Assume the Position: Defensive Tackle

It's about that time.  For the next two months, BHGP will be previewing this year's Iowa Hawkeyes, position-by-position.  Naturally, as the earth rotates around the sun, things will change.  Therefore, we're starting with the position we are most certain of, and ending with running back the position of which we are least certain.  Tonight: Defensive Tackle.

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For three years, there have been only two constants in Iowa's defensive depth chart: Kenny Iwebema and Bryan Mattison are the defensive ends, and Mitch King and Matt Kroul are your starting defensive tackles.  Iwebema and Mattison are gone, but the heart of the defensive line remains intact.  It's Kroul and Unusual Punishment, one more time with feeling...

The Starters

Mitch King (6'3", 264, Sr.) - What more can be said about the terrormonster?  He came to Iowa as a relatively unheraleded 3-star linebacker.  By the start of his redshirt freshman season, he was the starter at defensive tackle, and once there he never let it go.  In three years as a starter, he has recorded 96 solo tackles, 39.5 solo tackles for loss, and 13.5 sacks.  His numbers dipped ever so slightly last year, as opposing offensive coordinators realized he was a greater threat to their quarterbacks than either of Iowa's defensive ends (and watched in horror as Mattison decapitated said quarterback). 

Said to have a "high motor" (which is code for being undersized, white, and really good), King has been one of the keys to the Iowa defense since Norm Parker wrote his name in pen at the top of the depth chart.  As repeatedly chronicled here, Iowa's defense is alarmingly basic; the same formation - in fact, the same play - is used with amazing frequency, with small adjustments due to personnel.  The upshot, of course, is that Iowa rarely blitzes the passer.  Any pass rush Iowa puts together is the result of its defensive line.  King, despite being a defensive tackle, is a fantastic pass rusher who also has great instincts against the run.  On top of that, he's nasty enough to illicit Zapruder-esque videos from Ohio State fans.

This year, expect similar numbers to last season (58 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks).  Iowa starts two new defensive ends, and opposing coordinators will be more focused on stopping King than ever before.  While that might mean happy days for Clayborn and Ballard, it also might mean another decrease in sacks for King.  Nevertheless, King remains one of the most instrumental players on the defense.

Matt Kroul (6'3", 277, Sr.) - While King receives the newsprint and accolades, Matt Kroul has quietly become the most important player on the Iowa defense.  Kroul doesn't simply take on blockers; he absorbs them like a black hole.  Kroul practically forces a double team from the offensive line, freeing up his linemates to rush the passer and harass the running backs.  It's Kroul that allows the linebackers to stay back in coverage against the pass and move unabated to fill the gaps against the run.  It's Kroul that prevents a thoroughly mediocre secondary from being eaten alive.  Kroul might not have the numbers of King or the other great Iowa defensive tackles of the past decade, but he knows his role and plays it to perfection.

That role has never been more important than this year, as Iowa breaks in two new defensive ends and two new linebackers.  Again, expect more of the same from Kroul this season: About 75 tackles, maybe a sack or two, and hundreds of blocks digested.

Should See the Field

Anton Narinsky (6'4", 265, Sr.) - Poor Anton - maybe the smartest player on the team - graduated before last season.  You read that right.  He's still playing football, even though he's in his second year of grad school.  Unfortunately, he's never found a niche on this team.  He started his career as a defensive end, was switched to the offensive line after his redshirt year, switched back to defensive tackle last spring, and is stuck behind two other seniors.  He might be your boss some day, but he probably won't unseat either of his classmates.

Karl Klug (6'4", 235, So.) - Last summer, the moment of highest trepidation was certainly when the coaching staff mentioned they wanted to use Klug in a rotation at defensive tackle.  The thought of a 235 lb. defensive tackle seeing time in Big Ten play had me thinking of, well, this.  He was injured in early August, though, and didn't see action until the Minnesota game, where he ran around like a poor man's Matt Roth.  He was an insane pass rusher in high school, and all indications are that ability was not lost in translation to the college game.  Still, unless he adds about 25 lbs., he's eventually a defensive end.

Mike Daniels (6'1", 240, Fr. (RS)) - See Karl Klug.  Similar size, similar numbers, similar accolades from his coaches.  Will likely be a starter in 2009.

Cody Hundertmark (6'4", 260, So.) - Now that's the size we're looking for.  When Klug went down injured, Hundertmark found himself without a redshirt and in the two-deep.  He was a rotational sub by Penn State, and saw limited action throughout the season.  Looks like the eventual heir to Kroul's position as black hole in the middle, and should be the default fill-in for Matt this year.

Thomas Nardo (6'3", 245, Fr. (RS)) - Boffo high school numbers in Pennsylvania.  Didn't make the two-deep at the end of spring practice, but could force himself into the mix with a good summer.  Inexplicably wears #87, meaning he's an eligible receiver if necessary.

Jared Oberland (6'0", 250, Sr.) - Two-time recipient of "Team Leader" award, despite never seeing any game action in three non-redshirt seasons on the squad.  Still, given his obvious level of respect in the locker room and his upperclassman status, he might see the field on occasion.

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