Assume the Position is our offseason guide to the Iowa Hawkeyes football depth chart. The math is difficult, so take it from us: As time moves on, we'll know more. That's why we rank the positions from most certain to least certain.
Today: Defensive End
|98||Mike Hardy||SR(RS)||6-5/280||Defensive End|
|95||Drew Ott||JR||6-4/270||Defensive End|
|94||Riley McMinn||JR(RS)||6-7/265||Defensive End|
|49||Melvin Spears||JR(RS)||6-2/270||Defensive End|
|34||Nate Meier||JR||6-2/245||Defensive End|
|75||Dean Tsopanides||JR(RS)||6-2/270||Defensive End|
|91||Daumantas Venckus-Cucchiara||SO(RS)||6-5/240||Defensive End|
|92||Will Kincart||SO(RS)||6-3/255||Defensive End|
|??||Torey Hendrick||JR||6-4/240||Defensive End|
|96||Matt Nelson||FR||6-8/255||Defensive End|
|20||Jameer Outsey||FR||6-3/225||Defensive End|
|93||Terrence Harris||FR||6-3/250||Defensive End|
We talk too much about Rick Kaczenski's effect on the defensive line, but nowhere is it more visible than that train wreck of an eligibility chart. Iowa has a handful of junior defensive ends, two of whom didn't play one snap as sophomores. The struggles of that group have trickled down the depth chart; the sophomore chart, from Kaz's last year with the Hawkeyes, is down to a complete project and a walk-on because two defensive ends were pushed into service as true freshmen. The half-Christmas tree that we saw with offensive linemen last week is looking more like the Eiffel Tower here, and it doesn't bode well for 2016.
But for 2014? We think we know what we have, and it's not bad.
Drew Ott (#95, Junior, 6'4, 270 lbs., Giltner HS (Trumbull, Neb.))
How is it that a three-star high school tight end from a town of 200 who went completely overlooked by his in-state program has become the best Iowa defensive end since Adrian Clayborn? In retrospect, all of those things made Drew Ott the perfect Iowa recruit.
Ott recorded more than 300 tackles and eight intereceptions in his last two seasons of high school football at tiny Giltner High School, playing at three different positions in the process. Iowa and Kansas State took notice; Nebraska wasn't interested. The Hawkeyes won his commitment and expected to redshirt him, but eight games into Iowa's 2012 defensive line meltdown, Ferentz yanked the redshirt and sent Ott into the Northwestern game at defensive end.
He became Iowa's top defensive end the next year, recording 50 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts. Nine of those tackles came in a breakthrough performance against Northwestern, one year after his debut; Ott also recorded a sack and two tackles for loss against the Wildcats.
Ott's only non-start in 2013 came in the Outback Bowl, when outgoing senior Dominic Alvis returned from injury to trump the sophomore. And while it wasn't one single factor that led to LSU's success on the ground against Iowa that day -- LSU's talent had more to do with it than anything -- Ott's absence was certainly felt. Since early 2011, Iowa's defensive ends have focused on run support and play containment above rushing the passer. Ott has become an effective hybrid of the two, sturdy enough to hold up against tackles and tight ends in the running game while still athletic enough to get to the quarterback on occasion. And with two seasons left to go for a player that didn't redshirt, those skills can only improve. We're expecting big things from the small-town kid in 2014.
Mike Hardy (#98, Senior (RS), 6'5, 280 lbs., Kimberly HS (Appleton, Wis.))
Hardy finally found a home in 2013. After years of shuffling between defensive end and tackle and succeeding at neither, the big Wisconsiner stepped in for the injured Alvis during the second half of the regular season and played capably enough to earn six starts, 35 tackles and 1.5 sacks. And while Hardy has always looked more vulnerable from the pack of junior defensive ends behind him than Ott, he's taken enough command to actually beat out Ott for the spot opposite Alvis on New Year's Day.
Where you likley won't see Hardy is third and long; like Ott, he's more than capable against the run and can hold his position against larger blockers (though it's difficult to find many blockers larger than Hardy), and his height makes life difficult for quarterbacks trying to throw into the flat. But Hardy struggles in pure pass rushing, and was largely omitted when Iowa went to its Raider package and tried to get to the passer. That likely won't change much in 2014: Hardy will stand up against the run and leave the pass rushing to others. It's a purely Iowa theory of defensive end play, but it works.
While You Wait for the Others
Riley McMinn (#94, Junior (RS), 6'7, 265 lbs., Rochester (Ill.) HS)
McMinn was in the mix for a starting position in 2012, but lost out to veterans like Alvis and Joe Gaglione (and eventually not-so-veterans like Ott). He was in line to start in 2013, but suffered a shoulder injury that essentially cost him the season; he played briefly against Purdue in late November but was otherwise sidelined throughout the year. McMinn's height makes him an intriguing option on passing downs, but that could be the extent of his role this year barring an injury to one of the top two.
Nate Meier (#34, Junior, 6'2, 245 lbs., Fremont-Mills HS (Tabor, Iowa))
At least Ott played eleven-man high school football. Meier, a standout in eight-man football for Fremont-Mills in southwest Iowa, got one of those late Reese Morgan offers as a potential running back. He somehow skipped a redshirt. By September of his freshman season, he had been converted to an extremely undersized defensive end, and became a disruptive force in Iowa's pass rush last season. Morgan is adamant that Meier -- still under 250 pounds and unlikely to get much bigger -- can be an every-down defensive end, but Iowa would need to adjust its basic defensive tenets to let that happen. If the Hawkeyes can't get to the quarterback with any regularity in 2014, that could become a possibility.
Melvin "Bud" Spears (#49, Junior (RS), 6'2, 270 lbs., Allen (Tex.) HS)
Spears had some low-frequency buzz as a pure pass rusher in 2012, but Iowa opted to take the redshirt off of Drew Ott before putting the already-redshirted Spears into use. That was not a good sign; not playing at all in 2013 was probably worse. Some guys bloom late. Spears had better be one of those guys, or he'll be buried on this depth chart until graduation.
Dean Tsopanides (#75, Junior (RS), 6'2, 270 lbs., Torrington (Conn.) HS)
Tsopanides hasn't seen the field in three seasons, and the chances of him getting there in 2014 took a hit when he was picked up for DUI in June. The two-star defensive end was always going to be a project -- he had literally no other Division I offers when Ken O'Keefe picked him out -- but the clock is ticking and Tsopanides is behind a long line of junior defensive ends. Things are not looking good.
Daumantas Venckus-Cucchiara (#91, Sophomore (RS), 6'5, 240 lbs., Cypress Bay HS (Weston, Fla.))
Back when Iowa announced it was cutting off its Sunshine State efforts, we thought that DVC was going to be Iowa's last Florida-based recruit. As it is, he's added 15 pounds over two years, which isn't exactly a great sign for a defensive end in a program that likes them built more like defensive tackles, and the track record of Kaz projects out of Florida has not been good at all. He might get a chance out of default once the depth chart is decimated by graduation in 2015, but he might not get much until then.
Matt Nelson (#96, Freshman, 6'8, 255 lbs., Xavier HS (Cedar Rapids, Iowa))
Iowa generally redshirts its incoming freshmen at defensive end, but the experience of players like Ott and Meier (and Adrian Clayborn) shows that Iowa isn't afraid to use a guy who can help as a true freshman. The other incoming defensive ends have some issues: Outsey needs to add weight, and Harris has always been a project. But the coaches are high enough on Nelson, and the incoming freshman's frame is so game-ready, that he could enter the mix as a true freshman. Regardless of whether he does it this year, Nelson looks poised for a quick move into the two-deep in coming seasons.
Torey Hendrick (Number unknown, not enrolled, 6'4, 240 lbs., ASA College (Brooklyn, N.Y.))
Iowa identified Hendrick -- who held offers from the likes of Florida State, Mississippi State, Kansas State, and West Virginia -- as a stopgap to fill the hole soon-to-be-left by all of those junior defensive ends. But Hendrick had some problems finishing his coursework at ASA College in time to join Iowa for spring. Hendrick said he'd have the classes complete by August, but some unidentified grading error eventually eliminated that opportunity, as well. Hendrick appears to be completely onboard with joining Iowa eventually, and he was a likely redshirt regardless, but the track record for JUCOs who can't make it out of JUCO on time are not good.