New coaches, new players, newness all over Iowa's defense

Developing a young D-line could be the key to the 2012 season

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IOWA CITY -- There is a lot of commotion in the Iowa football offices this spring.

The new facilities and indoor practice field is making noise and progressing rather nicely. Of course, there are coaches still moving into their desks, with offensive coordinator Greg Davis, offensive line coach Brian Ferentz and linebackers coach LeVar Woods newly installed.

And Reese Morgan is wrestling NFL people in the hall.

"Just a half hour ago, hes up there going one-on-one with Kampman in his his office back there," head coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. "Every guy whos walked through the building is getting quizzed. Hes been out researching with some really good people."

Morgan, 61, wrestling with the former Hawkeye and current Jacksonville Jaguar defensive end in the complex is different. That's because Morgan's job is different, flipping to defensive line after nine seasons as offensive line coach.

Morgan has a different boss, Phil Parker, who's a different defensive coordinator than the one Iowa had last year (Norm Parker, who retired in December).

Iowa's defense has a different linebackers coach in Woods, whose hiring gave Darrell Wilson different duties, flipping from linebackers to defensive backs.

It remains to be seen how different the scheme is for Iowa's defense in 2012, but this is a lot of newness and we haven't even gotten to the two deeps.

"I have a real confidence level with everyone on staff," said Kirk Ferentz, who was asked if he would hover a little bit more on the defensive side of the ball during spring practice, which begins Wednesday. "Its kind of invigorating for everybody. Its not 'the same old thing, on 2.' Its a little different challenge. Guys are out researching and getting with people who are really good in their profession."

This is where Iowa's open campus with former players training at the facility (New Orleans D-lineman Mitch King also is around) and NFL coaches invited to scout current players pays dividends. It's no accident that Kampman was in Iowa City. The two-time Pro Bowler has a thing or two he can pass on to Iowa's new D-line coach.

Morgan met up with Kansas City Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel in the hallway the other day. Crennel's path to head coach came through the defensive line.

"They had a half hour discussion on defensive line play," Ferentz said.

So, the faces aren't so different on the defensive coaching staff. The depth chart is another story. It's completely different and somewhat unexpected.

Before you freak out about Iowa's defensive line, remember junior Dominic Alvis and sophomore Carl Davis will be limited this spring with knee injuries, so they aren't listed on the depth chart. Alvis (torn ACL in November) is Iowa's returning sack leader with 1.5. Davis (knee surgery in January) is a big body (6-5, 310) that would potentially be a big payoff if he could get healthy.

So, try to remember that when you see the fact that Iowa has three redshirt freshmen listed as starters on the defensive line this spring. Dean Tsopanides (6-2, 240) and Riley McMinn (6-7, 245) are No. 1 D-ends. Darian Cooper (6-2, 280) is a starter at tackle, joining senior Steve Bigach, a sometimes end and sometimes tackle for the Hawkeyes in 2011.

Even if you add Alvis and Davis, it's still a young group. Forget the new coordinators, the D-line's development might rudder 2012 as much as anything.

"That's kind of one of the neat things about spring ball, you never know where stories are going to come from," Ferentz said. "One constant is we always have needs. It's always been that way. It's that way again this year. We've been lucky to have guys step up. It'll be fun to see who emerges here in the next couple weeks."

Physical maturity is a steep hill to climb for young players on the line of scrimmage. That's why, at Iowa, you see true freshman break in at skill positions before they do on the offensive and defensive lines. Of the four D-linemen Iowa signed in February, Jaleel Johnson (6-4, 300) and Faith Ekakitie (6-3, 275) could help, but they would still be 18- or 19-year-olds against 21-, 22, and 23-year-olds who've spent time in collegiate strength and conditioning.

"Leverage is a huge part of the game," Ferentz said. "Learning that is certainly something that is important. I wouldn't disagree with the concept of experience and maturity being a big thing, but you can overcome that.

"You have to overcome it with athleticism and aggressiveness, attitude, those types of things. We can do some things coaching-wise to try to help."

Ferentz referenced Iowa's 2005 defensive line, which featured redshirt freshmen Mitch King and Matt Kroul at the tackle spots. That turned out brilliantly, but it took a couple of seasons of experience and maturity. They're still in the NFL, by the way.

"[King, in 2005] begins down on the depth chart at linebacker and ends up finishing spring ball as No. 2 tackle," Ferentz said, "and ends up being one of the better guys who played here this past decade.

"There are guys on our roster right now Im sure who are capable of doing some things that were not seeing yet."

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