2011 Iowa Preview – Defense
Iowa CB Shaun Prater
Iowa CB Shaun Prater
Posted Jun 3, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Iowa Hawkeye Defense

Iowa Hawkeyes

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Despite finishing 25th in the nation in total defense and seventh in scoring D, defensive coordinator Norm Parker's group was a had so many stars that it should've done a bit more. NFL defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug, and Christian Ballard are gone and losing safety Tyler Sash is a killer, but there's hope. Everything starts at the corner with Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde, if he doesn't move to safety, should be among the nation's best tandems, while end Broderick Binns and tackle Mike Daniels have all-star potential. The linebackers are way too small and they're relative unknowns, but led by James Morris in the middle, they're solid and should put up the stats to get the job done behind a retooling defensive front.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Micah Hyde, 82
Sacks: Mike Daniels, 4
Interceptions: Micah Hyde, Shaun Prater, 4

Star of the defense: Senior CB Shaun Prater
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Thomas Nardo
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB James Morris
Best pro prospect: Prater
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Prater, 2) CB Micah Hyde, 3) DT Mike Daniels
Strength of the defense: Corner, Linebacker Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Safety, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: It's okay to say it now; the Iowa defensive line was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2010 Big Ten season. Okay, so that's a major overstatement considering the run defense finished second in the league and sixth in the nation, but the sacks weren't there for a line with so much NFL talent and the team was last in the Big Ten and 110th in the nation in tackles for loss. This year's line will be missing Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, and Karl Klug, but there's enough talent returning to not only expect a decent year against the run, but even more production in the backfield.

The line needs senior Broderick Binns to play like he was supposed to play last year. Inconsistent, he made 36 tackles but didn't register a sack and only came up with one tackle for loss. At 6-2 and 261 pounds he's a short, squatty lineman who came up with 63 tackles two years ago in an honorable mention All-Big Ten season, and now he's the guy. He was suspended early on and he was fine late, but the spotlight is on; he has to be a star pass rusher. Working behind him is 6-4, 250-pound sophomore Dominic Alvis, a promising athlete who's tough enough to play on the inside if needed and fast enough to be a pass rushing terror on the outside. He was terrific this offseason after making two tackles and a sack in his brief appearances.

Taking over on the other side is senior Lebron Daniel, a 6-2, 250-pound veteran who has been a part of the mix for a while but only made six tackles with a sack and a fumble recovery in his brief time. Not an elite talent in any way, he's a fill-in on the end who needs to produce right away or else others will get a shot. 6-4, 260-pound senior Joe Forgy came in from the JUCO ranks and got on the field a little bit. He didn't do anything, though. A pass rusher at Ellsworth CC, he needs to show something early on or he'll be lost in the shuffle.

6-1, 275-pound senior Mike Daniels quietly had a really, really good season as an interior pass rusher in the rotation making 40 tackles with four sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He's not built like a big behemoth of a defensive tackle, but he's really quick, really feisty, and he fits the mold of Iowa interior players. Great against the run, he'll now be the star of the interior, while 6-3, 272-pound junior Steve Bigach will try to get in the mix after seeing a little bit if time making three tackles with a sack against Michigan State. Smart, he's an all-star in the classroom, and now the Hawkeyes need him to star on the field in a rotation with Daniels.

6-3, 277-pound Thomas Nardo has been a good leader and a big part of the team in practices, but it hasn't translated to the field. A nice recruit in 2007, he hasn't been able to crack the lineup with just three tackles in his limited time. Now he gets to try to close out with a bang at one tackle, but he'll be pushed hard by 6-5, 310-pound redshirt freshman Carl Davis, a green but big body who could clog up the works on sheer bulk. Extremely strong, he's the run stopper the line desperately needs to clog things up.

Watch Out For … Alvis. For a line that needs to be more disruptive and more dangerous when it comes to hitting the passer, Alvis will move around where needed. He's an ideal hybrid outside linebacker/end who might end up working at time at tackle.
Strength: History. It's not fair and it's not right to assume that everything will be fine just because the coaching staff always comes up with rabbits out of its hat, but if anyone can lose a slew of stars and be just fine, it's the Iowa line. The defensive front always seems to produce with a bag full of misfit toys, and this one won't be any different.
Weakness: The NFL. No, the Iowa line didn't get into the backfield enough, and the key players went bye-bye in crunch time way too often, but you don't get better by losing Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, and Karl Klug to the NFL draft.
Outlook: The line won't be nearly as strong as it was last year against the run, but this might be a feistier, pluckier front four that finds more ways to get into the backfield. Binns has to be a star pass rusher on the outside and a few surprises have to emerge, but this should be a decent line in time. It just won't be like it was supposed to be last season.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: Gone is leading tackler Jeremiha Hunter, who made 90 tackles, but the linebackers should be deep and decent with the tackles and stats to come from several different players in a rotation. There might not be any college football household names, but this could very quietly become a strong unit that becomes a major plus as the season goes on.

Senior Tyler Nielson should be the star of the corps after making 42 stops with 4.5 tackles for loss and a pick in just eight games. A strong all-around playmaker on the outside, he's an athletic 6-4 and 235 pounds with the potential to be one of the team's leading tacklers if he can stay healthy for a full season. The 2006 Gatorade Iowa Football Player of the year was a big-time recruit with the smarts and the skill to be all over the field. There's a chance he becomes the breakout player on the defense, while

Sophomore James Morris was fantastic when thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, and now the 6-2, 215-pound man in the middle could be the team's leading tackler after making 70 stops with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. It would be nice if he was bigger, and there's a major fear that he's not going to be able to hold up with his thin build, but he gets all over the field and is a smart, tough leader who can be a star for the next three years as long as he can stay healthy. 6-0, 232-pound senior Bruce Davis has spent his career as a special teamer, and just when it seemed like he was ready to make a big impact, he tore his ACL after making just five tackles in three games. Adding more size to the middle, his return would be a huge plus to the rotation.

Taking over on the weakside for Hunter will be a combination of sophomore Anthony Hitchens and 6-2, 195-pound sophomore Christian Kirksley. The versatile Kirksley brings even more athleticism to the other outside spot working behind Nielson, and he could end up being the starter in place of Hutchins at the beginning of the year. He's built like a safety, and it would be nice if he was about 20 pounds bigger, but he moves well and he's a big hitter who got his feet wet making six tackles in a limited time. The 6-1, 215-pound Hitchens has to prove he can hold up on a regular basis against the run, especially considering Hunter was about 20 pounds bigger, but he's a good prospect with a little experience making nine tackles.

Watch Out For … Kirksley. Where he plays and how well he progresses could be the key to the linebacking corps. If he's too good to keep off the field, he's the starting weakside linebacker. However, he might be way too useful as a swing reserve for the rotation on both outside spots.
Strength: Quickness. When you're as small as this group is, you had better be able to move. Morris has excellent range and Nielson, Kirksley, and Hitchens can all get around. Swarming to the ball won't be a problem.
Weakness: Size. And here's the big problem. Nielson is 235 pounds, but the 215-pound Morris, 195-pound Kirksley, and the 215-pound Hitchens need to show they can handle themselves against the better power running teams.
Outlook: The linebacking corps has some nice-looking athletes, but there's little size and there won't be the luxury of a killer defensive front like last year's linebacking corps enjoyed. It'll take a rotation of players and some newcomers, like maybe Quinton Alston, have to be ready to roll out of the box.
Unit Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The secondary didn't get a whole bunch of help from the pass rush but it still did a strong job finishing second in the Big Ten and 24th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. However, even with the mere 12 touchdown passes allowed, it gave up a slew of yards allowing 231 yards per game. Tyler Sash was a big hitter and all-around playmaker at safety, but he left early for the NFL leaving a huge hole. There are nice players returning and good prospects ready to show what they can do, but without much of a pass rush to help the cause the defensive backs will need to do even more.

The best player of the lot is corner Shaun Prater, who flirted with the idea of turning pro early but came back to become the leader and shut-down defender on the left side. At 5-11 and 180 pounds he has decent size and good tackling ability with 68 tackles with four picks and six broken up passes as a First Team All-Big Ten performer. Fast, physical, and talented, he's in a salary drive for next year. 5-11, 180-pound junior Greg Castillo was a spot starter and saw time in every game finishing with 11 tackles with two broken up passes. A possible nickel and dime defender with good range and the smarts to know what he's doing, he'll be a factor.

Starting on the other side, for now, is Micah Hyde, a great all-around playmaker who should've earned stronger all-star honors other than honorable mention after finishing second on the team with 82 tackles with four interceptions and seven broken up passes. At 6-1 and 185 pounds he's big enough to play safety, and he might end up moving over to free safety after seeing time this spring. All the tools are there to play whatever position is needed, and now the star high school quarterback should come up with a whale of a junior campaign and should end up shining no matter where he plays. If he moves to safety, 5-11, 180-pound sophomore B.J. Lowery will step into the starting spot on the right side after making five tackles in a limited time. He's a physical tackler who could someday move to safety if needed.

Hyde's tryout at safety was fine, but he's not expected to stay there meaning 6-2, 195-pound sophomore Tanner Miller is in the free safety job for now. The Iowa high school champion-level sprinter got a little bit of work in as a true freshman making seven tackles. With his range and size he has the tools to be a stat-sheet filler, but he has to prove he can be a consistent hitter. Junior Jack Swanson is a 5-11, 200-pound veteran who has seen a little bit of time over the last few years and made five stops last season. He can play either safety job.

If Hyde ends up seeing time at safety, it's possible that Miller keeps one job and junior Collin Sleeper gets moved out. While the former walk-on will get the first look at strong safety, and while he has 6-2, 200-pound size, he's not Tyler Sash. 6-2, 205-pound senior Tom Donatell isn't close to being Sash, either. The former walk-on came to Iowa as a quarterback and moved over to linebacker before stepping in at defensive back. He only made three tackles last year and isn't likely to be more than an emergency backup.

Is this the year that Jordan Bernstine finally makes an impact? After coming to Iowa as a huge prospect and a Parade All-American, he hasn't been able to stay healthy with a shoulder injury, an ankle problem, and other issues, and despite getting his chances at several different spots, he hasn't been able to step in. He has the 5-11, 205-pound size and the tremendous quickness, but he only made four tackles in eight games. The senior has shown glimpses, and there's a spot there for the taking if he can stay healthy.

Watch Out For … Hyde. He's a corner, and he's going to stay there, but it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if he moved to safety next to Miller and Lowery got thrown into the right corner spot. Along with Prater, that would get the team's four best defensive backs on the field at the same time.
Strength: Corner. Assuming Hyde stays on the outside, he and Prater form one of the nation's best corner tandems. They're experienced, they can hit, and they can get al over the field. Outside of possibly offensive tackle, this should be the team's biggest strength.
Weakness: Strong safety. There's no way the Hawkeyes are going into the season with walk-on talents like Sleeper and Donatell combining at strong safety. There will be some shuffling on to find a sure-thing playmaker at the spot.
Outlook: After finishing fourth in the nation in pass defense two years ago, the secondary gave up way too many yards. Arizona's Nick Foles, Northwester's Dan Persa, Michigan's Denard Robinson and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert all threw for more than 300 yards on the Hawkeye secondary, and the team gave up 195 yards or more ten times. The corners are good enough to bring the numbers down, but the safety play is questionable.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Daniel Murray was supposed to step in and shine as the steady placekicker, but it was sophomore Mike Meyer who turned in a terrific year hitting 14-of-17 field goals with one of his misses coming on his first kick. He has a live leg, but he hasn't shown off any range yet with a long of just 42 yards. This year he'll get more chances from deep to see if he can expand his range.

The punting game was solid, finishing 31st in the nation averaging 37.82 yards per kick, with Ryan Donahue finishing 15th in the nation. 6-6, 245-pound senior Eric Guthrie is very smart, very big, and has a huge leg, but he has to show he can blast away like Donahue, who put 22 inside the 20. Guthrie tried one kick against Iowa State and forced a 35-yard fair catch.

Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was a special kickoff returner averaging 29.3 yards per try, and now it'll be up to speedy WR Keenan Davis to try to take over after averaging 19.4 yards per attempt on nine tries. WR Marvin McNutt will take over as the full-time punt returner in place oc Colin Sandeman, who averaged 8.3 yards per try.

Watch Out For … Guthrie to blast away. He might not be Donohue when it comes to accuracy, but he's got the leg to air it out from time to time and push his punts deep.
Strength: The return game. Even with the top returners from last year gone, the return game should be fantastic with Davis and McNutt getting more work. The punt coverage team was awesome allowing just 3.9 yards per return.
Weakness: Kicking range. Can Meyer connect from deep? The kickoff coverage wasn't that great without a lot of touchbacks, and a 50-yard field goal once in a while would be nice.
Outlook: The special teams might not be as strong as last year, and there are question marks at punter and at both return jobs, but everything will be fine. Iowa played five games decided by four points or fewer; it has to win the special teams battle.
Unit Rating: 6.5

- 2011 Iowa Preview | 2011 Iowa Offense
- 2011 Iowa Defense | 2011 Iowa Depth Chart
- Iowa Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006