Assume the Position is our offseason guide to the Iowa Hawkeyes football depth chart. The math is difficult, so take it from us: As time moves on, we'll know more. That's why we rank the positions from most certain to least certain.
Today: Defensive End
Defensive end was going to be last, and while we still have no idea how the depth chart is going to shake out, it's still more stable than the other spot we haven't finished. With as few guarantees as possible, we present the defensive ends.
The One You Know
Broderick Binns (#91, Senior (RS), 6'2", 260, Cretin-Durham Hall HS (St. Paul, MN))
Kirk Ferentz and staff have a long history of cranking out multiple-year starters at defensive end. There were Clayborn and Ballard, and before them Bryan Mattison and Kenny Iwebema, and before them Matt Roth and Howard Hodges. Binns fits this mold, in a sense: He started in 2009, and he will start in 2011, and in between...well, we don't know what happened.
Binns came to Iowa with some serious buzz: A three-star recruit from the services, but a product of a well-known Twin Cities football factory and widely considered one of the best players in Minnesota (Rivals ranked him #2), he held the typical Iowa offer sheet: Most of the Big 12 North, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona State, and interest from Michigan. The calling card for Binns, who didn't have outstanding numbers in high school, was his ability to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage. He had three deflected passes as a senior to go with eight sacks and 89 tackles. It was a trait Binns carried to Iowa, where he jumped into the fray as a redshirt freshman, knocked down two passes, added a couple of sacks and tackles for loss, and essentially forced the coaching staff to move Christian Ballard to defensive tackle and find Binns a starting spot. Once entrenched in the starting lineup, he didn't disappoint: 63 tackles, 10 TFL, 6 sacks, and a ridiculous 9 pass breakups as a sophomore. On a defensive line stocked with NFL talent at every other position, Binns fit right in.
During the summer of 2010, Binns picked up a DUI on relatively auspicious circumstances when he drove through a left turn lane that everyone who has ever owned a car in Iowa City has driven through and blew a .097. For his trouble, he served a one-game suspension and was punished an additional start against Iowa State the next week. In his absence, Ballard moved back to defensive end and made way for Mike Daniels at tackle. It was makeshift, or so we thought. Binns returned to the starting lineup against Arizona, picked off a low-flying pass and returned it for a touchdown. Even with that, though, Binns never truly re-established himself as the obvious choice to start opposite Clayborn at end. This was true when Mike Daniels was destroying all worlds in early October, sure, but it was also apparently true in November when Daniels was floundering; Binns started against Wisconsin, and then didn't start again until Minnesota. The apparent snub was likely for lack of production; he recorded just one assisted tackle against Wisconsin and hadn't looked particularly good against Michigan or Penn State before that. Where 2008 had been promising and 2009 eye-opening, 2010 was as disappointing as we could possibly imagine for a player on an exponential upward trajectory.
There's nobody standing in his way now, no Ballard or Clayborn or much-hyped defensive tackle waiting in the wings, no disciplinary problem to keep him off the field in September, no excuse for anything other than a return to form. We've had these players before -- though usually not a defensive end -- guys like Raf Eubanks and Julian Vandervelde who played above their level as a sophomore and took a step backwards as a junior. For those players, their senior seasons were somewhat redemptive. For his sake and ours, we'll hope Binns' story is the same.
Lebron Daniel (#58, Senior (RS), 6'2", 255, Glenville HS (Cleveland, OH))
A Lebron from Cleveland who left the state to ply his trade free of Ohioans' hostility? Haven't heard this one before.
Lebron Daniel was a 3* recruit with offers from damn near everyone but OSU (and, depending on who you talk to, he had a late offer from them, as well) based on his play at linebacker for Cleveland powerhouse Glenville High. Of course, that meant he was destined for the defensive line in Iowa City, and quickly made the move. Daniel had the great misfortune of coming to Iowa one year after Clayborn and Ballard set up shop on the ends, and hasn't been able to break through. It's no knock on him that he didn't beat out two NFL-caliber linemen.
There's still something about it that worries us, though, and it comes from the way he's been handled by Iowa's defensive coaching staff. Last season, when Binns was suspended and Daniel sat ready to (at least temporarily) inherit that role, the coaching staff found it preferable to move Christian Ballard (who, at that time, was nearly 300 pounds) to defensive and and move Mike Daniels in at tackle. When Binns returned, Daniel was left on the outside looking in. When the defensive line was faltering in October and November, as Clayborn finally wilted under the weight of three months of double-teams and Daniels ran out of diesel, there wasn't even discussion of rotating Daniel into the mix. In fact, while Daniel saw action in every game of 2010, he recorded just one assisted tackle and one fumble recovery in Big Ten play, and was shut out in the bowl game. This August, with his first clear shot at significant playing time, Daniel sat out the first week with an undisclosed injury, and the preseason buzz on him has been much more of the "he's a starter for now" type than the "now that Clayborn is out of the way, he's starting to show why we all thought so much of him" type.
Iowa needs a pass rush from its defensive line in order to win. That's what they do, and they won't change it just because they're lacking in pass rushers. Daniel will presumably get the first chance to show he can get to the quarterback and hold the edge against the run, and if he can prove he's ready, the job will be his. It's this right of first refusal that might well make Lebron Daniel the most important player on the 2011 Iowa defense. But the cane and the gong will be at the ready, and that hook will come fast if he doesn't deliver the goods.
While You Wait for the Others
Joe Forgy (#96, Senior (RS), 6'4", 260, Iowa Falls (IA) HS/Ellsworth CC)
Forgy didn't take up football until his junior year of high school, and the combination of his inexperience and location left him unrecruited. He took an offer to play at Ellsworth Community College, also in Iowa Falls. Ellsworth converted Forgy from linebacker to defensive end, and Forgy responded by tackling every quarterback in sight. He started two years and won honorable mention all-American honors as a sophomore after racking up 40 tackles and 12 sacks. Reese Morgan saw enough to offer Forgy a preferred walk-on position, which Forgy gladly accepted. He's had two seasons with quite literally no production (one redshirt, one on the bench), and there's little reason to expect anything more except for the fact that the rest of the depth chart is just as unproven.
Mike Hardy (#98, Freshman (RS), 6'5", 270, Kimberly HS (Appleton, WI))
If there is going to be a threat to Binns and Daniel from the ranks of the underclassmen, it's almost certainly going to come from Hardy. A universal three-star recruit from Appleton, Hardy turned down offers from Wisconsin (one of Ferentz's few big-name wins against Bielema in Wisconsin in the last few years), Nebraska, OMHR, Indiana, Minnesota, and Iowa State to join the Hawkeyes; obviously, given that list of rejections, we love him. Scouts praised his high intensity and strength, which are always good signs for an Iowa defensive lineman. And, naturally, he's getting some low-level buzz in August camp. He'll be in the rotation at defensive end early and, given the mess in front of him at both tackle and end, he could certainly take a starting spot before October.
Joe Gaglione (#99, Junior (RS), 6'4", 255, Lake Catholic HS (Novelty, OH))
We've hit DEFCON 3 on Joe Gaglione, because he can't stay healthy and get ahead on a team that should be anointing him as the next big thing. On its face, Project Gaglione should be a perfect fit: A 6'3", 225-lb. defensive lineman from Ricky Stanzi's alma mater who racked up 22 sacks as a senior and ran the 100 yard dash well enough to make the Ohio state track meet, but was nevertheless ignored by OSU and recieved tepid interest elsewhere (offers from Pitt and Indiana, late interest from Michigan and PSU). Gaglione looked for all intents and purposes to be a genetic freak whose rise to the top of the depth chart was a question of when, not if.
Fast forward three years, and Gaglione enters his junior season with exactly zero tackles to his name. Gaglione redshirted in 2008. Then came a 2009 lost to a shoulder injury, followed by a season where he only played sparingly in mop-up duty against Iowa State. The 2010 struggles could be chalked up to a glut of experienced linemen, and the 2009 injury is obviously unavoidable. But if it's ever going to work, this has to be his moving day. (FYI, Gaglione recently suffered an ankle injury, but there are no indications it's serious.)
Louis Trinca-Passat (#90, Freshman (RS), 6'3", 270, Lane Tech HS (Chicago, IL))
The man with the most unfortunate set of initials on the squad might be closer to playing than we thought. LTP, a universal 3* recruit, chose Iowa over a somewhat-eclectic offer list (Wisconsin, Stanford, Illinois, Michigan State, Colorado, and the nearby MAC schools), then eschewed Ferentz's rule on early enrollment. It's with good reason: Trinca-Passat graduated a semester early from Chicago's prestigious Lane Tech H.S. with a 4.2 GPA. Early enrollment bought him an extra spring with the program, which LTP coupled with a redshirt season to add 25 pounds. His name shows up most often at about this point in the list, where the probable players have been detailed and the promising freshman get thrown against the wall as potential contributors. There aren't too many other reasons to expect him to contribute this season than the "DL" next to his name on the roster but, given this depth chart, it's all the reason he may need.
John Raymon (Number unknown, Freshman, 6'5", 250, Council Rock North HS (Newtown, PA))
Raymon was a bit off the radar when he accepted an Iowa offer in June 2010. While he held a list of offers including Michigan, Illinois, Purdue, NC State, and West Virginia, Raymon received more coverage for playing hoops than he did for his football prowess. Great athlete, great frame, but raw and destined for a redshirt. Or so we thought before last week, when (1) position coaches started dropping Raymon's name as a possible defensive end this season, followed by (2) Raymond responded to this heaping praise by firing up his Facebook page and saying he was transferring. By all indications, the short-term crisis (strongly hinted to be homesickness) has been resolved, and Raymon is back on the reservation. Still, it leaves us with some questions, the first of which being whether he's prepared for the grind of a fall in the Big Ten. It's not out of the question Raymon sees special teams work this season with a view to defensive end in 2012, but any talk of him doing more than that is probably tabled during the adjustment period.