Iowa tight end Noah Fant handles the tight coverage; Brian Ferentz likes UCF’s offensive tempo

Iowa tight end Noah Fant handles the tight coverage; Brian Ferentz likes UCF’s offensive tempo
Iowa's Noah Fant caught 30 passes for 494 yards in 2017 and was a first-team preseason All-American in numerous publications. (The Associated Press)

IOWA CITY — Noah Fant entered Iowa’s indoor practice facility for media day with a group of his offensive teammates, then slipped away from the pack as he continued downfield.

The junior tight end was all alone for a moment, until a television reporter jumped his route.

Fant granted a request for a one-on-one. It may be the only time he sees single coverage all fall.

After a breakout sophomore season in which he led all Division I tight ends by averaging 16.5 yards per catch and hauling in 11 touchdowns, the Omaha South graduate is garnering plenty of attention.

The 6-foot-5, 241-pound junior, who caught 30 passes for 494 yards in 2017, was a first-team preseason All-American in numerous publications. He’s well aware of the accolades, but said they don’t affect him one bit.

“Life hasn’t changed too much,” he said. “It’s kind of funny, though, because we’re in camp so everything is closed off. Things are pretty normal. My coaches and teammates, nobody treats me any different. I’m expected to do the same things on the field. It’s been good, though.”

Fant is one of seven offensive starters the Hawkeyes bring back from the 8-5 team that finished 4-5 in the Big Ten. Two of them won’t be available, however, for the Sept. 1 opener against Northern Illinois. Tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs are serving one-game suspensions.

Coach Kirk Ferentz, entering his 20th season, spent nearly half of his press conference addressing disciplinary issues. Defensive linemen Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore have also been suspended.

All four are among the 115 players practicing. But they will miss the opener for separate team violations.

“There are certain standards we have, and either you abide by them or you don’t,” Ferentz said. “And if you don’t, then there’s a price to pay. And then we move on, also. I’m big on that. I think it’s critical.”

Ferentz said none of the situations was a chronic issue. If it were, the players wouldn’t be on the team.

Asked who would play in the absence of his starting tackles, Ferentz indicated Dalton Ferguson, Levi Paulsen and redshirt freshman Mark Kallenberger were in the mix for now.

The Hawkeyes were on the field for the first time last Friday, and Ferentz is pleased with what he’s seen.

“Like always, that’s the best part about coaching, having a chance to be back on the field,” he said. “Preseason preparation, to me, is one of the most enjoyable times because, again, it’s pure teaching. We’re in meetings. We’re on the field with them. They’re eating or else they’re resting. That’s pretty much what they’re doing.”

Iowa still has questions to answer in the battles for positions. Ferentz mentioned the emergence of Amani Jones and Nick Niemann at linebacker after starting three seniors last year.

The Hawkeyes also have to sort out the running back situation, and could end up using a combination of returners Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin and record-setting Iowa Western transfer Mekhi Sargent.

Ferentz said freshmen could make an impact, especially in the secondary or at linebacker.

One interesting moment during media day featured offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, the coach’s son, discussing tempo. He said Iowa has had the ability to play with a little bit of tempo in the past. He’s hopeful that in his second year of play-calling, Iowa could go to that if needed.

The younger Ferentz never mentioned Scott Frost by name, but made reference to the Nebraska coach’s former team when discussing the ability to be tough to defend by varying the offensive tempo.

“The teams that do a nice job of tempo, I think of Central Florida last year,” he said. “There’s a team that really took advantage of tempo to create mismatches. … That is extremely effective, varying the tempo.”

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