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Harty: Morris likes what he sees in practice

[ 2 ] August 15, 2012 |

One thing seemed pretty clear after speaking with Iowa junior linebacker James Morris on Saturday.

Remember that chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that helped fuel Iowa’s resurgence under Kirk Ferentz?

You could feel it as Morris spoke with reporters after the Kid’s Day at Kinnick.

Morris is frustrated with being average and with everything that comes with it, the scrutiny, the ridicule and the same questions being asked over and over by reporters.

Normally upbeat and engaging, Morris was neither Saturday. Instead, he seemed agitated, which is probably how a middle linebacker should be with the season approaching, especially a season in which your team is being picked to finish in the lower-half of the six-team Big Ten Legends Division.

An inexperienced defensive line largely is to blame for the low expectations, but don’t try telling that to Morris because he sees it differently.

“We don’t have a lot of open practices so for the last year everybody keeps asking me these questions like how are we going to have a defense, we have no defensive line?” Morris said. “And I’m like, ‘What are you guys talking about?’

“I wish you could come to our practices and see because I know what you don’t know.”

What’s not open for debate is the fact that Iowa loses three full-time starters and a part-time starter from a defensive line that was average at best last season.

Iowa finished eighth in the Big Ten in total defense last season and seventh in rushing defense. The Hawkeyes also finished 11th in pass defense last season, and it’s reasonable to assume that the inability to pressure the quarterback on a consistent basis contributed to that low ranking and to Iowa’s 7-6 record.

So in fairness to those who aren’t impressed with the Iowa defensive line, they have reasons to back it up.

But that doesn’t mean Morris has to accept those reasons.

He did what any good teammate would do by sticking up for another teammate, or in this case, a group of teammates.

Defending his teammates publicly helps to create an us-against-the-world mentality and that’s similar to the mood during the glory years under Ferentz. Neither of his Big Ten championship teams in 2002 and 2004 had much preseason hype, but they were hungry, talented and united.

Morris and his cohorts are hungry, too. They also seem united as a team and it’s not as if the 2012 Iowa roster is without talent.

Now it’s just a matter of turning potential into performance. But that’s hard part, especially if luck, which includes everything from injuries to how the ball bounces, isn’t on your side. Sometimes, luck as much as anything can be the difference between finishing 10-3 or 7-6.

Every team has its own identity that’s built during the course of a season. Just because Iowa struggled in each of the past two seasons doesn’t mean the same will thing happen this fall.

It’s caused prognosticators to think it will happen again this fall, but that’s the fuel behind many a team’s success, the chance to prove the naysayers wrong.

Morris senses a new attitude within the program, caused partly by all the coaching changes, but also by the players feeding off the criticism that’s persisted for the past two years.

“There is a lot of good energy and the guys are willing to learn and are flying around and those are the essentials,” Morris said. “The coaches are good coaches; they’re going to coach it up.

“We’ve got what we need. But now we’ve just got to get going in the right direction.”

It sort of feels like Iowa has been stuck in neutral these past two seasons, not bad, but not good, either.

Morris has been slowed by injuries, but when healthy he shows signs of being a force. The former Solon star is one of the proven commodities on a team with few at this stage.

Talent usually prevails, but the intangibles also play a key role.

So if Iowa has a chip on its shoulder, anything is possible, especially when you factor in Iowa’s schedule, which has opportunity written all over it, and the presence of senior quarterback James Vandenberg.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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