2013 Iowa Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Iowa Hawkeye Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
Second year defensive coordinator Phil Parker got a decent first year out of a D that wasn't ripped apart, but it didn't do too much to change games around. The linebacking corps should be the team's biggest strength with three excellent starters in Christian
Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens, but they have to be more disruptive to help a line that was woeful at getting into the backfield and hitting the quarterback. Corner Micah Hyde is done, but three starters are back in a serviceable secondary that avoided the big bomb but got dinked and dunked on.
Star of the defense: Senior LB James Morris
Tackles: Anthony Hichens, 124
Sacks: Dominic Alvis, 3
Interceptions: Christian Kirksey, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE Drew Ott
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Carl Davis
Best pro prospect: Morris
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Morris, 2) LB Anthony Hitchens, 3) LB Christian
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Big Plays
Where's the pass rush? It has to try to come from Dominic Alvis, a 6-4, 265-pound senior who finished second on the team with three sacks, but he didn't do too much against the run making 31 stops. His biggest problem is his health – it's not great over the course of his career. While he'll get physical, it has come at a cost with a knee injury a few years ago and more pains last year. Extremely promising, he's a great athlete who's tough enough to work on the inside if needed, and he's fast enough to do even more on the outside. The tools are all there, but it's the same problem as last year – he has to stay healthy.
Also needing to get to 100% is defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat, a 6-3, 290-pound interior presence who's quick on the inside and versatile, but he's trying to come back from a shoulder problem. Great in the classroom, he also started every game last season on the inside making 40 tackles and four tackles for loss. While he's not an anchor to work around, he's a producer. Until he's ready, 6-5, 310-pound junior Carl Davis might serve as a burgeoning playmaker. The big left tackle was fantastic when given the chance this offseason. He made 14 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss, but he has the size and experience to do even more.
If Trinca-Pasat doesn't come back to take over on the left side, he might push out 6-2, 280-pound sophomore Darian Cooper from the right. Cooper was a key part of the rotation making 34 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, and the big athlete from Baltimore has the upside to do far more. With a good frame and nice strength, he has the potential to start gumming things up on the inside.
Trying to complement Alvis on the outside is 6-4, 245-pound sophomore Drew Ott, a quick 6-4, 265-pounder who saw time as a true freshman, getting his feet wet late in the season. He burned his redshirt and made three tackles, but the 2011 Gatorade Nebraska Player of the Year and Parade All-American doing a little of everything on both sides of the ball. Also fighting for time on the outside is
6-7, 245-pound sophomore 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. He made just four tackles last season.
Watch Out For … Nathan Bazata and Brant Gressel, two big tackles who'll someday be te key parts to the interior. The 6-2, 280-pound Bazata was in the hunt for Nebraska Player of the Year honors after coming up with a big year as a pass rusher. Gressel is also 6-2 and 280 pounds and he's also a pass rusher, but the Ohio native isn't quite as disruptive. Extremely active, he'll make things happen.
Strength: Size. It's a large front four with ends the size of smallish defensive tackles and bulky, active defenders in the interior. At least on size, it should be tough to push the front four around.
Weakness: Pass rush. There isn't any. The defense only came up with 13 sacks, and only 8.5 of them came from the front and five coming from Joe Gaglione. The call has gone out to be far better at getting to the quarterback, and the production will need to come from all four spots.
Outlook: This wasn't a bad line, and if everyone can stay healthy it should be solid against the run. Can it get into the backfield? Being disruptive was a huge problem and it could be a big problem again if Alvis isn't getting any help.
Unit Rating: 6.5
There's terrific potential to do far more, but the experience has to translate into more production. 6-1, 224-pound senior Anthony Hitchens cranked out a whopping 124 tackles, but he wasn't enough of a difference-maker. He was good, but he needs to come up with more impact plays with just a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss on the weakside. The biggest problem was the lack of production against the pass – he didn't really do much. There's no problem with speed, quickness and athleticism, but the tackle numbers have to be more meaningful. He'll be backed up by sophomore Cole Fisher, a safety-like defender with great athleticism to make up for his 6-2, 218-pound size. Mostly a special teamer, he has to be a part of the rotation.
Anchoring the middle is 6-2, 230-pound senior James Morris, a strong hitter who followed up a 119-stop season with 113 stops with 1.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss and a pick. Good against the pass, he has great range and the smarts to sniff out big plays. An impact veteran, he should once again be among the Big Ten's leading tacklers with his great anticipation and tackling skills. Working behind him is 6-1, 224-pound junior Quinton Alston, who got his feet wet as a true freshman and followed it up with just five tackles in a disappointing second year. Quick and talented, he has the skills to do far more.
Also returning to a starting spot is senior Christian Kirksey on the outside. An undersized speed tackler, he's 6-2 and 220 pounds with terrific tackling skills. After coming up with 110 tackles, he rolled up 95 stops with two sacks with two picks - both for scores - four recovered fumbles and 3.5 tackles for loss. After hitting the weights hard over the last few years, he's strong enough and tough enough to hold up again to be a steady and solid defender. 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Travis Perry adds a little more size to the equation. Extremely smart, the former walk-on is great in the classroom, but he mostly works on special teams coming up with four tackles.
Watch Out For … John Kenny, arguably the team's top recruit. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he needs time to find the weight room and get up to at least 225 pounds, but he's a playmaker. An outstanding tackler, he doesn't miss an open-field stop.
Strength: Tacklers. The three starting linebackers came up with 332 stops last season after they came up with over 300 the year before. Kirksey, Morris and Hitchens know what they're doing.
Weakness: Big plays. Yeah, there were lots and lots of tackles, but there were too many down the field and not enough impact moments. With so much experience, the coaching staff is expecting more.
Outlook: With the veterans coming back, there's a chance Iowa could have the most productive linebacking corps in the Big Ten. It might not be the most talented crew, but the numbers will be fantastic. The backups need time and options have to be developed for next year, but for now, the starting three will be the team's biggest strength by a mile.
Unit Rating: 8.5
The Iowa secondary only loses one starter, but he's a good one. Micah Hyde was a do-it-all playmaker in the defensive backfield, and now it'll be up to sophomore Jordan Lomax, a promising 5-10, 190-pounder who was supposed to be a big part of the equation last season but was knocked out with a shoulder injury early on. One of the team's fastest players, he won't have too many problems staying with the speedier targets. He'll work in a rotation with 6-0, 180-pound sophomore Sean Draper, a good-looking speedster who was an Ohio track star along with a good receiver and defensive back on the football team. He got his feet wet last season making six tackles and breaking up a pass.
Returning to the other side is veteran B.J. Lowery, a 5-11, 188-pound senior who tackles well and can get physical, but he has to stay 100% after missing time in the first half of the year hurt. Even so, he came back and was fine making 50 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes. While he's a corner, he could move over to safety without a problem if needed.
6-2, 201-pound senior Tanner Miller took over the starting free safety job two years ago and finished fourth on the team with 76 tackles with three picks including a few really, really big plays. He kept up the production last season with 69 tackles with three tackles for loss and five broken up passes. A stat-sheet filler, he has great range with Iowa high school champion level speed and good pop.
It'll take a combination to work at strong safety with 6-2, 203-pound junior John Lowdermilk, a rising option who looked good this offseason but now needs to prove himself on the field after making just six tackles. With a good combination of skills, he can work as a nickel or dime defender if he doesn't push his way into the strong safety gig. 6-1, 195-pound junior Nico Law grew into the starting job making 28 tackles with two tackles for loss. Now he has to make more plays when the ball is in the air and has to be more like a true safety rather than a tough corner.
Watch Out For … Solomon Warfield, the best of a good lot of new safeties. The 6-0, 185-pound Ohio native didn't do too much in high school against the pass, but he's a good hitter who should be able to play a variety of roles.
Strength: Experience. With Lomax healthy and ready to roll, the Hawkeyes are loaded with veterans and decent hitters across the board. There might not be a Hyde, but there's enough talent to get by.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Hawkeyes came up with ten on the year, but the projected 2013 starters combined for a grand total of just two. The pass rush didn't provide any help, but the secondary has to come up with more game-changers.
Outlook: Expect more of the same. This is a good secondary, but it's not going to be an elite one unless the pass rushers are far better and quarterbacks start to hurry their throws a bit more. It's not going to get roasted on a regular basis, but coming up with big plays have been a problem over the years and it still could be an issue.
Unit Rating: 7
Senior kicker Mike Meyer is back for another season as the starter after hitting 14-of-20 field goals two years ago and 17-of-21 last year. Reliable inside 50 yards, he doesn't have a huge leg, but outside of two misses against Penn State, he was solid and showed enough range to be tried out from 45 yards or so.
The punting game was among the worst in college football, but Connor Kornbrath is back after a rocky freshman season averaging 37.9 yards per punt putting just ten inside the 20. He has a good leg and he can hang it up high, but he needs to start coming up with more of a blast.
Replacing Micah Hyde and his 7.4 yards per punt return won't be that hard with receiver Jake Cotton getting a look after a whale of a season returning kicks. The speedster averaged a whopping 28.2 yards per try with a 92-yard score.
Watch Out For … the No. 2 punter. Kornbrath should have the job for the next three seasons, but he needs to be far better. The overall punt return stats weren't bad, but the net average needs to be higher. There's no one behind him with any experience, so it's all on him to improve the situation.
Strength: Meyer. He might not have a cannon, but he's reliable and he can come through in the clutch. With the experience to go along with a midrange leg, he should be the difference in at least one game.
Weakness: Punt returns. It's not like Hyde did much last year to improve the situation, and now the Hawkeyes have to find a steady producer who can come up with over eight yards per pop.
Outlook: The special teams are above-average. The coverage teams are terrific and Meyer and Cotton are excellent. If the punting game can average more than 40 yards per pop and a decent punt returner can be found, this will be a plus.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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