How will Iowa’s O-line look without Kadyn Proctor? 5 spring practice storylines

Sep 16, 2023; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Cade McNamara (12), offensive lineman Logan Jones (65) and offensive lineman Nick DeJong (56) prepare for the snap against the Western Michigan Broncos during the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

By Scott Dochterman

5h ago


IOWA CITY, Iowa — All was quiet on the football front … until Tuesday afternoon. Then came the ear-piercing sounds of left tackle Kadyn Proctor leaving Iowa only two months after committing to the program.

On the eve of spring practice opening at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz provided a statement on Proctor’s departure. On Instagram, Proctor announced he will head back to Alabama, where he started 14 games as a true freshman last fall. It was quite the change for Proctor, who grew up in Iowa and decommitted from the program one day before signing with Alabama in 2022.



Iowa’s Proctor expected to re-enter transfer portal

With or without Proctor, there still are plenty of storylines associated with the Hawkeyes, which finished 10-4 overall last season. Ferentz hired Tim Lester to replace his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator on Jan. 28. Iowa also fired wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland and replaced him with senior analyst Jon Budmayr.


With spring practice starting today, here are five topics to watch for Iowa football this spring.

Now what at O-line?

Proctor is gone and not coming back. If bridges weren’t burned during his decommitment, they certainly are blown to smithereens now. I would expect Ferentz to address Proctor’s departure once in his spring news conference next Tuesday and then never utter his name again.

But when it comes to Iowa’s offensive line, nothing has changed since last season. In fact, the line remains almost exactly the same. Mason Richman, a three-year starting left tackle, returns as does left guard Nick DeJong, center Logan Jones, right guard Connor Colby and right tackle Gennings Dunker. With swing guard Beau Stephens — who opened 10 games in 2022 but missed time with a knee injury last year — this group has 147 career starts. While none of them have Proctor’s athletic ceiling, they do have experience. But the unit collectively must make strides for the offense to do the same.

Last fall, the Hawkeyes averaged 234.6 yards per game, which was last nationally by 28.2 yards per contest. In the last 21 years, only Wake Forest in 2014 (216.3 yards per game) was worse offensively among Power 5 programs. No Big Ten team was worse than last year’s Iowa squad since Northwestern in 1984 (230.2). Not all of it was because of Iowa’s offensive line; not by a long shot. But it was part of the problem.

New offensive system

Nearly three months after University of Iowa president Barbara Wilson and athletics director Beth Goetz announced Brian Ferentz would not return in 2024, Iowa hired Lester as offensive coordinator.

Lester played quarterback at Western Michigan in the late 1990s, played a little Arena football and then bounced around the coaching circuit until landing at his alma mater in 2017. In six seasons, Lester guided the Broncos to a 37-32 record. He was fired after the 2022 season and spent last year as an analyst with the Green Bay Packers.


While in Green Bay, Lester saw how Matt LaFleur used two tight ends and that will become part of his offensive design — along with the RPO. In his introductory news conference, Lester said 12 personnel (two tight ends, two receivers, one running back) is his favorite grouping. With potential All-American tight end Luke Lachey and ascending counterpart Addison Ostrenga, Iowa’s personnel aligns with that philosophy. Lester also considers himself a protégé of the Mike Shanahan system.

Under Brian Ferentz, Iowa fluctuated between 12 and 11 (three receivers, one back, one tight end) as its primary formation. In the last two seasons, the Hawkeyes employed 11 personnel on 31 percent of its snaps and 12 personnel on 32 percent. In his final two seasons at Western Michigan, Lester employed 11 personnel on 64 percent of plays, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I’ve coached long enough now that I’ve run a lot of systems,” Lester said in his introductory news conference. “At Syracuse when I took over we took over a spread offense that didn’t even have a tight end and we tried our best to blend them together.

“Then we went to Purdue and got to run the Saints’ offense, which was cool. Learned a ton. Then on to Western (Michigan), where I had an offensive coordinator my first year, and then when I took over, tried to put a little bit of that in it.

“Then to go back and work with Matt (LaFleur) this year was a full-fledged (Shanahan) system. Everyone runs that system a little bit differently, but it’s fun to get back after 10 years of being versions of it.”

Luke Lachey will return for Iowa in 2024 after missing 10 games with a broken leg in 2023. (Robert Goddin / USA Today)

QB now and later

Anything related to quarterback play this spring will have little effect on what happens this fall. Cade McNamara suffered a torn left ACL on Sept. 30 and won’t be ready to compete in full spring workouts. That leaves junior Deacon Hill and redshirt freshman Marco Lainez III as the only available scholarship quarterbacks competing in every facet of Lester’s system.

Hill replaced McNamara after the injury and the offense went from struggling to historically bad. Hill completed 48.6 percent of his passes for five touchdowns and eight interceptions in 13 games. He also fumbled 11 times. In a 35-0 loss to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl, Hill threw an interception in the end zone and a pick-six, plus lost a fumble inside the 5-yard line.

It’s undetermined how much work McNamara will get this spring. Lainez replaced Hill in the second half against Tennessee and ran for 51 yards while completing 2-of-7 passes. Lainez likely will receive the most first-team reps, but what’s most intriguing is what comes after spring football. McNamara is still considered the starter, but it is likely the Hawkeyes will look in the transfer portal in late April and early May for a quarterback — and not just for a backup.

Wide receivers

With Budmayr now the receivers coach, the Hawkeyes need to make major strides here. Iowa receivers have caught 76 passes in each of the last two seasons, tied for the lowest number for the program since 1982. There was little development annually at the position group and attrition became the norm, not the outlier. Of the 24 freshmen wide receivers Iowa signed from 2012-2021, only five used all of their eligibility at that position.



Iowa elevates Jon Budmayr to wide receivers coach: Was this the right move?

Iowa also is losing two of its four primary rotational receivers with Nico Ragaini vying for an NFL opportunity and Diante Vines transferring. But former Ohio State transfer Kaleb Brown became a quality target late in the season and former Big South freshman of the year Seth Anderson had a few moments. Jacob Bostick also saw action late in the season. All three have room to grow and an upward trajectory with good coaching.

What’s going to be critical for Iowa is developing at least two other receivers into rotational players. That group includes redshirt freshmen Dayton Howard, Alex Mota and Jarriett Buie as well as non-scholarship rotational targets Kaden Wetjen and Alec Wick.

Defensive line rotation

Iowa’s defense couldn’t enter the offseason in better shape. Every member of the secondary and linebacking corps returns intact from November, whether they were playing a nickel or 4-3. Considering the overall defense led the country in yards per play allowed (4.08) but faced 196 more snaps than No. 2 Penn State (4.16), this was one of the most impressive feats by any defense from any era.

But Iowa will need to find a few rotational players along the defensive line. Defensive end Joe Evans and defensive tackle Logan Lee both are off to the NFL, which leaves a pair of starting spots open. Those likely will be filled by junior Aaron Graves at defensive tackle and senior Ethan Hurkett at defensive end. They will join defensive end Deontae Craig and defensive tackle Yahya Black as a formidable foursome.

Where Iowa needs growth is for depth and rotational purposes. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Pittman and defensive end Max Llewellyn each played around 145 snaps last year and will step into more prominent roles. But starting this spring, the Hawkeyes will look for at least two more contributors to bulk up the rotation. Look for sophomore Brian Allen to emerge at defensive end. The other defensive tackle slot is wide open.

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