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Iowa football: Breaking down the defense

[ 0 ] August 18, 2012 |

Pick up this weekend’s Des Moines Sunday Register to find a special section devoted to the Iowa football team, which includes this article. (Mark Marturello / Register illustration)

Blitz? At Iowa?

It could happen from a variety of positions as the defense transitions between coordinators – from Parkers Norm to Phil.

“Sometimes you have to,” Phil Parker said putting additional heat on quarterbacks. Cornerbacks playing close to receivers before the ball is snapped? “Sometimes you have to,” Parker said.

Welcome to the brave new world of Iowa defense. Change is coming, although what’s been done in the past hasn’t exactly been horrible.

“We’ll add guys to the box a little bit, maybe a secondary guy . . .and bring a little more blitz,” Parker said.

“We’re going to make sure we help those guys out up front.”

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DEFENSIVE LINE

Starters: Joe Gaglione, Carl Davis, Louis Trinca-Pasat, Dominic Alvis/Steve Bigach.

Reserves: Riley McMinn, Darian Cooper, Dean Tsopanides, Steve Bigach/Dominic Alvis.

Iowa’s Dominic Alvis chases Tennessee Tech quarterback Tre Lamb during a game in 2011. (Christopher Gannon / Register photo)

Analysis: If you think people questioned this unit last season, you haven’t seen anything yet. It’s clearly the most uncertain position on the team – and rightly so.

Primary starters in 2011 are gone – Lebron Daniel, Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns. Losing that much experience isn’t good, no matter how much talent they had or didn’t have.

New line coach Reese Morgan inherits Dominic Alvis and Steve Bigach, who have combined for 11 career starts. None of the other 16 rostered linemen have started a major-college game – and only Carl Davis, Joe Gaglione, Mike Hardy and Louis Trinca-Pasat have college experience, albeit Hardy and Trinca-Pasat having played only one game.

Therefore, late Drake transfer John Sawhill could play after starting 20 consecutive games for the Bulldogs. He’s a 6-foot-3, 270-pounder from Jefferson-Scranton High School, and a former all-Pioneer Football League performer.

Looking for a bright spot? This is the year heralded Carl Davis should break through. Injuries have kept the 6-5, 310-pound sophomore from living up to his recruiting headlines – so far.

Comment: “I could see us realistically playing six, seven or eight guys,” defensive line coach Reese Morgan said. “I think we’re probably going to have to do that to a certain extent. We’ve got a group of guys that nobody knows anything about, but I’m excited to work with them.”

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LINEBACKERS

James Morris returns at linebacker for the Iowa Hawkeyes. (Rodney White / Register photo)

Analysis: New linebackers coach LeVar Woods is in charge of the most experienced group on the defense — but the depth gets a little thin when looking beyond Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens. Kirksey and Morris combined for 24 starts last season while playing both inside and outside. Hitchens didn’t start, however he has played in 18 games the past two seasons. There’s a significant drop after that – Quinton Alston played nine games last season as a reserve, while backups Travis Perry and Cole Fisher were redshirted.

Comment: According to bleacherreport.com: “Iowa’s young linebackers experienced growing pains and severe injury issues over the last two years. That will begin to pay off this year, as the Hawks have a wealth of experienced players at linebacker. James Morris is the most versatile and can play either the middle or the outside. He had an up-and-down year in 2011, but his “ups” lead one to believe that he is close to putting it all together. Kirksey is a speedy weak-side player who showed skills in coverage and in blitz packages, though he had some trouble finishing tackles. He is another player who is one piece away from putting it all together. Finally, Hitchens and Alston both gained valuable experience last season. This group is still a year away from being among the most dominant in the conference, but they will be a solid bunch in 2012.”

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DEFFENSIVE BACKS

Starters: B.J. Lowery (CB), Nico Law (SS), Tanner Miller (FS), Micah Hyde (CB).

Reserves: Collin Sleeper (CB), Tom Donatell (CB), John Lowdermilk (FS), Greg Castillo (CB).

Michigan’s Drew Dileo is tackled by Iowa’s Micah Hyde during a game in 2011. (Press-Citizen photo)

Analysis: Cornerback Micah Hyde’s eyes lit up when learning Parker planned to let backs play along the line of scrimmage – facemask-to-facemask with receivers.

“That’s something that as a corner, you always want to do,” Hyde said.

That’s a change from the past, when plays usually started with a cushion between receivers and defensive backs.

“Every cornerback thinks they can play man-up on every down,” Parker said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Safety Tanner Miller returned an interception against Northwestern 98 yards for a touchdown. B.J. Lowery saved the Michigan victory by breaking up a last-play pass in the end zone. Hyde has seven career interceptions. Nico Law is a hard-hitter, maybe the fiercest on the defense.

This position won’t lose a lot of steam despite Shaun Prater and Jordan Bernstine having exhausted their eligibility.

Comment: “What do I remember about the Iowa game last year? No. 18,” Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter said of a game the Hawkeyes won 41-31 in Iowa City. That’s Hyde, who broke up three passes. “Wherever you looked on the field, you saw the guy. He was everywhere, and he wasn’t the only one. He’s just the one that stuck out to me the most.”

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PUNT/KICK RETURNERS

Starters: Micah Hyde (PR), Keenan Davis (KOR), Kevonte Martin-Manley (KOR).

Analysis: Whoever gets these jobs certainly won’t hurt the Hawkeyes’ recent reputation – they were 64th nationally last season in punt returns, and 55th in kickoff returns.

The last time an Iowa player returned a punt for a touchdown was Andy Brodell’s 81-yarder against Iowa State in 2008.

A kickoff return touchdown? Derrell Johnson-Koulianos’ 88-yard scamper against Minnesota in 2010.

Hyde averaged 8.2 yards per punt return last season, while Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley are back as kickoff returners, Davis averaging 19.5 yards and Martin-Manley 20.5 yards.

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BREAKOUT PLAYER

Defensive lineman Carl Davis

Carl Davis, left, is pictured with Dominic Alvis during the Iowa football team’s media day in 2011. (Rodney White / Register file photo)

Someone must perform at a high level if the defensive line is to be improved from last season. That someone is Carl Davis.

Injured almost since stepping on campus, the former high school all-American could be a force in just his sophomore season.

“Carl’s role will be significant,” new line coach Reese Morgan said. “The expectations for him will be extremely high, because he’s played, but he is a young guy.”

After redshirting in 2010, the 6-foot-5, 310-pounder has just two assisted tackles during a career that has been limited to just parts of six games.

“I’m impressed with his knowledge of the defense and the fundamentals,” Morgan said. “It’s time for the next step.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Randy Peterson: Randy Peterson covers college football, college basketball and the Iowa Cubs for the Des Moines Register. Randy can be reached at randypeterson@dmreg.com or on Twitter via @RandyPete View author profile.

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