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Hawk Talk

Defense needs to get better
Hawkeye linebacker James Morris (44) encourages his teammates during a spring practice April 5. (photo by Don Lund)

This week, I’ll look at the defense.

The bottom line for the Hawks to have a good season is getting a pass rush and shutting down the running game.
Reece Morgan, who is in his second year as defensive line coach, has his work cut out for him.
Last year, Iowa had only 13 sacks, the fewest in six years.
Junior Carl Davis (6-5, 315) is getting some good reviews this spring. If he can team up with Darian Cooper (6-2, 280) at the tackle spots, the Hawks should be solid up the middle.
“Carl has some special abilities,” said coach Morgan at the press conference last week. “He’s working harder and I think he’s really going to be an excellent player for us, I really do.”
Darian played in all 12 games last fall, starting one and making 34 tackles.
“We are a lot further ahead this spring than we were last spring,” said Darian at last week’s scrimmage. “We still have a ways to go but as far as effort and intensity we’re on the right track.”
Jaleel Johnson (6-4, 310), who red shirted last year, should supply some depth along with junior Louis Trinca-Pasat (6-3, 290), who is being held out of spring practice with an injury. Louis started all 12 games last year.
Junior Mike Hardy (6-5, 270) should be in the mix at tackle or defensive end.
Starters at defensive end include senior Dominic Alvis (6-4, 265) and sophomore Drew Ott (6-4, 265).
Dominic had three sacks and five tackles for a loss last season while Drew played last year as a true freshman.
Sophomore Riley McMinn (6-7, 260) has the talent but has to stay healthy.
Sophomore Melvin Spears (6-2, 265) played last year after converting from linebacker and Faith Ekakitie (6-3, 287), another top recruit who red shirted last year, is getting some looks at defensive end.
There is some talent there and I believe Coach Morgan will help get the defensive line better.
Also, Iowa should have one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten and the defensive line should get better practicing against them.

LINEBACKERS

The Hawkeyes should have one of the top linebacking groups in the Big Ten.
If the Hawks can develop a tough front four, that will free up the linebackers to make plays.
When Dick Butkus, considered one of the greatest middle linebackers ever (and one of my favorite players), played for the Chicago Bears, he was great because he had a solid front four.
When Iowa had Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Karl Klug and Mike Daniels up front, that allowed Pat Angerer to be an All-Big Ten linebacker.
James Morris (6-2, 240), Christian Kirksey (6-2, 235) and Anthony Hitchens (6-1, 233) are all seniors and are three-year letterman.
Anthony ranked first in the Big Ten in tackles with 124 in 11 games, James was third with 113 tackles and shared the team lead with nine tackles for a loss.
Christian has started 25 straight games in the last two years and led the Big Ten with four fumble recoveries. He also intercepted two passes and returned both for touchdowns.
All three have good speed and all are solid tacklers. They combined for 332 tackles last fall, which is 36 percent of the Hawkeyes tackles.
Backups include junior Quinton Alston (6-1, 232), Travis Perry (6-3, 232), Cole Fisher (6-2, 228) and Marcus Collins (6-9, 222).
Travis and Cole are sophomores and Marcus is a junior.
Quinton played in 10 games last year and had five tackles while Travis played in 11 games with four tackles.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Micah Hyde will be missed in the defensive backfield.
I was a little surprised when Micah was named the Defensive Back of the Year in the Big Ten last season.
Micah had a great career at Iowa, but only had one interception last fall. He did have 14 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and returned another fumble for a touchdown against Purdue.
Who could forget Micah running down the Northwestern running back who took off from Iowa’s 1-yard line.
Micah was a solid punt returner and will also be missed from the special teams.
At the start of spring practice, senior B.J. Lowery (5-11, 193) and sophomore Jordan Lomax (5-10, 195) are the top two corners.
B.J. played in 10 games last year and had 50 tackles and one interception.
Jordan was hurt and didn’t play last fall.
Sophomore Sean Draper (6-0, 180) and red shirt freshman Maurice Fleming (6-0, 188) are listed as backups.
Sean played some in nickel packages and on special teams. Maurice was a top recruit out of Chicago where he was first team, all-state.
Look for sophomore Kevin Buford (5-10, 180), who also played as a freshman, to be in the mix.
Sophomore Torrey Campbell (5-11, 188) has great speed but has been injured.
Senior Tanner Miller (6-2, 207) goes into spring ball as the top free safety. Tanner is a three-year letterman, had 69 tackles, three tackles for a loss and one interception.
The strong safety is junior Nico Law (6-1, 200). Nico played in all 12 games last fall with four starts and had 28 tackles.
Backups include junior John Lowdermilk (6-2, 207), red shirt freshman Anthony Gair (6-2, 200) and red shirt freshman Reuben Lile (6-3, 210).
Reuben is coming off a torn ACL which he injured in fall preseason camp. He was in the mix before he got injured so hopefully he’s 100 percent by next fall.
I can’t believe Iowa’s opponents completed 63 percent of their passes. Part of that was lack of a pass rush. James Vandenberg only completed 57 percent last fall.
I am glad that Phil Parker is back coaching the defensive backs. He will run the defense with Jim Reid and when you hear Jim talk, you know he’s a winner.
Next week I’ll finish up with special teams and talk about the spring scrimmage.