LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 25: Running back Rex Burkhead #22 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers powers through defensive lineman Joe Gaglione #99 and the rest of the Iowa Hawkeyes defense during their game at Memorial Stadium November 25, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Iowa 20-7. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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 End
There's something happening here: Where the depth chart at defensive tackle is full of youth and moving into the third act, defensive end is the personification of the "inexperienced upperclassmen" epidemic of 2011. There are three upperclassmen in rotation with precious little behind them. It's scary this year, and terrifying for 2013.
The Tiny King
Dominic Alvis (#79, Junior (RS), 6'4", 280, Logan-Magnolia HS (Logan, IA))
You want to know how good Reese Morgan is at finding talent? Dominic Alvis is Exhibit A, an Iowa small-school star with no real serious interest from anyone who ended up becoming one of the team's best defenders in a remarkably short period of time. Alvis was initially offered a greyshirt, but a late scholarship opening got him on the squad a year early. One year in the weight room, and he was suddenly -- and surprisingly -- in the mix behind Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard at defensive end. Exit Clayborn/Ballard, enter Alvis, and he's been there ever since. He started eight of the first nine games of 2011, before tearing his ACL against MIchigan and missing the rest of the season. He's fully recovered and ready to go for the start of the season.
That's not to say he's just like Clayborn or Ballard, because he's not. Alvis isn't much of a pass rusher (two sacks last season as a starter, three sacks overall), nor is he the kind of player that will blow up plays before they start. He's filling the traditional defensive end role: Set the edge of the line and do not let the play get outside, and in that role, he's typically solid. It's hard to see him doing much more than that, though; his improvement has been fully measurable over his first three years, but any improvement from here will have to be in technique and capability. That's the kind of improvement that's much more difficult to effect. If it's going to happen, Iowa needs it immediately.
Joe Gaglione (#99, Senior (RS), 6'4", 265, Lake Catholic HS (Novelty, OH))
Joey Gags played the waiting game. He was an unheralded recruit in an unheralded class, a two-star prospect at both Rivals and Scout with offers from Indiana and Pitt, considered either a big linebacker or undersized end. He redshirted, and he sat. And sat. And sat some more. In 2011, with the defensive end depth chart decimated by graduation and attrition, he barely registered, recording seven tackles in ten games. We're now told he's the best pass rusher we have, despite the fact he has zero career sacks.
Obviously, this is a concern. Joe has shown some ability this August, and has good burst off the line, but the idea that a fifth-year senior with virtually no experience is now the team's most talented defensive end is a concept without basis in logic: Players rarely find the switch in year four, and they never find it in year five. Gaglione's place is as much about him as a player as it is the abject failure of Iowa's recruiting at defensive end, a shocking development for a team that has put defensive ends in the NFL repeatedly for a decade.
Steve Bigach (#54, Senior (RS), 6'3", 285, St. Ignatius HS (Cleveland, OH))
We chronicled Bigach for defensive tackle, and there's certainly a chance he sees some time there, but there is Alvis, Gags, and the great abyss at defensive end. If there is going to be a rotation -- and there should be, because Alvis is coming off an ACL tear and Gaglione is a first-year starter -- Bigach is going to have to be involved. And if, heaven forbid, there's an injury to either starter, Bigach is the immediate and permanent replacement. Both of those are a bit scary; Bigach is a homeless man's Christian Ballard, a big block-swallowing body for the end of the line but negligible as a pass rusher.
While You Wait for the Others
Melvin Spears (#49, Freshman (RS), 6'2", 255, Allen (TX) HS)
Spears had a good redshirt season, coming in as a three-star recruit and going from a 220-lb. linebacker to the defensive end we see today. He's the opposite of anything we currently have at the top of the depth chart -- raw, explosive, a potentially excellent pass rusher, but lacking the technique necessary to hold up at the point of attack. Because of that, he's probably incapable of playing every down. Could see situational action, especially in passing downs.
Riley McMinn (#94, Freshman (RS), 6'7", 245, Rochester (IL) HS)
We haven't seen much from McMinn this August, as he's missed both open practices with injury. Fortunately, it doesn't look like anything serious, and -- unlike Bud Spears -- he's always been a defensive end. The idea of a 6'7" defensive end is intriguing, especially on the right side. McMinn and Spears, if they develop as they should, could be an extremely interesting defensive end tandem...in 2014. For this year, it's likely backup duty barring injury.
Drew Ott (#95, Freshman, 6'4", 245, Giltner HS (Trumbull, NE))
Ott's a pretty good get for Iowa: The second-ranked player in Nebraska by Rivals (though not as highly regarded by Scout) with an offer from Kansas State and some MAC schools, former high school wrestler with a ready-made frame for defensive end. It doesn't mean he won't redshirt, and he almost certainly will, even though it may be the pocket redshirt where he dresses and never plays.
Daumantas Venckus-Cucchiara (#91, Freshman, 6'5", 230, Cypress Bay HS (Weston, FL))
DVC is Rick Kaczenski's final Florida-based contribution to the program. Given how the others have worked out, we're going to cross our fingers and hope he's an exception rather than the rule. In any case, he's a certain redshirt, mostly due to size; his technique, at least this past Saturday, looks solid.