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2016 IOWA HAWKEYE SPRING FOOTBALL POSITION BATTLES: LINEBACKER

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Cole Fisher has moved on and who will replace him?

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

COLE FISHER was a surprise last season when he overtook returning starter Bo Bower and never relinquished the starting outside linebacker spot. His senior leadership was exactly what the defense needed as they set out to set the edge in 2015. Bower returns for a junior season and he's currently listed as a starter while Ben Niemann sits out Spring recovering from injury. Battling for Fisher's spot are two underclassmen, Aaron Mends and Jack Hockaday. Let's look at what each bring to the table and if any other new faces could emerge along the linebacker corps this season.

AARON MENDS SO 6' 220

Mends saw the field a tiny bit as a redshirt freshman and flashed some speed on special teams. He came to Iowa on the light side at 210 but has worked his way up to 220 this spring. His quickness could add to Iowa's pass rush and when Iowa uses the Raider package this year. He's listed first on the depth chart for now and even if he's passed by, it seems likely that he'll play some role in Iowa's defense.

JACK HOCKADAY SO 6'1" 227

Hockaday is a bigger linebacker than Mends and Iowa likes big rangy linebackers in pass defense. Still, he's not Cole Fisher at 6'2.5", but he is faster than Fisher's 4.83 40-yard dash. The coaching staff thought enough of Hockaday to get him on the field on special teams halfway through 2015. That usually means they want some game experience for a player they expect to compete for playing time as a sophomore. Mends may be better suited inside with Hockaday locking down this spot, but the battle between the two will be the most hotly contested from now until September.

ANGELO GARBUTT RS FR 6'2" 230

Garbutt is listed as second string middle linebacker heading into April. He has that spot for now but is likely third team by fall. He packed on 20 pounds this off-season and at 6'2" might have some position flexibility. Iowa hasn't used a rush DE since Reggie Spearman's short time at Iowa. That may be an opportunity for Garbutt to get on the field. If he stays third team, he'll have a tough battle with newcomer Kyle Taylor in August.

NICK WILSON RS FR 6'2" 217

Wilson was a last minute, two-star recruit in the 2015 class. He's a tweener safety/linebacker and is still light at 217 pounds. Wilson is a guy you will always see around the ball and sure tackler in space. Iowa may not have plans for Wilson this season beyond special teams and his career may be a one or two season contributor. He'll get plenty of reps this spring with Ben Niemann sitting out but could fall behind Nick Niemann once he arrives on campus.

JUSTIN JINNING RS FR 6'2" 225

Jinning might be at the bottom of Iowa's 2015 linebacker class right now. He'll also have a big group of arriving freshmen in the fall to compete for third team reps. The good news is that Jinning has four years to develop. There's also plenty of depth so he shouldn't be pressed into action too soon. The bad news, as mentioned, is that more talent is on the way. This will be Jinning's first spring and a time to show he belongs somewhere, even if it's special teams.