Two weeks ago in the Film Room we took a look at Ivory Kelly-Martin and his return from a redshirt season following two years of being a rotational player. This week, we look at another player who played, and started five games, as a true freshman only to redshirt later. Julius Brents used 2019 as a redshirt season following an injury that limited him to playing in a single game.
Brents, a 6’2” 205 pound redshirt sophomore, possesses the size and length Phil Parker has shown a knack for developing into All-B1G and NFL players. One difference though from many of those players is that Brents enrolled at Iowa a highly recruited and regarded prospect.
Following injuries to Iowa’s starting two cornerbacks, Brents was thrust into the starting lineup as a true freshman at Minnesota. Brents had played in the first four games of the season, but was yet to record any statistics during those games.
First Career Start
Early in the game, Brents showed off why his size and length is such an asset. He’s defending a six yard in-route. He maintains outside leverage with safety Amani Hooker providing inside help. The Minnesota quarterback delivers a well positioned ball between the two defenders and also low to the ground. Normally that would allow the receiver to use his body to shield the defender, but Brents is about to use is impressive wingspan to reach his left arm under the receiver and into the catch pocket for the breakup.
Not only does Brents display great physical tools but also great instincts. With a quarterback facing pressure, he leaves his coverage to breakup a deep pass nearly 15 yards behind his initial position. You will see on this play, and several others as well, that Brents does a great job of tracking the ball during its flight and attempts to high point it just as a receiver would.
Minnesota’s offense likes to use movement, fakes, and misdirection to attack the eyes and mind of defensive players. This is a nightmare for most, especially for young players. Brents handles all of those remarkably well during the game. Minnesota calls a play to directly attack Brents. While the play action is occurring in the backfield, the receiver steps toward Brents but does not engage. He then suddenly takes off down field trying to catch the corner by surprise and off responsibility. Brents maintains great eye discipline and never loses track of his man. As the receiver breaks, he turns and runs with him, and then peaks to locate the ball. The ball is underthrown to the back shoulder due to safety help. Brents sees it late and recognizes that he isn’t going to be able to challenge at the high point. Instead he attacks the ball by swiping at the hands and arms of the receiver.
When a perimeter player is a long as Brents, sometimes you worry if they are willing to play with the required physicality necessary for Iowa’s typical schedule. While some players might see that a roaming linebacker is coming to attack the short pass, Brents doesn’t quit on the play. He attacks, breaks down his base, and then attacks the inside hip of the receiver. I also like how he finishes the play by wrapping and driving to ensure no additional yards gained after the catch.
Iowa elects to send a seven man pressure leaving the secondary on an island. Initially, the receiver is able to gain a step on Brents, and it doesn’t look good. One thing I really like is that he doesn’t panic in this situation. As he’s chasing, he's still watching the eyes of the receiver. Late in the route, Brents turns his head in an attempt to locate the ball. As he does this, his man slows, creates contact, and then nudges Brents away. Like a savvy veteran, Brents attacks the inside hand/wrist with a chop and separates the ball from the receiver’s grasp. It isn’t always going to be perfect when you are on an island like that, but Brents answers the call and makes a great defensively play for the Hawkeyes.
We see Brents earn his first career interception diplaying the skills previously mentioned and showing off his unteachable size. Minnesota decides to take a deep shot to open the drive down 14 early in the 4th quarter. Right at the snap you will see Brents flip his hips and begin sprinting downfield. During this time, he is able to keep his eyes on the quarterback. At this point, its a jump ball between a true freshman and All-Everything receiver Tyler Johnson. Brents does an excellent job of angling his route to the sideline and pinning Johnson to a small space. Once he’s done all of that, he simply leans, jumps, high points the ball, and secures the interception.
Life on the perimeter in Iowa’s scheme is not an easy job. Defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Phil Parker demands excellence and razor focus if you want to be one of those special players. Will Brents see the majority of snaps this season? Time will tell. But even if he does not, the future appears bright for this athletic and instinctual defender.