This is the final part of Hawkeye preview for the 2014 season.
This week I’ll look at the defense.
The Hawkeye defense should be a strong point this fall, especially the defensive line, which has all four starters back.
The big question will be replacing the three starting linebackers, James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey.
Anthony and Christian have a shot to start for the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns respectively.
Quinton Alston (6-1, 232) played as a true freshman, saw action in all 13 games last year and was Academic All-Big Ten as a junior.
The former New Jersey prep takes over at middle linebacker and Kirk Ferentz said at media day that Quinton could have stepped in last year if anyone got hurt.
“I’m looking for these young guys to grow,” said Quinton at media day about the new linebackers. “That’s the first focus. Coming out to camp and trying to make everybody grow faster mentally and physically.”
Quinton has all the tools to become a good player and leader.
Backups for middle linebacker include senior Chad Gilson (6-1, 235) and redshirt freshman John Kenny (6-2, 225).
Chad played his first two years at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) and played in 17 games.
John was a first team all-state pick from Indiana in 2012 and enrolled in the spring of 2013.
John said linebacker coach Jim Reid is a really good teacher.
“Coach Reid helps us out a lot doing extra stuff,” said John. “Just going through practice a couple of times, I feel like I’ve learned the defense a lot more.”
I really like Jim Reid and LeVar Woods, the linebacker coaches.
When I first heard coach Reid talk, he reminded me of legendary Iowa head wrestling coach, Dan Gable.
Both really love what they’re doing and both have a passion for their sport.
LeVar played seven years in the NFL, is a great recruiter and teacher.
On the outside, true sophomore Reggie Spearman (6-3, 230) has all the ability to be a great one. Reggie played on third downs, along with Quinton last fall and did a good job
Josey Jewell (6-2, 225) a redshirt freshman, is listed as co-starter along with Reggie in the two-deeps that came out last week.
Josey played linebacker and running back at Decorah. He helped his team to a 14-0 record and a state title as a senior. He had 1,314 yards rushing and scored 21 touchdowns his senior season. He also caught 11 passes and returned 15 punts, one for a touchdown.
Travis Perry (6-3, 232) and redshirt freshman Bo Bower (6-1, 223) are listed co-starters at the other linebacker position.
Travis is a junior and also walked on. He was an academic All-Big Ten last season and was voted Team Hustle Award for Special Teams last year.
Bo is a walk-on redshirt freshman from West Branch and just got put on scholarship. He played linebacker, defensive back and running back in high school.
The Hawkeyes have all four starters back on the defensive line. Three of them are seniors and both tackles are picked as the best pair in the Big Ten.
Carl Davis is big. At 6-5, 315 pounds, he is agile, has good footwork and can overpower most offensive linemen, which means he is double-teamed a lot.
That opens up a chance for Carl’s running mate, Louis Trinca-Pasat (6-3, 290) to make some big plays, like he did when he tackled Cain Coulter in overtime last year, which ended the game with the Hawks beating Northwestern, 17-10.
Mike Hardy (6-5, 280) played in every game last fall and started the last six. He was voted the Next Man in Award on defense.
Drew Ott (6-4, 270), the only junior on the line, played in all 13 games last fall with 12 starts at defensive end.
Drew was Academic All-Big Ten last year.
One of the keys to a successful season will be for defensive line coach Reese Morgan to develop some depth, and I think that will happen.
Nate Meier (6-2, 244) is listed as co-starter with Mike Hardy while Riley McMinn (6-7, 265) and Melvin Spears (6-2, 268) are listed as backup defensive ends.
Riley has been nicked up most of his career, but Coach Morgan says when healthy, Riley can play.
Riley has to go up against two of the best offensive tackles in the Big Ten and that can only help him get better.
“I think they are two of the best tackles in the nation,” said Riley of teammates Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal. “It’s good to come out here and get that type of competition every day.”
Throw in true freshman Matt Nelson (6-8, 255), who looked good in the kid’s day scrimmage and you have some good talent in the rotation.
Darian Cooper (6-2, 282), Jaleel Johnson (6-4, 310), Faith Ekakitie (6-3, 287) and Nathan Bazata (6-2, 284) add some solid depth at tackle.
Darian, Jaleel and Faith were top-rated recruits out of high school and should be ready to take the next step.
The Hawkeyes have two starters returning in the defensive backfield.
Senior John Lowdermilk (6-2, 210) and sophomore sensation Desmond King (5-11, 190) are back and will anchor the defensive backfield.
John, who played in 11 games as a true freshman, was honorable mention All-Big Ten last year.
Desmond replaced an injured Jordan Lomax in the first game last fall and started the final 12 games.
Desmond, one of four true freshmen to play last fall, was named first team freshman All-Big Ten. He was also won the Next Man in Award on defense.
Greg Mabin (6-2, 195), Sean Draper (6-0, 190) and Maurice Fleming (6-0, 200) are battling for the other cornerback spot.
Greg started as a wide receiver and switched to defensive back last spring.
“As a receiver you never have to be in a back-peddle,” said Greg. “At corner, you have to be comfortable backpedaling and coming in and out of breaks.”
Greg was listed the starter for the first game against UNI when the two-deeps came out.
Jordan Lomax (5-10, 200) is the number-one free safety.
Jordan was Academic-All Big Ten last fall and played in nine games after missing the first four with injury.
Anthony Gair (6-2, 200) and Solomon Warfield (6-0, 180) back up Jordan.
Anthony, who will be a sophomore, has good size for a safety and played in all 13 games last year.
Solomon, who is a redshirt freshman, made first team all-Ohio his senior year at Lorain, Ohio.
I think Phil Parker, Iowa’s defensive coordinator, has done a great job mixing the defenses up with some blitzing and man coverage.
The front four will set the tone this fall.
Enough talk... let’s play some football.