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No. 11 ... After an off-field incident this summer, Nico Law left the University of Iowa. Law wasn’t considered a starter, but he was a safety. The Hawkeyes have precious few experienced safeties. When they started camp two weeks ago, senior strong safety John Lowdermilk was the only Hawkeye safety who had ever in a game.
Let’s check that. Sophomore Anthony Gair? He might’ve had some mop-up. He’s played some special teams. That’s it. We covered free safety Jordan Lomax yesterday. He’s been at the position since December, but has never played a snap there. That’s it, and that’s it for the roster.
Suddenly, Lowdermilk is extremely important. He’ll be a second-year starter at strong safety. Lowdermilk is worth his 6-2, 210 pounds in gold, not only for his experience and what he can do, but for what he can offer the rest of the safeties who face a steep learning curve.
“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.”
Iowa signed five defensive backs in February. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said this summer the Hawkeyes need at least a few of them to be ready this season.
“Depth was a concern for me at safety in the spring and that hasn’t changed,” Ferentz said. “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.”
Incoming freshmen Jalen Embry and Miles Taylor will begin their careers at safety. And they might begin those careers on Aug. 30 against Northern Iowa.
“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.”
Ohio State Hawkeye ... Lowdermilk grew up in Kensington, Ohio, the son of former Buckeyes center Kirk Lowdermilk. In 2009 he was dressed in scarlet-and-gray at Ohio Stadium when Ohio State beat Iowa, 27-24, to claim the Big Ten title in a winner-take-all game. Two years later, he joined the opposite side.
“That was Vandy’s [Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg] first start,” Lowdermilk said. “I was actually there rooting for Ohio State against Iowa in a game that went into overtime. I actually rushed the field and everything. It’s weird how things work out.”
To say the least.
Lowdermilk doesn’t look to his father for advice on playing his position, however. Kirk Lowdermilk played 12 seasons in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts. He started every game in his last six seasons, 150 overall. He retired after the 1996 season.
“We talk about it, but he doesn’t really know much about defensive backs,” John Lowdermilk said with a laugh. “He thinks that if you cover a guy, you did a good job. So he talks more about just working hard and spending extra time in the film room and things like that.”
That Outback Bowl moment ... Lowdermilk learned a painful lesson in the third quarter of the Outback Bowl.
He had just intercepted a pass for the first time of his career and sprinted up the sideline and into the end zone to provide the Hawkeyes with a much-needed spark at a time when LSU enjoyed a 14-0 lead.
There was just one problem. The junior let the ball slip out of his hands before he crossed the goal line, negating what would have been the first pick 6 of his career.
LSU failed to recover the ball and allowed Iowa to retain possession. Three plays later, running back Mark Weisman scored the Hawkeyes’ first points,
I never thought I’d see an Iowa player do that.
“It was an embarrassing play on my part. Stupid. That’s the only way to describe it. Stupid,’’ Lowdermilk said. “I don’t know what was going through my mind. I know better than that. I had to try to forget about it and keep playing. But it was stupid.’’
Head coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t spend much time with it. No harm, no foul (even though it was dangerously close).
“When you get in a game like this, a defensive game, you’re looking for a spark and he gave it to us,’’ Ferentz said
Outlook ... Lowdermilk will be a two-year starter, which is a huge payoff on a scholarship that, at the time, looked somewhat speculative.
He played quarterback at Carrollton (Ohio) High School quarterback. He had scholarship offers from Air Force, Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and Toledo. Iowa was his best and biggest opportunity, and he jumped at it in the final days leading up to 2011 signing day. He was coming to Iowa as a safety or maybe a linebacker. Four years and what should be a string of 26 starts, the investment will have paid off.
Beyond Lowdermilk, safety depth and the relative health of the position will shape the buttons that defensive coordinator Phil Parker is able to push this fall.
“You’ve really got to evaluate, who are the best 11 guys you have on the field?” Parker said. “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.”
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