Nixon, running backs impress in fall camp

IOWA CITY — It appears as though defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon will finally be able to help No. 20 Iowa this fall.

Nixon, a 310-pound sophomore who transferred from Iowa Western Community College before spending last year as a redshirt, will be one of the players who will be expected to replenish Iowa’s depleted line.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker singled out Nixon on Tuesday as a leader for a unit that lost starters Matt Nelson and Sam Brincks to graduation.

Iowa (9-4 in 2018) hosts Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 31.

“His effort and hustle, the way he moves around, I think he’s done a good job,” Parker said. “I think it’s really exciting to have more guys with that energy that you need. It brings juice to the defense.”

Nixon, a former first-team all-state pick as a senior from Kenosha, Wis., committed to the Hawkeyes out of high school before going to Iowa Western to improve his academics. Nixon had nine tackles for loss and five sacks at Western — drawing the attention of Alabama and other schools — and is now among a group of younger linemen who’ll see the field in 2019.

“We might have a couple of guys inside that can play,” Parker said.

At running back, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said that juniors Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young have separated themselves at one of the program’s most crowded positions.

Sargent, who like Nixon spent a year at Iowa Western, started the final four games in 2018, when he scored nine touchdowns. Sargent also led the Hawkeyes with 745 yards on the ground — with 293 of those coming during Iowa’s final two regular season games.

Young, who entered camp in competition with Ivory Kelly-Martin for snaps behind Sargent, ran for 635 yards a year ago. But Young has been so impressive this offseason that Iowa will explore ways to get him and Sargent on the field at the same time.

“Young is running the ball as good as he ever has. He’s a tempo setter,” Brian Ferentz said. “Mekhi is kind of a jack of all trades, a little bit of a utility knife. What we have to do is do a good job of doing a balancing act there, to try to make sure that, those are two of our best players, let’s keep them involved in what we’re doing.”

The hope for the Hawkeyes is that Sargent and Young can help elevate a running game that has been surprisingly limp over the past two seasons.

Iowa was just 97th in rushing yards per game in 2017 and 95th a year ago.

“We need to get that thing established right out of the gate,” Brian Ferentz said. “I think we’re making strides. But we’ll know a lot more in 11 days.”

Epenesa on AP preseason first-team All-American

Iowa junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa has been named a preseason first-team All-American by The Associated Press. It is the fourth publication to name Epenesa a preseason first-team All-American.

A first-team all-Big Ten selection last season, Epenesa led the Big Ten and ranked 12th nationally in sacks (10.5). He ranked second in the Big Ten and 16th nationally in forced fumbles (4).