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No. 9 Iowa will lean on veterans in 2010, but talented newcomers could work way into lineup

True freshman tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz has normally reserved Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz excited about his potential.

Ferentz has always preferred upperclassmen over highly touted kids, and the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes are loaded with talented veterans.

But the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Fiedorowicz lived up to his billing as one of the nation's top recruits during fall camp, and Ferentz said earlier this week that Fiedorowicz will play against Eastern Illinois in Saturday's season opener.

"He came in with pretty good skills, and he's been able to learn rapidly enough to envision him playing and playing well," Ferentz said.

Fiedorowicz is among a number of newcomers who could make significant contributions to the Hawkeyes this season.

True freshman linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey were impressive in camp, though neither is listed on the depth chart yet. Freshman Michael Meyer will handle kickoffs and could push for the job on field goals and extra points.

Freshman running back De'Andre Johnson has also looked good in his short time on campus, but the Hawkeyes would prefer to redshirt him since they look set in the backfield with sophomores Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton.

It looks as if Fiedorowicz has a chance to make the best first impression in 2010.

Tight end has always been a crucial position at Iowa under Ferentz, whose system places a high value on effective run and pass blockers who can also catch balls across the middle.

Tony Moeaki was one of the Hawkeyes' top threats last season, but he's now with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs.

Though the Hawkeyes have a pair of tight ends they like in senior Allen Reisner and junior Brad Herman, Fiedorowicz's size and athleticism presents matchup issues for linebackers.

Fiedorowicz, who caught 15 touchdown passes at Johnsburg High in Illinois last season and broke the school's career scoring record in basketball, will likely start out on special teams and in three tight-end sets.

"He's done a nice job making the adjustment, and hopefully we can put him in situations where he'll be able to handle what's in front of him and then just start building from there," Ferentz said.

Morris led nearby Solon (Iowa) to three straight state titles as a linebacker and running back, and he scored 40 touchdowns as a senior. His future is at linebacker, though, and he and Kirksey will be slowly worked into a group dominated by juniors and seniors.

Kirksey, a St. Louis native who just turned 18 on Tuesday, was a first-team all-state pick last fall. He and Morris will likely play mostly on special teams in 2010.

Senior Daniel Murray and sophomore Trent Mossbrucker have competed since the spring to be the starting kicker, but Meyer displayed enough leg strength to earn the job kicking off. If neither Murray nor Mossbrucker can earn Ferentz's trust, the door will be open for Meyer to expand his role.

Ferentz mentioned Tuesday that the coaching staff is looking at between four and six players who could also see action as true freshmen. It's always a delicate balance between burning someone's redshirt season in a potentially limited role or giving them a year to develop without using up any eligibility.

There's often not a clear-cut answer, but players such as Fiedorowicz have made such calls easy this fall.

"The one thing you try not to do is waste someone's year of eligibility," Ferentz said. "If a guy does play as a true freshman, it probably expedites his route to a starting position."