IOWA CITY – For Iowa football players, the first opponent of the season isn’t a shifty opposing running back or a sack-happy defensive end.
For the Hawkeyes, the opponent is the challenge of safely navigating through the unknown presented by the coronavirus and doing what they can to keep moving forward as a team.
Like everyone else, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly everything Iowa players are used to trying to accomplish in the summertime.
From the frequency of their work to who they train with, everything has been different and every opportunity has become more valuable to the players hoping that at some point they will be given the chance to take the field at Kinnick Stadium this fall and compete.
“It’s brought a lot of unique challenges,’’ Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum said Thursday. “… We’re taking it all one day at a time because we understand that each workout could be your last one for two weeks.’’
While the Hawkeyes have not had to pause or shut down summer workouts because of the coronavirus, something that has happened at both Ohio State and Maryland, Iowa has had a handful of players test positive for the coronavirus.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said the Hawkeyes have not had any players hospitalized, but have had several placed in quarantine for either testing positive or having contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
“The symptoms have been relatively minor and nobody has been affected greatly. No hospitalizations, those types of things,’’ Ferentz said during a news conference held in a club room sitting above the north end zone at Kinnick Stadium.
“That’s been good. We’re getting good medical support.’’
But life has been different.
Beyond undergoing testing for COVID-19 when they returned to campus last month, Hawkeye players, coaches and staff members are quizzed daily about their health and have their temperatures taken anytime they enter the Iowa football facility.
Workouts have been spaced out through the day more than in previous years, providing time for equipment and facilities to be cleaned between groups.
Groups that train together no longer are set up based on positions. Instead, players are typically working out in the weight room with teammates that they share an apartment or dorm room with.
Until being reintroduced in a scaled-down format this week, afternoon skill work on the fields has not taken place like in past years and 7-on-7 passing workouts have not been allowed.
The typical summer work between quarterbacks and receivers has even changed.
Instead of getting in one large group for voluntary drills a couple of times each week, each quarterback has been assigned a group of receivers to keep the contact circle tight.
“We’re making it work,’’ receiver Brandon Smith said.
And when the work is done, teammates no longer sit down and share a meal. Everything is served up on a carryout basis.
It’s all became the new normal for Iowa players in a summer that has been anything but normal.
“We’ve tried to encourage our players to do the best we can all do given the circumstances,’’ Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes have become nimble, willing to adjust to whatever comes their way.
The NCAA on Thursday released its third update of safety recommendations for allowing sports to return.
The latest new normal for Iowa players will include daily self-health checks, the use of face coverings and social distancing during training, competition and outside of sports, uniform testing strategies throughout the season including testing and receiving results within 72 hours of competition, outdoor training whenever possible and 14-day quarantines for anyone with a high-risk exposure.
“Nothing in our lives is very normal now,’’ Ferentz said. “That’s certainly true with our football program, the challenges we’re facing and the conditions we are working under. Just like everybody else in the country, there’s no way to compare it to anything else we’ve done.’’
And the Hawkeyes who have seen teammates impacted have gained an understanding the consequences.
“If one guy in the house slips up, it affects the whole house,’’ linebacker Djimon Colbert said. “One guy affects five guys or more. We’re holding each other accountable.’’
Wanting to work and improve during a critical time of year for team development, Linerbaum said the Hawkeyes have a better idea about how their actions have consequences.
“Guys are starting to realize that you’ve got to be smarter outside with what you do and the places you go,’’ he said. “It all makes a difference.’’
Koerner improving: Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner has resumed workouts with the team after being injured in a June watercraft accident at the Lake of the Ozarks.
“He’s coming along and doing well,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s back with the team but we’re moving him forward cautiously, not rushing it.’’
Missing rivals: Ferentz said he while he understands the Big Ten’s reasoning for shifting to conference-only schedules this season, he is disappointed the Hawkeyes won’t be playing Northern Iowa and Iowa State.
“Both of those games are important for our program,’’ Ferentz said. “Much like playing Iowa State, I feel playing Northern Iowa on a regular basis is good for our state and good for football in our state.’’
Porter chairs committee: Former Iowa offensive lineman David Porter is now serving as a chair to an advisory committee that is meeting weekly to discuss dealing with racial inequities within the Hawkeye program and how it can better prepare student-athletes for life after football.
Mike Daniels had originally been named to lead the group, but time constraints as he deals with being an NFL free agent and prepares for his wife to give birth forced him to step back.
“Mike has given us some great input,’’ Ferentz said.
Answering questions: Ferentz said he sat down recently with attorneys from the Kansas City-based firm of Husch Blackwell which is conducting an independent review of allegations relating to racial disparities within the football program.
“They were very professional and thorough, and I welcomed the chance to go into detail with them,’’ Ferentz said.
He estimated around 100 current and former Hawkeyes have been interviewed as part of the review.
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