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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The 2015 season was just better than the 2016 season for everyone Iowa, including defensive back Desmond King.
Let’s face it, it was going to be extremely difficult for the Hawkeyes to top a Big Ten West Division title, a B1G title game appearance, 12 wins and a Rose Bowl. Same for King, who won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and picked off eight passes in 2015.
King said Sunday at the NFL Combine that the 21 seniors played a huge role in 2015’s success. He also said that leadership took some time to translate to the team in 2016, when Iowa finished 8-5.
“Those seniors (2015) did everything really well, they brought the younger guys with them and got them on board and the whole season was proof of that,” said King, who had three interceptions in ‘16.
“This last season, we had some trouble in our leadership group and we were trying to find the leaders on our team and we didn’t know who could develop as that. Josey (Jewell, linebacker) and I tried to do our best to get the other guys on board and get the whole team together.”
Was it younger players not buying in or was it the voice of the leaders being muddled?
“I will say just the act out on the younger players with the older players, just trying to reach out and let them know,” King said. “We learned from the 21 seniors the year before. They showed us the right way to do it, so we need you guys to get on board and help us lead the way.”
King believed the leadership voice eventually clicked. Iowa went 3-1 in November, including a victory over then-No. 3 Michigan.
“It really did show up in November, especially against Michigan, a hard-fought game all the way to the end,” King said. “Just in November, I thought we had that team chemistry on. That’s something we have to look into.”
But now, it’s the next chapter and the NFL.
King has signed with agent Drew Rosenhaus and is vigorously shopping himself to the league. Where the Iowa all-American will go in the draft varies from late first to late second round. He said Sunday that he’s met with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, among others.
The No. 1 question NFL teams are throwing at him? What position does he see himself playing in the NFL?
King was a three-year starter at cornerback for the Hawkeyes. NFL personnel people have asked him about safety and nickel corner.
“The big question is what position do I want to play, is it corner, nickel or safety,” King said. “I’m not certain what I’m going to play, but I feel like I can play any position in the secondary. I feel like I have versatility and can go out there and make plays.”
What position does the NFL think King will play?
“A lot of teams are saying safety, a lot of teams are saying nickel,” King said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes and play whatever position to contribute to the team.”
This absolutely includes special teams. This is where King had a better 2016 than ‘15. As a junior he finished second in the B1G in punt returns and fourth in kick returns. Last year, it was second in kick (27.78 yards per return) and third in punts.
“I had a really good special teams year my senior season,” said King, who was first-team all-Big Ten as a corner and second-team as a return specialist. “I wasn’t targeted as much (in the passing game by opposing offenses), but I went out there and competed as well as I could and made a couple of plays.”
King’s health was never a thing at Iowa. He set school records for starts (51) and games played (53). Here at the Combine, King’s health is a question.
King suffered an abdominal strain while training for the Combine at Exos in Pensacola, Fla. He had his hip checked and also was looked at for a sports hernia. He won’t run the 40-yard dash here, but will perform all other drills. On Sunday, King did 14 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
He said he will run the 40 on Iowa’s pro day in late March.
“I don’t feel any pressure (to run a 40),” King said. “It’s a 40-yard dash. You get out there and you give it all you’ve got. I told them (NFL people) that I feel like I could run it here, but doctors didn’t clear me to do it.”
As for what Iowa’s defensive scheme allowed him to put on film, King feels he’s well prepared. At Iowa, King was a flawless tackler. That should translate to a nickel corner role, where King would play in the slot and closer to the line of scrimmage. Iowa runs a lot of cover 4 zone, but King believes Iowa ran enough man coverage and that he held up his end.
A line of questions came from a reporter who covers the Pittsburgh Steelers, who run zone schemes in the secondary. Does King have a comfort level in a zone defense?
“We run a lot of zone at Iowa,” he said. “That’s something I’m used to. I feel like zone coverage has helped in determining whether or not I’m a good player, can I be zone disciplined or not?”
King was set to meet with the Steelers on Sunday night. He’s going to get drafted. He’s going to sign a contract with a lot of zeros.
King’s 2017 might be as cool as his 2015.
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