Four Downs - The Defensive Backs (post-spring)
Iowa's secondary has a chance for a bigger role in '14
FOURTH DOWN — What did we learn this spring?
Jordan Lomax is now the free safety. It’s kind of an all-in proposition. Lomax (5-10, 200 junior) made the move from cornerback this spring and was inserted as the starter. This says two things: The Iowa staff digs Lomax. He’s a smart, physical player they wanted on the field as a corner last season before a hamstring injury opened the door for him. It also says what Iowa had at safety wasn’t satisfactory. It’s not a deep position, with or without Lomax.
Sophomore corner Desmond King took over after Lomax left last season’s opener and started 12 games. He’s looked even better this spring. The fight is on between sophomore Maurice Fleming and junior Sean Draper for the other corner spot.
THIRD DOWN — The possibilities for the secondary
Last season, Iowa had three great senior linebackers it wanted on the field as much as possible. Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris were too good for defensive coordinator Phil Parker to take them off the field in favor of packages for defensive backs. Thus, you saw Iowa play very little, like two percent, nickel/dime.
That probably changes this season. Iowa has three new linebackers. Their particular strengths and weaknesses are still sorting out. The Raider package, a third-down blitz package Parker unveiled midway through last season, likely will stick, but it could change its form and that could include more defensive backs.
“This year it [the Raider] might be a little bit more nickel or maybe even nickel/Raider type of deal, so it might put a defensive back in there instead of a linebacker,” Parker said. “We’re still making those decisions. We still want to learn how to play first and second downs really well and see what we can do with our guys’ base fundamental stuff first.”
Iowa’s personnel could dictate that tweak to third down philosophy. Senior Nico Law (6-1, 205) has a chance to be a hybrid cog in this. Or, maybe, these linebackers prove to be too valuable to take off the field and this stays the same as 2013.
SECOND DOWN — Who said what?
“We thought, hey, we are going to get our best guys on the field so we kind of made that adjustment, who is going to control the secondary and that’s why we did it. The free safety has to be the commander; he’s got to be a vocal guy and he’s got to be like an assistant coach on the field, and that’s what I expect out of him.” — Defensive coordinator Phil Parker, also Iowa’s secondary coach, on junior free safety Jordan Lomax
“You have to adapt. I mean, the package [Raider] is still going to be there. It’s just what personnel grouping is it going to be. Is it going to be four linebackers on the field or five linebackers like we had last year; or, is it going to be five DBs on the field, still have three linebackers or four linebackers on the field and two defensive linemen? So, the thing that’s going to be a challenge is to see what way we are going to go.” — Parker on how the third-down packages might shape themselves this season
“I think I’m working with four potential guys who can have a chance to play next year at safety. But you’ve really got to evaluate, who are the best 11 guys you have on the field? It kind of goes back, do you put nickel in the game or do you keep all your linebackers in the game? We want the best 11 guys out there at all times who are going to benefit us.” — Parker on how the safeties and depth (including starting strong safety John Lowdermilk and backup free safety Anthony Gair) there might go down
FIRST DOWN — Summer cliffhanger
The big question is how Lomax translates the free safety spot. He’s an economics major and a Big Ten all-academic selection. Those are impressive credentials, but they need to translate onto the field. The safeties position the corners. The free safety calls out coverages. Then, there’s the physical part of the position. Lomax had one physical mistake in the spring game, missing a tackle on 250-pound tight end Ray Hamilton for a 65-yard TD. It’s a physical position. It’s part of what Parker likes about Lomax, his physical style.
The other cornerback spot is still somewhat of a mystery. Fleming made a push and was the first-teamer in the final week of spring. He was super-aggressive in the spring game. It led to one obvious pass interference penalty, but the Iowa staff isn’t going to condemn aggressive.
Iowa has five incoming freshmen targeted for the secondary. Parker was asked if he believed any of them could play right away. It’s too early to tell, but right now, Parker is comfortable with the players he has.
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