clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

From the Ground Up: Iowa Football’s Development of Josey Jewell

Josey Jewell’s story of player development

NCAA Football: Iowa at Nebraska Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot of talk about whether Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle was worth his big payday. Although most Iowa fans understand how vital Doyle is to the success of the football team, his contributions on a national level tend to get overlooked.

Often times as football fans, we are forced to distance ourselves from the aspect of player development and view the process simply as “raw recruit goes into the machine, out pops a productive starter.” And there’s a reason behind that.

A lot of what takes place in the area of player development happens behind closed doors. Whether it be in the film room, weight room, classroom, on the practice field or wherever the player calls home.

Because of the seclusion of the process, it’s easy for people to approach one of the most crucial areas of the game with an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. However, each successful player has their own unique story to tell about how they got to where they are now. And those stories are worth telling.

It’s the year 2013: As national signing day approaches, Decorah native Josey Jewell is forced to start weighing his options for the future. With only one scholarship offer on the table from Division III Luther — located in his hometown — and an agreement with Northern Iowa to help pay for his books, his options are limited. However, the four-sport Decorah High School standout still has hope that the Iowa Hawkeyes will come through with a late offer.

His wish was granted.

With less than two weeks to go before national signing day, Kirk Ferentz made the decision to hand Jewell — a two-star recruit — his one and only Division-I offer.

Coming out of high school, Jewell didn’t have the kind of measurables that would yield attention. In fact, coming in at 6-1, 190 and average to below-average speed and overall athleticism, it took some persuasion from long-time defensive line coach, Reese Morgan, to convince Ferentz to offer Jewell a full scholarship.

In high school, Jewell would rarely come off the field, as he started full-time at linebacker and fullback while also seeing a lot of additional work on special teams. As a senior he finished with 100 tackles, 13 TFL, and 6 sacks on defense and 1,314 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on offense while leading Decorah to a 3A state title.

Despite his high school success and production, Jewell had his doubters. It took a while, but Jewell wound up receiving an offer from a Big Ten program.

He wasn’t exactly an athletic phenom in high school or even a guy who looked the part of prototypical Big Ten linebacker, but a foundation made up of physicality, effort, aggression and a mentality of being slighted as a recruit was seen as enough to work with by Coach Ferentz.

Jewell’s first year on campus was rather quiet, as is the case for most players who end up taking a redshirt. For them, most of the season involves putting in work on the scout team, watching film, and spending time in the weight room in an effort to bulk up. For Jewell, that last part was critical, because, at under 200 lbs, he looked more like a receiver than he did a linebacker.

During his redshirt season, coach Morgan spoke to him regularly about the belief the coaches had in his ability and continued to tell him to play with confidence. Ferentz on the other hand, rode Jewell constantly in practice, in an attempt to shape his toughness.

However, it wasn’t just coach Ferentz who made freshman life difficult for Jewell. In practice, while taking snaps on Iowa's scout team, fellow Decorah native and offensive lineman, Brett Van Sloten, wasn’t taking it easy on Jewell either.

“Brett used to take unmerciful cheap shots on Josey,” Ferentz told reporters at 2016’s Big Ten media days. “I knew what he was doing. I’ve seen the [big] brother act before. But that was, 'I’m passing this onto you'.”

These are only a few examples of the things that go on behind closed doors. Outside of coaches and teammates, most people aren’t able to see these kinds of things play out, but they’re essential for building up both mental and physical toughness.

Heading into his second year on campus, Jewell was starting to look more and more like a prototypical linebacker, as he came in at around 225 lbs in the spring. Although he was still considered to be undersized, the one-time 190-lb, two-star recruit had come a long way in only two offseasons.

With his newly added weight, Jewell was able to start seeing a lot more reps in practice while also having the opportunity to carve himself out a role on special teams. In addition, the Hawkeyes’ linebacking corps was left severely weakened following 2013, as Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris had moved on to the NFL. This presented Jewell with an opportunity to see playing time, not only in practice, but in games. It was an opportunity he wouldn’t squander.

Coming out of spring practices, Jewell was seen as one of the bright spots on defense, as he benefitted from additional reps with starter Travis Perry out with an injury. In that time, Jewell caught the attention of the coaching staff, especially Phil Parker.

“Jewell has really showed up out there, just as a football player,” Parker told the Gazette. “He was an inside backer behind [Quinton Alston] and [Reggie Spearman], really as a backup Will [linebacker]. And we look at it and say, ‘Who is the guy going out and making plays?’”

“You just watch the film and you just watch the guys running around on tape and you see him tracking guys down. Somewhere, he’s going to have to fit in our system, OK, because when you give that much effort and you attack the football the way he does and make plays the way he’s done, he’s going to probably show up. Does he know everything right now? Not yet, but he still has a long way to go.”

On the day of Iowa’s 2014 spring game, Perry was held out of action with a concussion and Jewell was asked to step in. He was able to impress the coaching staff with his high motor and tendency to always be around the ball. It was something that didn’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff.

Heading into the regular season, Jewell had impressed the coaches so much that he was even being considered for the starting Will linebacker spot over Spearman. However, after breaking a bone in his hand, Jewell was forced to miss the first two games of the season, squandering his starting opportunity.

As the season progressed, Jewell found himself in more of rotational role on defense, and it looked as though that would be the case the entire season. However, on October 25th, 2014, Spearman was arrested for an OWI and was subsequently suspended for the following two games, giving Jewell yet another opportunity to push himself ahead on the depth chart.

Once again, Jewell didn’t disappoint, as he was able to record 15 tackles in his two games as starter while continuing to display the high motor and aggression that teammates and coaches fell in love with in the spring.

As the rest of the season unfolded, it was clear that, even when Spearman got back, Jewell was the unquestioned starter at the Will linebacker spot. However, the lasting impression Jewell was able to make on the coaching staff, actually came in the debacle which was the 45-28 Bowl loss to Tennessee.

When Iowa trailed the Volunteers 42-7 late in the game, Ferentz noticed a player outworking everybody else on the field.

Even deep in the fourth quarter Jewell continued to chase down the ball and finish plays with aggression, despite the score heavily tilted against the Hawkeyes. As a result of his excellent play, Jewell was named Iowa’s TaxSlayer Bowl MVP, which, judging by his expression, was probably a bit bittersweet.

Reflecting on Jewell’s redshirt freshman campaign, there was certainly a lot more positive than negative. However, one of the biggest things Jewell needed to iron out heading into 2015 was the amount of “wasted movement” he displayed. When I say “wasted movement,” I’m talking about everything from wrongful engagements with blockers (rather than moving laterally to fill lanes), getting lost in the flow of the line, and overselling his motion to one side, often preventing him from being in position to make a play.

In 2014, Jewell would often wash himself out of plays by simply not trusting his judgment or not finding the ball; one misstep could be the difference between being in position to make a play or not.

Although this concern, at this stage of Jewell’s career, is more minor, it’s still something he needed to fix heading into 2015 and … well … he was able to do that and more.

Throughout the spring, Jewell made it clear that his starting linebacker spot was solidified, as the effort, aggression and physicality he had displayed the previous season was even more evident now. Weighing in at 235 lbs, Jewell not only looked the part of a Big Ten linebacker, he could feel it.

"You feel a lot better when you weigh more," Jewell told Hawk Central reporter Rick Brown in the spring of 2015. "You can attack linemen better. More weight to throw around."

Although Jewell was in the best physical shape of his football career, with only six starts under his belt, he still lacked experience.

Furthermore, Jewell was tasked with having to learn a new position, as the coaching staff decided to move him from the outside to the interior.

To the average fan, a move from one linebacking position to another may seem seamless or simplistic, however, it’s important to note that the middle linebacker is essentially the on-field captain. He's in charge of making calls, assessing the actions of the offense pre-snap, and getting everyone on the same page. Not every player, especially young ones, can handle that type of increased responsibility. However, Jewell took the position switch in stride while acknowledging that he needed to improve before the start of the regular season.

"You can always get better.” Jewell told Brown. “I still don't know what every guy is doing on the whole defense, which I should know and need to know by this fall. I've just got to keep watching film. Hopefully, I'll get there."

By the time Big Ten play kicked off, it was already evident that Jewell was a much-improved player. In addition to being noticeably larger, Jewell looked faster, quicker, and, more importantly, comfortable. Also, the wasted movement, which was arguably the biggest concern with his game in 2014, had become a non-issue as he moved with confidence.

Jewell not only looked like one of the best backers in the Big Ten, but all of college football.

As the season progressed, Jewell proved to be one the Hawkeyes’ most valuable pieces on defense, as he was instinctive, tough, smart, productive, and a leader by example.

"It's kind of like, he has this bad-ass mentality," senior outside linebacker Cole Fisher told ESPN. "He’s a tough, hard-nosed dude. People see that and it inspires them to play the same way."

The Iowa coaches held so much respect for Jewell that he even ended up being named one of Iowa’s co-captains despite only being a sophomore.

Jewell would go on to finish 2015 the same way he had started it, with high-level production.

After starting every game for the Hawkeyes at middle linebacker, Jewell racked up a total of 126 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 4 interceptions, which led to second-team all-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and the media.

His production wasn’t simply a product of increased opportunity, although that certainly played a factor. Rather, Jewell was simply a better overall player. His movements were more refined. He was bigger and faster. He attacked blockers better, and he was more experienced.

After a breakout sophomore campaign, Jewell entered himself into the national consciousness, as he’s been named to preseason watch lists for the Butkus Award and Bronko Nagurski awards, given to the best linebacker and best defensive player overall, respectively.

In addition, this offseason, Jewell became the first non-senior under Ferentz to represent the Hawkeyes at Big Ten Media Days, alongside C.J. Beathard and Desmond King. An honor that didn’t escape the acknowledgment of Jewell.

“I feel privileged and honored (they) chose me for that,” Jewell told the Associated Press. “I just try to lead by example.”

Growing up, Jewell admired players like Dallas Clark and Chad Greenway, however, no player was able to make a bigger impression on him than all-time Hawkeye great, Pat Angerer.

“I think (Angerer was) one of those ultimate Hawkeye guys,” Jewell told reporters at Big Ten media days. “He emulates what an Iowa football player is: tough, physical, just gritty, does a lot of the small things right.”

Like Angerer, Jewell sports the number 43, and for good reason.

“I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps,” Jewell told reporters at Big Ten media days. “The things he did, his lifestyle stuff, how he’s seen and perceived off the field, too.”

During last season’s Big Ten Championship Game, Angerer tweeted: “Best 43 in Iowa history #TheOutlaw” a comment in which Jewell approached with complete humility.

“He didn’t mean that,” Jewell told reporters at Big Ten media days. “He was just trying to be nice. It’s alright, I understand that.”

Although Jewell took Angerer’s comments and simply brushed them to the side, at this point, it’s not absurd or hyperbole to call Jewell one the best linebackers of the Ferentz era because he is.

“The Outlaw” Josey Jewell has arrived and, we all should be grateful that we’ve been able to witness the journey.

Author Note: If you enjoyed reading the article and would like to see more in the future, make sure to leave a comment and share, because if there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of interest, I wouldn’t be able to justify turning this into a series. Thank you all for reading.