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.
Tonight: Defensive End
Iowa's defense is built on strength up front, and when you pathologically play cover 2 as the Hawkeyes do, no position is more important than defensive end. The best Ferentz-era defenses have always featured quality defensive ends: Matt Roth. Kenny Iwebema. Bryan Mattison. Colin Cole. So the correlation between what could be the best defense in Iowa history and what is almost certainly the best set of defensive ends in program history is not coincidental.
Adrian Clayborn (#94, Senior, 6'3", 280, Webster Groves HS (St. Louis, MO))
Back in 2006, I had seats in the north end zone for Iowa's game with #1 Ohio State. Yes, end zone seats suck when the ball is on the other side of the field, but when an offense is backed up in your end zone you get to see things that others can't. That day, Ohio State started their second series from that north end zone, heading south. And on the first play, they handed the ball to Antonio Pittman off-tackle left. There was an audible gasp as he turned the corner and headed upfield; even though Pittman only picked up 5 yards on the play, it was clear we didn't have an answer for THAT: That athleticism, that vision, that line, THAT. Sure enough, Pittman eventually took over, rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown.
I hadn't heard that sound from the north end zone, that deflating gasp, for nearly three years, and then I happened to get tickets across the aisle from the Arizona visitors' section last September, and then this happened:
That was a 280-lb. defensive end running down the nation's leading rusher from behind. Suffice it to say, the sound that came out of the Arizona section was eerily familiar. For the uninitiated, that game became Clayborn's coming out party, and he only built from there. Clayborn finished the season with an Orange Bowl MVP trophy and consensus first team all-conference selection, based in large part on his 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 9 hurries, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 well-timed punt block. And he's back for more, with 13 games to prove to the NFL that he's worthy of a top draft pick and to the rest of us that he's the best Iowa defensive end ever.
The Forgotten Man
Broderick Binns (#91, Junior, 6'2", 260, Cretin-Durham Hall (St. Paul, MN))
In most years, a player like Broderick Binns would get top billing. An athletic, long-armed 260-lb. defensive end who recorded 10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and 9 (NINE!) pass breakups in his first year as a starter with two years of eligibility remaining? He's the stuff of defensive line fantasies. But on this line, he's running a distant fourth in hype.
It's not for a lack of talent: Binns played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2008, filling in for Clayborn and Christian Ballard when needed. Lack of playing time (and lack of size) didn't stop him from racking up 2 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. He was the sub-story of the infamous "Shonn Greene meets Frank Duong" Purdue game that year, recording 4 tackles and a sack off the bench. Binns might not have had the ideal size, but when called upon, he produced. He was so effective, in fact, that when he showed up for fall camp stronger, faster, and ready for full-time duty, Norm Parker moved prototype defensive end Ballard to full-time defensive tackle to give Binns a starting spot. It was a move made more out of necessity than anything else, and it paid off immediately. Rather than lining up Ballard and Clayborn next to Klug and someone from the bottom of the depth chart, exposing the interior line and fashioning some pseudo-rotation for three outstanding defensive ends, the new setup gave Iowa bona fide pass rushers at all four spots and, while not as stout against the run as the previous season's King/Kroul incarnation, the hole-shooting effectiveness of Klug and Ballard coupled with the size of Clayborn and strength of Binns at least slowed the opposing rushing game long enough for Angerer and company to clean up the mess.
The run game could be more vulnerable this season; Edds and Angerer have been replaced by two first-time starters, one of which was playing weakside linebacker until March. But it's also another year bigger, another year stronger, another year better for the conference's best defensive line. Nobody has more room for growth than Binns, a scary reality for the rest of the conference.
While You Wait for the Others
Lebron Daniel (#58, Junior, 6'2", 250, Glenville HS (Cleveland, OH))
Cleveland's other Lebron is heir apparent to Clayborn's spot on the weakside. The former three-star recruit from Ohio State feeder school Glenville High (alma mater of Ted Ginn Jr., among others) chose the Hawkeyes from an offer sheet that included every Big Ten team not named Ohio State or Michigan. He just had the misfortune of doing so a year after Clayborn and Ballard had done the same. So far, he's recorded more accolades than tackles: He's frequently mentioned by Kaz and Parker, but has only recorded two tackles in two seasons of intermittent action. He'll be the favorite next year.
Dominic Alvis (#79, Freshman (RS), 6'3", 220, Logan-Magnolia (Logan, IA))
It's not very often a non-safety grayshirt makes his way onto the two-deep coming off a redshirt, but lo and behold, that's where we find walk-on Dominic Alvis as summer begins. Part of it was circumstance: Alvis initially committed as a walk-on, but received a late scholarship last summer when defensive line depth was decimated by injury, and was able to participate in workouts and fall camp. He's got all the diamond-in-the-rough credentials: Small-school superstar, qualified in four events at the state track meet as a senior, slightly undersized, looks like he could be on The Bachelor. Alvis drew positive comments from upperclassmen this spring; Ballard mentioned him by name when discussing spring improvement with ESPN's Adam Rittenberg. He probably won't see too much action this year, but will certainly be in the mix in 2011.
Joe Gaglione (#99, Sophomore, 6'5", 245, Lake Catholic (Novelty, OH))
Gaglione, a giant of a man who once was running 11-second 100 yard dashes at 235 lb. as a high school senior, redshirted through his first year on campus, then sat out most of last season after an injury kept him out of fall camp. There's no denying his athleticism, and his weight is starting to catch up with his height. Another year in the incubator could produce something scary.