This is the final preview of Hawkeye football 2011.
This week I’ll look at the middle linebackers, the secondary and the special teams.
When James Morris (6-2, 227) started practicing last fall as a true freshman, he knew he would have a shot at playing on special teams.
James, who will be a sophomore, did that the first couple of games until injuries took their toll at the linebacker position.
Bruce Davis went down in the third game against Arizona and was lost for the season. Two games later, Jeff Tarpinian was hurt against Penn State and James stepped in at middle linebacker. He played the next two games coming off the bench, but got his first start against Michigan State.
“It was a cool feeling,” James said of playing against Penn State on national TV. “I was nervous at first, but I had great teammates who settled me down. They reminded me that ‘it’s just football’ and after the first snap it’s just football and that’s what we love to do is play football.”
James started the final six games, was named first team Freshman All-American by CollegeFootballNews.com and was on the Big Ten conference All-Freshman team.
Bruce Davis is back after missing most of last season with an injury. The 6-0, 232-pound senior is listed behind James at middle linebacker. He played in the first three games last fall, starting one.
The defensive backfield could be a work in progress.
Senior Shaun Prater (5-11, 185) is probably the only player you can be sure will be starting at cornerback. Shaun could have gone to the NFL, but came back and will play a big role in the Hawkeyes’ success.
At media day, the starters were junior Greg Castillo (5-11, 182) at the other corner, junior Micah Hyde (6-1, 190) at free safety and former Solon Spartan Collin Sleeper (6-2, 200), a junior, at strong safety.
Backups include sophomore B.J. Lowery (5-11, 185) at corner, sophomore Tanner Miller (6-2, 200) at free safety and senior Tom Donatell (6-2, 205) at strong safety.
The wild card of the group is senior Jordan Bernstine (5-11, 205).
Jordan was a top recruit coming out of Des Moines and is reportedly one of the fastest players on the team. He has been practicing both at corner and safety and has been working with the younger players.
Jordan has been nicked up throughout his career, losing one whole year because of a broken leg, and is ready to finish strong.
“All summer we’ve been helping the younger players out,” said Jordan. “Teaching them the defense, watching film and stuff like that. It’s my senior year and I’m just motivated.”
If Jordan can play safety, then Micah can move back to corner.
Tanner Miller also has a shot at playing time at the safety spot and B.J. Lowery has looked good in practice at corner. Freshman Torrey Campbell (5-11, 183) got some looks in the first scrimmage on Aug. 13.
Ryan Donahue will be tough to replace at punter. Ryan was a four-year starter and averaged over 40 yards per punt all four years.
Eric Guthrie has been waiting in the wings and goes into camp as the top guy.
The 6’6”, 245-pound senior from Nevada, Iowa, could be the biggest punter in the nation.
“Three years ago I never would have guessed Eric would have the chance to be our starting punter,” said coach Ferentz. “That is really a credit to his work ethic and character. He has the potential to have a really good senior year for us.”
Sophomore Mike Meyer (6-2, 180) led the Hawkeyes last year in field goals, hitting 13-17. He was 31-33 in extra points.
Junior Trent Mossbrucker (6-0, 204) will back him up.
As a freshman, Trent went 13-15 in field goals and 31-33 in PATs.
Look for former Solon prep Marshall Koehn (6-0, 160) to get a shot at kickoffs. He was booming kicks big-time at the first scrimmage.
Junior Keenan Davis is the only one with experience on kickoff returns.
Coach Ferentz said at media day that Marvin McNutt and maybe Micah Hyde would get a look at returning punts.
The defensive line and secondary will develop for two reasons. There is good talent and really good coaching.
If the Hawkeyes can find a running back or two give Marcus Cooker some rest, look for the offense to have some time-consuming drives which should keep the defense fresh.
The preseason hype and talk is over…it’s time to play some football.