This is the final preseason look at Iowa football. The last couple of weeks I’ve discussed all of the offense and the defensive line. This week I’ll talk about the linebackers, defensive backs and special teams.
The starting linebackers, Christian Kirksey (6-2, 220), James Morris (6-2, 230) and Anthony Hitchens (6-1, 224) have a few things in common. They all are juniors, very athletic and they all have speed.
You want to talk about good athletes, James and Anthony combined for over 10,000 yards rushing in high school (James, 6,646 yards; Anthony 3,864 yards). James scored 110 touchdowns and Anthony scored 52 which is 162 combined.
Two of the greatest running backs who grew up in Iowa and played for the Hawkeyes… Tim Dwight and Tavian Banks totaled 8,545 yards (Tim 4,188 yards, Tavian 4,357) and scored a combined 156 touchdowns (Tim 81, Tavian 75).
James did his totals in three years, Tim and Tavian in two. Tavian averaged over 11 yards per carry during his senior year playing football at Bettendorf.
James is in his third year and it doesn’t seem that long ago that he was leading the Solon Spartans to three straight state championships.
“It’s going fast,” said James about his Hawkeye career. “As you get older, every year is that much faster than the last one. It puts time in perspective and I understand I’m halfway done. The back nine, per say, so I’m trying to make the most of the time I have left.”
In James’ first year, he played in all 13 games, starting six.
He was named first team Freshman All-American and was on the Big Ten All-Freshmen team.
Last year he started 12 games, was named academic All-Big Ten and honorable mention All-Big Ten, sharing the team lead in tackles with Christian Kirksey.
Christian was named Missouri All-American and first team all-state growing up in St. Louis.
Quinton Alston (6-1, 224) played middle linebacker last year as a true freshman and will be playing a lot on special teams this fall.
“In high school, we specialized on run defense,” said Quinton, who also has good speed. “Now I’m just trying to balance out run defense and pass defense, trying to get back to all my coverages and all my drops. Coach Woods and coach Wilson have helped me out so far and they are very great coaches.”
Backups on the outside include walk on Travis Perry (6-3, 230), Cole Fisher (6-2, 218) and Marcus Collins ( 6-0, 215). All have good speed and have a big upside.
The defensive backfield will be one of the strong points for the Hawks this fall. Offensive line and linebackers are good but the defensive backs could be a key to a good season.
Since the d-line is young, Phil Parker, the new defensive coordinator, might do a little more blitzing which means more man-to-man coverage.
Iowa has the corners to do that and it all starts with Micah Hyde (6-1, 190). Micah played as a true freshman and has a knack of making big-time plays. His 72-yard interception return for a touchdown against Missouri in the Insight Bowl helped him get nominated defensive player of the game in his sophomore year. Micah was honorable mention All-Big Ten that season.
Last year Micah was named first team All-Big Ten and should be on the first team this year.
B.J. Lowery (5-11, 188) is the other corner who plays with a lot of confidence.
How about the last play of the Michigan game when B.J. broke up a pass in the end zone to help beat the Wolverines 24-16? B.J. will be a junior and needs to have a solid year for the Hawks to be successful.
Tanner Miller (6-2, 201) will start out at free safety. His 98-yard interception return for a touchdown was a key play in Iowa’s win over Northwestern last year.
“Tanner improved as the year went on,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz. “He started to look like he was figuring it out.”
The strong safety position will be a battle between senior Tom Donatell (6-2, 205) and sophomore Nico Law (6-1, 195).
Tom played in all 13 games as a sophomore, eight games last season with two starts at linebacker.
Nico saw action in all 13 games last year, mostly on special teams, where he had seven tackles and four assists.
Backups at corner back include Torrey Campbell (5-11, 183) who is one of the fastest players on the team and Greg Castillo (5-11, 187), who is a three-year letterman.
Second team safeties are John Lowdermilk (6-2, 203) and Collin Sleeper (6-2, 200) another former Solon Spartan. Collin will have to sit out the first couple of games due to a suspension.
Special teams start with junior Mike Meyer (6-2, 185).
Mike was 14-20 in field goals last year and made all 44 extra point attempts. In 2010, Mike had 15 touchbacks on kickoffs, last year only four. That needs to get better, if not, Marshall Koehn (6-0, 160), a redshirt freshman from Solon will do the kickoffs.
Marshall was all-state his senior year, hit 49-56 extra points and 13-18 field goals for the Spartans.
The punting game will be a battle between senior John Wienke (6-5, 220) and incoming freshman Connor Kornbrath (6-6, 215). Neither has punted in a game so it will be interesting who comes out on top.
Micah Hyde will be the top punt returner while Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley will return kickoffs.
Micah returned 13 punts last year for an 8.2 average.
Keenan, for his career, has 14 kickoff returns for an 18.9 average while Kevonte has four kickoff returns and a 20.5 yard average.
The key stat is ball security in the return game.
Coach Ferentz has always emphasized strong special teams and when they are good, usually the team is as well.
That wraps up the preview of Iowa football and I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of just talking about football. Let’s play some games.