job. Against unbeaten and No. 5-ranked Michigan State, safety Tyler Sash intercepted quarterback Kirk Cousins. Sash then lateraled the ball to Hyde, who returned it 66 yards for a touchdown. Then in the Insight Bowl. Hyde picked off Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert and returned it 72 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Hyde was named the Big Ten’s top defensive back in 2012 and last fall was a Pro Bowl safety with the Buffalo Bills. The Washington Redskins drafted Bernstine in 2012, but a wicked leg injury cost him his NFL career.

This spring’s depth chart featured no surprises like in those past years. It likely appears much different today from what we will see when the real one comes out before Sept. 1. But one thing is for certain: Don’t ignore what you don’t expect.

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