Iowa currently without a safety net at safety

Ferentz says Hawkeyes will look into freshmen class for help in secondary

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back John Lowdermilk (37) tackles LSU Tigers wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) during the first half of the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, January 1, 2014. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back John Lowdermilk (37) tackles LSU Tigers wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) during the first half of the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, January 1, 2014. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

IOWA CITY — Iowa signed five defensive backs in February. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday the Hawkeyes need at least a few of them to be ready in August.

Even before senior safety Nico Law transferred after a disorderly conduct arrest earlier this summer, Ferentz said depth at the safety position was on his mind.

“Depth was a concern for me at safety in the spring and that hasn’t changed,” Ferentz said during a news conference. “Offensive line and linebacker, needless to say, I think we’re on the right road [to building depth at those spots], but we’ve got a lot of work to do in those areas.”

Going into August camp, senior John Lowdermilk and junior Jordan Lomax are the starters at strong safety and free safety, respectively. After them, right now, it’s sophomore Anthony Gair with walk-on freshman Kevin Ward making a push. After that, well, the depth at this position has been on Ferentz’s mind since spring.

“We’ll be open to anybody,” Ferentz said, “especially the newcomers. We recruited a lot of [defensive backs]. I think there is a lot of position flexibility there. We’ll look hard at that the first portion of camp.”

A couple of the names to look out for among the true freshmen include Miles Taylor (6-0, 185) and Jalen Embry (5-11, 180). Josh Jackson (6-1, 175), Marcel Joly (5-11, 180) and Omar Truitt (5-11, 185) are coming into Iowa City as cornerbacks. Last season, true freshman Desmond King started 12 games at cornerback and earned a spot on the Big Ten Network’s freshman all-conference team.

“Realistically, there are some opportunities for guys to play as true freshmen,” Ferentz said. “We never envisioned Desmond playing as a starter, but that’s the way it worked out. We’ll keep an open mind there and probably at the linebacker position as well. If a guy or two can help our depth, our special teams, we’ll be open to it.”

Lowdermilk is the only player on Iowa’s roster with real experience at safety. That further raises the profile of the former Carrollton (Ohio) High School quarterback who also had scholarship offers from Air Force, Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and Toledo.

“It’s my job to help everyone out,” said Lowdermilk, who was fourth on the team last season with 78 tackles. “I don’t know the freshmen we have coming in, but I’m sure there will be a few who can help. Kevin Ward has come along. Anthony Gair is an extremely physical player and he’s coming along as well.”

Lomax is used to profile. He began 2013 as a starting corner. He suffered a hamstring injury and eventually was held out of the lineup because of King’s performance. Lomax (5-10, 200) started spring as the No. 1 free safety after trying out the position during Outback Bowl preparation last December. The expectations are different for him now.

“I know Jordan is at a new position and I know he hasn’t started or played all that much,” Ferentz said, “but I feel like he’s a veteran guy. He’s a heady guy and a tough-minded guy. I think by the end of camp he’ll be ready to play as if he were a starter a year ago.”

— Also Wednesday, Ferentz discussed the hiring of recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace, who takes over for Eric Johnson after spending six seasons as a defensive coach at Valdosta (Ga.) State.

Wallace will be a defensive assistant and recruiting coordinator. What position group has yet to be determined. Ferentz wants Wallace to be able to break away from practice and travel for recruiting during the season, something Iowa hasn’t done enough in recent years, Ferentz said.

“We’re trying to make sure he has the flexibility to get out on the road a little big in-season,” Ferentz said. “We haven’t used all of our NCAA [contact] days during the fall. We’ve come close, but not all. I think that’s one area we can improve a little bit and get a little more exposure.”

Ferentz said Wallace’s position is the first step in Iowa’s move toward a player personnel staff. Iowa is the only school in the Big Ten that doesn’t have someone with the title “director of player personnel.” Iowa does have administrative assistant Max Allen, who handles design work with recruiting communications. Ferentz hinted another administrative hire with expertise in player evaluation could be in the works.

— On the eligibility front, Ferentz said Iowa is waiting for one of its 20 incoming freshmen to qualify academically. “That’s probably going to go down to the wire,” he said. Also, he said Iowa has a couple players in summer school “who need to do a quality job.”

— reported in January that junior college defensive end Torey Hendrick (6-4, 225, ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y.) committed to Iowa. However, Hendrick remains unsigned and his status is unclear. NCAA rules prohibit Ferentz from commenting on an unsigned player.

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