You know the drill: Every Thursday from now until mid-August, BHGP breaks down the depth chart, position by position, from most certain to least certain.
Today: Defensive Tackle
After the 2008 season, Iowa graduated two four-year starting defensive tackles, including Mitch King, the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. And yet, despite that fact, Iowa finished fifth in the conference against the run and fielded one of the most imposing defensive fronts in program history. They might not get the accolades of their outside neighbors, but the defensive tackles anchor the Iowa defense and set the tone for the rest of the team.
Christian Ballard (#46, Senior, 6'5", 297, Lawrence, KS)
It's difficult to remember, now that Adrian Clayborn has become the Big Ten's -- and arguably the nation's -- best returning defensive end, but Christian Ballard wasn't originally supposed to be here. His first season as a starter was spent opposite Clayborn at defensive end, where he nearly matched Clayborn's numbers (40 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks). Given his productivity and his build -- slightly taller, slightly longer reach than AC -- there were some who thought Clayborn made more sense inside, with Ballard shoring up the right flank.
In the end, Ballard made much more sense inside than Clayborn. I don't want to insult the man, as much for my safety as anything else, but Ballard is just a notch less freakish than his fellow senior. Further, despite his slightly more rangy build, Ballard's skills translated better to the inside; his bull rush was notoriously unstoppable, and while his skill set against a single blocker hasn't matched Clayborn's, his ability to work through double teams has never been in doubt. Never were these abilities more evident than last season, as Ballard's first season at defensive tackle netted bigger statistics (54 tackles, 9 TFL, 5.5 sacks) than his first full season at end despite the change in position. Despite never playing defensive tackle before the 2009 campaign, Ballard picked up an honorable mention all-conference selection, with a third-team selection by Phil Steele.
Not only has Ballard improved his on-field performance, but his leadership ability and the effect of his mere presence on the line are evident. Ballard rivals Clayborn as a leader on the line and for the defense as a whole. And now that Ballard, who tipped the scales at 285 last season, has added another 12 pounds of block-absorbing power; the man is no longer undersized. There's no denying his athleticism. There's no denying his ability. Now, with experience, Ballard is poised to make an impact like we haven't seen since...well, since that last great senior defensive tackle, Mitch King.
Karl Klug (#95, Senior, 6'4", 270, Caledonia, MN)
"Klug has some King in him. We don't know where he's going, but he's getting there fast." -- Norm Parker
Drawing comparisons to Mitch King and Matt Roth from Norm Parker is a good sign; drawing them after one year as a starter as one of the most undersized defensive tackles in the conference is unbelievable. You see, Karl Klug shouldn't work. At 270 pounds (and especially at 255 last year), he should be too small to play defensive tackle in the Big Ten Conference. He should be moving out to defensive end or middle linebacker or tight end. And yet Karl Klug produces, to the tune of 65 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks in his first full year as a starter. He didn't just survive against bigger and more experienced opposition. No, Karl Klug thrived.
GULK was always the heir apparent to Mitch King, coming from the same background in a different state, arriving in Iowa City as an undersized defender in one capacity or another and parlaying his ability to sneak past blockers and wreak havoc in the opposing backfield into a starting spot in the defensive line. But where King obviously struggled when thrown to the wolves as a redshirt freshman, Klug was given proper germination time and flourished when given the opportunity.
Chalking it up to Klug's "high motor" is easy and a little racist; Klug is every bit the athlete of at least two of his teammates on the defensive line, and nobody in their right mind can believe Klug simply "wants it more" than Ballard or the other potential defensive tackles. No, Klug's improbable success is the upshot of his wholesale bulk purchase of the Iowa defensive philosophy, taking superior athletic talent, adding superior technique and position coaching, throwing in a bit of over-the-top Iowa conditioning, and profit. Much like King, Klug will likely go undrafted next year -- there will be the typical concerns over size and talk of him changing positions -- but someone will end up with a great football player if and when he gets picked up.
While You Wait for the Others
Mike Daniels (#93, Junior, 6'1", 270, Blackwood, NJ)
Daniels, long rumored as a King-Kroul replacement, settled for the consolation prize as go-to backup tackle when Ballard moved to the interior line last August. Unfortunately for him, there was virtually no rotation at defensive tackle; the starters' athleticism was matched only by their conditioning, and space for a backup was limited. Daniels made the most of what he got, notching up 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks, including a fourth-quarter sack of the not-so-elusive Scott Tolzien to drive a dagger through Wisconsin. He also played well on special teams. Barring injury on the top line, expect more of the same this season.
Steve Bigach (#54, Sophomore, 6'3", 272, Cleveland, OH)
The most recent graduate of the Chris Doyle School of Position Upgrades, Bigach was a terror as a high school defensive end for Cleveland's St. Ignatius -- his highlight video from signing day two years ago was almost as impressive as that for fellow classmate Casey McMillan -- and earned academic accolades that would make us blush (for instance, he had an offer to play for Yale). The bad news: he graduated at 220 pounds. Other schools saw him as a defensive end or linebacker, and that led to a lack of scholarship offers; only Air Force (and, depending on who you talk to, Michigan State) gave Bigach a chance. In two years, he's added 52 to his frame and is now set to become the next freak specimen in the Iowa line in 2011. Unfortunately for him, that still translates into special teams and mop-up duty for 2010.
Thomas Nardo (#87, Junior, 6'3", 275, Lancaster, PA)
Nard Dog cracked the two-deep for the spring game, though we're not entirely sure how; his mere presence on the depth chart had Morehouse looking through the JUCO ranks for 2011. Still, something happened this spring to push Nardo past Bigach, if even for a moment. He has no experience outside special teams; in three non-redshirt seasons, Nardo has not played. And yet, he was named as a team leader following last season and might yet get one year as a starter. It's just not going to be this year.