Four downs with the linebackers

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The depth chart (No. 1 and then probables)

MLB James Morris, so., 6-2, 227; Bruce Davis, sr., 5-11, 232; Terrance Pryor, jr., 6-1, 225; Melvin Spears, fr., 6-2, 224

WLB Christian Kirksey, so., 6-2, 215 (OR) Anthony Hitchens, so., 6-0, 224; Quinton Alston, fr., 6-1, 22o; Marcus Collins, fr., 6-0, 215

OLB -- Tyler Nielsen, sr., 6-4, 235; Dakota Getz, so., 6-4, 235

Injury note -- Sophomore OLB Shane DiBona suffered a ruptured achilles tendon early in camp and is out for 2011.

The Guy

Easy answer here probably is James Morris, who defensive coordinator Norm Parker nominated for enshrinement on a Wheaties box this spring. But senior Tyler Nielsen put together an all-Big Ten caliber season before a broken neck took him out for the season on Oct. 30 last year. Nielsen proved to be terrific in coverage, defending four passes and picking off one. There was a drop in performance at the position when Nielsen was injured. He's declared himself ready. His presence is major for what will be a young front seven.

Under the Radar

Bruce Davis was lost to a torn ACL before the Hawkeyes made it to the Big Ten schedule last season. He is behind Morris, who can be penciled in as Iowa's middle linebacker for as long as he's at Iowa. Davis' value comes as a backup -- you saw LB last season, backups were needed -- and on special teams. One of the big plays in Iowa's 35-3 victory two years ago in Ames was Davis' onside kick recovery after an ISU field goal in the first quarter. Heady player who'll find a way to contribute.

Top Newcomer

Because Iowa hasn't made the call, we're not going to pretend to do that hear. Any way you look at it, Christian Kirksey or Anthony Hitchens will have their profiles bloom this fall after freshmen seasons on special teams. In past linebacker races, the tie has gone to the more physical contender, the one who tackled better. Now, with Ohio State and Wisconsin not on Iowa's schedule, maybe the faster, more aggressive linebacker earns the spot. Still, who knows which one between the two sophomores.

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