As the 2021 college football season draws within driving distance, we’re breaking down each of Iowa’s position groups heading into this season. You can see all the prior position group breakdowns by navigating to the 2021 Iowa Position Preview Stream pinned to the home page.
Up next in the series is the Phil Parker special: Cash.
As has been noted in both the cornerbacks and safeties previews, Phil Parker has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in the back end of the defense. That’s no different for the cash position, which sees starter Dane Belton back for his third season in the role after taking over as a true freshman in 2019.
As noted, Dane Belton is back for what will be his third season as “the guy” in Parker’s cash role. For the third straight season, however, the definition of “the guy” is going to change a bit.
When Belton walked onto campus in 2019, it wasn’t totally clear how he would slot into the defense, if he would even crack the lineups at all. He came to Iowa as a 3-star prospect from Tampa Jesuit High School where he showed off a lot of versatility playing both corner and safety.
He didn’t have tremendous speed, but was quick enough. He was excellent in run support, had a nose for the ball and always brought the wood out of the secondary.
So it wasn’t a total surprise when he started seeing some time in the cash role early in the season during some big wins. As his rookie campaign progressed, Belton emerged as a solid defender when Iowa wanted to play with their hybrid DB/LB on the field and eventually took over as starter in that spot for four games. He totaled 33 tackles, including 13 assists as a true freshman for the Hawkeyes.
Entering 2020, he was expected to be the starter, but it’s unlikely anyone outside the football complex knew just what to expect from Dane Belton. He was expected to have to beat out a pair of highly recruited fellow returners in Julius Brents and Dallas Craddieth to win the cash job and he did just that.
More than that, however, Belton proved himself an invaluable member of Parker’s back end to the point he couldn’t be taken off the field even if Iowa wanted to play three linebackers. As a sophomore, Belton become both the starting cash and the backup strong safety, meaning that versatility he showed as a prep had only blossomed.
He finished the year again with 33 total tackles, including 19 solos with 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, five pass break-ups and a forced fumble. All that added up to Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors for the Tampa product.
Now, Belton looks to build on that success and cement himself as one of the Big Ten’s best defenders.
The Next Man Up
Should something happen to Belton this season, it’s hard to know exactly which direction Parker would turn. The group at linebacker is nearly as loaded as the secondary and it’s entirely possible Iowa’s defensive savant would opt to go back to a more traditional 4-3 look.
But it’s also possible he shifts philosophy and goes with more coverage ability, particularly against opponents who are known to throw the ball around a bit more like Purdue. In such a scenario, newcomer Xavior Williams seems like a good bet to see lots of action. The former freshman All-American from UNI, like Belton as a prep, spent time at both safety and corner and would be an excellent candidate to step up.
Of course, Parker could also opt to simply go with a player in Belton’s mold who is that “traditional” cash. He’s got a great option there as well with redshirt sophomore Sebastian Castro.
Unlike Belton, Castro spent much of his prep time exclusively at safety (and QB). However, he’s a guy that has looked primed to jump into the spotlight as either a strong safety or cash since he signed back in 2019.
Castro took a redshirt in ‘19 and saw only limited action last season without recording any stats. But he oozes potential with a nose for the ball and closing speed that will earn him playing time at some point. If something were to happy to Belton in 2021, Castro could emerge as a potential replacement. More likely, he’ll battle for the role when Belton heads to the NFL.
Because the position has evolved a bit over time, the potential here is really extensive. Virtually everyone that’s been mentioned as backups at both safety and corner could potentially emerge as a candidate to step into the role.
As with a year ago, Dallas Craddieth remains a name to watch with some positional versatility. He’s someone we’ve waited to see emerge but has seen youngsters surpass him on the depth chart. Perhaps his time comes in the next year.
Reggie Bracy and Terry Roberts are among those talented youngsters who figure to push for playing time somewhere once an opportunity arises. It’s possible that’s at cash.
At the end of the day, this figures to be the Dane Belton show in 2021. That’s a very good thing for Phil Parker and Hawkeye fans alike. But should something happen either to Belton or to a safety, pushing Belton to the back end, Iowa has loads of options which could all prove good.