Iowa Football

Iowa football recruiting 2018: Defensive Line

Croot Loops: Hawkeyes locked in on body types, motors for D-linemen

Solon's Tyler Linderbaum signals a blocking assignment during offensive drills at practice on Thursday, August 10, 2017. (Tork Mason/Freelance)
Solon's Tyler Linderbaum signals a blocking assignment during offensive drills at practice on Thursday, August 10, 2017. (Tork Mason/Freelance)
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Editor's note: Fourth in a series evaluating Iowa football's incoming class. (Previously: LinebackersDefensive backs, Wide receivers)

Iowa’s decision to play as many as nine defensive linemen in games last season should pay dividends in 2018.

It paid off last season, really, when you saw senior defensive tackle Nathan Bazata play maybe the best football of his career late last season. Bazata was front and center in 2015, when the Iowa staff loved its D-line but didn’t have great depth. Four D-linemen chewed up most of the snaps and ran out of gas late in the season.

Last year, with nine players switching off, Bazata was fresh in November and had 3.5 of his 6.5 tackles for loss.

Everywhere you look now on Iowa’s defensive line you see a player who had a role in 2017.

So, the four defensive linemen Iowa signed this recruiting period probably won’t be pressed into action. Sophomore Daviyon Nixon probably would’ve been in the mix at defensive tackle, but Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz announced Tuesday (the day before Iowa opened spring practice) Nixon is taking an academic redshirt in 2018 and won’t play.

“It’s something we’ve been aware of all the way through the process, so it’s not really a huge surprise to anybody,” Ferentz said. “The big thing about recruiting for everybody, not just Daviyon, you project guys, you look at them on film. It all starts there. Then you try to learn as much as you can about a young man.

“But until they really get to your place and start working and going to school and doing all the things they have to do as college football players, it’s a projection. The good news is he’s been on campus a couple months now. We know a lot more about him now than we did back in December. He’s been great. He just has a great attitude. He works hard, and he’s got a positive attitude. He’s significantly talented on top of that. So it’s going to be good for him.

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“It’s just something we knew was a possibility. It’s really not a big deal. It just means he’s not going to be able to play on the game field. But he’ll practice and work for it as a football player. When we get him out there, he’ll be a good player for us.”

Tyler Linderbaum

Whenever Iowa signs a high-level wrestler from the state, it’s rarely the big, gigantic headline. They mostly come through and that’s probably why they get taken for granted.

You could probably make the argument that eastern Iowans on the Hawkeyes are kind of taken for granted. Typically, there are more eastern Iowans than any other other region on a given Iowa football team.

With Tyler Linderbaum (6-2, 250), there’s also the fact he committed to the Hawkeyes in May 2017. He held just three offers.

Linderbaum finished his prep wrestling career last month with a third-place finish in the Class 2A heavyweight division. That made Linderbaum a two-time state medalist.

These guys usually end up multiyear starters. Here’s a short list: Austin Blythe, Tristan Wirfs, James Ferentz and James Morris.

“Wrestling has helped with a lot,” Linderbaum said. “Just from the mental side of things. It will help me for the rest of my life, going through all those hard practices (and) matches and just to fight through it.”

Read more: Tyler Linderbaum shows football and wrestling are a good match

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This really should work. Let’s mention the fact that Linderbaum comes with some extra credibility. He was a U.S. Army All-American.

For now, defensive tackle. Is it a countdown to center for Linderbaum? Maybe, but what do you value more? Center? Or defensive tackle?

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Team captain as a senior ... Also earned four letters in baseball and three in wrestling and track ... Posted 53-10 wrestling mark as a junior, placing fifth in state tournament at heavyweight

Noteworthy offer: Iowa State

Depth chart in 2018?: Probably not. The composite weight right now for Linderbaum seems to be somewhere around 260. That’s not as far off as you’d think, especially for what Iowa prefers for interior linemen (Iowa will let go of weight and a little power for quickness, athleticism). But it does probably put Linderbaum in developmental mode. That’s OK, he’s a lineman. This will give everyone time to figure out the where for Linderbaum, where he’ll play and where he might help the most.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Matt Kroul and Mitch King

I’m starting to wear out the reference material with these two. Remember, I talked with head coach Kirk Ferentz a couple of years ago. This exercise is born out of the idea that Iowa pairs player profiles with former Hawkeyes who’ve had success in the program. Kroul is from Mount Vernon. He came to Iowa and you didn’t know if he was going to be a nose guard or a center. Does that sound like Linderbaum’s deal? Why King? If Linderbaum stays at DT, I’m guessing it’s going to look a little something like King, where inside quickness and taking on blocks made him disruptive.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “He’s a little taller than Bazata. He’s 250, 255. Just an animal. He’s a competitor. Baseball, football, wrestling. He’s an absolute competitor. The game I saw him play against Regina this year, that was my first time seeing him in a live competition against other kids, I’m glad we got this one. This is a no-brainer right here. This guy can play ball. At that point in time, I didn’t know where we’d like him the best. Do you like him on the offensive line as a center or defensive line? Selfishly? I’m glad we got him on the D-line.”

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My take: As a defensive player, Linderbaum has a quick first step that will demand blockers’ immediate attention. At 6-1, he has built-in leverage. It’s one thing to be short (that’s what “built-in” leverage is), it’s another to know how to use it. Linderbaum is quick and explosive enough to be an inside threat. He’ll have to fight bigger OLs. Cut and paste that for a lot of Iowa D-linemen. As an OL, also great first step. Moves well in space. Hands and feet are hooked up. Linderbaum seems to have strong and heavy hands. If he got his hands on you at Solon, you stayed blocked.

Daviyon Nixon

So here’s what happened with the Alabama thing ...

Daviyon Nixon ended up being a full qualifier for Iowa after it was decided he would attend Iowa Western Community College last season.

Nixon tore it up at Iowa Western. He’s a 6-4, 285-pound defensive tackle. These are the guys who tend to get noticed in football scouting. Before he agreed to come to Iowa City in 2017, schools were hesitant to offer and move very far along the process with Nixon because of academics.

As a full qualifier to Iowa, Nixon’s national letter of intent remained in place last year at the Council Bluffs school. So, when Alabama tried to jump in late, it was pretty much a nice, little souvenir for Nixon.

Nixon could’ve said yes to Bama, but he would’ve had to sit out this season (2018). Iowa stuck with Nixon way back when out of Indian Trail High School (Kenosha, Wis.) and the loyalty ran both ways.

So, there you go. Sometimes when you swoop in to steal the croot, you bump your head on the kitchen lamp and just kind of saunter away, pretending like nothing happened.

Of course, now Iowa and Nixon have to deal with 2018, a different ride but just as important.

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Second-team all-conference in only season at Iowa Western ... Recorded 44 tackles, with nine tackles for loss and five sacks in helping team post 11-1 record and earn invitation to Graphic Edge Bowl

Noteworthy offer: Alabama

Depth chart in 2018?: No.

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Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Colin Cole

Iowa takes tracking its players weights seriously. Every college football program does. Virtually none of this is left to chance. Everyone has an idea of what their best playing weight is. So, Colin Cole has his career at Iowa, one of the best defensive linemen the program has produced.

And then it’s time for the NFL part. Iowa listed Cole at 285 during his four seasons. Or somewhere thereabouts, somewhere less than 300. Cole came out of the combine with a weight of 309. I think he ended up playing in the NFL at around 328.

I remember asking Kirk Ferentz about this. Kind of a “Hey, whoa, that’s a lot.” Ferentz shrugged. “I’m sure we had it right at some point,”

Nixon has the body that is the start of every great D-line.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “It didn’t really get weird. A lot of people don’t understand the process. When he signed the NLI with us last year and then going to a junior college as a full qualifier, he’s ours. How many kids go to junior college as a full qualifier? I understand why people would offer him. Yes, he’s a good player and he was doing good things, but you offer because you don’t think he’s signed anywhere. You think this kid is a non-qualifier and he’s free game, so that’s not the case. So, kudos to us for getting him signed and then getting him again on the back end.”

My take: Feels like he plays really tall, but the Hudl shows strong, sure strides. He might be getting a little too tall right out of his stance, but Nixon is strong enough, on this level, to engage the blocker and quickly shed him. Really likes to get out and pursue. Love to see that out of a big player. Really closes QB trying to escape. Long arms and legs. All of the natural athleticism is there. The potential curveballs will be upper-body strength and the high-end technique Big Ten line play demands.

Noah Shannon

OK, read some of the factlets in the “Noah Shannon player of the year” piece from the Aurora (Ill.) Beacon-News.

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— Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar, whose team went on to win the Class 8A state title after beating Oswego 31-0 in the quarterfinals, sought out Shannon after the final horn of their game.

“He told me he had lost a lot of sleep that week because of me,” Shannon said.

You’d think “joy” would be the driver for a coach to say something like that. But don’t underestimate the relief.

— Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet, whose team lost 24-20 to the Panthers in the second round of the playoffs, offered Shannon high praise as well.

“We thought Noah was the best defensive player we played all year,” Hetlet said. “He’s as good as I’ve seen, and in the past 10 years, we had Tommy Schutt, who went on to be an All-American at Ohio State.

“I think Noah is on the same level, a very aggressive, very athletic tackle who is very violent at the point of attack.”

— “He’s a great combination of disruptive strength and ridiculous athleticism,” Oswego coach Brian Cooney said of Shannon. “I like to watch him when the kids are fooling around after practice.

“You should see him run a wheel route and make a one-handed catch. The fact that he can hold on to that athleticism at 300-plus pounds is something. Kids like that don’t come along that often.”

How are you not doing the Homer Simpson “floor spin” celebration?

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Named to Champaign News-Gazette all-state team as a senior ... Named team MVP as both a junior and senior ... First-team all-conference and all-state as a senior ... Second-team all-conference and all-state as a junior ... Earned all-conference honors as a sophomore ... Played both tackle and end on defense and guard and tackle on offense

Noteworthy offer: Michigan State

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Depth chart in 2018?: Less than 25 percent chance. Weird number, why? One or two injuries at DT and the redshirts could get raided. Right now, I don’t see that. I think Shannon redshirts and builds the body. I did love that story his coach told of the one-handed wheel routes. I remember seeing Brandon Scherff with the punts and Jaleel Johnson and Carl Davis with the over-the-shoulder catches on the deep outs. Iowa shouldn’t need Shannon in 2018, but he could make them need him.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Mike Daniels

Shannon really moves well for 6-1, 300. His compare is a little tougher because of height. Shannon might have Carl Davis, Jaleel Johnson video, but he’s not 6-3 or 6-4. Mike Daniels is around 6-1. Of course, Daniels’ uncommon strength made him an NFL player and Hawkeye standout. Shannon and Linderbaum kind of fit together in that they are shorter and will have to rely on quickness and smart technique on the inside. Shannon might have a little more natural power, at least going off the Hudl video.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “He fits who we are. He’s a brute. We’re excited about getting him into the weight room and continuing to develop him. He’s got a very good core. He’s a thick kid who plays, for an inside guy that size, he plays with really good leverage. He’s quicker twitch than you’d think. Watch his tape. He’s an active guy, running down plays, running down screens. You need to have a meat-and-potatoes guy on the inside.”

My take: It’s not a happy accident what Shannon does at the line of scrimmage. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard Ferentz kindly remind defensive linemen (Kirk Ferentz roams around during the first part of practice) to lock out their elbows while hand fighting with offensive linemen, I’d have enough for maybe a new TV. Shannon has really listened to coaching or instinctively knows to do this. It doesn’t allow the offensive lineman anything to hold on to. Feet move with the hands. Probably will never run a great 40, but in that space between the guards, Shannon is more than quick enough.

John Waggoner

Everything you read about John Waggoner and the more you wonder if it wasn’t Kirk Ferentz offering himself a scholarship.

The term “blue collar” comes up a lot with the 6-5, 245-pounder. West Des Moines Dowling coach Tom Wilson describes a quiet player with a “union worker’s” mentality.

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Waggoner will come in as a defensive end. Iowa has 100 of those. Right now. It can and somehow usually changes, but that did offer a slight hold-up with Iowa and Waggoner. The Iowa staff had to make sure there was a scholarship at the position to commit to.

From all of the reading, it was an honest process for Ferentz and Waggoner.

“It’s a great relationship and he’s been very honest with me about everything,” Waggoner told HawkeyeReport.com. “He told me he’s excited and wants me to get in right away and get to work, so I’m excited to do that.”

And one more from HawkeyeReport.com: “Just kind of their culture and their blue-collar mentality. They’ve obviously got a ton of young talent in their program right now, so that’s going to be exciting in the years to come for me.”

Being “blue collar” can still work apparently. Who would’ve figured that?

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Member of prep team that posted 37-2 record over three years, winning three straight state championships ... Team captain as a senior ... Also lettered in soccer and basketball, earning second-team all-conference honors in basketball as a junior.

Noteworthy offer: Michigan State

Depth chart in 2018?: Probably not. If Waggoner is a semi-lean 270 in August, let’s talk about that then. That would be something the 2018 team could use. I’m kind of lining Waggoner up with A.J. Epenesa, who was 272 when he walked on campus. Either way, a redshirt year would serve Waggoner well. I’ll be interested to see if DE is his final position. Hey, who thought 6-8 Matt Nelson would end up at defensive tackle? I think Waggoner could be an O-lineman.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Drew Ott

Let’s play along with where Waggoner is set to play right now. Waggoner already has the 6-5 part of the Drew Ott imitation done. That’s the hard part. Now, can Waggoner stay quick at 275 pounds? Can that extra power be the work around? So hey, you’d take a Drew Ott. He had 13.0 sacks in 2014-15. Ott’s 8.0 sacks in 2014 is the most for a Hawkeye since Adrian Clayborn had 11.5 in 2009.

Now, let’s go off the grid. What if Waggoner is an O-lineman? I could see an athletic, strong Eric Steinbach type or a center or a two-year starter at right tackle. OK, I just had to get that off my chest. I think Waggoner has position flexibility, but remember that only lasts a season (two at the most, right Josh Jackson?) once you’re on campus.

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Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “He’s a big boy. I’m excited to work with him. He’s going to start on the defensive line. Really good frame. A kid who came in and performed well at our camp a couple of years ago. It’ll be interesting in terms of the style we play, it’s hard for high school kids to come in here because of the physicality. I’m excited to see him embrace that.”

My take: Is Waggoner an inside or outside player? I think he’s going to be stronger than he is quick, so I’m going with inside. He’s a big body with a great first step. His teammates seemed to feed off him, which always is a good thing. Love that he wraps up. That’s why you have telephone poles for arms. Wrap the ball carrier in them and let physics do its thing. I like his play posture. Waggoner keeps his back straight and bends at the knees. That’s something that should serve him well with whatever job on the Hawkeyes he applies for.

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

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