This is the fourth part of spring football preview. The week I’ll look at the defensive backs and special teams. I’ll also talk about the spring scrimmage which was held last Saturday at Kinnick.
The Hawkeyes have to replace two defensive backs that had solid senior seasons.
Shaun Prater was a three-year starter and was named first team All-Big Ten last fall. He had seven interceptions in his career and returned two of them for touchdowns.
Jordan Bernstine, who battled injuries most of his career, started 11 games last season. He had 83 tackles his senior year, including 15 against Michigan. He ranked seventh in the Big Ten in kickoff returns with a 23.8 average.
Jordan ran a 4.3 40 during Iowa’s pro day. He should have a shot of being drafted.
The Hawks return two starters from last year as Micah Hyde (6-1, 190) is back for his senior season at cornerback. He was named first team All-Big Ten last year by College Football Madness.
Micah, who played as a true freshman, had one of the great Hawkeye interceptions of all time against Missouri in the Insight Bowl with a 72-yard pick six in 2010.
Last year, Micah tied for first in the Big Ten with 11 passes defended.
“We put some pressure on Micah Hyde to be a leader,” said defensive coordinator Phil Parker last week. “Micah has definitely stepped up and made some plays in the spring so far. He’s been here long enough so he should know what’s going on.”
Greg Castillo (5-11, 187) is listed as backup. He played in all 13 games last fall and started the first two with Micah starting at free safety. Greg is a senior, will bring experience and could play in the nickel formation.
Junior Tanner Miller (6-2, 201) also returns after starting the final 11 games at free safety.
Tanner picked off a pass against Northwestern last year and returned it 98 yards for a score which tied an Iowa record. He had 52 tackles and three interceptions.
John Lowdermilk (6-2, 203) is a sophomore and is the number two man on the depth chart at free safety.
John played in 11 games as a true freshman and should see action on special teams.
The strong safety has a lot of competition with sophomore Nico Law (6-1, 195) listed as the starter. He played in all 13 games last fall as a true freshman, mostly on special teams.
New defensive back coach Darrel Wilson compared Nico to Bob Sanders and has told him to tone it down a little in practice.
Coach Wilson also said opponents were double teaming Nico on kickoff returns after Nico had early success with big tackles.
“One thing about Nico, he’s an aggressive guy and that‘s why we recruited him,” said coach Parker. “He was aggressive on film and he likes to run around a lot. Just need him to slow down a little bit mentally and need him to catch up a little bit, but he’s improved the last week and a half.”
Tom Donatell (6-2, 205) and Collin Sleeper (6-2, 200) are listed as backups to Nico.
Both are seniors and both played a lot last year.
Tom saw action in all 13 games last year while Collin played in 11, starting the first two games at strong safety.
Eric Guthrie did a good job coming in to punt for the Hawkeyes last season. He was a fifth-year senior and had to wait behind Ryan Donahue for four years.
Eric ranked sixth in the Big Ten in punting (41.2) and helped lead the Big Ten in net punting (38.0) in 2011.
Right now John Wienke (6-5, 220) is listed the top punter as well as a backup quarterback. Jonny Mullings (6-3, 210) is number two.
Look for freshman Conner Kornbrath (6-7, 210) to challenge for the punting position in the fall.
Mike Meyer (6-2, 185) is back for his junior season and is the leader for kickoffs and field goals.
Mike was 14-20 in field goals and made all 44 PAT attempts.
He will be challenged by senior Trent Mossbrucker (6-0, 204) and redshirt freshman Marshall Koehn (6-0, 160).
Trent has scored 86 points in his career going 13-15 field goals and 44-47 extra points.
Marshall, who prepped in Solon, might have the strongest leg and could get a shot at kickoffs.
Micah Hyde is back to return punts. He returned 13 punts last fall averaging 8.2 yards per return.
Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley have the most experience returning kickoffs, each returning four.
Damon Bullock also had a couple of returns for the Hawks.
There could be one or two freshman in the mix for kickoff returns next fall.
The Hawks need to improve their kickoff coverage if they want a chance to compete for the Big Ten championship.