It's about that time. For the next month, 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:
The bad news: Charles Godfrey is gone.
The good news: So is Adam Shada.
The Possible Starters
Jordan Bernstine (5'11", 200, Soph.) - The top in-state recruit in 2007, Bernstine is probably the most likely starter at corner. Bernstine played safety at Des Moines Lincoln High. He was named first-team all-state twice and a unanimous 4-star selection by the recruiting services. He played from day one, returning kicks and filling in on defense. It wasn't a great season, but it was certainly sufficient for a true freshman.
Bernstine underwent shoulder surgery over the offseason and missed spring practice in its entirety. The post-spring depth chart listed him behind senior Drew Gardner, but make no mistake: Bernstine will win that battle (in fact, the most recent depth chart lists him ahead of Gardner). Ferentz has said the shoulder is fine. It's a good thing, too: After 4 years of Adam Shada, a little athleticism goes a long way.
Bradley Fletcher (6'2", 200, Sr.) - You have to give Bradley Fletcher this: He's the only returning corner with serious experience. Fletcher is one of those guys who feels like he's been on this team forever - he's played sporadically for three seasons - but he's only started in a handful of games. Another unheralded Ohio product, Fletcher got his first start against Northwestern in 2006 (that will be the last time we ever mention that game). He started against Minnesota two weeks later (same for this game). He started a few games last season when Shada and Godfrey went down injured. He has size, and he has experience, and both are desperately needed.
Here's the problem: He has an incredible number of tackles for a corner. Tackles by a cornerback translate to completed passes; tackles are bad. Fletcher racks up tackles like a linebacker. He had 13 tackles against Michigan State last season, 12 against Northwestern (in a game he didn't even start), and 13 more against Western Michigan. Corners with double-digit tackle numbers are getting picked apart, and not even Tim Dodge got beaten this often.
Amari Spievey (6'0", 190, Soph.) - Here's the biggest wild card on the entire roster. Spievey initially came to Iowa in 2006, fresh off being named the Connecticut player of the year. He received an offer from Rutgers and interest from Penn State and Wisconsin before choosing Iowa. He had a little trouble with the adjustment, and was farmed out to the Clinton Solomon Memorial Grade Resuscitation Program at Iowa Central Community College. Not only did he get his grades in line, but he dominated the junior circuit: seven picks (two for touchdowns), two kickoff returns for touchdowns and four blocked punts. Yeah, you read that right. Spievey finished the year by being named an all-American.
It remains to be seen how that kind of performance will translate to Big Ten play, but it's promising. In fact, secondary coach Phil Parker has mentioned Spievey repeatedly as a bona fide contributor. More important that the sheer numbers is the attitude; by all accounts, Spievey was in agony at ICCC (have you ever spent time in Fort Dodge?) and is absolutely dedicated to staying in the good graces of the staff and the university. Let's all hope he's successful. We need the help.
Not Out of the Question
Drew Gardner (5'10", 175, Sr.) - He doesn't have size. He doesn't have experience. He was completely unheard of when he joined the program. This shouldn't work.
And yet, every time you review a new depth chart or hear one of the Parkers speak, Drew Gardner is in the mix. Nothing about his story computes: A South Jersey player stuck on a horrible team, Gardner spent high school getting pwn3d by Al Young (who ran for over 25 yards per carry on 12 carries against Gardner's high school team) and Harold Dalton. He wasn't recruited by anyone of consequence. In fact, he spent his freshman season at Widener (that's a D-III school in Delaware), but decided to follow those other New Jersey boys out to Iowa. He walked on as a sophomore. Despite playing on special teams, he didn't receive a scholarship as a junior. Others would be discouraged; Gardner was motivated. He made the final tackle in last year's win over Michigan State, and stood out enough in limited action to take the top line at cornerback in spring practice. He's still on the two-deep, and he's still collecting accolades from the staff for his hard work and perseverance.
Bernstine's athleticism will likely win out, and Gardner will likely finish his time at Iowa as a backup. Still, it's an impressive feat for a guy who started at Widener.
Should See the Field
Chris Rowell (6'1", 200, Jr.) - A former 3-star safety, Rowell was converted to corner after his redshirt freshman season. He played rarely on special teams as a freshman, and didn't play at all last season. While listed as second-team right corner entering fall practice, he's rarely mentioned by the staff. Things aren't looking up for Rowell.
Shaun Prater (6'1", 175, Fr.) - Ferentz has repeatedly indicated freshmen are going to play at corner, and nobody is receiving more attention from the staff than Shaun Prater. The first of the Prater brothers to commit to Iowa, Shaun turned down an offer from Nebraska to join the Hawks. That's good enough in my book. He's been the first name mentioned by nearly every coach when discussing the freshmen defensive backs. If any freshmen see playing time at corner, Prater will be the first one in.
Willie Lowe (5'9", 165, Fr.) - Lowe, a true freshman, played for Ted Ginn Sr. at Glenville High of Cleveland, Ohio. He was a man without a position to many teams; Rivals had him as a corner, while Scout ranked him as a running back. He doesn't yet have the speed to play full-time at the corner, but Phil Parker praised his intelligence and put him high on the list of incoming freshmen who might have a chance to play.