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Pat Harty: Iowa lucky to have rebuilder Morgan leading the D-line

[ 0 ] April 17, 2013 |

Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan turns 63 in June, is a grandparent four times over and has no intention of being on Twitter.

Former Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg once told Morgan while he was being recruited that he reminded him of his grandfather.

“He kind of made me look in the mirror and say, ‘Yeah, I probably do,’ ” Morgan said Wednesday while meeting with the media.

Morgan might sound old-fashioned and stuck in his ways, but don’t mistake that for him being passed up by the game. That’ll never happen.

Morgan is similar in many ways to the person for whom he works. He and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz are both humble and soft-spoken, but also highly successful and driven to fix what’s wrong with the Iowa program, which is coming off a 4-8 season.

Part of what’s wrong — a big part, for that matter — deals directly with the players Morgan now coaches in the trenches.

Say what you want about the Iowa passing attack last season. It was dreadful most of the time. But the inability to pressure the quarterback also contributed significantly to the misery last fall.

Iowa had a Big Ten-low 13 sacks as a team last season. Former Hawkeye defensive lineman Jared DeVries had that many by himself as a sophomore in 1996.

“I think my wife would say that’s pretty darn important,” Morgan said when asked how important it is for defensive linemen to be able to pressure the quarterback. “I think that’s really important and I think that’s going to be a big focus for us.”

It should be a big focus because it’s hard to think of an Iowa team that’s been successful without pressuring the quarterback on a regular basis.

Drew Tate was extraordinary as a quarterback for Iowa in 2004 despite barely having any semblance of a running game. He was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year that season and a major reason why the Hawkeyes won a share of the Big Ten title and finished 10-2 overall.

Equally important, though, was the performance of the Iowa defensive line, which featured a who’s who of future of NFL players with guys like Matt Roth and Jonathan Babineaux leading the charge.

The current situation is nothing like that, though, with a cast of nondescript or mostly unproven players on the defensive line.

Morgan praised his defensive linemen for their effort this spring and for how they accept coaching and constructive criticism. He also has plenty of candidates from which to choose for playing time. So the situation is far from hopeless.

But there also is nothing to suggest that the Iowa defensive line will be a force next season, either.

Senior Dominic Alvis and junior Louis Trinca-Pasat return after starting all 12 games at defensive end and defensive tackle, respectfully, last season. Trinca-Pasat is being withheld from spring practice because of a shoulder injury, but he should be ready this fall.

Alvis is spending much of this spring competing against offensive left tackle Brandon Scherff, whom many consider to be Iowa’s next star offensive lineman.

“He’s having a very good spring,” Morgan said of Alvis. “He and Brandon are going head-to-head, two very good players. I think he’s embraced that challenge and that battle.”

Morgan also has two of the more heavily recruited players on the Iowa roster now in the mix for playing time on the defensive line. Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie both were withheld from competition last season after arriving on campus as four-star recruits.

Combine the proven talent and the new faces with players such as junior tackle Carl Davis and sophomore end Drew Ott, both of whom have flashed as Hawkeyes, and there is cause for some optimism.

The fact that Morgan is coaching the defensive line is part of that optimism. He helped turn Dallas Clark into an all-America tight end while coaching that position in 2002 and he helped turn Iowa into an NFL pipeline for offensive linemen while coaching that position from 2003-2011.

Of course, talent had a lot to do with it. But talent without coaching often fails to materialize.

If there are some future stars on the Iowa defensive line, you can be sure that Morgan will identify them and give them every chance to excel.

The way Morgan rebuilt the West High football program still ranks as one of the greatest achievements in my more than 20 years of covering sports for the Press-Citizen. He’d be first to say that it was hardly a solo act. And while that’s true, it doesn’t happen without Morgan steering the ship.

He took over a West program in 1992 that was dreadful before his arrival, but rich in potential and resources. A large student population was just waiting for the right person to flip the ignition switch.

Morgan flipped it and then went on to lift West to unprecedented success, winning three Class 4A state titles during his eight-year reign. He used the right combination of motivation, organization and inspiration to get the job done.

He left West after the 1999 season with a 26-game winning streak to join Ferentz’s coaching staff at Iowa.

And now, almost 14 years later, Morgan is faced with another formidable challenge of trying to rebuild the Iowa defensive line.

His presence alone is reason for hope.

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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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