Brother, Can You Spare a Defensive End?

Jonathan Daniel

Where oh where are the defensive ends at Iowa?

The give and take continues in Iowa's football recruiting. Iowa gained a verbal commitment from 2014 prospect Ross Pierschbacher over the weekend, but pulled a scholarship from 2013 prospect Trevon Young, who had verbally committed to Iowa several months ago. Other than the timing, there's no relationship between these two events.

Per Mas Casa:

Trevon Young, a 6-4, 220-pound defensive end prospect from Des Moines Lincoln High School, texted HawkeyeReport on Tuesday the following: "I got into some trouble, so they took my scholarship away."

As for what that trouble was...

In December, the Des Moines Register reported that Young, 17, was charged with criminal trespass with 11 other individuals. Young was among seven minors that were detained after 2 a.m. Sunday at a previously vacated home. Des Moines Police responded to a loud music complaint at 805 Virginia Avenue, and according to the case report "could smell the odor of marijuana coming from the house."

I don't really have an issue with Young's scholarship being pulled; neither offense was egregious, but his overall decision-making seems a little poor. Young was listed as a LB by most recruiting sites, but there was an expectation (confirmed by Young himself) that he would be groomed as a defensive end prospect at Iowa. His highlight video showed an impressive ability to get to the quarterback (albeit against lesser talent):

Young's departure leaves Iowa's cupboard looking even thinner when it comes to the defensive end position. While running back gets the angry deities and beer-fueled get-togethers, the defensive end position at Iowa has been brutalized by attrition almost as much.

Here's a list of the players currently listed at defensive end on the Iowa roster:

RS SR Dominic Alvis
RS SO Riley McMinn
RS SO Melvin "Bud" Spears
TR SO Drew Ott
RS FR Daumantas Venckus

That's it. None of Iowa's current incoming recruits are listed as DE types, either.

Alvis has seen action in several games over the past two seasons, with very inconsistent results. McMinn saw action in six games in 2012 and recorded four tackles. Spears is a converted linebacker, but he's still so raw that the coaches didn't trust him to see any action in 2012, despite Iowa's glaring need at defensive end. The situation was so desperate, in fact, the coaches decided they'd rather pull the redshirt from Ott, who had five tackles in five games this season.

Here's a list of the defensive linemen that have been at Iowa (and left) since Dom Alvis joined the team in 2009:

Scott Covert ('09, 2*)
Tyler Harrell ('09, 2*)
Martin Hopkins ('09, 2*)
Anthony Ferguson ('10, 3*)
Donovan Johnson ('10, 3*)
John Raymon ('11, 3*)

Harrell and Hopkins came to Iowa as linebackers, but were listed as defensive linemen at the time they left, if memory serves. It's not necessarily the lost quality of these departed players (to the best of my knowledge, none of them has really ripped it up elsewhere), but rather the quantity of their departures and the overall deleterious effect that's had on Iowa's roster.

Granted, there's also the fact that Iowa can be a little ambiguous when it comes to labeling positions for players. On the official Iowa roster, most defensive linemen are just listed as "DL." Iowa also frequently has players who can play inside and outside on the defensive line (think Christian Ballard from a few years ago, or Joe Gaglione and Steve Bigach from last season). So some of the guys Iowa has listed as "DL" or "DT" could end up playing some DE. Those players include:

RS JR Carl Davis
RS JR Louis Trinca-Pasat
RS JR Mike Hardy
RS SO Darian Cooper
RS SO Dean Tsopanides
RS FR Jaleel Johnson
RS FR Faith Ekakitie
TR FR Brant Gressel
TR FR Nathan Bazata

Although, realistically... Davis is a classic defensive tackle who's better-suited to plugging holes than rushing from the end or maintaining contain on the edges; LTP really seemed to be blossom when he saw action at DT in 2012; Johnson and Ekakitie are unknown quantities after redshirting in 2012; and Gressel and Bazata haven't even technically signed letters of intent yet.

The truth is Young's departure doesn't change anything for the 2013 season -- he was a virtual certainty to redshirt. It might not even change anything for the season or two after that -- it seemed like he was probably going to take some time to develop into a defensive end. But it's yet another potential body at defensive end who's no longer available, the latest in what's become a sad trend. That trend is the reason we look at the 2013 depth chart and see Dominic Alvis (a player who probably would have seen limited snaps behind most of the defensive ends Ferentz has had at Iowa) and ... a question mark (McMinn? Ott? Spears? Cooper? Who knows!).

Aaron Kampman begat Matt Roth, who begat Kenny Iwebema, who begat Adrian Clayborn (and Christian Ballard, sorta), who begat... er, Alvis. And Joe Gaglione. It's nothing against Alvis or Joey Gags -- they seem like good guys, they play hard, they've represented the university well -- but they're not defensive ends of the same caliber as those other guys. And that's a problem at Iowa. When Kirk Ferentz wins at Iowa, he wins with good defense. When Kirk Ferentz has a good defense, he has good 4-3 defensive ends. Right now, Iowa looks deficient in that department. Assuming Iowa isn't going to dramatically change its defensive approach (newsflash: they're not), the defensive struggles we've seen lately seem likely to continue until the situation at defensive end improves.

The hope is that someone on the roster takes a big leap forward this off-season and provides an unexpected boost to this position in 2013 (and probably beyond, given the youth of most of Iowa's defensive linemen). The alternative is the sobering realization that that player isn't on the Iowa roster at all and help is still a long way off.

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