Iowa football recruiting: Defensive backs

Croot Loops: Good mix of safety, corner types

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For the five defensive backs who signed with the Hawkeyes in February, the call was opportunity.

We don’t know who will end up where. Djimon Colbert will walk on campus at around 215 pounds. He’d be one of the bigger safeties Iowa has ever had. So ... Let’s leave some wiggle room here.

Not all of these guys are going to be the next Desmond King and not all of them will end up at corner. Opportunity is there, however, and, as almost always, a wave of defensive backs will be the first to see the field as true freshmen (linebackers and running backs, too).

The fun part, for now at least, is trying to see where these five could end up. And don’t forget Trey Creamer, a wide receiver/defensive back body from Georgia whose position will be determined sometime later, probably during fall camp in August.

Change obviously is coming to Iowa’s offense. Change isn’t coming to the defense. Coordinator Phil Parker likely will stick with a base 4-3. From there for Iowa’s defense, it’s more like shaping. Can the depth chart support a raider package, rushing three with six defensive backs? Does Parker look to experiment with what could be a glut of talented defensive ends?

As you’ll see from this post, Big Ten offenses have changed and defenses are figuring out the best ways to keep pace while maintaining the ability to throw punches and stop the run.

Thus, position flexibility is something you’ll like run into a few times during this series.

By the way, this is the recruiting series. It’s for the hardcores, but I think everyone might find something interesting.

I’d like to thank Iowa assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell for his insights. You’ll read them and you’ll be thankful.

Djimon Colbert

Djimon (pronounced jai-mun) Colbert went into last summer’s camp and combine series having already committed to Iowa. He didn’t really need to do these, but went through a few, most notably a Rivals Camp Series event in Kansas City, Mo., last May.

Here’s what Rivals’ Josh Helmholdt wrote about Colbert, who was named one of the top 15 defensive players at the camp:

“We last saw Colbert one year ago at RCS St. Louis, and the development in his game over the past year was definitely noticeable. The primary area of improvement is in his fluidity. Colbert was a little heavy-footed as a sophomore, but he is a much smoother athlete now heading into his senior season and at 6-foot-1 and closing in on 200 pounds, he has great size for the safety position in college.”

Iowa has done recruiting business in the KC area, but not a ton. Colbert is a breakthrough that way. The Big 12 arm of Rivals even wrote a piece last summer about overlooked players in the Big 12 footprint. Colbert was one of those.

This piece focused on Kansas State and wondered why Bill Snyder’s program had yet to offer Colbert a scholarship. It never did. Kansas, Iowa State and Nebraska did.

“Colbert is committed to Iowa, which has been extremely effective recruiting this year, but a recruit can’t flip if he isn’t offered. He would immediately be one of the best players in Kansas State’s class — which still is without a commitment from a defensive back,” Rivals recruiting analyst Nick Krueger wrote last summer.

 

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “Five-year letterman as wide receiver and defensive back.”

Noteworthy offer: Nebraska

Depth chart in 2016?: Yes. The answer is going to be yes for all potential safeties and corners. There’s a ton of opportunity not only on the depth chart, but in sub packages and special teams. Now, we can quibble over depth chart and special teams. I think there’s opportunity at strong safety. If Colbert comes in and shows he belongs in August, he could reach “depth chart” status.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison (when I had a one-on-one with Kirk Ferentz last fall, he said the Iowa staff makes comparisons to players who’ve played in the program, so why not?): Ed Miles

So yes, I’m totally projecting Colbert to bulk up and play outside linebacker. Miles played the position in 2004. Miles measured 6-foot-ish and weighed 235. If Colbert walks on campus around 215, his body could grow to 230. He could play outside linebacker. Hey, Kelvin Bell sees it, too.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell (this is more the conversation I had with coach Bell on the prospect)Me: He looks to be in the 6-1, 210-range. That’s big for an Iowa safety. Could he have position flexibility? I think you probably got most of your defensive backs with that in mind.

KB: He’s definitely got some position flexibility. You’ve got to think about the game we play here at Iowa and the way this game is going. Two examples: We use our safeties a lot in run support. Can you get bigger at that position when you think about coming down and having to tackle a Melvin Gordon or a Saquon Barkley? Can you get bigger at that position? Also, if you’re looking at linebacker, my freshman year LeVar Woods played our Leo backer at 250 pounds. The way offenses are in the Big Ten right now, as much detach as they play — that guy (receivers and defenders) is out in space — that wouldn’t be advantageous to us. He provides us with some position flexibility. Yes, he’s big enough to support the run, but he’s also big enough to play linebacker, maybe in that adjuster role where he’s away from the box.

ESPN scouting report excerpt: Colbert shows good size and ball skills. Currently projecting to CB only if his movement skills develop. Must add speed, range and quickness to compete in the secondary. Has physical traits and intelligence to show his upside. Movement skill development will determine his final position and his level of contribution as a Power 5 prospect.

My take: Two things: 1. Great pull out of the KC area by assistant coach LeVar Woods. He’s worked his tail off in the KC area. And 2) there’s insight in Bell’s comments about safeties being able to stop the run and linebackers being too big and not quick enough to cover spread personnel. Iowa had been migrating its defense. You’ll see more of it. Colbert could be key in that move. The Big Ten West is only going to get more physical and, probably, more spread-y.

From his highlight videos, Colbert appears to be extremely well coached on leverage and alignment. He never allowed anything to get to his outside shoulder. He also showed high-level eye discipline and didn’t shy away from contact. You had to like the fact there were a few special teams plays on his tape.

Matt Hankins

Yes, Matt Hankins is from Texas and did commit to the Hawkeyes when it was really cool to be from Texas and commit to the Hawkeyes.

This was last summer. You know how it went. Decommit times four. Let’s not rehash a ton of that. You know all about it.

Hankins stuck, but the Iowa staff could hardly click into cruise control with the native of Flower Mound, Texas. There was this little outfit that came calling and offered a scholarship last November. You might have heard of it. It’s called Michigan.

The Wolverines offered. Hankins visited Iowa City for the Michigan game. Yes, the Hawkeyes tipped then-No. 3 Michigan, but that wasn’t “the” reason Hankins stuck by his commitment for the Hawkeyes.

Three of the four decommits from Texas were offensive skill position players. Hankins is a cornerback. We’ve been over Iowa cornerback. There are a couple of job openings.

In a post-visit interview, Hankins told HawkeyeReport.com that he talked with defensive coordinator/secondary coach Phil Parker during his visit. Parker told him at least one true freshman would have a chance to play in the fall of 2017.

“They said the opportunity is there,” said Hankins. “I’ve just got to get my weight up and perform the way they know I can.”

Hankins saw opportunity and he’ll be here in August chasing it.

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “Named to participate in All-America Bowl following prep career.”

Noteworthy offer: Michigan

Depth chart in 2016?: Yes. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think Manny Rugamba would be the cornerback to break through as a true freshman last season. I didn’t think it would come down to a true freshman cornerback making his first career start against Michigan. Iowa had two solid starters and depth. Rugamba proved too good to keep down on the depth chart. Is Hankins that guy this year?

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Manny Rugamba

I have no idea if Hankins will have similar success. That’s up in the air. He has a chance. But his size is similar (6-1, 170 compared to 6-0, 173). Both have long arms. The Hudl highlight tapes showed players who were eager to get in on plays and who read plays well. Mostly, I’m going with body type here.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin BellMe: You guys had the fallout in Texas. Michigan came after this kid, a few other Power 5s came after him. My guess is he saw the (cornerback) depth chart here at Iowa and he saw ‘I want to play corner and they have a couple of job openings.’

KB: Exactly. We thought when we had the ‘Texas Exodus,’ as we call it, when we had that, he wasn’t a part of that group. He saw something different. He saw exactly what you saw. He saw opportunity to come in and compete for a job. He knew the No. 1 and No. 2 guys were leaving and we needed some help. He was a guy, people the ‘no visit policy’ and all of that, he stuck with us. Didn’t go anywhere. He took his official visit to Iowa and loved Iowa. Those are the kids we want. We want the kids who want to be here, not the kids who want to be recruited.

Me: You can’t put a win value on ‘fit,’ but fit feels like it’s almost as important as whatever star a kid brings, at least at Iowa.

KB: [Deleted tweets were a part of his response.] What good is it going to do?

Me: What makes Hankins a really good player?

KB: The first thing that’s going to jump off the board is the frame and the length of the kid. He’s a 5-11, 6-foot, in that range. He has long arms and has a frame to gain a lot weight. It’s hard to find those kinds of body types that can excel in both zone and man-to-man coverage, which we do a lot of. He’s another multisport athlete, with basketball and track. He’s a kid who just loves to compete.

ESPN scouting report: Transitions and opens and turns well in man-to-man. Difficult to create separation on and understands leverage and how to force the QB into difficult throws. Gets his head around quickly to play the ball.

My take: Speed is there. Body control is there. Hankins seems to have a feel for reading a receiver’s body and putting himself in the right position to turn and react to the ball (that’s what made Desmond King an all-American in 2015, IMO). Hankins also shows that he’s comfortable in one-on-one on the outside. I wonder about strength, which is a natural concern for players who’ve not spent a minute in a college weight room. The B1G will be a lot more handsy than he’s used to.

Camron Harrell

This probably stands for every defensive back, but it really seems as if the defensive backs who come into Iowa’s program have played multiple roles for the prep teams. Most notably, they’re huge contributors as skill players on offense.

Maybe this is a Phil Parker thing. Desmond King set records as a running back at East English Village Prep (Detroit, Mich). Micah Hyde played quarterback and never really left the field for his prep team (Fostoria, Ohio).

Harrell has similar credentials. Last season for Bradley-Bourbonnais (Ill.) High School, Harrell managed 780 rushing yards and 440 receiving yards to go along with five interceptions.

Harrell has played multiple roles for his football teams from day 1.

From a profile in the Kankakee Times: Harrell has demonstrated versatility from the beginning of his football days. He said he started the game by playing for the Bradley Lions in fifth grade. Much like now, he played both sides of the ball then — center and outside linebacker.

Football is a sport Harrell’s always loved.

“All of my cousins played when they were younger and would always tell me stories,” he said. “Their stories persuaded me to play.”

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “Holds school record with 44 total touchdowns.”

Noteworthy offer: Iowa (his only offer, according to Rivals.com)

Depth chart in 2016?: Yes. I could see a scenario where Colbert and Harrell battle for playing time at strong safety. I think free safety is zipped up with Brandon Snyder and Jake Gervase.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Jordan Lomax

Size-wise, Harrell and Lomax are very similar. The biggest difference, at least to me and just off watching Hudl video, is speed. Harrell also played running back at Bradley-Bourbonnais High School. He was their best, most impactful player, so they gave him the ball. You have to love defensive backs who played a lot of running back. It shows how important they were to their prep teams.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — Me: Another guy who picked you guys early, stuck with you, low maintenance.

KB: He’s a guy, believe it or not, you would think if there’s scholarships on the line, that if you would have a prospect camp, kids would flock to it. That’s kind of what’s wrong. Some kids think they can tweet or email themselves to a scholarship. Cam Harrell came out here in the summer in June, I think it was our first camp, and posted the fastest 40 for the entire camp. He ran a 4.49 and a 4.51. That jumps off the charts with us right now, that’s a guy who can actually move. He went through Phil Parker’s DB drills, stayed after and went through more of Phil Parker’s DB drills. He really drilled the mess out of him and said, ‘OK, this is a guy we want.’ He’s a perfect fit for Iowa. Low maintenance, blue collar, thankful for the opportunity. That’s a fit.

ESPN scouting report: Smaller but competitive athlete with good speed and quickness. Scrappy and feisty in play more than he is physical. Overall, Harrell is dynamic prospect who may be falling under the radar with his speed, quickness and versatile skill-set.

My take: From the Hudl, Harrell’s opponents didn’t respect his speed until it was too late. There were a few special teams highlights, including a few returns. I’m not saying Harrell could be a Desmond King-level returner. Let’s not put that on a first-year. Just think, though, how much of a weapon King was as a return specialist. One unheralded tweak in the last few years has been Iowa unleashing the returner. Hyde had a feel for it, but, due to circumstance, he was asked to fair catch. Probably too much. Iowa in “taking advantage of everything possible” mode, let King develop a feel as a returner.

Geno Stone

Kirk Ferentz has often said he’s happy to raid the best of the best Mid-American Conference recruits. That’s part of how Geno Stone ended up as a Hawkeye.

On the week of signing day, the New Castle (Pa.) safety switched his commitment from Kent State to the Hawkeyes. Stone committed to Kent State on Dec. 18 and remained open to a Power 5 conference offer.

The week before signing day, the Hawkeyes offered. Stone visited that weekend. And then he had a decision to make, stick with Kent State or bet on himself in the Power 5?

“Honestly, I wasn’t even going to visit at first, but the coaches kept bugging me and bugging me to visit,” Stone told PittsburghSportsNow.com. “But the players were probably the biggest factor in me choosing Iowa because when I went there, it felt like they were all just my buddies from home.”

Stone had given up hope on a Power 5 offer. He had several MAC and Ivy League offers (including Harvard and Yale). He also had offers from Army and Navy.

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “Scored five touchdowns and recorded three pass interceptions in regional semifinal. Set school and conference record with 10 pass interceptions in a season, and set school record with 17 career interceptions.”

Noteworthy offer: Kent State

Depth chart in 2016?: Yes. Stone will be another safety-sized defensive back on the roster with a Hudl highlight tape full of him on offense showing off ball skills.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Desmond King

A hugely underrated part of King’s game was his tackling and overall physical play. If you watch Stone’s Hudl video, it’s full of complete tackles, where he dropped his hips, changed his level and won low on ball carriers. There are too many examples in the six-minute video to believe these weren’t a common occurrence in a New Castle game.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin BellMe: Kind of like Micah Hyde, just in that he comes here with proven ball skills. Kind of looks like Miles Taylor size-wise.

KB: He’s a little taller than Miles, but the same physicality. Both guys are fearless and will hit you. We all have Twitter and we all have our recruiting feelers out there. We have to, that’s the business that we’re in. What got Geno on our radar was he was offered late by Michigan State. We saw that Michigan State just offered a DB in, we call it northeast Ohio, but really it’s western PA, we saw that they just offered a DB. OK well, let’s check him out. They offered him but then ended up getting commitments from other guys. [So then the offer softened or just totally went away.] That’s how, and this is a whole other story, but when we go out on the road, you have to be careful about who you offer, because it’s going to set the radar off for a lot of other schools. A lot of kids get frustrated. I go to a school, I leave the school and I don’t offer. It’s not because I don’t like you or think you’re a good player, I just know that when I offer you, by the time you get it, you’re going to have 13 more and you’re going to forget about me. We try to keep kids warm. Well, Michigan State put Geno on our radar.

Me: Do you have to be careful who you follow on Twitter? I know that’s how recruiting is covered now.

KB: It goes that deep. I’m seeing who’s following whom. You can go and look who’s following me. It’s other coaches, because it sends notifications and that’s what (Twitter) is all about.

Me: So, you get a follow from a high school coach and follow him back. There’s some dialogue.

KB: There’s some dialogue. He tells me about a kid and then before you know it, Illinois and Indiana, they’re all following him, too. You think it’s really intimate and it’s not really.

ESPN scouting report (Stone didn’t receive an ESPN evaluation, so here’s a little bit from Rivals.com’s Panther Lair, the Pitt site): Stone noted that Pitt, Penn State, Kent State, Navy, and Robert Morris are the programs contacting him most frequently and schools project him to play either safety or corner at the college level. He has no preference between the positions in the defensive secondary and will play wherever is asked of him. Stone hopes that his versatility and athletic ability can yield him an offer from the hometown program.

My take: The biggest thing on Stone’s tape was the tackling. The one little snippet I liked that could mean something later came at around a minute in. Stone picked off a pass and eventually returned it for a TD. When offensive players finally had angles on him near the 10, he geared down, let his blockers set up and hit the final crease. I saw enough ball skills and field vision to think Stone could be a future return specialist.

Josh Turner

Josh Turner’s commitment to the Iowa Hawkeyes in August was a big deal for the following reasons.

— Turner is a 6-0, 180-pound cornerback from American Heritage High School in Delray Beach, Fla. It’s always good for Iowa to land athletes from Florida. Kirk Ferentz announced in 2013 that Iowa wasn’t going to actively recruit Florida. That’s since been modified with an “unless it makes sense,” which means if there’s a connection and if Iowa believes it’s a strong enough connection to at least land a visit.

Turner visited Iowa in late June.

— Turner had 20 scholarship offers with the final six being Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Boston College, South Florida and Army. Iowa went head-to-head with Wisconsin and Purdue, Big Ten West Division foes, and came up with the commit.

Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace is listed by Rivals as Turner’s lead recruiter.

— Iowa needs defensive backs.

“The cornerback position will be wide open, so they see me coming in along with the other guys and competing for a spot,” Turner told HawkeyeReport.com.

Florida athlete, beat Big Ten West rivals for his commitment and a position of need. Turner checked a lot of boxes for the Hawkeyes.

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “Recorded 53 tackles and 17 pass breakups as a senior, with one rushing touchdown, one kickoff return touchdown, two forced fumbles, and two recovered fumbles.”

Noteworthy offer: Wisconsin

Depth chart in 2016?: Yes. One differentiator for Turner might be strength. He’s noticeably bigger than the other possible CBs in this class.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Greg Mabin

I’m probably reaching, but tallish, possible corner, from Florida. Mabin’s career was underrated. He was a three-year starter. Was Rugamba better in 2016? It’s a discussion I’m sure we’ll have at some point during this offseason. We could, and probably will, have the same talk about Miles Taylor and Anthony Gair. (Remember KF’s explanation: In-season depth chart changes are difficult because of the imbalance in reps. That’s an easy out, I know. I will ask if it’s something they’ll reconsider.)

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — Me: That kid is big. Can he play a downhill safety role?

KB: He’s a safety, DB body type. He’s a kid who wants to help Iowa and will do that. He did a ‘split visit’ in the summer time, which rarely happens. He started at Wisconsin and then drove to Iowa City for the back half of a tailgater (that’s a recruiting event Iowa throws for prospects a few times a summer, started three or so years ago). He had a Wisconsin offer. Much like Hankins, you look at the defensive backfield and you compare that depth chart to a Wisconsin or someone else, where am I going to have the better chance to play? His parents (Bridgette Valentine-Turner and Leroy Turner) are unbelievable. They came back up for an unofficial visit, from Florida, for the Michigan game. That’s unheard of. It’s huge. They’re invested. They believe in Iowa, they believe in coach Ferentz. We feel really good about Josh.

ESPN scouting report: Turner is a CB with length and developing strength/weight. Has ball skills and athletic ability. Will need to develop his positional technique and consistency of his eyes to develop as a Power 5 prospect.

My take: Really liked the “come from behind” in Turner’s Hudl. Surprisingly, his highlight tape showed plays where the offense struck for some success against his Heritage defense. It was a highlight video, so you know those ended with Turner making a TD saving tackle. Kind of reminded me of Micah Hyde against Northwestern in 2012, when it looked like an NW RB (Sutton?) had a 99-yard TD run in his sights. There also were a good number of special teams (mostly returns) highlights. Also, I think the Phil Parker eye for defensive backs includes how well a prospect can track a ball in the air. Turner showed that skill.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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