Iowa's Fleming battles for starting CB role
Jacob Hillyer emerges as security blanket at WR
IOWA CITY — Iowa cornerback Maurice Fleming has battled through multiple injuries during his football career, including an ACL tear his senior year of high school. But the sophomore now believes he’s healthy and ready to challenge for a starting job with the Hawkeyes.
“It all began with confidence and believing in myself that I could come back early and being able to make that adjustment,” Fleming said Wednesday. “It was just the mental aspect and I have to be positive.”
Fleming (6-foot, 188 pounds) played in eight games last year and recorded three tackles with one forced fumble. He’s in contention for a vacant cornerback slot opposite sophomore Desmond King. Joining Fleming in the competition is junior Sean Draper and fellow sophomore Greg Mabin.
“Right now I couldn’t tell you who is going to be the No. 2 corner,” Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker said.
Fleming began his Iowa career without a position and primarily worked at wide receiver before switching to cornerback midway through his red-shirt season. It was a big change for Fleming, who was an all-everything quarterback at Chicago Curie.
“This is my second year playing defense, and it’s a big transition,” Fleming said. “I’ve never played defense before like that. Just being able to get the technique down back in film study, that plays a big role into it.”
Former Hawkeye and current Green Bay Packers cornerback Micah Hyde — who also was a high school quarterback — helped Fleming adjust to defense.
“Micah told me anyone can play wide receiver. It’s hard to play cornerback,” Fleming said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re right. The best athletes play corner.’”
Fleming also is working at gunner on the punt team. He’s unsure if he’ll get used as a returner, but he likes the idea of turning defense into offense.
“If I ever get an interception, I’m going to take advantage of it,” he said.
Hillyer the security blanket
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis compared junior wide receiver Jacob Hillyer to a cartoon prop, in a tenderhearted way.
“Jacob Hillyer is kind of like ... Linus’ blanket, a real security,” Davis said. “He will block; he attacks the ball with his hands and so we’re real pleased with where he’s at.”
Hillyer (6-4, 205) is listed as one of Iowa’s starting receivers and he’s the most physical. He describes his value as a blocker and tough route runner.
“I see that as my role more than making explosive plays down the field,” Hillyer said.
Last year Hillyer played in all 13 games and caught 11 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. With the increase in skilled wide receivers, Hillyer’s numbers may drop but that doesn’t mean he’s not contributing.
“I’ve always grown up to get my hands dirty and be a tough player,” he said. “So far what I’m here for to do is work my hardest no matter what my role is. Coaches are on my side either way.”
Red-shirt freshman tight end Jon Wisnieski suffered a knee injury and will be out until at least August after surgery. Wisnieski (6-5, 235 pounds) red-shirted last year after an all-state career at West Des Moines Dowling.
“We’ll take it month-by-month,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s a good guy and he was doing a good job, but at least he’s a young guy.”
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