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Assume the Position: Linebacker

It's about that time.  For the next two months, BHGP will be previewing this year's Iowa Hawkeyes, position-by-position.  Naturally, as the earth revolves around the sun, things will change.  Therefore, we're starting with the position we are most certain of, and ending with running back the position of which we are least certain.  To date:

1. Defensive Tackle
2. Tight End
3. Safety
4. Center

5. Defensive End
6. Wide Receiver

Today: Linebacker


When we reviewed defensive ends, there was mention of Norm Parker's comments to the Polk County I-Club that the new guys will make mistakes, "but they will be moving fast when they make them."  The same could apply at linebacker.  Gone are Mike Klinkenborg and Mike Humpal, two good players with even better names who stepped into the size 22 shoes left by Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge and performed capably, if somewhat unspectacularly.  The replacements are largely unknown quantities with limited experience, but who are significantly more athletic than the predecessors.  That is unquestionably good; the image of Klinkenborg futily chasing receivers downfleld (that play against ISU...ugh) still haunt my dreams.

The Returning Starter

A.J. Edds (6'4", 244, Jr.) (OLB) - I've said it before (to widespread derision from Chad Greenway supporters) and I'll say it again:  A.J. Edds is going to be the best coverage linebacker in the Ferentz era.  He's already shown signs of coverage brilliance, intercepting one pass and breaking up 4 others.  In fact, Edds' college career is following a Greenway-esque arc (except, of course, for the strong-side, weak-side thing).  He played sparingly as a freshman, assumed the starting OLB spot as a sophomore, and probably won't be challenged until he leaves.  His numbers as a sophomore don't quite match Greenway's (specifically TFL and sacks), but that's in large part a byproduct of Edds playing next to two seniors.  There's little denying his ability to stop the run and get into the backfield when given the opportunity; Edds recorded 286 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks in his last two years of high school.

Edds is now the leader at linebacker and, more importantly, one of the most important players on defense.  He will be responsible for covering the likes of Travis Beckum and Andrew Quarless, stopping the strongside run, and teaching two new linebackers the ropes.  Expect 120+ tackles, 3 or 4 picks, and plenty of accolades.

The Possible Starters

Jacody Coleman (6'3", 240, Soph.) and Pat Angerer (6'1", 230, Jr.) (MLB) - Here is the first athleticism vs. seniority debate.  Entering spring practice, it looked like Coleman was the clear starter; in fact, inside word was that Angerer was considering a transfer.  But then Angerer had a big spring, started with the first team in the spring game, and looked to have pulled even with Coleman by April.

Jacody Coleman was somewhat lightly regarded coming out of high school (2*, 3* Rivals).  He drew interest from Florida, LSU, and Alabama, but his only offers were Iowa, ISU, and Baylor.  Nevertheless, he impressed the staff almost immediately and played in nine of twelve games as a true freshman.  He was especially effective against the run, recording 4 tackles for loss in limited action.  Coleman has ideal size and speed, and, despite being two years younger, actually has more game experience than Angerer.  He has to be the odds-on favorite.

Pat Angerer was projected as a weakside linebacker when he left Bettendorf High, but has been blocked at every turn.  As a freshman, he was third-string weakside linebacker and saw sporadic action.  He recorded one tackle last season (and that was on special teams).  It looked like Angerer was blocked again when Coleman was named the pre-spring starter at MLB, and the logjam developed on the weakside.  However, by all accounts he had a great spring.  In fact, he was one of the more impressive players in the spring game, and was running even with, if not ahead of, Coleman by mid-April.  He is also the best chance of keeping the "Klinkenborg-Humpal kickass linebacker name" tradition alive.  There is also the outside possibility Angerer moves back to the weakside spot.

Jeff Tarpinian (6'3", 220, Soph.), Jeremiha Hunter (6'2", 220, Soph.), and Tyler Nielsen (6'4", 230, Fr. (RS)) (WLB) - If the middle linebacker position is a neck-and-neck battle, the weakside competition is nothing short of a clusterfuck.

I had to laugh at the "Tremendous" Tim Brewster press conference at Big Ten media days.  In the middle of his nonsensical ranting, Brewster talked about Steve Davis, a defensive end who was shifted to linebacker.  In other words, a guy who wasn't considered fast enough to play linebacker in the first place is being moved to that spot because "he loves football."  Iowa fans know that the ideal move is up; take a guy fast enough to play a "smaller" position and bulk up into a "larger" spot.  Matt Roth (LB to DE), Robert Gallery (TE to OT), Scott Chandler (WR to TE), and Mitch King (LB to DT) are just a few examples. 

Jeff Tarpinian, listed as the first-team WLB after spring practice, is the most recent beneficiary of the Chris Doyle program.  Tarpinian came to Iowa as a lightly-regarded safety, added 30 pounds over two years while maintaining secondary-level speed, and shifted into the linebacker corps in 2007.  There's no denying the speed factor; Tarpinian ran for over 2,000 yards as a high school senior playing in Nebraska's equivalent of 4A football (and at quarterback, no less).  He was the Nebraska player of the year that season (I hate to keep drawing the comparison, but does that sound familiar to anyone?)  He was injured throughout pre-season practice last season, but played on special teams.  He finally saw the field as a linebacker against Minnesota and did not disappoint, recording 6 tackles.  He also made the Big Ten all-academic team.  You hate to enter the season with an unknown quantity at linebacker, but all signs point toward Tarpinian growing into a top-notch contributor.

Jeremiha Hunter, on the other hand, was one of the most sought-after linebacker recruits in the country.  He received offers from the likes of Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Penn State, and Tennessee.  He was ranked the #6 linebacker in the country by Rivals.  When asked why he chose Iowa, he cited the S&C program (always a good sign).  He redshirted in his first season, and saw limited action last season.  I can't find any indication of why the staff has placed Tarpinian ahead of Hunter, but the chances of Tarpinian going through an entire 12-game season without an injury don't look great.  Expect to see plenty of Hunter, either as the starter or frequently-used reserve.

Tyler Nielsen is the biggest question mark.  Most expect Nielsen, a 4-star recruit out of Humboldt, IA, to eventually play on the strong side.  However, with Edds locked in for the next two seasons, Nielsen might see the field on the opposite side.  He's raw athleticism, to be sure; he runs a sub-4.5 40, but only played linebacker for one season in high school.  All indications are that the staff wants to get him on the field this season.  He will likely feature on special teams and occasionally rotate in at linebacker, but could be a more significant part of the defense if things break the right way.

Should See the Field

Dezman Moses (6'2", 240, Soph.) - I considered throwing Moses into the mix at WLB, but eventually decided against it.  In the end, with all the young talent Iowa has at linebacker, he might be the odd man out.  He played briefly at linebacker as a true freshman, mostly in the waning moments of the blowout win against Syracuse, and saw significant action on special teams.  He didn't redshirt, which is a sign of how highly the coaches regard his ability, and he's on the post-spring two-deep.  That being said, he's stuck behind Edds at OLB and the logjam at WLB, and there's nothing short of a cataclysmic injury to Edds that could move him into the starting lineup.

Gavin McGrath (6'2", 235, Sr.) - McGrath is the illicit love child of Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale and Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath a former walk-on who has recorded exactly one tackle in each of his first three seasons.  Probably slated for special teams duty again this season.

Troy Johnson (6'2", 230, Soph.) - So buried on this depth chart, he's nicknamed Montresor.  Well, at least I call him that.  Special teamer.

Bruce Davis (5'11", 235, Soph.) - Former Ohio high school defensive POY, which is impressive.  Otherwise, see Troy Johnson.  Given his less-than-ideal height and lack of speed (4.91 40.  Yikes), as well as the glut of linebackers already available, he could be moved to defensive tackle at some point in the not-too-distant future.  It could be worse; Brewster would make him a cornerback.