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.
Previously on ATP2k12:
Today: Defensive Tackle
I honestly thought defensive tackle wouldn't be settled until the last day of August. After last weekend's open practice, it looks like one of the most stable positions in the defense. This is why we do it this way.
Louis Trinca-Pasat (#90, Sophomore (RS), 6'3", 283, Lane Tech (Chicago, IL))
Conventional wisdom has always held that a 4-3 defense wants big, run-stuffing tackles in the middle and speed rushers at end. This has always been the one spot where Iowa shirks common knowledge, though. Iowa's always been fine with one undersized defensive tackle. MItch King was a linebacker when he came to Iowa City; one year later, he was a starting defensive tackle. Karl Klug never seemed to get beyond the 230 lbs. he weighed when he came to Iowa; by his junior year, he'd reached 270 and was starting next to Christian Ballard. Neither of those players ever reached "ideal" size for a defensive tackle, and yet both starred at Iowa and have continued their careers into the NFL.
Louis Trinca-Pasat looks to be the next defensive tackle in the King-Klug mold. This time last year, that was so not the case. LTP was an afterthought as 2011 opened, nowhere to be found on a vapid defensive line depth chart. He played in one game last season, recording one tackle against Indiana. In December, the rumors of him leaving the program or quitting football completely were strong enough that we fully expected his name to be dropped along with Marcus Coker. He elected to stay, and in the next eight months went from non-entity to the most solid starter on the defensive line. Ferentz explained it as follows:
"I doubt anybody made more progress than Louis Trinca‑Pasat," Ferentz said. "He was kind of on the ropes back in December, quite frankly. A young guy who really was starting to question where his heart was and how important it was to him, and it showed up in his performance. He was out there, he looked OK, but nothing to write home about.
"In the spring, he's really just quietly emerged, and by the second half of spring ball, he's playing as well as anybody on the field either side of the ball. So, he's clearly taken some steps."
Rumor has it LTP's development didn't stop in April, either. Trinca-Pasat has apparently been turning heads and blowing up plays all August. There's enough concern over his lack of experience that you can't write his name in pen at the top of the depth chart, but it's as close as you can get given the circumstances.
Carl Davis (#71, Sophomore (RS), 6'5", 310, Stevenson HS (Detroit, MI))
Davis was supposed to be ready-made to play defensive tackle in the way that very few Iowa defensive tackle recruits are. He was over 300 pounds when he graduated from high school, and had hit 325 by the time he arrived on campus in 2010. What we didn't fully comprehend was that Davis was a relative football newcomer, having only really focused on the game in his last two seasons of high school. The redshirt may have helped him physically -- he got back down to 310 before last season started -- but it didn't necessarily provide the opportunity to improve technique, and when Davis stepped on the field last season, his technique was a mess. He was shoved backwards by players 40 pounds lighter than he. After playing sparingly over the first seven weeks of the season, Davis injured his knee, had surgery in January, and missed spring practice.
He showed up this August needing some conditioning help -- the natural upshot of eight months spent in rehab -- but in better physical condition than ever, and word is that his technique has improved exponentially. Davis is a key part to making this defensive line work if Trinca-Pasat is to be a starter, as every undersized Hawkeye defensive tackle has always had the help of a larger, block-swallowing counterpart: King had Kroul, Klug had Ballard and Daniels (though both of those guys could destroy worlds if not properly handled). Davis might not ever be the 3-4 zero technique that some predicted, but if he can draw two offensive linemen and allow his linemates to wreak havoc, he'll have done his job. It looks like he'll get his chance to do just that come September.
The Utility Infielder
Steve Bigach (#54, Senior (RS), 6'3", 285, St. Ignatius HS (Cleveland, OH))
This is it for Steve Bigach, one of the all-time cog-in-the-machine Hawkeyes. A relatively unheralded two-star recruit out of Ohio (his only other offer came from Air Force), Bigach was always going to be a project. It took him three years in the program to register a tackle, four years to start a game, and now, as a senior, it looks like he's being passed by youngsters. He entered August at the top of the defensive end depth chart, but the improved play of classmate Joe Gaglione and the return of Dominic Alvis could leave him out of the mix. His best chance of playing might come inside, where the competition is younger and the need for an experienced hand may be greater. He's got the size and experience to play in all four line spots, and he's certain to do just that this season.
Darian Cooper (#97, Freshman (RS), 6'2", 280, Dematha Catholic HS (Elkridge, MD))
Darian Cooper has been all potential but little results since he committed to Iowa on the eve of Signing Day 2011. He was supposed to come in last August and compete for a position immediately. After an academic snafu, Cooper got a late start on fall camp and eventually redshirted. He was then supposed to roll past the lightly-recruited and underachieving rabble competing for a defensive tackle spot this spring. By the end of April, it was Trinca-Pasat, not Cooper, that had impressed. He started August practice even with Carl Davis, and has apparently fallen behind there, as well.
I don't want to make it sound like his career is over; Cooper is a redshirt freshman, he's barely gotten started, and the hype surrounding him isn't his fault (he actually seems like a relatively quiet kid). He'll have plenty of chances to play this season, as everyone thinks defensive tackle in particular is going to be a rotation. But Cooper isn't competing with seasoned veterans. He's up against guys in his class or the classes immediately adjacent to his. He's either going to have to grow up fast or wait a long time.
While You Wait for the Others
Mike Hardy (#98, Sophomore (RS), 6'5", 270, Kimberly HS (Appleton, WI)
There is a small portion of the Iowa fan base that is obsessed with Hardy. These are generally the same fans who are obsessed with sticking it to Bielema and take recruiting battles personally. So, yes, it would be kinda cool if Hardy, who shrugged off Bielema's advances (and those of Iowa State, Nebraska, and Minnesota, as well) to play at Iowa, would become a superstar that would drive Wisconsin crazy. But we don't play them again this year, and frankly, I don't think coaches care too much about those things. These fans need to chill the fuck out.
Dean Tsopanides (#75, Freshman (RS), 6'2", 240, Torrington (CT) HS)
Look at all the underclassmen in this depth chart. There is exactly one upperclassman in the mix for minutes at defensive tackle this year, and he's really just an end without a spot. This could bode poorly for 2012, especially early, but if you remember our five-year cycle theory from January, a bad 2012 with really young guys getting experience means a good 2013 and a really good 2014. As for Tsopanides, he's not big enough to play significant minutes yet unless injury forces him into the game.
Jaleel Johnson (#67, Freshman, 6'4", 300, Montini Catholic HS (Westchester, IL))
Remember how we talked about the Carl Davis hype as a ready-to-play zero technique defensive tackle? Throw in a fourth star, a Chicago pedigree, and a firm grasp of social media, and you could reasonably approximate the Jaleel Johnson recruiting experience. Yes, he's 300, but hints are it's not the best kind of 300, and Iowa will redshirt everyone in the trenches if possible. They won't formally announce it, but the coaches could well give him the Darian Cooper pocket redshirt.
Faith Ekakite (#56, Freshman, 6'3", 275, Lake Forest (IL) Academy)
That goes double for Ekakite, who doesn't have the size of Johnson or the experience of the guys in front of him. Word out of camp is that there's some real work to do here, and that means redshirt at all costs. Given the logjam of underclassmen ahead of him, it wouldn't be the worst thing for either him or the team.