April 17, 2012

Defense: What did we learn?

While the changes haven't been quite as drastic in terms of a completely new face running the Iowa defense, there is certainly a renewed energy on that side of the football this spring.

Think about this for a second, all three positions are being coached by new individuals and that seems to have put a spring in the step of many Iowa players trying to impress their new bosses. One of those bosses is Iowa's new defensive coordinator Phi Parker, who might be bringing a little something that Iowa fans have been wanting for a long time, a more aggressive approach on defense.

Even though fans wanted more blitzing and tighter coverage in the secondary, it's hard to find fault with what Norm Parker did as defensive coordinator during his tenure. The results, as they say, speak volumes.

In listening to Phil Parker talk last week, it appears that the Hawkeyes more aggressive approach is more out of necessity this year and time will tell if it will be a true philosophical change. Whatever the cause and however long it lasts, it will be a departure from the past and could end up being more of a drastic change than the new offense being installed by Greg Davis.

We got our first long look at Iowa's new look defense this past Saturday. What did we learn?

We learned that the more aggressive approach is real. We can all be skeptical at times and not believe what is said one day will be reality on the field the following day. In this case, Phil Parker talking about more blitzing and more man coverage in the secondary appears to be the real deal.

It will take time for the Hawkeye players to adjust from a style they have been playing to this new approach, but they seem to be quick studies and have picked it up rather quickly. There will be a few bumps in the road as Iowa adjusts to more blitzes and tighter man coverage by cornerbacks, but it could also pay dividends if they can create more mistakes and turnovers.

We learned that the defensive line might not be as weak as many thought heading into the 2012 season. Let's be clear, that doesn't mean this is the 2004 or 2009 defensive front four, but they showed some flashes of pretty solid play. Darian Cooper has a real quick first step for a tackle and Iowa needs him to be good. Louis Trinca-Pasat has added a good amount of bulk to his frame and his quickness at tackle is very apparent. He might not be a 50 snap a game guy yet, but he can add a real change of pace in the middle. Trinca-Pasat along with Joe Gaglione have made the biggest strides in the past year and that's why they were working with the first team on Saturday. One name to watch will be Melvin Spears, who has quite a few people close to the program talking about his potential. He's still on the second team, but he's going to play a lot this fall.

We learned that Nico Law isn't afraid to hit people. Every team needs a guy who can give the whole unit a swagger on the field and Law does that and then some. While his helmet jarring tackle of Damon Bullock may not have been perfect from a technical point of view, it's the type of play that Iowa needs this year and in the years to come. While it would never be fair to compare another Hawkeye player to Bob Sanders, Iowa needs a player with that kind of attitude and Law just might be that guy.

We learned that B.J. Lowery is a keeper. The junior to be cornerback is probably better than he realizes at this point and when he figures out just how good he is, lookout. He's a playmaker and by the end of the season, we might look back and say he was Iowa's best cover corner on the roster. Keep an eye on sophomore to be Jordan Lomax. The coaches are very high on his potential and right now he's the Hawkeyes nickel back and will see a lot of playing time this fall.

We learned that Iowa's linebackers are an athletic bunch. It would be silly to say James Morris had a down year as a sophomore, but the Hawkeye middle linebacker is playing like there's a bit of a chip on his shoulder and that's a good thing. Veteran Christian Kirksey and new starter Anthony Hitchens can really run and play with a good deal of quickness, something Iowa has lacked at times in the past.

Finally, we learned that the decision on who punts for the Hawkeyes is yet to be determined. John Wienke and Jonny Mullings didn't do anything to hurt their chances on Saturday and both showed improvement from where they were last fall. Having said that, Connor Kornbrath is waiting in the wings to challenge for the job this fall. This position battle will linger well into fall camp and right now it's hard to say who is the odds on favorite to win the job.

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