For Bernstine, it's step-by-step in the final march

Strong safety wide open, with Solon's Sleeper making a push for playing time

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IOWA CITY -- Jordan Bernstine's career at Iowa has been a series of one step forward, two steps back.

Sometimes, the steps back have been hazardous to his health.

During the first week of fall camp in 2009, Bernstine, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior, shattered his ankle in a non-contact drill. That hampered him into 2010. Bernstine began his senior season with rhabdomyolysis. He was one of 13 Hawkeyes who was hospitalized with the kidney ailment.

"I've had everything under the sun," Bernstine said. "I probably couldn't tell you [all the injuries] to be honest. I've had everything from hamstrings to my ankle to shoulder. Just everything. It is what it is, but I'm feeling great now, so I'm just going to go out and practice."

This is exactly what Bernstine has been looking for. He's had enough injuries, major and minor, to keep him off the practice field and out of real contention for a spot in the starting lineup.

The Des Moines Lincoln graduate was behind some pretty good cornerbacks, too. In 2008, Amari Spievey returned to Iowa after a stint in a junior college and won the job for '08 and '09. Shaun Prater took over in 2010. Bernstine has dabbled at safety and has been a consistent part of Iowa's dime defense.

"Overall, I think it's time for him to just kind of keep moving on and get himself on the field," defensive backs coach Phil Parker said.

This fall, Bernstine is a strong safety. He's been running with the second team behind junior Collin Sleeper, who's yet to see his first action in an Iowa uniform.

You first heard Sleeper's name in March, when, all of the sudden, there he was No. 1 on the depth chart at strong safety.

"Know one knows who I was. I liked it," said Sleeper, a former Solon prep. "I was on the scout team [last fall] and I was trying to get noticed there. That obviously paid off for me."

Collin Sleeper isn't the Solon Sleeper who tore up both knees and fought back to make it back to the field for the Spartans. That was Wes Sleeper, Collin's brother and a walk-on quarterback prospect at . . . Iowa State.

"That was my little brother," Collin Sleeper said. "He's at Iowa State. I know, right? We get in fights about that all the time. Not really."

Bernstine and Sleeper are two of the bodies being fitted for strong safety. Senior Tom Donatell and freshman Nico Law also could be in the mix.

"We obviously have a huge battle at strong safety," Sleeper said. "Most of those guys have been on the field. I've never set foot on the field. It's going to be a battle."

While Sleeper tries to climb the experience hurdle, Bernstine said any thoughts of injury are behind him. Getting there, however, has been a process.

"When he first came back, he struggled," Parker said. "You can see a kid when he goes toward the piles or any kind of guys getting together that there is a little bit of caution. I don't think he thinks about it now. I think his senior year, he's really in touch with what's going on."

Bernstine was a highly regarded recruit and this is his last chance to make an impact. If he's feeling the nerves to make the most out of this, it doesn't show. If he's waiting for the next ligament to go pop, you don't see it in his eyes.

Injuries, schminjuries, Bernstine is intent on taking this one step at a time.

"That's just not how I look at life," he said. "I try to stay happy and go out and have fun. It's a game, nonetheless. Obviously, we have to get wins, but when it comes down to it, it's a game and it's what I love to do."

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