Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Final Fall Preview: Defense and Special Teams

Defensive End

Starters: Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard

Adrian Clayborn is one of the more interesting players on this year’s roster. As dominant and talented as anyone on the defense, his stats don’t always reflect this. Clayborn had 50 total tackles, eight of those for loss, and two sacks. Clayborn was recently named to the football team’s leadership committee. This comes only months after he was involved in an altercation with a taxi driver. The fact that he’s was allowed to be named to the committee, and that Kirk Ferentz hasn’t suspended him immediately, tells us that there is probably more to the story than Clayborn simply beating the hell out of a cab operator. Gazette sportswriter Mike Hlas reported in a chat that while speaking at an I-Club event, offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said there was no one on offense like Adrian Clayborn. In terms of talent level, that’s extraordinarily interesting. Mainly because Clayborn goes head-to-head with Bryan Bulaga. Quite a compliment.

To be completely honest, Christian Ballard was one of the biggest disappointments of 2008. Not that he played poorly, or without effort, but he wasn’t the explosive defensive end I thought he could be. Both his tackles for loss and sacks dropped from his freshman year; a year where he got significantly less playing time. Playing along Kroul, King, and Clayborn, Ballard certainly wasn’t getting double-teamed often. Hopefully it was only a sophomore slump and he’ll rebound this season.

Backups: Broderick Binns, Chad Geary

Broderick Binns’ play is the major reason Ballard seemed to be subpar. As a freshman, Binns collected 20 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two pass break ups, and one recovered fumble. Binns will probably play the same role as he did last year, 3rd down pass rusher. Look for him to start earning some more minutes, especially if one of the starters slides in to defensive tackle.

Chad Geary tore his ACL earlier in the Spring. Geary is a decent player who has really bulked up since his freshmen year. This is unfortunate due to the lack of depth of the defensive line. He’s one of those back-ups where you know exactly what you’re going to get every game and every down.

Newcomers: Tyler Harrell

Harrell made 90 tackles, including 69 as a senior. He finished with seven tackles for loss, eight pass deflections, three sacks and one interception

Defensive Tackle

Starters: Karl Klug, Mike Daniels

6'4, 255 pounds, Klug is the front runner to start. He played so well in spot duty against Florida International last season that he earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Klug is more slender than King and Kroul, but tough as nails. He also played well in the upset victory against Penn St.; namely when he broke through the line to stuff Evan Royster as the Nittany Lions were driving.

Mike Daniels (6’1, 267) is the other probable starter. Career stats: Six tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack. That’s it. Scary. This is not to say the type of player he is or is capable of being, only that there’s very little production returning at defensive tackle.

Backups: Cody Hundertmark, Steve Bigach, Travis Meade

Both Cody Hundertmark (6'4, 276) and Steven Bigach (6’3, 270) redshirted last year. Former offensive lineman Travis Meade (6'2, 285) has made the switch to defensive tackle.

Likely to be a position “by committee”, Hawkeye fans have to, and should be, concerned about the depth and inexperience here.

Newcomers: Martin Hopkins, Scott Covert

Martin Hopkins has an impressive list of awards: Prep Football Report Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, Chicago Tribune, Champaign News-Gazette and Illinois High School Football Coaches Association first team all-state as a senior, Chicago Sun-Times all-area as a senior, named first team all-conference and conference defensive MVP as a senior. Only 6’3, 230 right now, Hopkins may be a future starter at defensive tackle.

Scott Covert collected 65 tackles, 20 sacks and 13 tackles for loss over his last two seasons.

Big 10 Defensive Line Rank: 5/11
1. Brandon Graham – Michigan
2. Jared Odrick – Penn State
3. Jammie Kirlew – Indiana
4. Corey Wooton – Northwestern
5. Adrian Clayborn – Iowa
6. Trevor Anderson – Michigan State
7. Ryan Kerrigan – Purdue
8. Thaddeus Gibson – Ohio State
9. O’Brien Schofield - Wisconsin
10. Garrett Brown - Minnesota
11. Corey Liuget – Illinois


Starter: Pat Angerer

I love Pat Angerer. Everything about him I love. His last name, no excuses attitude, play, swagger, demeanor, etc. Everything. Not only that, he has the one thing a true MLB needs: a part of his brain that’s not just quite right. A crazy edge. Bill Romanowski-ness. Angerer is the type of the guy that you love having on your team, if only so he’s not on the other one. Though he’s not the biggest guy in the world, Angerer finds a way to get it done. #43 led the team in tackles last season (107) and tied for the Big Ten lead in interceptions (5) with strong safety Tyler Sash. He was a second team All Big Ten selection last season and is one of 42 players named to the pre-season Lott Trophy Watch List for 2009.

Backups: Jacody Coleman, Bruce Davis

There were serious transfer rumors surrounding Jacody Coleman this season. Word is that he’s decided to stay and will redshirt this season. Presumably, that redshirt will be taken off faster than Clark Kent’s suit if Angerer goes down. Coleman is great in the running game, but still struggles with his pass coverage. It was essential that the Hawkeyes keep Coleman, as he will probably step into the starting role in 2010.

Bruce Davis is a high-school teammate of current Hawkeyes DE Lebron Daniel and DB Derrick Smith and former Hawkeye QB Arvell Nelson. The Glenville connection (Ted Ginn) has not paid dividends. Yet.


Starters: A.J. Edds, Jeremiha Hunter

As good as Pat Angerer, Adrian Clayborn, and Amari Spievey are, A.J. Edds is the player that makes the defense work as well as it does. He debunked the myth that a linebacker can’t cover a receiver. He does, and he does it very well. Although the Hawkeye defense is frequently in zone coverage, Edds has the ability to shut down the slot receiver or tight end he is covering. This is the polar opposite of years past. Specifically, the Iowa State game of 2007 (Klink) and the Ohio State of 2006 (Humpal, Klink, Everyone). He allows the Hawks to play the style they do. Without him, it would not work nearly as well.

Jeremiha Hunter was one of the pleasant surprises of 2008. Hunter was neck-and-neck with linebacker Jeff Tarpinian in fall ball when Tarp went down with an injury. Hunter grabbed the spot and never let go. Different season, same story. Hunter and Tarpinian are locked in a position battle again. Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker said, “It’s closer than Hunter thinks it is.”

Backups: Jeff Tarpinian, Tyler Nielsen

Jeff Tarpinian **see above

Tyler Nielsen was the best player on kickoff coverage in 2008. He was routinely in on tackles, looked very fast, and improved a unit that had been dreadful in 2007. (Note: Huge exception: Minnesota. But it was 55-0. So no one cared.)

Big 10 Rank: 4/11
1. Sean Lee – Penn State
2. Greg Jones – Michigan State
3. Martez Wilson – Illinois
4. A.J. Edds – Iowa
5. Jaevery McFadden – Wisconsin
6. Obi Ezeh – Michigan
7. Bryan Rolle – Ohio State
8. Matt Mayberry – Indiana
9. Joe Holland – Purdue
10. Simoni Lawrence - Minnesota
11. Quentin Davie – Northwestern

Corner Backs

Starters: Amari Spievey, Jordan Bernstine

How many superlatives and adjectives can you give to Amari Spievey? ‘Superman’ for ICCC. Best corner ever at Iowa. Best defensive player. Best player on the team? No one was throwing these terms around for Jovon Johnson, Antwann Allen, Adam Shada, etc. Here’s his line: Four interceptions, 127 return yards on said picks (only bested by Sash), one touchdown (the second quarter dagger he stabbed the Golden Gophers with). If Bradley Fletcher was a 3rd round draft pick, just think of the possibilities for Spievey. Limitless.

Jordan Bernstine is a bit of an enigma. Highly recruited by many high-caliber programs across the nation. He’s only really played as the nickel back and on special teams. This is his year to establish himself. The starting spot has been gift-wrapped and delivered to him by Shaun Prater. Career stats thus far: one pass break-up, one interception, and 21 tackles.

Backups: Shaun Prater, William Lowe, Greg Castillo

That tricky bartender, who is employed by a bar, devilishly put alcohol in Prater’s drinks all night. This resulted in an arrest on the drive home. Regardless, his suspension is going to hurt.

Behind Prater are Lowe and Castillo, two players with very little game experience. They are going to be asked to step in right away. There will be growing pains. Those pains will likely result in huge gains and/or touchdowns. The secondary will be scary good when he comes back.

Newcomers: Micah Hyde

Hyde totaled 165 tackles, eight interceptions and seven passes defended at cornerback, also had 549 carries for 3,443 yards and 46 touchdowns.

Free Safety

Starter: Brett Greenwood

Brett Greenwood is the most undervalued member of the swarming Hawkeye defense. 68 tackles, two interceptions, six passes broken up. Although he’s not a physical ‘presence,’ he isn’t afraid to hit and often lays opposing receivers out. Fans often bag on him, but he’s smart, tough, and rarely out of position. He certainly isn’t a weak link.

Backup: Jack Swanson

Iowa lost both of their back up safety’s after Lance Tillison and Diauantae Morrow decided to transfer. Jack Swanson steps into the reserve free safety spot. As a high schooler, Swanson was first team all-state and News-Press Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. This all coming in one of the top three football states in the country: Florida.

Strong Safety

Starter: Tyler Sash

The playmaking strong safety led the Big 10 in interceptions (5) and return yards (147). Not only did Sash make plays, he made them in the most dire times (4th quarter vs. Penn State, 2 in Outback Bowl, in the end zone vs. Iowa State). Don’t forget, Sash wasn’t even starting to begin the year. He beat out incumbent starter Harold Dalton. Only a sophomore, Sash could turn out to be one of Iowa’s best safety’s. An impressive list that includes Bob Sanders, Sean Considine, Derek Pagel, Marcus Paschal and many more. Sash may never reach Bob Sanders’ type impact, but Considine is definitely within reach.

Backup: David Cato

Cato also moves into a back up role after the transfers. A special teams player as a freshman, Cato was tabbed with 13 tackles, one pass break up, and one forced fumble. He is a fierce hitter and should learn well behind Sash. Look for #31 destroying returners on kickoffs next year.

Big 10 Secondary Rank: 2/11
1. Kurt Coleman – SS - Ohio State
2. Amari Spievey – CB – Iowa
3. Ray Fisher – CB – Indiana
4. Drew Astorino – S – Penn State
5. Traye Simmons - CB – Minnesota
6. Danny Fortener – S – Michigan State
7. Aaron Henry – CB - Wisconsin
8. Donovan Warren – CB – Michigan
9. Torri Williams – S - Purdue
10. Brad Phillips – S - Northwestern
11. Tavon Wilson – CB – Illinois

Special Teams


Starter: Ryan Donahue

Donahue punted 50 times for 2078 yards, an average 41.6 yards per punt. His long was 64 yards.

Backup: Eric Guthrie


Starter: Daniel Murray

After hitting the kick to seal the biggest win of the season, Murray seems to have a hold on the starting role. Murray knocked in 6/9 field goals and a perfect 14/14 extra points.

Backup: Trent Mossbrucker

Murray’s Penn State kick seems to have had the opposite effect on Mossbrucker, the kicker who is on scholarship. Mossbrucker was an impressive 13/15 of field goals; however his long was only 39 yards. He was 31/33 on PATs.

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