2012 Iowa Preview – Defense
Iowa LB James Morris
Iowa LB James Morris
Posted May 9, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Iowa Hawkeye Defense

Iowa Hawkeyes

Preview 2012 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: New defensive coordinator Phil Parker has enough good veterans in the back seven to hope for a decent year, but the Iowa D that was average at best last year isn't likely to be much better talent-wise. However, it's going to be far, far more aggressive and it should be far more disruptive. The strength is at linebacker where top tackles James Morris and Christian Kirksey should clean up everything the green line can handle. The defensive front has to go through some major changes and doesn't have any veteran depth to count on, but tackling won't be a problem in the back with the veteran linebacking corps along with a good-hitting secondary. Micah Hyde should be one of the Big Ten's better corners, but more picks and more game-changing plays have to come from the other spots.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Christian Kirksey, James Morris, 110
Sacks: Dominic Alvis, 1.5
Interceptions: Tanner Miller, 3

Star of the defense: Senior CB Micah Hyde
Player who has to step up and be a star: Redshirt freshman DT Darian Cooper
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Nico Law
Best pro prospect: Hyde
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hyde, 2) LB James Morris, 3) LB Christian Kirksey
Strength of the defense: Quickness, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Line, Big Plays

Defensive Line

The defensive line has almost no experience outside of junior Dominic Alvis, and he's trying to come back from a knee injury. The 6-4, 265-pound veteran is the team's leading returning pass rusher with just 1.5 sacks to go along with 30 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in nine games, but he has to be a star as soon as he's healthy and ready to go. Extremely promising, he's a great athlete who's tough enough to work on the inside if needed and fast enough to be more of a terror on the outside. The tools are all there, but again, he has to be healthy.

Trying to take over one of the end jobs is senior Joe Gaglione, a plugger of a reserve who saw a little bit of backup work making seven tackles with half a tackle for loss, but he has to show he can be a pass rusher. At 6-4 and 264 pounds he has good size and has to be strong against the run, while 6-5, 270-pound sophomore Mike Hardy will get a longer look after seeing a little bit of garbage time. A high-motor defender, he'll try to get into the backfield on want-to.

Tackle is a bigger problem than the end needing 6-3, 282-pound senior Steve Bigach to play a veteran role. Smart and decent when he got his chance, he started in three games at tackles and two on the end finishing with 24 tackles with a sack with a fumble recovery. He's not going to be an interior pass rusher, but he's not a stick in the mud.

A combination of redshirt freshmen will work at left tackle with 6-2, 280-pound Darian Cooper getting the first look. A big athlete from Baltimore, he has a good frame and nice size to sit on the inside and gum up the works. He's an interior pass rusher who'll be turned loose right away, while 6-2, 240-pound Dean Tsopanides is a feisty mauler who can work inside or out. A fighter, he'll step in when needed at a variety of spots.

6-7, 245-pound redshirt freshman Riley McMinn is a huge, smart end who can get into the backfield and be a disruptive force. Quick off the ball, he should be a pass rusher who'll be impossible to throw over, while 6-3, 270-pound Louis Trinca-Pasat is a quick interior presence who'll work behind Bigach at tackle. He has yet to do much seeing a little bit of time and making one tackle, but now he'll be a bigger part of the rotation.

Watch Out For … Cooper. The Hawkeyes really, really need the young players to step up and shine from Day One, and that means Cooper has to be one of the main men on the inside. The job is his if he can handle it, but he'll have to take his lumps for a little while.
Strength: Hope. The Iowa coaching staff always seems to get tremendous production out of the try-hards, and it'll have to do its best work this year. Effort and motor are never problems for the Hawkeye line and it'll be fine with a little bit of time.
Weakness: Experience. There isn't any. There are issues with experience in several spots but the defensive line is the biggest issue. Not only aren't there any real starters to count on, with the possible exception of Alvis, but there's absolutely nothing to get excited about depth-wise.
Outlook: This is going to be a major issue and a big-time work in progress if a few players don't surprise and shine early on. There's potential with several decent-looking underclassmen about to play key roles, but there aren't any sure-thing pass rushers and there aren't any monsters on the inside to eat things up against the run. It's Iowa, so the line will be okay, but it could struggle early on.
Unit Rating: 6


The linebackers were okay, but not great last year. However, junior James Morris did his part tying for the team lead with 119 tackles with a pick and 3.5 tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 230 pounds he has good size and is a tough, hard hitter who beefed up over the last few years and should be one of the Big Ten's best playmakers in the middle. Smart, he's always in the right place at the right time and despite missing a game has held up well.

Joining Morris as one of the team's leading tacklers – tying him with 110 stops – is 6-2, 220-pound junior Christian Kirksey, an undersized speed tackler who moves well and can get into the backfield making a sack with five tackles for loss. Working on the outside, he can play any role after hitting the weight enough to not look like a safety at linebacker. Dominant against Iowa State with 13 tackles, he was steady throughout the year and should be a lock for 100 tackles again.

Junior Anthony Hitchens was supposed to be a big part of the linebacking corps last year but ended up making 25 tackles in eight games after not being quite right with a knee injury. At 6-1 and 224 pounds he has decent enough size after putting on more than ten pounds over the last few years, and now he has to show he can hold up against the run on a regular basis and do more in pass coverage on the weakside.

6-1, 224-pound sophomore Quinton Alston got his feet wet as a true freshman making nine tackles and mostly seeing time in mop-up time, but now he'll work behind Morris in the middle and could be used on the strongside when needed. Quick and talented, he could take over a starting job next year, while 6-3, 230-pound redshirt freshman Travis Perry fits the mold as a beefed up former defensive back working at outside linebacker. The walk-on has great potential at either outside job, while the combination of 6-0, 215-pound sophomore Marcus Collins and 6-2, 218-pound redshirt freshman Cole Fisher will combine to backup Hitchens on the weakside. Collins made eight tackles last season while Fisher is an athlete who got away from Nebraska.

Watch Out For … Hitchens. If he's past the knee injury he has the potential to make 100 stops and be used as a pass rusher. He wasn't quite able to find his role last year and then got hurt, but now he'll have every shot to own the weakside job.
Strength: Tackles and quickness. The Hawkeyes were small here last year with a group of defensive backs being used at linebacker, but now it's a linebacker-sized linebacking corps. However, everyone can still move and everyone can hit with Morris and Kirksey leading the way after combining for 220 tackles.
Weakness: Proven experience among the backups. The linebackers held up reasonably well last year for their size, and they're all tough, but there's not a lot of experience among the backups. It's plug and go when it comes to Iowa linebackers, but there will be a big concern if Morris or Kirksey go down.
Outlook: It'll be an athletic group with a terrific starting three that should combine for well over 300 tackles. There's a chance this could be the strength of the defense with Morris and Kirksey in the hunt for All-Big Ten honors. With their experience, though, they have to make more big plays and have to be more disruptive.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

The secondary has to be more dangerous and come up with more big plays, and that has to start with senior corner Micah Hyde A solid all-around playmaker, he did a little bit of everything two years ago making 82 tackles with four picks and followed it up with 72 tackles and three interceptions. At 6-1 and 190 pounds he has excellent size and is big enough to work at safety if needed – he'd be a whale of a free safety – but all the tools are there with speed, size, and smarts to continue to be a solid corner. He'll be the star of the secondary that teams are going to stay away from.

With Hyde getting so much attention on one side, junior B.J. Lowery has to become a star on the other. A physical tackler, the 5-11, 188-pound veteran saw time in eight games making 11 tackles with three broken up passes after missing the first part of the year hurt. While he could easily move to safety, he's needed at corner and has to stay healthy.

6-2, 201-pound junior Tanner Miller took over the starting free safety job and finished fourth on the team with 76 tackles and tied for the team lead with three picks. His 98-yard pick six turned out to be one of the big keys to the win over Northwestern, and his two interceptions were a huge help on the way to a win over Purdue. Now he has to be a more consistent tackler and use his Iowa high school champion level sprinter speed a bit more. A stat-sheet filler, now he has the experience to do even more.

Taking over the starting strong safety job will be sophomore Nico Law, a good-looking young player who saw a little bit of time throughout his true freshman season making 11 tackles as mostly a special teamer. At 6-1 and 195 pounds he's built a bit like a corner, but he's a tackler who can move. Adding more size to the position is the senior combination of 6-2, 205-pound Tom Donatell and 6-2, 200-pound Collin Sleeper. Donatell is a former walk-on who came to Iowa as a quarterback, moved to linebacker, and made 17 tackles last year, while Sleeper is another former walk-on who chipped in with 14 stops.

5-10, 190-pound sophomore Jordan Lomax got a little time at true freshman making seven tackles, but soon he'll be a key part of the corner rotation. One of the team's fastest players, he should be used more in nickel and dime packages, while 5-11, 187-pound senior veteran Greg Castillo knows what he's doing on the other side with a little bit of career starting experience and making 14 tackles. He has the experience and range to step into several spots when needed.

Watch Out For … Lowery. Hyde is a given on one side and Lowery should be ready to shine at the other corner. He needs to come up with a few picks early to show he can be dangerous, too.
Strength: Depth. There might be a few concerns with Lowery and Law stepping into starting jobs, but overall there are several options for each position and there's plenty of versatility to play around with. The coaching staff shouldn't have a problem getting the right four or five defensive backs on the field at any one time.
Weakness: Interceptions. Miller came up with one big one against Northwestern and two against Purdue, but that was it. Overall the tam came up with just ten interceptions and the defensive front had three of them. Ball-hawking is a must.
Outlook: It's an okay secondary, but it won't be anything great. Picked a part a bit too much, the secondary almost never completely shut down a passing game – including Nebraska's – but it came up with one of its best performances of the year in the blowout loss to Landry Jones and Oklahoma. This has to be a more disruptive, more dangerous group revolving around good veterans Hyde and Miller.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

Junior PK Mike Meyer had a decent year and is just strong enough to be counted on from just about anywhere inside 50 yards. He misses a few chippies and got one blocked, but he ended up connecting on 14-of-20 field goals with two of the misses coming from beyond 50. A reliable veteran, he expanded his range last year and now has to be automatic from close.

The punting game was a major plus with Eric Guthrie averaging 41.2 yards per try with 22 fair catches and 18 put inside the 20, and now it'll be up to former quarterback John Wienke to handle all the job. He's a big player with a huge leg, and after dabbling in the quarterback mix now he'll take the gig full-time.

Corner Micah Hyde was okay on punt returns averaging 8.2 yards per pop, but he has the speed and ability to do more, while Keenan Davis leads a speedy group of kickoff returners that needs to find more pop.

Watch Out For … Wienke. Guthrie bombed away and was terrific at putting it up high and forcing fair catches. Wienke should be able to step in immediately and blast away without a problem.
Strength: Meyer. Iowa always plays lots and lots of close games, and it has a reliable veteran to count on to nail the makeable kicks on a regular basis. He'll come through for at least one key win this year.
Weakness: The mediocre return game. It was fine, but it lacked the spark provided in the past by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and didn't get any big game-changing plays. There's potential, but now it has to come through.
Outlook: The special teams will be fine, but they need to be great for Iowa to have a big year. There will be several close games that could go either way, and if Meyer does what he's supposed to do and if Wienke is solid, the kicking game will be good to match the decent coverage teams and the good returners.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2012 Iowa Preview | 2012 Iowa Offense
- 2012 Iowa Defense | 2012 Iowa Depth Chart
- Iowa Previews  2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006