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Iowa Hawkeyes 2018 Spring Football Preview

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Nate Stanley

Nate Stanley

Kirk Ferentz's Iowa Hawkeyes had a bit of a roller-coaster 2017 campaign. They had lows like losing to Purdue and the high of blowing out Ohio State. Inconsistency defined the season in Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes were able to pull together eight wins, including a hard-fought victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Iowa Hawkeyes WR Nick Easley

Heading into 2018, the main focus for Iowa will be replacing some of the star power lost from last season. If the coaching staff can do most of that in the spring, Iowa should once again be in the mix for the Big Ten West title.

5 Storylines to Watch During Iowa's Spring Practice

1. Replacing Akrum Wadley at running back

Iowa doesn't have a running back on its 2018 roster with the dynamic, game-breaking skill set that Wadley had. What they do have is a handful of capable backs who should be able to consistently run the ball downhill behind a solid offensive line, move the chains and eat up clock in key moments. Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin will likely emerge as the top two ball carriers for Iowa, but they'll be pushed by Kyshaun Bryan for playing time.

2. Watching the offensive line gel together

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The Hawkeyes lost two of the best offensive linemen in the country to graduation and the NFL draft. Guard Sean Welsh and center James Daniels won't be easy to replace, but Iowa does return three other players up front with significant starting experience. Cole Banwart will step in at center and need to grow up quickly this spring for the Hawkeyes’ line to be one of the best in the Big Ten. Redshirt freshman Mark Kallenberger also could be a factor at multiple positions.

3. Who does Iowa have at linebacker?

The Hawkeyes’ linebackers are the heart, soul and identity of the defense year in, year out. They lost a couple of elite ones in Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann. Factor in the departure of Bo Bower and you'll have new faces all over the field at the position. Nick Niemann, Amani Jones and Jack Hockaday are three names to keep an eye on during the spring.

4. The receivers and tight ends should be better

Top target Nick Easley (above, right) is back. He'll be complemented by Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith. That's one of the more experienced and athletic trios the Hawkeyes have had at receiver in quite some time. Look for more growth from tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson as well. Fant had some issues with drops throughout the 2017 season. Keep an eye on his hands this spring.

5. The growth of Nate Stanley

Stanley arguably single-handedly saved Iowa's season in 2017. Quarterback was the team's biggest question mark last spring. Stanley stepped up, won the job and played beyond his years at times. You saw glimpses of potential greatness from him all season, and if the coaching staff gives him more freedom to push the ball down the field, this could be a tough offense to game plan for and subsequently stop.

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation and Bleacher Report. He has covered the Big Ten Conference extensively throughout his career. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.