Assume the Position: Safety

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.  To date:

1. Defensive Tackle
2. Tight End

Tonight: Safety

Dalton_medium
You just can't find a picture of the Iowa secondary where Shada doesn't look helpless

I'm not going to lie to you - cornerback might be the last position chronicled here.  Godfrey and Shada graduated, and the fact that Shada was better than the remaining corners should tell you something.  Fortunately, there is far more continuity at safety, where both starters from the second half of last season return.  It's been discussed here before, but Iowa has a long history of NFL-caliber safeties under Ferentz.  We're not yet sure if this crop is at that level, but at least they're better than watching Tim Dodge fumble around in the secondary.

The Likely Starters

Harold Dalton (6'1", 200, Sr.) - Dalton, who had been buried on the depth chart for his first two seasons on campus (he wasn't even on the two-deep in 2006), took advantage of his opportunity to start last year.  Dalton is a strong safety in the most fundamental sense of the term: capable if unspectacular in coverage, but essentially a fourth linebacker against the run.  His biggest numbers came against run-first teams (8 tackles against Illinois, 6 against MSU), where he was free to sneak closer to the line of scrimmage and key on the run.

Dalton was a relatively highly regarded recruit (he received offers from the likes of Tennessee and Virginia Tech), and he was effective in his assigned role in his first year as a full-time starter.  Given his obvious ability and instincts, it's not too far-fetched to expect a significant leap forward.  Despite a push from sophomore Lance Tillison in spring, Dalton emerged on top of the depth chart, and should remain a capable strong safety at worst.

Brett Greenwood (6'0", 200, So.) - Greenwood was the story of last summer, a redshirt freshman walk-on who was pushing Shada in the first Division 1-A all-white guy cornerback position battle since the 1971 pre-integration Georgia Bulldogs.  He eventually lost that albino battle, but a rash of injuries forced him into action.  After the ill-advised decision to play Fletcher at corner and Shada at safety led to a massacre against Indiana, Greenwood was put in the starting lineup against Penn State, picked off Anthony Morelli, and never looked back.  One week later, he iced the win over Illinois with an interception inside the Iowa 5 yard line in the waning moments of the game.  He made the Big XI All-Freshman team at season's end.

The fact that, in another Ferentz/Parker upperclassmen-heavy defense, Greenwood might be more certain to keep his starting job than his senior counterpart says something about the kid.  He never struck us as particularly flashy or, for that matter, athletically talented, but he always found his way to the ball and, once there, laid the lumber.  There are few better complements we can give a free safety.  If Greenwood can hold off the possible challenge of Marcus "The Wandering Safety" Wilson, he's slated to become the next great Iowa free safety.  Not bad for a walk-on from Bettendorf.

The Unlikely Starters

Lance Tillison (6'2", 205, So.) - In mid-March, it looked as if Dalton could be written in pen at the top of the strong safety depth chart.  Then spring practice ended, and Parker was asked about his safeties.  His answer was interesting:

"At the strong safety position, Lance Tillison is much better than he was a year ago. Sash and Dalton are also doing well in there."

Tillison, a third-year sophomore, may be the ultimate diamond in the rough.  He was given 2* by Scout and only received offers from Iowa and Bowling Green, due in no small part to the fact he started his senior season in Louisiana but moved to Florida in the middle of the season when his house was destroyed by Katrina.  He saw sporadic action last year.  Knowing Parker's love of seniors and the obvious need for some stability and experience in the defensive backfield, we don't expect Tillison to usurp Dalton this season.  However, given Parker's comments, it's not necessarily out of the question.

Jordan Bernstine (5'11", 200, So.) - The crown jewel of Ferentz's 2007 class, Bernstine played in every game last year as a true freshman.  He is expected to start at corner - and will be covered in far more detail when we get there - but he was recruited as a safety, and his ability and instincts are not to be denied.  If he doesn't win a spot at corner, he almost certainly will start at free safety.

The Unknown Quantity

Marcus Wilson (6'2", 200, Jr.) - The Wandering Safety.  Wilson initially entered Iowa as a redshirt in 2005.  He played the majority of the 2006 OSU game at free safety, and started two or three games from then on.  He was the prohibitive starter at free safety entering last season...and then he got his report card.  A fall at Kirkwood, some footsie with New York JUCO Stony Brook over the winter break, another semester at Kirkwood, summer school on campus, and now Wilson is talking about coming back to the team.  If that's true, it's great news; Wilson has the size and speed to play safety or corner.  Remains to be seen if a year away from the game on Shonn Greene's proverbial couch sapped any of said size/speed.

Should See the Field

Tyler Sash (6'1", 200, Fr. (RS)) - The other highly touted safety to come out of Iowa in 2007, Sash redshirted in his first season on campus.  Boffo high school numbers at Oskaloosa (as in, 400+ all-purpose yards in one game), and is the sort of two-sport athlete (lightly recruited to play D-1 baskeball) Ferentz previously preferred and is gradually returning to.  Listed as co-second string at strong safety, but the tea leaves indicate he might be slightly behind Tillison.

Diauntae Morrow (6'1", 190, So.) - Another 2007 safety (who was widely thought to be a linebacker-in-waiting), Morrow saw the field in nearly all BXI games in his freshman year.  At least that's what they tell me on Hawkeyesports.com; I don't remember seeing him.  Hey, at least he's smart enough to turn down an offer from the Zooker.  Second-string free safety in spring, though that will likely change if Wilson comes back.

Jayme Murphy (5'10", 210, So.) - Saw some action, primarily on special teams, as a redshirt freshman.  Good athlete who was being recruited by some schools (well, Stanford at least) as a running back.  Probably won't do much more this year, but he's there if the secondary is again decimated by injuries, a rampant mono outbreak, or the bubonic plague.

 

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