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ASSUME THE POSITION 2015: DEFENSIVE END

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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.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
95 Drew Ott SR 6-4/275 Defensive End
34 Nate Meier SR 6-2/255 Defensive End
49 Melvin Spears SR(RS) 6-2/270 Defensive End
40 Parker Hesse FR(RS) 6-3/240 Defensive End
96 Matt Nelson FR(RS) 6-8/270 Defensive End
93 Terrence Harris FR(RS) 6-3/250 Defensive End
98 Anthony Nelson FR 6-7/220 Defensive End
94 Michael Slater FR 6-2/265 Defensive End
53 Garrett Jansen FR 6-3/255 Defensive End
91 Brady Reiff FR 6-3/225 Defensive End

Previously on Assume the Position:

1. Quarterback

There's no real doubt as to what is going to happen at defensive end for Iowa this year: It's two returning starters, a redshirt senior who can't find his way onto the depth chart and a whole bunch of youth.  This year is going to be light on rotation.  Next year?  Next year, we have no idea.

You Ott to Have Recruited Him, Nebraska

Drew Ott (#95, Senior, 6'4, 275 lbs., Giltner HS (Trunbull, Neb.))

Iowa did something with Drew Ott that they rarely do with anyone: They pulled a redshirt off of him mid-season.  From that alone, we knew he was good, and he has been in the ensuing three seasons.  But while he looks like a Berserker and has occasionally played like one, is Drew Ott the kind of dominant defensive end that Iowa needs?

Ott was a borderline two-to-three star recruit from a tiny town in Nebraska who was the state's high school player of the year as a senior.  He waited for a Nebraska offer until Reese Morgan's always-successful recruiting style got him to Iowa.  Since then, he has added 40 pounds -- 50 with the beard -- and carved out a solid career.  Through two seasons as a starter and a few games of spot duty, Ott has 25 career starts, 110 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, one interception and an improbable punt return touchdown.  He earned second-team all-conference honors from the league media last year after racking up 8 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.  It was a significant step forward from his first season as a starter, and it makes Ott Iowa's best chance at a draftee next May.

The problem, of course, is that Ott did that next to a pair of disruptive defensive tackles who are now gone, and while offenses can't simply shift focus to Ott now -- at the end of the day, it's pretty much Ott versus the tackle across from him -- Iowa's defense will desperately need him to be the primary disruptor in 2015.  To do that, he would need to take yet another big step forward, from simply solid to a Clayborn/Roth level of unblockability.  And while there's no doubting his drive to succeed, Ott might not have the pure athletic ability of those superstars.

Iowa doesn't need a superstar defensive end to have a great defense; 2013 was a prime example of how important linebacker is in relation to everything else in the Hawkeyes' risk-averse system.  But with a general lack of blitzing from the back seven (and the graduation of Iowa's bizarrely excellent interior pass rush), a pass rusher at defensive end makes life easier for everyone.  If it's going to happen, it's going to be Ott, and Iowa's defense could hinge on that.

He Nate Me

Nate Meier (#34, Senior, 6'2, 255 lbs., Fremont-Mills HS (Tabor, Iowa))

We've talked a lot this offseason about Iowa's affinity for walk-ons, but there's another subset of Iowa recruits worth examining: The final offers.  Over the last half-decade, Iowa has increasingly filled its recruiting classes early, but academic issues and late decommits have left the Hawkeyes with a few late scholarships to fill.  Kirk Ferentz typically uses those late offers on high-production players completely overlooked by FBS programs, guys desperate for a chance to prove themselves.  The list includes potential 2015 starters Jordan Canzeri, Akrum Wadley, Jonathan Parker, George Kittle, Matt VandeBerg, and Josey Jewell.  And, yes, it includes Nate Meier.

Meier was an insanely productive player for the state's best eight-man football program (they won the state championship game by 81 points) in southwest Iowa when the Hawkeyes snapped him up on Signing Day Eve, but he was initially a man without a position.  We initially thought he could play halfback, safety or possibly linebacker, but at just 235 pounds, defensive end seemed like a stretch.  He only played in one game as a true freshman but found a home as a pass rusher in Iowa's third-down Raider defense in 2013.  Even with that experience, it looked unlikely that Meier could get physically large enough to be an every-down defensive end.

And so when Meier opened the 2014 season ahead of more experienced defensive ends on the depth chart, we were suspicious.  And while Meier was certainly better than expected as a full-time starter -- 57 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 tackles for loss -- his performance didn't rise much above "serviceable" on the scale.  He struggled with perimeter containment, ostensibly his most important job at left end, and offenses attacked him mercilessly.

There's no competition for Meier's spot at the moment; Bud Spears isn't playing left end, and the rest of the defensive ends, while talented, aren't passing a senior as long as this coach -- and this position coach -- are around.  But if Iowa is going to fix its defensive woes, particularly on the perimeter, it needs better from Meier in 2015.

While You Wait for the Others

Melvin "Bud" Spears (#49, Senior (RS), 6'2, 270 lbs., Allen (Tex.) HS)

Spears played a bit as a redshirt freshman in large part because there wasn't anyone else to play defensive end late in the 2012 season, but his fate was sealed when he did not see the field as a sophomore.  Last season, Spears played in four games: Double-digit wins over Indiana and Northwestern and double-digit losses to Minnesota and Tennessee. He was not on the spring two-deep.  At other programs, a fifth-year player with no chance of significant playing time might be shown the door, but Spears will see out his final season largely from the sideline.

Matt Nelson (#96, Freshman (RS), 6'8, 270 lbs., Xavier HS (Cedar Rapids, Iowa))

There's one thing for certain: Nelson has the frame to be a destroyer of worlds come 2016.  He was arguably the top recruit in Iowa's 2014 class, with a handful of serious offers despite an early commitment to the Hawkeyes.  We expected to see him as a true freshman, especially given the dearth of defensive ends, but Iowa wisely redshirted him and added 20 pounds to that frame.  He was taking snaps with the second team defense through spring, looking comically huge next to Nate Meier and leaving us salivating.  Caring's not creepy once they are on campus, after all.

Parker Hesse (#40, Freshman (RS), 6'3, 240 lbs., Waukon (Iowa) HS)

Hesse played quarterback and defensive end in high school, but he was just 205 pounds and seemed destined for outside linebacker.  With Hesse's 35-pound redshirt year and Ben Niemann's apparent hammer lock on that position for the foreseeable future, Iowa decided to moved Hesse back to defensive end.  He's performed well enough to make the spring two-deep behind Ott.

Terrence Harris (#93, Freshman (RS), 6'3, 250 lbs., Paramus Catholic HS (Englewood, N.J.))

The fact that Ferentz moved Hesse to defensive end and immediately put him in the depth chart probably isn't great for Harris, an already-borderline prospect in a massive depth chart logjam being decided by coaches who, for whatever reason, are relying extremely heavily on local players in recent years.  He's 2016 at the earliest regardless.