Phil Parker discusses Iowa defense

At Iowa's Media Day, Phil Parker discussed his 2020 Hawkeye defense, where they are at right now in the preseason, which players are pushing for playing time, and much more.


I hope everyone and their families are doing well.

It’s good to be back and the biggest thing about being back is the routine. I know when they put the season back on, it was good for me, I think it was good for our coaching staff, and it was good for our players. We are very fortunate to have this opportunity to have practices and I think they have been going pretty well. The kids are really getting close together as a team and we have seen some great improvements in the last couple of days. After another week we will be in game week and that will be another set of challenges for us. Knock on wood, everything is going well.

Defensively the strength of our team is at linebacker right now. They have looked really good, even with the opt out of Djimon (Colbert). We respect his decision by not playing this year because of the virus. I believe the linebackers are a strength and I believe the defensive line is a positive and in the last couple of weeks that has been showing up.

Then we have some holes in the back end. We have Dane Belton back and we have Jack Koerner, who has done a good job. Then you look at the depth with Riley Moss and Matt Hankins and how much football they have played and Julius Brents has really showed some good things in the last couple of days and I am really excited about him. As a coach, you are never where you want to be, but we are moving in the right direction and moving forward.

Q: With Belton, he has primarily playing the Cash in the past. He said yesterday maybe he’s playing a little more safety. How do you see that fitting if he goes to safety full time and who could be your Cash?

PARKER: One thing about that position and we sit and talk about it as a staff, you always wonder if it would be better for him to be at one spot. Right now he’s working at both spots. There’s another guy in there in Merriweather, who could play strong or free safety. If we were going to go in a different direction and leave him at safety then we could pull in a Riley Moss or Matt Hankins. So if we decide to make the change, we have guys who could go in there.

I think there are a lot of things he needs to know, but I think he is capable of doing both. I have high expectations for Dane this year and he can play multiple positions.

Q: What you like about your linebackers?

PARKER: I was walking on the field the other day and I looked the size of them. I like how they can move and their work ethic and how they can play. Nick (Niemann) and Jack (Campbell) have length to them and they really enjoy the game of football. They have a great understand and they see the line up front and what’s around them and I am excited to see what they can do.

Q: Having a pass rush is so key to what you guys do. What is it going to take to have a pass rush like you have had in the last few years?

PARKER: Obviously I think Golston has done well and progressed into being a good pass rusher. The other guy is Nixon. He’s a big guy that can really move on the inside, but you could put him on the edge if you have to. We can put some other guys on the edge and work in some sub packages, but we haven’t gotten that far.

Q: Where does Merriweather stand right now?

PARKER: Well, he missed time last year. He started the first game and got hurt and Jack Koerner never gave up the starting spot again. I think he has done a good job of maturing as a player and doing what he needs to do. He has played free, strong, and cash for us so far in camp and even at times he has been in at corner to help us get through a drill. I think the way his attitude is, he has really matured and can help us this year.

Q: You look at Julius Brents last year he was out part of the time hurt. How has he grown from his freshman year and how can you use him this year?

PARKER: He is very talented. I spent a lot of time with him and got closer with him after March when I was rehabbing my knee a little bit when he and I were in the training room getting a little treatment done. We got closer during that time and we had conversations that I think built a better relationship and his understanding of what kind of kid he is and how hard he works. I think his movements have improved. With taller and lankier guys it’s harder to change direction and he can move his feet. In his last couple of weeks I have seen improvement from him and he can help us out either as a starter or being part of a sub package. If we have to move Dane to strong safety and if we have to move Riley inside at Cash, I feel confident him Julius out there with Hankins at the corners.

Q: As far as pass rush, no one person could replace AJ. Do you do it with sub packages or through the usual front four that you would have out there?

PARKER: We are always going to have to adapt. You are obviously going to miss a guy like Epenesa, but we have some guys up front that have a chance to do it. With our sub package, if we have to put an extra linebacker in there, we can do that and we have done it before to create it.

I don’t think we are going to change our philosophy and become a blitz team. For the last 20 plus years that I have been here, maybe in 1999 and 2000 we were blitz a holics. I remember that, but we changed over the years. We were focused on stopping the run and not giving up the big play and play well in the red zone.

If you look at the stats in the last few years, one of the stats you always look at is how many points are you giving up? I think in the last two years, Clemson was #1 and I think we were #2. In the red zone, in the Big Ten, we were pretty good in it. In giving up explosive plays, we were one of the top teams in the country. The more big plays you give up, the more points you are giving up. You see it happening in the NFL. The thing about bringing pressure, it comes down to one guy and can he make the play? Same thing about loading the box. Do you want to load it and play single high safety all the time? Then it comes down to one guy making the play. For the last 18-19 years, it’s been about leveraging the ball and bringing pursuit to the ball and not making mental mistakes and giving up big plays.

Q: Joe Evans gave you a spark last year off the edge. Could he be a three down guy this season?

PARKER: Hope so. I like the way he has progressed. He has added a little bit of weight and I love his toughness. He can play every down and he gave us a lot of juice last year off the edge. I am sure other guys will be able to do that too. I hope we can get 8-10 guys in there rotating and we can find a sub package too.

Q: Purdue makes big plays and they can be unconventional in their attack. What’s the challenge there?

PARKER: They have some really talented wide receivers. Jeff Brohm does a great job with his offense and figure out how to attack. He’s likes to throw the ball deep. I looked back at a game a couple of years ago and think they had three straight passes that were deep balls. And I think they were back to back to back and two of them were for touchdowns. It was like four plays in a row where the ball went over our heads. They are going to throw the ball. That’s what they like to do and they will run trick plays with those guys too. That’s just part of their offense and even last year we were very lucky to win.

Q: Have you been able to scrimmage at all in camp?

PARKER: Yeah, we have a little live football, as you would say, yesterday. We were able to see scrimmage for a little bit. The intensity picked up and we got to see if these guys can actually tackle. You can go out there and play 7 on 7 and things like that, but if you are not tackling and not bringing guys to the ground, then you just don’t know. It’s nice to go out and tackle and see the results. We find out if this kid or that kid is a tough kid.

Q: Over the past few months the comments from your former players have been positive.

PARKER: It’s kind of interesting because with the recruiting process and I try to tell them who I am before they come in here. They have to understand who I am and to me, I am trying to make them the best player and person that they can be. They shouldn’t take anything personal. I am hard on my players and it’s not because I want to do that. I am trying to make them the best player and person that they can be and I tell that to their mom, dad, high school coaches, and the people around them. I want to find guys who will go out there and lay it on the line and never think that they have arrived. Some kids get put in position where they think they should start because of the year they arrived. You have to earn things and I think a lot of those guys have coached or gone on to the NFL, they understand they have to earn things. As a matter of fact, I talked to Desmond King last night and it was a great talk with him and I told him to keep working hard like he always did and I am looking forward to seeing him play a little bit more.