Previously on Assume the Position:
2. Defensive End
That right there? That's not much of a depth chart. Last year, Iowa had gone Christmas-crazy on defensive back recruits, landing four cornerbacks and a safety. One year later, depth chart implosions at running back and receiver, defections in the secondary and a 2015 recruiting strikeout has left a mere six cornerbacks on the Iowa roster entering 2015. Fortunately, two of them share three seasons of starting experience.
Best Not Miss
Desmond King (#14, Junior, 5'11, 175 lbs., East English Village HS (Detroit, Mich.))
I'm not going to say that King regressed as a sophomore, because that's not accurate. The Detroit product, who stepped into a starting position almost immediately upon hitting campus, recorded five fewer tackles -- a good thing for a cornerback, generally -- and three more interceptions than he did as a freshman, all while assuming a leadership role he hadn't held in 2013. He's probably the best NFL prospect on Iowa's defense at the moment, and certainly the closest thing to a player that opposing offenses need to game plan around, if not outright avoid.
But when teams came at King in 2014, they didn't miss. A big portion of King's problems last season were due to a lack of support from Iowa's outside linebackers, both in run and pass defense. Ferentz-era Iowa has always relied on cornerbacks as the last line on the edge, but defensive ends and outside linebackers are generally responsible for containing rushing offenses. In 2013, freshman King had two NFL-level outside linebackers and a couple of experienced defensive ends to rely upon. By 2014, Iowa was running out a hodgepodge of walk-ons at outside linebacker and Nate Meier, a decent pass rusher but not exactly God's gift to contain, at defensive end. Iowa's ineffectiveness on the edge multiplied King's responsibilities, a problem exacerbated by those same linebackers' inabilities in pass coverage. It basically left King to protect the edge of half of Iowa's defense while covering a third of the field in pass coverage, and all of this while helping teach a converted wide receiver to play the position.
Everyone with any access to this team thinks the linebackers will be better this year (Scott Dochterman said it best on his podcast this week when he said the linebackers would be "better, but not necessarily good"), but they're the same linebackers we saw last year. It's not like they suddenly became elite athletes. The defensive ends return, as well, and the loss of John Lowdermilk at strong safety could be a net positive. If there is improvement from his supporting cast, King could return on the promise of that freshman campaign. But the guy can't do it alone.
Greg Mabin (#13, Junior (RS), 6'2, 190 lbs., Calvert Christian Academy (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.))
With all of those new cornerbacks on the roster last year, it was a genuine surprise when Mabin, a converted wide receiver who hadn't played or been mentioned much in his first three years on campus, won the open cornerback job last August. And yet, as expected, Phil Parker knew what he was doing. Mabin recorded 53 tackles, two tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and an interception. More importantly, he wasn't so lost to become an immediate target for opposing offensive coordinators. Mabin simply had enough size and speed to make up for mistakes, a rare thing for an Iowa cornerback.
Given the dearth of options at Parker's disposal, there's no reason to doubt that Mabin will return to the starting lineup in 2015. If the benefits of a season as a starter and a full offseason spent solely in the defensive backfield are as important in practice as they appear in theory, Mabin could draw even with King and make the secondary one of Iowa's strongest groups in 2015.
While You Wait for the Others
Sean Draper (#7, Senior, 6'0, 190 lbs., Glenville HS (Cleveland, Ohio))
Draper spent the past three seasons on the cusp of a starting spot and never broke through. The results: 18 tackes and one interception in spot duty. In seven games out of 12 Draper played in as a junior, he recorded no statistics. He will likely be Iowa's nickleback in 2015 due to a lack of other options, but it's highly unlikely he finishes his Iowa career with anything more than that.
Maurice Fleming (#28, Junior (RS), 6'0, 205 lbs., Curie Metropolitan HS (Chicago))
Fleming played in almost as many games as Draper last year, recording a few more tackles and a bit less of everything else. Like Draper, he was better than he'd been in 2013 but hardly revelatory. We're at the point where only an injury is going to open a spot in the depth chart, and Fleming and Draper are simply playing for third place until their scholarships run out.
Omar Truitt (#5, Freshman (RS), 5'11, 185 lbs., St. John's College HS (Fort Washington, Md.)
Usually a redshirt is a kiss of death for a cornerback at Iowa; the good ones play immediately and the not-so-good get passed by the next year's good ones. Truitt and his classmate below could be the exceptions to the rule, though. The steadiness of King and Mabin allowed Iowa to incubate its incoming defensive backs, and the same problems that decimated Iowa's depth opened a clear path for Truitt in two years. He should get some special teams time this season, with an eye on a 2017 breakthrough.
Jalen Embry (#3, Freshman (RS), 6'0, 185 lbs., King HS (Detroit, Mich.))
Embry looks exactly like Truitt, but may have one key leg up on his classmate: He comes from Parker's recruiting territory, where Iowa has seemingly found all of its recent great cornerbacks. It's the same phenomenon that has three Reese Morgan recruits starting on the defensive line this year, the probably-subliminal desire to see a guy that you built a relationship with and advocated for succeed. Otherwise, everything is pretty much the same as Truitt: Hold tight and wait for a chance.