No. 15 -- DT Darian Cooper
DEFENSIVE TACKLE DARIAN COOPER
Arrival: The first glimpse of the 6-2, 280-pounder was memorable. It was during last Iowa's August scrimmage at Kinnick. Cooper was late showing up for camp (head coach Kirk Ferentz referred to it as a "complication").
NCAA rules state a player must work out in shorts, shoulder pads and a helmet before they can go full contact. Most of Iowa's team was in full gear, while Cooper lined up in shorts, shoulder pads and helmet.
Cooper impressed. He took the fight to veteran O-linemen. He moved the piled. He played low and hard. Just as they are this season, the Hawkeyes were looking for some bodies on the defensive line. Cooper seemed to be a fit.
It didn't happen, of course. Cooper begins his career this season as a redshirt freshman. D-line is a position where maturity matters. A 22-year-old who's been in a college weightroom for four years will have the upper hand on an 18-year-old freshman unless that freshman is otherworldly.
Cooper might prove to be just that, but the weightroom year happened and he'll probably be the better for it.
2012 Takeoff: Cooper began the spring as a No. 1 DT and stayed there. He played the 1 technique, mostly over the center. He won some and lost some. This Ferentz quote summed it up best:
"When he’s on, he’s on pretty good,” Ferentz said, “but when he has bad plays, it looks bad. That’s part of being young.”
Is it healthy that Cooper seemingly inherited a starting spot (that's not actually the case)? No, it's not. This is where the attrition kicks in on the Iowa D-line. A redshirt freshman in as a 1 technique (nose tackle) can work, but it also can be asking a lot and leaves little margin for error. (Iowa has had eight to 10 D-linemen fall out since 2008. The number fluctuates with where signees would've likely played at Iowa.)
DE Dominic Alvis' healthy return from a torn ACL will give Iowa some leg room. That could push senior Steve Bigach into tackle and give Iowa a trio of Cooper, Bigach and sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat. Also, true freshmen Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie could contribute.
But again, the maturity factor.
"It’s tough at that position, I think either line position, it’s hard to do because of the physical nature," said Iowa D-line coach Reese Morgan, who served as Iowa's O-line coach from 2003 to last winter. "Certainly those two young men [Johnson and Ekakitie] would have physical ability to do that, possibly. It remains to be seen, it really does. We’ll have to see how things go in August. If they happen to be here training in August, how they progress.
"It’s the physical part, the mental part, then the toughness part. Football is a tough game. Thank goodness not always the most talented guys are the guys who play. It’s the guys who are the most productive."
Or Cooper takes this opportunity, slams the door and Iowa has it's next three- or four-year starter on the D-line. That could happen, too."I think is going to be an excellent player," Morgan said. "He has some natural tools. But he’s very, very raw, very young, learning the system. I just like his attitude."