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Iowa Football 2020 Position Previews: Safeties

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One returning starter and a hungry sophomore

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Holiday Bowl - USC v Iowa Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I was legitimately shocked when Geno Stone declared for the NFL draft last year, forgoing his senior season after breaking onto the scene in 2019. He was one of the best tacklers I remembered seeing in a while out of Iowa’s defensive backfield, and rarely found himself out of position to make a play.

But, even the best safeties often don’t get picked until the mid-late rounds, and we can’t fault him for wanting to get paid. He was rewarded with a $2 million contract from the Ravens, and c’est la vie.

His departure opens the door for Kaevon Merriweather, a sophomore who saw a decent amount of action as a freshman in 2018, started at free safety opposite Stone in the 2019 opener against Miami The Lesser, got injured in practice the following week, and took a redshirt for the rest of the year.

At 6-2, 195 lbs, it seems likely that Merriweather will slide over to strong safety and perhaps quarterback the defense from there. Despite his relative inexperience at the position, Merriweather asserted himself as a leader this offseason and seems to be a player the team can and will rally around.

Merriweather’s journey to Iowa is one of the more interesting stories in recent memory. Back in 2018, he flipped his commitment from Western Michigan to Iowa. A MAC recruit switching to Iowa is a tale as old as time... only Merriweather had committed to Western Michigan for a different sport.

A slash and dash point guard, he didn’t even have a football recruiting profile on 247 or Rivals at the time. He was on the same high school team as some other players who the Iowa staff was recruiting, and he just stood out to Phil Parker.

And while his snaps so far are limited, he’s shown good run-stuffing ability at least once.

The guy who replaced Merriweather for the next 12 games of last year was no slouch himself. Yet another walk-on safety from the state of Iowa, Jack Koerner became an important piece of Iowa’s defense, and will be again this season.

Koerner was second on the team in tackles last season, only six stops behind middle linebacker Kristian Welch. He broke up 5 passes, forced a fumble and had an interception to end the first half against Nebraska last year. He made mistakes early on, but thoroughly improved as the season progressed.

He’s poised to become a breakout player for Iowa this year. And that’s why we were terrified to learn he was involved in a serious boating accident a couple weeks ago. That ‘serious’ was downgraded to less serious when he Tweeted that he expects to make a full recovery (it’s kind of nice players can break their own news now).

With Koerner and Merriweather managing a defensive backfield that also includes Matt Hankins and Julius Brents, 2020 is poised to be another 12-point buck on Phil Parker’s wall of great defensive backfields.

Things get a little hairy when it comes to backing up these two, however. Merriweather was listed as Koerner’s backup for the majority of the season on the 2-deeps, and Dane Belton filled in now and then. But Belton is presumed to fill in the ca$h position, a role he grew in as the season progressed.

It’s likely one or two of the new guys on campus will eventually convert to safety, but it’s impossible to predict who will breakout early. My money would be on Reggie Bracy, if he doesn’t see time at corner early on. Junior Henry Marchese could get some looks there, but he just might be a special teams lifer.

I think we’ll finally see Dallas Craddieth crack the two-deeps after coming in as a heralded recruit in 2018, while Terry Roberts and Daraun McKinney could break through there, too. But if there’s one position I’m feeling good about question marks backing up more proven players, it’s safety.