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IOWA FOOTBALL POSITION PREVIEWS: DEFENSIVE BACKS

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Despite the turnover, can Iowa’s secondary still be one of the best units in the Big Ten?

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

Despite the recent turnover at both the corner and safety positions — including Josh Jackson’s jump to the NFL after a first-team All-American season, Cedric Boswell and Manny Ragumba’s decisions to transfer and Brandon Snyder’s interesting departure — the defensive backs are (and this is probably the understatement of the year) intriguing on paper heading into the 2018 season. Experienced depth may be an issue of course, but the top end talent — especially at the safety position — looks as though it could be some of the best of the Kirk Ferentz era. And that says nothing of the talented 2018 class in camp right now or the coach that has turned these types of players into NFL talent consistently the last several years.

That’s one hell of an equation.

Outside of health, which was a bit of an issue last season, this unit will hopefully be able to make up for some of the attrition at linebacker and solidify another Top-40 defense.

Corner

The Josh Jackson Clone

CB: Matt Hankins (6’1”, 187 lbs, So.)

If you’re not excited at the prospect of Matt Hankins after a full year in the program in which he saw action as a true freshman (including his first career start against Nebraska), an entire off season with Chris Doyle and another camp under Parker, then I don’t know what will do it for you.

I mean, just look at this dude:

He just exudes whatever word we’re using for swagger now. It’s no wonder why Tyrann Mathieu is someone he’s inspired by because, in his words, he’s “a dog... a straight savage.” I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to see one of the most confident dudes on the team go out to camp day-in and day-out and hopefully have that type of mentality rub off on the rest of the squad.

Hankins is a big, physical corner and the sky is literally the limit for where he can go in 2018 and 2019. Thanks in part to his preparation, drive and his commitment to perform in practice, Hankins could quite literally be just as good, if not better than the last two greats at his position.

The Question Mark

CB: Michael Ojemudia (6’1”, 199 lbs, Jr.)

Michael Ojemudia’s sophomore season wasn’t great. He was the starter going into the 2017 opener along side Jackson after (somewhat shockingly) beating out Manny Rugamba. After a shaky performance, Ojemudia was subsequently benched for Rugamba against Iowa State. Rugamba got burned against the Cyclones, Ojemudia grabbed hold again going into the Michigan State game and, because this is how things went at the second corner slot, eventually got roasted/toasted/murked by Felton Davis III to the tune of nine catches of 114 yards and two touchdowns. Ojemudia then spent the remainder of the season as the first or second corner off the bench.

Like Hankins, Ojemudia is a big, physical corner that has apparently worked out some of the things that bit him in the you know what last season. It all starts with his preparation:

Ojemudia took notes on his teammate last year. He learned how to prepare from Jackson, he said. Truly prepare — like every game is the most important of your life... ”We were in the same position a year ago,” Ojemudia said of Jackson. “I’m excited for what this season can bring. ... His story of working really hard, I feel like it can work for anybody in this program — especially me. ”I’m just trying to be the best player I can be this summer — that starts in the offseason. Trying to get my body right, my mind right — as good as possible so I’ll be the best player I can this season.”

It was a trial by fire last season and there were some good moments, but all too many bad ones too. It’s Ojemudia’s job to lose right now, but he must know, in the back of his mind, that there are two young and talented players champing on the bit to slide right in.

The Other Guys

Josh Turner (5’11”, 188 lbs, RS Fr.) and Trey Creamer (6’0”, 190 lbs, RS Fr.)

Even with Hankins and Ojemudia in place to start, that doesn’t mean things can’t or wont change. Phil Parker has shown the propensity to play freshmen if they’re able to make plays while remaining consistent with their technique and it’s clear that both Turner and Creamer were breathing down Rugamba’s back in spring camp (many believe that they were more than likely part of the reason why he decided to depart from the program). At this point, it wouldn’t be shocking if either of them join one of the incumbents on the first team depth chart before the Northern Illinois game.

Safety

The Woodshed

SS: Amani Hooker (6’0”, 210 lbs, Jr.)

Amani Hooker is the Noah Fant of this years defense. The level of confidence in what he’ll be this year is hitting astronomical levels. Can you blame anyone?

If I could make a video the background of my phone and watch, this would be in contention.

If Hooker can remain healthy this season, there’s no telling what he’ll be able to do. He’s a complete back with the ability to tackle like a linebacker along with the playmaking ability of a corner. This might be because he’s in my head after his induction into the Hall of Fame, but Hooker has an early Brian Urlacher feel to me. He’s got great hands, great vision and a Tyler Sash-like knack for showing up in big moments and making game changing plays (except, of course, Penn State... JUST ONE MORE INCH!). And when a tackle needed to be made and Josey Jewell wasn’t around, he often finished the play.

In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, would anyone be shocked if Parker tried him at outside linebacker if Nick Niemann gets injured and Geno Stone is more capable to step in at safety than Wade Barrington is at OLB?

I wouldn’t. And apparently, neither would Parker:

“I’m not saying he’s moving there,” Parker said of Hooker as an outside linebacker. “But that would be a type of guy that you’d want to put out there in certain personnel groupings.”

But, in the meantime, Hooker has real All-Big Ten potential at safety and could quite possibly take the mantle left behind by Jackson as Iowa’s best playmaker.

The Survivor

FS: Jake Gervase (6’1”, 212 lbs, RS Sr.)

A former walk-on, Jake Gervase outwit, outlasted and outplayed the rest of the roster in 2017 and once again finds himself at the top of the depth chart for the second season in a row. Here’s hoping it goes a little bit better than the start of last season did. After struggling against Iowa State (But really, who didn’t?) and North Texas, Gervase found himself behind the eight ball until Brandon Snyder tore his ACL for the second time against Illinois. Gervase didn’t look back after reclaiming the top spot and played pretty damn well to finish the season, all things considered.

Can he finish his Iowa career as the player he was at the end of 2017? Can the fall camp competition with Geno Stone make him even better? We’ll soon see. But there’s little doubt that Gervase won’t be a big part of Parker’s plans.

The Back-Up Plan

S: Geno Stone (5’11”, 209 lbs, So.)

People close to the Hawkeyes programs are very high on Stone going into camp. They believe that he will be in the mix to grab hold of free safety position if Gervase lets his foot off the gas in camp. With youth and flashes of elite ball skills, expect Stone to see plenty of time on the field this season as the true back-up for both Gervase and Hooker.