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:
Tonight: Defensive End
Normally, the loss of two three-year starters at the same position would be the first sign of the Apocalypse. There is no doubt Bryan Mattison and Kenny Iwebema will be missed, but their experience has been replaced by two of the most athletic defensive ends Iowa has ever fielded. These guys can play. Just ask C.J. Bacher.
The Probable Starters
Adrian Clayborn (6'3", 275, Soph.) - Clayborn, the 2005 Missouri High School Player of the Year, got to campus and hit the weights. He has added 25 pounds to his frame, and is now the prototypical Iowa strongside defensive end.
Clayborn recorded over 100 tackles while playing both ways in his senior season at Webster Groves (MO), a performance good enough to garner a 4-star rating from both Rivals and Scout, and offers from half the Big 10 and Big XII. The only knock - and likely the only thing standing in the way of offers from Oklahoma, Texas, et al - was a lack of production as a pass rusher.
Iowa fans got their first serious look at Clayborn during last season's inexplicable win over Michigan State, and any concern over his ability as a pass rusher was quickly forgotten. His sack of Hoyer on third and six in the second overtime effectively ended the game. He recorded four tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, and a forced fumble in that game, despite playing only sporadically. He followed it up with four more tackles, 1/2 sack, 2 pressures, and a blocked field goal against Northwestern.
Clayborn battled injuries throughout last year, especially prior to the MSU game, and his health has to be an ongoing concern. Realistically, if Clayborn can match Ken Iwebema's production, he's had a good year. Nevertheless, I'm positively giddy at the idea of watching him play full-time.
Christian Ballard (6'4", 270, Soph.) - If Clayborn was impressive, Ballard was positively freakish. He didn't just play both ways at Lawrence (KS) Free State High; he was Rivals.com's #10 tight end in the country. He turned down offers from the likes of Michigan, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Nebraska to play for the Hawkeyes, and he impressed the coaches immediately.
After redshirting in his first year, Ballard first saw significant action in a defensive end rotation against Northwestern. He only recorded 2 1/2 sacks and 6 tackles. He made C.J. Bacher's life hell that afternoon, and there's little reason to expect less this season, as Ballard lines up next to block-swallowing machine Matt Kroul.
Iowa just watched two three-year starters at defensive end graduate. Barring injury or implosion, we're about to spend the next three seasons watching two more.
The Improbable Starter
Chad Geary (6'3", 260, Jr.) - Geary, a former walk-on from Tipton, entered last season as the second-string defensive end, and played sporadically through the first half of the season. His year culminated with four tackles at Purdue, which earned him a start against Michigan State in place of the injured Ken Iwebema. Unfortunately, he was injured during that game and missed the rest of the campaign. Clayborn and Ballard broke out the next week, and suddenly Geary was behind the freshmen.
The post-spring depth chart lists Geary as second-string defensive end behind Adrian Clayborn, and it appears unlikely he'll take the top line. However, given Clayborn's inexperience and history of injury problems, as well as Norm Parker's newfound love of defensive line rotations, there is no doubt he'll get his fair share of snaps.
Should See the Field
Lebron Daniel (6'2", 220, Fr. (RS)) - A sack machine as a linebacker in high school, Daniel's production and accolades (second-team All-American) far exceeded his star ratings (3-star at Rivals, 2-star at Scout). Despite the lack of respect from the To Catch a Predator crowd, Daniel drew interest from Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, and offers from Wisconsin and Purdue. He is now listed as co-backup to Ballard. He's undersized, but nevertheless should see the field occasionally.
Broderick Binns (6'2", 245, Fr. (RS)) - Another high school DE/TE combo, Binns was slighly more highly regarded by the stalking crowd than Daniel. Closer to ideal size, he's probably more likely to see action this season than his classmate, but needs to make a big move if he is to compete for time with the players listed above him on the depth chart.
Karl Klug (6'4", 235, Soph.) - Previously discussed as a defensive tackle, but he eventually may be switched to end due solely to his size. Or lack thereof.
Mark Mahmens (6'3", 255, Jr.) - OK, he probably won't play, but he's included so we can highlight this story: Mahmens saved a dude's life. A farmer who was - in typical Iowa fashion - using a tractor to remove "a post anchor thing" - screwed up, rolled the tractor, and landed underneath it. Mahmens got some help and got the guy out. Sure, Casey McMillan would have picked the tractor up and thrown it 200 yards, but it's a great story nonetheless.