IOWA HAWKEYE FOOTBALL OPEN PRACTICE PRIMER 2014 - THE DEFENSE

Matthew Holst

What to watch when you get to see the 2014 Iowa Football team.

LIKE LAST YEAR. The Iowa Football team will travel West to hold one of their spring practices in front of Central Iowa fans at Valley High School Stadium in West Des Moines, Iowa. Fans were asked to get tickets to the free open practice and it's reached near sellout status. There may still be a few tickets available so call around to the participating Hy-Vee stores for availability.

The gates open for fans at 11:30 AM (CT) and practice gets going at 1:00 PM (CT). The annual spring game will still take place at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City Saturday April 26th.

Since this is a practice, you can expect to see Iowa specialists take the field first warming up with kicks and punts. Players will take the field and go through a brief warm-up session before breaking off with their individual position coaches for 12 minutes of drills. Although, last year we saw something different, they opened practice with onside kick coverage practice and some punt recovery stuff.

From there, positions combine for more drills. Quarterbacks will throw to wide receivers; running backs will block linebackers. Then Iowa will get to a skeleton look (7 on 7) with linemen squaring off at one end of the field. After some 7 on 7 work Iowa comes together as a team to scrimmage a bit. It's controlled, meaning it's a situational scrimmaging. Finally, Iowa will work on goal line offense and finish up with special teams (field goal/extra points).

Iowa's defense didn't change much under Norm Parker. Phil Parker's first season as defensive coordinator was more of the same. Last year, we saw a lot of changes in Parker's strategy so Saturday will be fun to watch Iowa work on blitz packages and maybe the Raider package. Iowa's defense should be ahead of the offense unless the coaches sit Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat. The offense versus the defense in 7 on 7 drills may tell us more than actual scrimmaging.

SOME THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO READ BEFORE PRACTICE.

NO WORRIES ALONG THE DEFENSIVE LINE. Iowa loses Dominic Alvis from last year's squad but Mike Hardy filled in for Alvis after the Michigan State game and had 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a starter. Iowa returns the entire front four plus depth.


Marc Morehouse mentioned that Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat sat out the portion of the practice he saw last week. Both are fifth year seniors and Iowa is likely getting reps for the younger faces at defensive tackle to boost that depth. Darian Cooper is next in the DL rotation and junior will play a big role this season.

Behind the top three DT's of Davis, LTP and Cooper is Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie. Faith has moved from defensive end and is better suited to play inside. Iowa has four solid options at DT, including Johnson. Ekakitie and red-shirt freshman Nathan Bazata are your third team tackles.

There's depth at tackle but end still is a question mark. Riley McMinn appears to be healthy and getting reps as a second team defensive end. Because of injuries, McMinn is still an unknown despite this being his fourth year on campus. Opposite of McMinn is Nate Meier who appears to have added a few more pounds over the off-season. The Iowa roster lists Meier at 244 but he'll play closer to 255 next season. Iowa has role players here. Meier is likely to play on obvious pass rush downs to get his rush from the edge.

LINEBACKER. Iowa lists Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry as starters for 2014. I think it's safe to assume that stays that way through Fall camp. Cole Fisher could push Spearman and even replace him if Iowa uses a special package against obvious passing downs. Iowa has little depth at linebacker behind these four.

Alston is the lone senior in this group. Behind Alston at middle linebacker is red-shirt freshman John Kenny and walk-on transfer Chad Gilson. Kenny joined the Iowa program last spring semester and this is his second spring camp. He's likely the future at MLB for the Hawks and could end up a three year starter. Laron Taylor didn't make the two-deeps but he might push Kenny and Gilson for reps. All three are likely special teams contributors.

I've mentioned Cole Fisher. He's listed as the back-up at both WLB and OLB. He is the team's fourth linebacker and first off the bench if Perry or Spearman leave the game. After Fisher and maybe Taylor, Iowa has red-shirt freshman Josey Jewell and a pair of walk-on red-shirt freshmen in Steve Manders and Bo Bower. Iowa adds four linebackers to the roster in the Fall. Aaron Mends is still light at 205 pounds and like Parker Hesse and Ben Niemann will likely need a red-shirt year. Of the four, perhaps Jameer Outsey has a chance at playing time.

Something to definitely keep an eye on at practice is Nico Law playing some linebacker. Law posted on Facebook before spring camp that the coaching staff wanted to experiment with him at safety and linebacker. It may be situational, like when Iowa faces obvious passing downs and uses the Raider package. Last season, Alston and Spearman were rush ends in the Raider. Law and Fisher could serve as coverage linebackers if Iowa were to drop both starting linebackers into the rush end position.

LET'S MOVE RIGHT TO SAFETY. Johnny Lowdermilk returns at strong safety and will be the senior leader of the back four. Law enters his senior season listed at second string strong safety. We will likely see Law on the field but perhaps as a role player mentioned above. It's spring so don't rule out both Lowdermilk and Law starting in the same backfield. If Nico makes a push this spring and in Fall camp, Lowdermilk could slide to free safety.

Iowa coaches surprised some when the spring two-deeps were released and defensive back Jordan Lomax made the move to free safety. This will be Lomax's fourth year on campus. He played as a true freshman in 2011 and then missed all of 2012 with a shoulder injury. Lomax got his first start as a Hawkeye last year in the season opener against NIU but left the game due to injury. True freshman Desmond King replaced Lomax and never relinquished the starting spot.

Lomax has the brains to be the quarterback of the secondary. He was named Academic all-Big Ten last year and is an economics major. Still, he's playing a new position and is an unproven player. The competition with sophomore Anthony Gair and previously mentioned scenario with Nico Law is definitely something to watch. Gair has a wrist injury so it's unclear if he'll practice Saturday. This battle for the starting spot could play out through Fall and even through the early part of Iowa's 2014 season.

CORNER. Desmond King is set in stone on one side, the other is up for grabs. Right now, it's a battle between Maurice Fleming and Sean Draper. Draper was the first corner off the bench at the end of last season when B.J. Lowery left the field injured. Still, the coaching staff gave Fleming the top spot heading into camp and we'll see if he can hold it down.

Greg Mabin and Malik Rucker are also listed in the two-deeps and could see some special teams duty this Fall. Mabin started his Iowa career as a wide receiver and made the move to corner last year. He's a bigger body at DB at close to 200 pounds. Physically, he'll remind you of former Hawkeye Bradley Fletcher. Mabin may develop into a nice option for Iowa as the third DB in a nickel package. Iowa went away from the nickel last season when the Raider package emerged. Perhaps, it returns in 2014 now that Iowa has more depth at the corner position.

There's opportunity for one or two of Iowa's five 2014 recruiting class defensive backs to break in here. They'll likely want to stagger the large recruiting class and get some feet wet on special teams and in mop-up time. My early favorite is Omar Truitt. Watch for Miles Taylor at safety and Jalen Embry at corner too. Of course, they'll be on campus in August.

PUNTER. Iowa liked Dillion Kidd's tape so much they offered him a scholarship even with Connor Kornbrath on scholarship for two more seasons. Kirk Ferentz and staff want competition at all the positions this spring and that includes punter. We'll get to see both kick before practice really gets going and during punt team drills.

KICKER. Iowa also offered a scholarship to a kicker in the 2014 recruiting class. Mick Ellis won't join the program until Fall camp so it's between Marshall Koehn and Alden Haffar on Saturday. Haffar is a walk-on from ICCC. He played his high school football at Valley and is the only current Hawkeye on the roster playing on his old high school turf (except DCHS grads Jon Wisnieski and Tommy Gaul when Dowling calls Valley Field home too). Koehn is Iowa's kicker in 2014 unless Ellis wins the spot in Fall camp.


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